Austin at Large: Right Back Where We Started
Texas will do little. Austin will do more. America will validate us. What happens next?
This week, we finally got our first glimmer of data from the snakebit 2020 census: the topline division of America into 435 pieces within the 50 states, needed to apportion seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. The data to draw the resulting districts isn't arriving until the end of summer, which creates a whole set of scenarios for the 87th Texas Legislature as it approaches sine die (Latin for "drop dead, sucker!") on Memorial Day, May 31. We can get into those later.
You probably heard that Texas once again grew more than any other state, and thus acquired more new congresspeople (two) than any other state, to be elected in 2022; this also gives the Great State a nice round 40 electoral votes in the next two presidential cycles. But! Ten years ago, Texas gained four seats, and this time was widely expected to gain three. What's up with that? Well, between COVID-19 and the efforts by President Apesh*t (unchecked by Governor Loveless) to not count the not-white people, we can be pretty sure that every Texan is not included in our official tally of 29,183,290, a 16% gain over the last decade. But what's done is done and it could have been worse.
What matters more in most contexts is how those Texans are categorized demographically and distributed geographically around our Bigger-Than-France landmass. That's really what influences the outcomes of redistricting – especially for the Legislature's own maps, since we don't add seats to those as the state grows – as well as the flow of formula-driven federal funding. While we're six months behind schedule for those data releases, we already know what they're likely to show: more Latinx people (accounting for more than half of the state's growth), more younger people and more older people, and more people in the corners of the Texas triangle, which connects America's fourth-, seventh-, ninth-, 11th- (that's us), and 13th-largest cities.
The Show That Never Ends
As Texas' frame of mind, so dislocated by a multiyear string of plagues and disasters, begins to stabilize, we can see that the facts on the ground are not broadly different than before. We still do not really know how we're going to feed and house and employ and educate and take care of all these people, and state policymakers have yet to display any bright ideas or guiding principles that could help us find out. Austin will, still, keep trying to do more than the rest of Texas on all these fronts, and will to an extent succeed and have that success continue to be validated on the national stage by everything from clickbait "Top 10 Places" lists to Elon Musk's social media antics to the success of America's most popular vodka.
This all annoys and frightens a lot of people in the rest of Texas. But that can't be helped; what is broadly different than before is that the rest of America, not even just the blue parts, is on our side. As President Biden establishes a new normal for public investment and responsible adulthood in our raggedy-ass country, he's failing to alienate Them Real Americans (white working-class people) despite Apesh*t's best efforts to lead his base into dark places out of spite, like the Pied Piper. (Are they the children, or the rats? Too early to say.)
Even if Republicans do take back one or both chambers of Congress in 2022, that would only slow Amtrak Joe's train down, not stop it. And Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick can only do so much to prevent the people they "govern" from aligning their expectations with the national example. They and the Lege are doing a lot of said damage as they rattle about the (still) socially distanced halls of the Capitol, picking on trans kids and pregnant teenagers and windmills. But they're not doing a great job of providing the actual policy counterweight that they alone (unless Florida catches up) can demonstrate as a GOP-endorsed alternative success story to the Biden Democrats' narrative of American rescue. That's what the Texas Miracle is supposed to be, right? Haven't we been hearing that refrain for 25 years?
Instead, this session we've seen GOP leaders in the Lege throwing up their hands and saying – not loudly but still audibly – that yes, Democrats are right on issues like Medicaid expansion and LGTBQIA rights and climate action and criminal justice reform and the state energy industry. (Education and property taxes, the tired old GOP warhorses of past sessions, are still areas where one can discern an actual alternative policy direction to rally behind, but they can't get anyone to pay attention to those.) But it's too toxic to say so until we're past the 2022 primaries, which will also likely be delayed by the snakebit census. Some of the people who have been right all along are going to be dead before the people running the state, who can't even keep the damn lights on, find a dignified way to climb down (or up) from the most egregious stances of their party's decade of decadence.