More than 100 people packed the Port San Antonio board room Thursday as the Texas House of Representatives’ redistricting committee convened a public hearing to hear testimony on the state’s 2021 revision of its Congressional maps.
Activists and members of the community came out in droves to testify before the committee, many of them using their allotted three minutes of speaking time to implore lawmakers to draw the new districts fairly and free of partisanship.
Various studies have cited Texas as one of the most gerrymandered states in the country, according to Politifact. Drawn every 10 years, the Congressional maps rely on U.S. Census population data for accuracy, but the process is the Texas Legislature, which is controlled by Republicans.
The 2011 maps were the subject of a civil case against the State of Texas charging lawmakers unconstitutionally gerrymandered districts and racially discriminated against voters.
“We will not allow our black and Hispanic brothers and sisters to be disenfranchised forever and ever,” said Sister Gabriella Lohan, a Catholic nun representing the Sisters of the Holy Spirit. Lohan’s comments echoed a chorus of testimony that promised lawmakers would be held to account to ensure the 2021 maps would be drawn fairly.
The San Antonio metropolitan statistical area’s surging growth is likely to boost its representation in the U.S. Congress when the Texas Legislature is slated to adopt newly drawn maps in May 2021, at the conclusion of the 87th legislative session. It remains to be seen whether the GOP will draw the new districts in such a way that the party will be less likely to lose seats. Texas Democrats, then made up largely of Southern conservatives, also gerrymandered districts before a Republican majority emerged in the 1990s.
U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, whose 35th Congressional District winds on a skinny path down Interstate 35 from Austin to San Antonio, was one of the more high-profile targets of partisan gerrymandering when the 2011 maps were drawn. Doggett, a Democrat, railed against the U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2018, calling out the harm he said it was doing to underrepresented voters in Texas.
“Real change depends on whether Texans change the composition of the State Legislature after the 2020 Census,” he said in a statement following that decision.
The U.S. Census Bureau will produce its 2020 Census data for Texas between February and March 2021, said State Rep. Phil King (R-Lubbock), who chairs the redistricting committee made up of eight Republicans and seven Democrats.
“We want to begin the process of fostering a very robust and open and constructive discussion among all the stakeholders – and everyone here today is a stakeholder – as we approach the 2021 legislative session,” King said. “And hopefully through all these hearings, we will put the Legislature in the best possible position to complete our job … to draw these maps in a fair and transparent process and one that absolutely complies with the law.”
On Tuesday in Austin, the committee held its first of many planned public hearings across the state. The committee will travel Forth Worth and Dallas next month.