Several West Texas lawmakers took part in an online discussion on redistricting hosted Monday by the Midland/Odessa Transportation Alliance, the Permian Basin Coalition, and the Permian Basin Petroleum Association.
The discussion included Representatives Tom Craddick (R-Midland), Drew Darby (R-San Angelo), and Brooks Landgraf (R-Odessa).
Maps for major political boundaries are redrawn by the Texas Legislature every ten years corresponding with the decennial census, with each House of the legislature being responsible for writing their maps.
In addition to the state legislative maps, the legislature will write boundary maps for the State Board of Education, U.S. congressional districts, and appellate courts in the state judiciary.
Kicking off the discussion, Rep. Craddick explained that West Texas didn’t see sufficient growth in population according to the census and will almost certainly end up losing one of fourteen West Texas seats in the Texas House of Representatives due to the lower population numbers.
According to the census data, only two house districts in West Texas saw population growth, including Landgraf’s district (HD-81) that gained 8913 people, and Craddick’s district (HD-82), which gained 1356.
Due to these numbers, both Landgraf and Craddick will likely lose some of the smaller counties in their current districts to shore up population losses in neighboring house districts.
“Because of the growth we’ve seen in the Permian Basin, in Rep. Craddick’s district and the district that I serve there is a likelihood that some of the counties of our districts will go into other districts,” Landgraf explained.
Landgraf says although they sometimes develop strong relationships with the people in the counties of the districts they currently serve, transferring counties into other west Texas districts to shore up their population is a “gift” in that it keeps West Texas from losing additional seats.
Craddick also discussed the potentially significant changes to the state appellate court districts, which could result in abolishing some court districts altogether.
Texas currently has 14 appellate courts which are the intermediary court of appeals between lower trial courts and the state’s two high courts.
According to Craddick, Governor Greg Abbott is wanting to reduce the number of appellate court districts from 14 to “6 or 7” and that he was asked by the Governor to draft some proposals for those districts – an issue he expects the Governor to add to the special session agenda in the coming days.
Representative Drew Darby addressed some of the “multitudes of factors” that must be considered in drawing district maps beyond just trying to meet a population threshold, saying that “communities of interest” must be taken into consideration.
“It’s not just to meet a population threshold,” Darby said, “it’s how we best assemble groups of counties that meet the population thresholds and yet serve communities of interest.”
Darby described some of the common issues lawmakers try to link together in drawing maps, including roadways that link communities, community colleges that cover multiple counties, or health care systems that serve a multi-county region.
James Beauchamp of MOTRAN, who moderated the discussion, also pointed out that while numerous districts on the population growth maps show most districts in West Texas as having a negative growth shown, that doesn’t necessarily mean the district has less population now than it did ten years ago.
With Texas seeing millions in new population growth over the decade, house districts must balance out in even population distribution, and the new growth means there is now a new minimum threshold all districts must meet to ensure even distribution in each district.
In 2010, the average ideal population of Texas House districts was 167,367 people per district, whereas now the threshold has increased to 194,303 people per district – meaning if your district didn’t grow enough to meet that number, the boundaries will likely change to add population.
The third special session of the Texas Legislature kicked off Monday, with a major focus on redistricting after the U.S. Census Bureau delivered the data too late for lawmakers to write the maps during the regular session.
Redistricting committees will be holding public meetings over the coming days as lawmakers file and debate proposed maps, and public input will be crucial as lawmakers identify factors to link together as the maps are written.
For more information regarding the redistricting process, including information regarding proposed maps and committee hearings, follow this link.