New Texas Map: Democrats Hoped for More Than Split Decision

Jessica Taylor February 29, 2012 · 12:20 PM EST

The topsy-turvy Texas redistricting saga appears to be approaching toward a conclusion – for now. On Tuesday, a San Antonio federal court panel released a new map that is expected to be in place for the 2012 elections, but there’s still the possibility that the lines could undergo an overhaul before subsequent cycles.

The release of the maps now appears to salvage hopes that the May 29 primary could happen as scheduled, though filing dates are unclear. While neither party gets its ideal scenario, the proposed map is likely to result in a split of the state’s four new congressional districts by creating three new Hispanic-majority seats that should be won by Democrats. The new map strongly resembles a “compromise” map that emerged earlier this month between Attorney General Greg Abbott and a Latino interest group – but it was a map that many Democrats and other Hispanic coalitions didn’t endorse or like.

Still, the map won’t help the calculus Democrats need to take back the House. While Democrats concede privately that the map is slightly better than the one the GOP-controlled legislature produced last year, they would have liked to have seen more gains, with three of the new seats solidly in their column. While Democrats should pick up at least two seats, an Austin seat transforms into a solid GOP seat and the 23rd remains a toss-up. The map could result in a 25-11 advantage for Republicans – a two seat gain for both parties, resulting in no real net change from the current 23-9 split.

Democratic Rep. Lloyd Doggett’s district was decimated in this proposal (as it was in the original GOP map), turning his 25th District into a GOP-leaning seat and likely forcing him to run in one of the new Hispanic districts, most likely the 35th District that stretches from Austin to San Antonio -- a solidly Democratic seat with a 58 percent Hispanic population. Doggett will still likely face a primary from a Latino candidate, but with over $3.3 million in the bank, it would take a cash-flush challenger to take him on in an abbreviated primary campaign. State Rep. Joaquin Castro is still expected to run in the open 20th District, vacated by retiring Rep. Charlie Gonzalez.

Importantly for Republicans, two of their most vulnerable freshmen members – Quico Canseco and Blake Farenthold – will see their districts improve. Canseco’s 23rd District got about one point better for Republicans, improving slightly to a district that voted 49 percent for John McCain in 2008 but 58 percent for George W. Bush in 2004. The San Antonio seat will be a highly competitive one though in the fall, with Democratic excitement over their likely candidate, state Rep. Pete Gallego.

Farenthold’s gulf coast 27th District improved monumentally for Republicans, though. What was once a seat where McCain received only 45 percent becomes one that voted nearly 59 percent for the GOP nominee, and also gave Bush over 63 percent.

The new 33rd District in the Dallas/Fort Worth suburbs is a minority coalition seat – 61 percent Hispanic but also 17 percent African-American. It’s solidly Democratic, giving Obama nearly 70 percent. While there’s likely to be a crowded primary, early Democratic candidates include state Rep. Marc Veasey and Fort Worth City Councilwoman Kathleen Hicks. Former Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams was already running here for Republicans.

The new 34th District, which stretches along the southeastern tip of the state to the Mexican border, is a Hispanic seat as well, with a nearly 79 percent Latino voting age population. While it’s a seat that leans Democratic, it could be competitive for the GOP – it gave Obama 60 percent in 2008 and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill White had over 55 percent in a GOP headwind in 2010, but Bush took over 51 percent in his home state four years earlier. The new 36th District, just east of Houston, is a solidly GOP seat, where McCain took nearly 70 percent of the vote.

The state is also still waiting on a final decision from the District of Columbia District Court on an earlier map, which would have to be precleared by the Department of Justice.