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Sat Oct 17, 2020, 09:45 PM

The Biggest Down-Ballot Fight of the Decade Is in Texas

Even with a tight presidential election, a US Senate race, and 10 targeted congressional seats, Texas Democratic party spokesperson Abhi Rahman calls flipping the state House “our top strategic priority.”

The math is simple. Democrats need to pick up nine seats to take control of the chamber. That’s the exact number of currently Republican-held districts that Beto O’Rourke carried during his 2018 Senate bid. (They also need to defend the 12 seats they flipped that year—no easy task.) Overall, Democrats are targeting nearly two dozen seats, most of them based in the diverse suburbs around Houston, Dallas, and Fort Worth, where the party has made huge gains over the last four years.

If you want to understand what breaking the redistricting monopoly in Texas would mean for state and national politics over the next decade, just consider what that monopoly has meant for the last two. Texas is not the only state with an extremely partisan map, but it’s the biggest and, historically, the messiest. In 2003, just two years after new maps had gone into effect that gave Democrats a slight majority in the congressional delegation, then–House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a Republican who would later be sentenced to three years in prison for a campaign money laundering scheme, pushed through an unprecedented, mid-decade round of redistricting that wrenched control of the congressional delegation from the Democrats. (When Democratic state lawmakers fled to Oklahoma to prevent a quorum in the legislature, DeLay enlisted the Federal Aviation Administration to help find them.)

After Republicans took huge majorities in both chambers of the state legislature and the congressional delegation in the tea party wave of 2010, Republican map-makers tried to make that high-water-mark permanent through an extreme partisan and racial gerrymander. The party gained a two-to-one advantage in its congressional delegation, with only one nominal swing seat. In perhaps the most egregious example of the lengths Republicans went to, Austin, a heavily Democratic city that’s now home to nearly a million people, was split into six districts—five of which favored Republicans. (Austin’s only solidly Democratic district extends all the way to San Antonio, in a clumsily drawn attempt to cluster together as many Latino Democratic voters as possible.) The 2011 redistricting process set off a seven-year legal fight. One federal judge ruled that the state GOP’s map-making process was “discriminatory at its heart” because of the way it reduced the voting power of Latino voters. But the Supreme Court sided with the state in 2018.


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