Part of the redistricting mess in Texas has been driven by the state’s sheer growth, 20.6 percent over the past decade. Travis County, home to Austin, grew by more than 26 percent. So after gaining two additional House seats after the 2000 Census, Texas grabbed four more after 2010.
After the 2000 elections, Texas had a congressional delegation of 17 Democrats and 13 Republicans, a disparity that GOP leaders at the time, such as Tom DeLay, set out to flip. DeLay was later found guilty of laundering money into the 2002 state elections in an effort to swing the legislature to Republicans. He is awaiting an appeal.
In 2003, an epic battle ensued in which Democratic legislators fled to other states trying to deny an official quorum for the legislature to approve the new map.
The plan eventually won approval for the 2004 elections, and after those contests Republicans controlled the delegation by a 21-11 margin. A 2006 Supreme Court ruling upheld most of the DeLay-led redistricting but required a handful of districts, including Doggett’s, to be redrawn for a third straight time heading into the 2006 elections.
In order to maximize their gains here, Republicans packed more minority voters into fewer Democratic districts, hoping to meet federal voting-rights laws while also diluting Democratic opportunities. The result has been more black and Latino Texas Democrats in Congress over the past decade while white Texas Democrats have all but disappeared. Doggett and Rep. Gene Green are the last white Texas Democrats in the House.
After the 2010 elections gave the state’s GOP delegation a 23-9 edge, many Republicans entered this redistricting cycle hoping to shore up their districts and divide up the four new districts evenly.
But nothing is ever that simple in Texas.
An initial map was rejected by the federal court in San Antonio, which drew its own lines that favored Democrats. This placed the 35th District around San Antonio and heading south, leading Romo to jump into the race believing she would not face an incumbent in the heavily Latino district.
Then the Supreme Court — issuing its second ruling on Texas’s congressional lines in less than six years — said the lower court had overreached and ordered another map. The lower court finally settled on a compromise that drew up two of the four seats as favoring Latinos, while giving a Republican tilt to the other seats and helping many other GOP incumbents.
That’s when Romo realized that her district now went north, up to east Austin, and that Doggett — with his $3 million campaign war chest — was now her opponent.
“He made the decision to challenge me, not the other way around,” she said recently during an interview in her home.
Having raised just $25,000 for the race, Romo is now a long shot to stop Doggett.
Ultimately, the incumbent said, voters are the biggest losers in the redistricting scramble.
“It will be a real challenge to be everywhere at once,” Doggett said, pondering representing two major cities 80 miles apart. “The more you stretch out and have less compacted districts, the less-effective members you have.”