Every decade the U.S. Congress plays musical chairs to the tune of the Census population counts – only in this re-apportionment version, the number of chairs stays the same, they just move to different states. By the time the counting (but not the arguing) is done in 2011, Texas looks to gain at least 3 additional seats in its Congressional delegation, thanks to strong population growth that has held up even as the recession has slowed growth in other formerly booming states. While Texas’ population growth seems to be concentrated in areas that tend to support Republicans, as pointed out by Josh Goodman at Governing.com, it’s how the district lines are drawn that ultimately determines the partisan composition of the new districts.
In the Texas statehouse, the stakes are even higher, as the district boundaries will shift to reflect the growth at the suburban edges of Texas’ major cities. This will not be a quiet debate, as several rural incumbents could find themselves in a showdown with another incumbent for a consolidated district, while incumbents in the booming areas could find themselves living outside of their districts.
Republicans have almost a 2-to-1 advantage in the Texas Senate, and a 4-seat majority in the larger 150 member Texas House of Representatives. If they can maintain these majorities and retain control of the Governor’s mansion, the GOP will be in the driver’s seat for drawing new lines for the state and Congressional districts.
Still, there is an election between now and when the redistricting process is finalized, and Republicans in the Lone Star State are eager to add some cushion to their slim 4-seat majority in the House chamber. Just 2 years ago, this was an 8-seat margin, so no one wants to coast on the trend lines. And the interests of legislatures facing political oblivion may not align with their party colleagues, leading to potential roadblocks in the process. A fatter majority in the Texas House provides fewer opportunities for the process to go off the rails: “Texas Republicans want to eat state House Democrats for breakfast,” proclaimed a recent Fort Worth Star-Telegram editorial. “Republicans are hungry this year. That's easy to see in contests for seats in the Texas House. The GOP wants to turn its thin majority into a fat one, and Democrats seem either not that anxious to take control or just slower in figuring out how to do it.”