San Antonio was not among the Texas cities to get either of the two new congressional districts added as a result of Texas’ explosive population growth, but the redrawing of legislative boundaries will still cause political fallout in the city and surrounding areas.

Following approval by the Texas House and Senate this week, Texas now has 38 Congressional districts, but legal challenges could still shift the precise boundaries. The growth documented in the 2020 Census led to new districts in Austin and in Houston.

In a Tuesday email to supporters, Texas GOP Chairman Matt Rinaldi said the new legislative maps are overall “favorable to Republicans.”

“After a vigorous campaign season we look forward to expanding our majority both in Austin and in D.C.,” Rinaldi’s email continued.

Jon Taylor, chair of the political science and geography department at the University of Texas at San Antonio, said the redistricting process continued the decades-long trend of “cracking and packing” likely Democratic voters. “Cracking” refers to diluting the voting power of certain groups by spreading them across many districts; “packing” is when map-drawers cram as many of the opposing party’s voters as possible into one district to reduce their voting power in neighboring swing districts.

In Bexar County, Taylor described the new district lines as an “incumbent protection plan” that will help U.S. Reps. Tony Gonzales in District 23 and Chip Roy in District 21 hold onto their seats.

“They actually made those districts slightly more Republican,” Taylor said.

State Rep. Ina Minjarez (D-San Antonio) served on the House redistricting committee. In a phone interview this week, she said Republican leaders repeatedly brushed aside input from the public and their Democratic colleagues when drawing the new lines.

“Even though there were discussions and debates, the map was settled,” Minjarez said. “I mean, the map was not going to change.”

This round of redistricting was the first in Texas’ modern history for which legislators did not first have to seek approval, known as “preclearance,” from the U.S. Justice Department.

Prior to a major 2013 U.S. Supreme Court case, Texas was among the states that had to show its boundary lines comply with the 1975 Voting Rights Act. The statute prohibits states from drawing districts that discriminate based on race, ethnicity, or membership in a language minority group.

“All the time, I kept hearing, ‘If we had preclearance, this wouldn’t be happening,’” Minjarez said.

The new maps already face legal challenges, including from a group of Latino rights organizations led by the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF). Court battles could lead to district boundaries being redrawn and potentially delay political parties’ primary elections in 2022, according to Taylor.

“There’s going to be several court cases coming up on redistricting,” Taylor said. “It will simply be a question of unconstitutionally diluting minority strength and violating the federal Voting Rights Act.”

House District 35

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The drawing of what Taylor called a new “white liberal district” in Austin is creating an opening that could allow a San Antonio Democrat a shot at Congress.

The creation of that district prompted U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, a progressive Austin Democrat, to announce he would not run for reelection in District 35, a seat he has held since it was created in the last redistricting round a decade ago. Instead, Doggett will run in District 37, the new Austin-centered urban district experts say will be an easy win for Democrats.

In an announcement last week, Doggett, a lifetime Austin resident, called the recent legislative maps “as sorry a gerrymander as any of the ones that sent me from here to Mexico” that “totally ignored the fact that people of color made up 95% of the growth over the past decade in our state.”

Doggett’s announcement has led to a cascade of potential candidate interest in District 35, which stretches from south Austin to the heart of San Antonio along Interstate 35.

Greg Casar, a staunchly progressive Austin City Council member, announced this week that he had formed an exploratory committee ahead of a likely run in the Democratic primary. San Antonio Council members Teri Castillo (D5) and Jalen McKee-Rodriguez (D2) are among those in Bexar County who have already expressed support for Casar’s run.

“We can win better jobs, a clean planet, and an end to the Republicans’ discriminatory laws,” Casar said in an emailed statement. “We can make the world a better place if we fight for it. If we organize for it. That’s why I’m considering running for Congress — to fight for working class and everyday Texans.”

State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, a Democrat who represents the 116th district in the Texas House, has also expressed interest in running, telling the Texas Tribune this week that he’s giving it “serious consideration with both eyes wide open.” State Sen. Joan Huffman, a Houston Republican, had told reporters that Fischer asked for his Bexar County residence to be drawn into District 35, though members of Congress are not required to live in the district they represent.

David Anderson Jr., a San Antonio native, had earlier this summer announced his intent to run in the Democratic primary. Anderson, who grew up on the East Side, worked in management for a tax company and for a firm that staffed the AT&T Center before founding Divine Equality, whose website states that it helps “people in low-income areas overcome any challenges they are facing.”

In a statement released earlier this week, Anderson announced he is running “to give the underdogs, all the way from San Antonio to Austin, a voice that has been silenced for too long.”

Those running for the open seat will have to campaign in a District 35 whose boundaries now include more of downtown, along with areas east of San Antonio.

Much of the district’s Southside territory has been shifted to District 28. Northeast San Antonio suburbs such as Woodstone, Spring Creek, and Steubing Ranch have also been dropped from the district. However, it’s gained new territory in Monte Vista and Alta Vista north of downtown, as well as suburban and rural areas between Interstate 10 and Converse.

House District 20

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The bounds of District 20, which covers much of the western half of urban San Antonio, along with the northwest suburbs, will change less than other local districts. Some of the biggest changes involve the shift of territory around Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland to District 23 and the addition of the South Texas Medical Center.

Most of Helotes and some Northwest San Antonio areas have been shifted to District 23, while District 20 has expanded into the South Side and the Southwest Side north of Highway 90.

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, a Democrat who has held the seat since 2013, said this redistricting process “resulted in extreme gerrymandering, intentionally dividing communities to dilute the ability of Texas voters to choose their representatives.

“In San Antonio, Republican politicians drew the lines to protect themselves and maintain power while packing districts like mine with even more Latino families so they don’t have to compete for their votes,” Castro said in a prepared statement.

House District 21

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District 21 is a sprawling suburban district that extends from San Antonio to Austin and includes large swaths of the Hill Country north and west of San Antonio. In Bexar County, the district’s boundaries have swelled to incorporate more neighborhoods north of Loop 410 and along Interstate 35, including most of New Braunfels and the San Antonio-area suburban city of Windcrest.

The district’s most significant changes, however, are in Austin, where legislators shifted most of south Austin to the new District 37. District 21 will also now include chunks of rural Travis and Hays counties in the Dripping Springs and Wimberley areas.

Before the 2018 election cycle, Democrats had targeted the district as one to flip when Republican U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith announced his retirement after holding the seat for 30 years. Roy, who lives in Dripping Springs, beat Austin Democrat Joseph Kopser by less than 3 percentage points in 2018, then bested Democrat Wendy Davis by a nearly 7-point margin in 2020.

The changes will make the district even safer for the Republican incumbent. Roy’s staff did not respond to a request for comment.

House District 23

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District 23, a swing district that’s also among the largest by area in the U.S., stretches from the western half of Bexar County to eastern El Paso county and includes the Big Bend region and most of the western South Texas borderlands.

In the San Antonio area, the district mostly lost ground on the Southeast Side and in rural southern Bexar County south of Loop 410, while picking up pieces of Helotes, neighborhoods near Sea World, and JBSA-Lackland.

Gonzales won the seat in November 2020, beating Gina Ortiz Jones, a Democrat who also sought the position in 2018, in what was considered an upset. Before Helotes Republican Will Hurd won the 23rd in 2014, 2016, and 2018, the district had flipped parties four times in the preceding 20 years.

A Gonzales spokeswoman didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.

House District 28

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U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Laredo) has held the seat representing eastern Bexar County and much of the western half of South Texas since 2004, when the district included more of San Antonio’s South Side and Guadalupe County south of Interstate 35.

The latest redrawing of district lines puts much of that territory back into District 28, along with small towns in the Eagle Ford region, such as Freer and Hebbronville. In the Upper Rio Grande Valley, the district’s boundaries have also shrunk to exclude Mission which has been part of the district since the mid-2000s.

A Cuellar spokesman declined to comment Thursday, saying the congressman needed a few days to “get more official data on the topic before speaking on it.”

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Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He is an environmental journalist for Oil & Gas Watch.