AUSTIN (AP) – Texas will get four new seats in Congress, twice as many as the next-highest gainer, according to figures released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau.
The release of population numbers, announced at the National Press Club in Washington, begins what figures to be a politically divisive process in the nation’s second-largest state on how to divvy up the seats.
Boyd Richie, chairman of the Texas Democratic Party, said Hispanic and black population growth account for the additional seats, and he vowed to fight for a redistricting plan that takes their numbers into account.
“A legal and fair redistricting process must produce new congressional districts that reflect the Hispanic and African American population growth,” Richie said. “Our Democratic numbers may be down, but we are not out. Democrats cannot and will not allow our voices to be silenced in this critical process.”
But with Republican supermajorities in the Legislature, the temptation to run the table will be strong. Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, said if the federal courts don’t intervene to compel fairness, Republicans will likely produce a map that gives their party the advantage in three or perhaps even all four of the new seats.
“It is very easy to overreach when you’re holding the map and have the pen in your hand,” he said.
Although Texas Republicans have fortified their already strong hold on the state Legislature with landslide victories in the November election, they won’t have unchecked authority to draw the state’s congressional map to benefit the GOP.
Civil rights laws require that the interests of minority voters be protected as district boundaries are redrawn, and Texas is one of the states whose redistricting plans require “pre-clearance” by federal authorities under the Voting Rights Act.
Because much of the population growth came among Hispanics, who have traditionally tended to favor Democrats, experts expect at least one or two of the new seats will need to be Hispanic-leaning to clear the federal law. Democrats are also counting on an assist from the Obama Administration, which could have a significant voice in the pre-clearance process.
It is the first time since the Voting Rights Act passed that the Justice Department will be in Democratic hands during the redistricting process.
Hispanic growth doesn’t automatically translate into Democratic growth, either. Two heavily Hispanic Congressional seats in South Texas flipped to Republicans this year, and there are several new Latino GOP members about to be sworn into legislative seats.
There are 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, and every 10 years they have to be reapportioned according to population changes. Twelve seats shifted this year, mostly out of the industrial northeast and Midwest toward the southern and western states.
Texas, which grew by more than 20 percent over the last decade, was one of eight states that picked up seats in Congress. Ten states lost influence in the U.S. House of Representatives. Louisiana, which people fled in droves after Hurricane Katrina, was the only southern state that will lose a seat in Congress. New York and Ohio were the biggest losers of all, coughing up two seats each.
Their loss was the Lone Star State’s gain: Florida, which picked up two seats, was the second-highest gainer after Texas. All other states increasing their influence in Washington gained a single Congressional seat.
“Texas gained the most seats this decade, a total of four, and indeed that state has gained seats for seven consecutive decades,” said Census Director Robert Groves.
Each congressional district will contain a little over 700,000 people.
Census officials in February will begin releasing detailed demographic data, down to the block level, allowing state legislators to decide how to draw new boundaries for themselves, Congress and other elective offices that are divided up into districts.
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