Redistricting: Now, The Fun Begins!

Upcoming opportunities to give public input to Lege, city map-makers


Photo by Jana Birchum

Like a swarm of insects, or an asteroid approaching the earth, the decennial redistricting cycle is finally upon us. Things are months behind their normal schedule because of the delayed and star-crossed 2020 census, but as of mid-August the map drawers have had the data they need to perform their duty in a constitutional manner if that appeals to them, or to take their chances in the courts if it doesn't. And now, out of both obligation and opportunity, we are rushing to the finish line at all levels of government.

The redistricting committees in the Texas House and Senate are holding hearings now, before the third special session of the 87th Texas Legislature begins Sept. 20. That nominally gives lawmakers 30 days to hammer out maps for their own chambers, for U.S. House seats (adding two), and for the State Board of Education, but the wisdom of the Capitol crowds is betting on a much tighter timeframe. As no meaningful participation by Democrats is expected before the maps hit the floor of each chamber, the Lege could be done by the end of the month, and then the courts will inevitably take over. If needed, the state is prepared to delay the March 2022 primary.

The courts could take over even before maps get drawn. A lawsuit filed in federal district court last week by Sens. Sarah Eck­hardt (D-Austin) and Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio) and the state Tejano Dem­ocrats – with former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson, a Repub­lican, as lead counsel – argues the Lege is not allowed by the Texas Constitution to adopt new maps until the first regular session following the receipt of census data, in 2023. Whether through this stratagem or another, most Democratic and progressive stakeholders would prefer court-drawn maps to the fruit of this Legislature.

To that end, the Democrats' national All on the Line campaign – led in Texas by former Annie's List Political Director Genevieve Van Cleve (vancleve@redistrictingaction.org) – has been working to get people trained to testify at the hearings and create a legislative record to buttress court challenges. You can access AOTL trainings – including a session tonight (Thursday, Sept. 9) at 7pm – and the registration links for the upcoming Lege hearings at mobilize.us/allonthelinetx. Both the House and Senate require that witnesses register 48 hours in advance, so as you read this, if you'd like to testify you have up to four more opportunities:

* Senate Redistricting Committee: Sat., Sept. 11, beginning at 10am, virtual testimony only via Zoom.

* House Redistricting Committee: Mon. and Wed., Sept. 13 and 15, beginning at 10am, and Sat., Sept. 18 at 11am, either virtually or in person at the Capitol Extension Audi­tor­ium (E1.004).

Meanwhile, the city of Austin's Inde­pen­dent Citizens Redistricting Commission is beginning to draw its new boundaries for the 10 City Council districts this week – using the current lines as a guide – and has four public forums scheduled around Austin Sept. 18-Oct. 2. We'll have more coverage of what to expect and what's at stake from both the Lege and ICRC online and in next week's print issue.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

87th Texas Legislature, redistricting, Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, ICRC, 10-1, All On The Line, Genevieve Van Cleve, Sarah Eckhardt, Roland Gutierrez, Tejano Democrats, Wallace Jefferson, 2020 census

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