109th Lineup: 21 R, 11 D
108th Lineup: 17 D, 15 R
District Map: Click here
Before 2001, redistricting in Texas had always been the prerogative of Democrats. For many years it was not particularly partisan; there weren't enough Republicans to matter. By the 1990s there were, and in 1991 the Democrats produced their masterpiece. Modified slightly by a 1996 court ruling, it clumped heavily Republican areas into hugely Republican districts, then carved out with incredibly convoluted lines three new districts for Democrats. Starting in 1994, Republicans outpolled Democrats in House races and Anglo Democrats found themselves increasingly imperiled. Still, Democrats held a 17-13 majority in the delegation after the 2000 election.
Texas gained two new seats after the 2000 Census, and Republicans like House Majority Whip Tom DeLay predicted that their party would pick up six to eight seats. It didn't happen. The legislature was unable to agree on a map in 2001; a three-judge federal court in Tyler, with two Democratic- and one Republican-appointed judges, later took control and on November 14 came up with its own plan.
The plan protected all incumbents and created two new Republican districts. But in effect, the partisan Democratic plan of 1991 was given new life, with the Republicans given two new seats as a consolation prize. The result was, predictably, a 17-15 Democratic delegation. The statewide popular vote for the House in 2002 was 53% Republican and 44% Democratic.
In 2002 Republicans won big majorities in the legislature--88-62 in the House and 19-12 in the Senate. In early 2003 Tom DeLay, now House Majority Leader, urged the legislature to pass a new plan; Senate Republicans were reluctant. DeLay continued to press new House Speaker Tom Craddick, a longtime ally. As the legislative session neared adjournment, the House Redistricting Committee approved a new map on May 6. The disciplined Republican majority ignored Democrat protests. On the eve of the House's scheduled May 12 debate, 51 Democrats fled the state and secretly settled in a Holiday Inn in Ardmore, Oklahoma, to prevent the Republicans from getting the two-thirds required for a quorum. This spectacle attracted national attention; the state police--possibly with the assistance of the new federal Homeland Security Department personnel--were dispatched to track down the self-styled "Killer D's." Once their location was revealed, the Democrats insisted they would not return to Austin until after May 15, the final day the House could take up the bill in its regular session. The maneuver worked, temporarily. Governor Rick Perry convened a special session on June 30 and in late July the House approved the redistricting plan and sent it to the Senate. Then 11 Senate Democrats skedaddled.
When enough Democrats showed up to make a quorum, Republicans started arguing about the plan. Craddick insisted on a district in which his hometown of Midland would be the largest city; Midland candidates (including George W. Bush) have lost in the past to candidates from Lubbock or from districts that sprawled to San Antonio. DeLay insisted on splitting Austin's Democratic Travis County among three districts, two of them Republican. Republicans in Williamson County, just north of Austin, insisted that their county dominate a district. Finally all the arguments were resolved and details of the final plan were unveiled on October 9. Passage was perfunctory.
The plan was obviously intended to benefit Republicans: 22 of the 32 districts had voted Republican in statewide races, and two others came close to doing so. Republicans could argue that this was not much different from the plan used in 2002, 21 of whose 32 districts voted for George W. Bush in 2000. But the 2003 plan also shuffled around counties, so that Democrats who had been representing districts carried by Bush suddenly found themselves running in unfamiliar territory.
The plan attempted to comply with the Voting Rights Act by drawing safe districts for Texas's two black and five Hispanic incumbent Democrats. The previous plan had two districts that were more than 40% black; so did the new plan, but it added a 38% black district in Houston (which elected a black Democrat in 2004), while the next highest black percentage in the old plan was 23%. The old plan had seven districts with Hispanic majorities; the new plan had eight. What the plan did was make what Texans called WD-40s--white Democrats over 40--an endangered species. There were 15 of them in the Texas delegation elected in 1992, 11 in 2000, 10 in 2002 and only three in 2004.
Democrats quickly went into federal court and drew a panel with two Republican-appointed and one Democratic-appointed judges. On December 19 the Justice Department ruled the plan was in compliance with the Voting Rights Act; the court ruled that it was permissible to redistrict more than once in the 10 years between censuses. On January 2, 2004, Congressman Ralph Hall, the oldest member of the House, a Democrat elected from a heavily Republican district, announced that he was switching parties. On January 6 the court approved the plan 2-1. That same day 2d District Democrat Jim Turner announced his retirement. In September three DeLay associates who pushed the redistricting plan were indicted by Austin District Attorney Ronnie Earle on campaign finance charges related to the 2002 state House elections; Earle had been criticized by Republicans when an indictment he brought in 1993 against Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison was summarily dismissed. In October 2004 the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the three-judge court to reconsider the case in light of its decision in a redistricting case arising in Pennsylvania, in which the Supreme Court upheld a Republican plan as egregiously partisan as this one. In June 2005, the federal court again rejected the legal challenge.
But by then the election had already been held and the new House had taken office. George W. Bush carried Texas 61%-38%; in the 32 House races Republicans won 58% of the votes to Democrats' 39%. Five WD-40s were defeated; only three survived, Chet Edwards of Waco and two others, Lloyd Doggett and Gene Green, in majority-Hispanic districts. The Texas delegation, 17-15 Democratic before Hall's party switch, was 21-11 Republican in January 2005. Overall, Republicans gained three seats in the House, with the help of Texas, to bring their total to 232, the most won by Republicans in any biennial election since 1946; if Texas had not redistricted and Hall had not switched parties, there would have been only 226. Texas now has the House's largest Republican delegation, with 21 members, ahead of California's 20 and Florida's 18.