AUSTIN, Texas (AP) â€” Political consultants like to say that redistricting is destiny, and that was certainly true in Texas' 2012 election results.
Every 10 years lawmakers in the Texas Legislature redraw the political maps and get to choose their voters rather than the other way around. The state and both political parties spend large sums of money on computer programs that provide the voting history of every precinct, and then officeholders fight to draw a district where they cannot lose.
Last year, Republicans held firm control of the Legislature and the governor's office, giving them the power to draw new districts. Two different federal courts determined that those maps violated civil rights laws, so three judges in San Antonio tweaked the maps just enough to make them what they considered fair.
When the consultants loaded the court-drawn maps into their computers, they found that 95 Texas House districts held a majority of Republicans, while 55 contained a majority of Democrats. Once the dust from the election settled early Wednesday morning, unsurprisingly, the results in the Texas House were 95 Republicans to 55 Democrats.
Democrats hoped to do better than just seven new seats in the House, and Republicans had hoped to limit Democratic gains to six. But both sides recognize that more often than not, the demographics of the likely voters in a district will determine the outcome.
That means Democrats will hold 36 percent of the seats in the Texas House and 38 percent of the seats in the Texas Senate. That's about the same as the 39.7 percent of the vote President Barack Obama collected in Texas this year.
Nationally, Obama won re-election by building a coalition of minorities, women and liberal whites that could carry him to victory, even when 72 percent of whites voted against him. What many wonder is why Democrats couldn't build that same coalition in Texas, where Anglos make up less than 50 percent of the population and Hispanics will likely be the majority in 2050.
Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa acknowledges the party doesn't have the ground game yet to mobilize such a coalition, mostly due to lack of funds. Republican Party Chairman Steve Munisteri agrees that such a coalition could control Texas politics in the future, and he hopes his party will build it first.
On the Democratic side, the One Texas political action committee is trying to turn out more Hispanic voters and recruit Hispanics into the party. Just a few months old, One Texas backed 10 Latinos against Republican Latinos in the 2012 general election and won nine of the races.
On the Republican side, the Hispanic Republicans of Texas fought hard for the re-election of Democratic defector state Rep. J.M. Lozano, who eked out a victory in his Republican-leaning district. On Thursday, George P. Bush, the Latino son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, filed paperwork laying the groundwork for a statewide campaign in 2016.
Both parties will compete hard for the Hispanic vote, with Democrats offering government spending on the programs they care about, and Republicans focusing on shared values on social issues. But when it comes to who makes Texas laws, it will always come back to redistricting.
The court-drawn maps used in the 2012 election will fade away before 2014. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out the clause in the Voting Rights Act that requires Texas to get federal approval for changes to election law, a legacy of the state's history of racial discrimination.
Abbott is asking the Court to allow Texas to use the original maps drawn by the Legislature in 2011, which would guarantee Republicans a bigger majority in 2014. Failing that, Texas lawmakers will have to draw a new map, which they will again submit for federal approval, and more than likely, someone will sue the state to block them. The last time Texas redrew maps was in 2001; the litigation lasted for six years.
The reason for costly, protracted lawsuits and counter-suits is simple. When it comes to electing state lawmakers, redistricting is destiny.
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