In Texas, rising Hispanic tide fails to boost number in Congress

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 01, 2012 6:59 PM
In Texas, rising Hispanic tide fails to boost number in Congress

By Marice Richter

DALLAS (Reuters) - Hispanic population growth in Texas will not boost the number representing the state in Washington after November's election, because many Latinos do not vote, and Republicans have redrawn districts to limit their clout, an analysis of voting results suggests.

Texas added four congressional seats after the 2010 U.S. Census, more than any other state. These four seats, plus the fact that Hispanics accounted for 65 percent of the Texas population growth in the last decade, had raised hopes that 2012 would be a breakout political year for Hispanics in the state.

In the Texas primary runoff election on Tuesday, the son of a Cuban immigrant, Ted Cruz, won the Republican nomination and is the strong favorite to become the first Hispanic U.S. Senator from Texas.

Joaquin Castro, the brother of San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who will be the keynote speaker at the Democratic presidential nominating convention next month, won the Democratic primary for a congressional seat in the May primary.

Hopes of a breakthrough were otherwise dashed in Tuesday's primary elections for the House of Representatives. The number of Hispanic members of the Texas delegation in Washington is likely to remain at six out of the state's 36 seats - 17 percent - although they make up 38 percent of the Texas population, the analysis showed.

The two largest metropolitan areas, Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth, will not have a single Hispanic member of Congress after the November election, the voting suggests.

"Two years ago, we were looking at the possibility of going from six to eight Hispanic Democratic representatives in the delegation," said Henry Cuellar, a Democrat representing a district stretching from San Antonio to the Mexican border. "Instead we went backwards."

Of the six Hispanics, four are Democrats and two Republican.

If the outcome in Texas were replicated nationally, it could complicate the November re-election prospects of President Barack Obama, who is counting on a large Hispanic vote to win battleground states such as Colorado and Florida. Texas is solidly Republican in presidential elections and is not expected to be competitive in November.

Part of the problem is that while Hispanics account for more than a third of the Texas population they account for only about 20 percent of the vote, said Cal Jillson, a Southern Methodist University political science professor.

Within Texas' Hispanic voting age population of about 3 million, about 30 percent are not eligible to vote because they are illegal immigrants. About half of the remaining 70 percent do not vote, Jillson said.

"If Hispanics want to increase their representation, they have to increase naturalization, voter registration and turnout," Jillson said.

Dallas attorney and former state representative Domingo Garcia, who could have been the Dallas-Fort Worth area's first Hispanic representative, lost a runoff on Tuesday to Marc Veasey, an African-American, in one of the four new districts.

"I think this once again proves that there is a disappointing lack of understanding that the future of Texas politics is tied to the Hispanic community," Garcia said. "There is a lack of support for Hispanic candidates in primarily Hispanic communities and now we will have a net gain of zero Hispanics from Texas in Congress."

Three of the four new seats potentially could have been filled by Hispanic representatives, but only a seat in the Democratic stronghold of South Texas will be filled by a Hispanic.

That gain is offset by the Democratic primary loss of eight-term incumbent Congressman Silvestre Reyes to Robert "Beto" O'Rourke, who is white, in the Mexican border city of El Paso.

Joaquin Castro's win in San Antonio is not a net gain because he is replacing another retiring Hispanic.

Republican gerrymandering of the election map had something to do with the outcome, analysts said, as they jammed Hispanic voters in as few districts as possible and created as many Republican-friendly districts as possible.

And Cuellar and others said Hispanics do not necessarily vote for someone just because of their ethnicity.

"As an attorney focused on the voting rights of the Hispanic community, I want to make sure their voice is heard," Cuellar said. "Who they elect is another matter."

(Editing by Greg McCune)