Texas Hispanics set to challenge status quo in reapportionment

By David Mildenberg and Darrell Preston
(c) 2010 Bloomberg News
Tuesday, December 21, 2010; 11:46 AM

Texas emerged today with the biggest political boost from the 2010 Census, adding four congressional seats as a growing Hispanic population is set to challenge Republican party dominance in some districts, lawmakers said.

Growth since 2000 in the second most-populous state gave Texas 36 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, up from 32, the largest gain of any state, Census figures show. The increase raises the stakes for Republicans, who have dominated the Austin statehouse since 2002 and will draw the new district lines.

In Texas, Latinos have tended to back Democrats, said U.S. Representative Gene Green, a Houston Democrat, and Blake Farenthold, a Brownsville Republican. While Hispanics make up about 37 percent of the population, Republicans hold all statewide elective offices.

"If the Legislature can marginalize the Democrats, they will," U.S. Representative Charles Gonzalez, a San Antonio Democrat, said last week in a telephone interview. "But you need the congressional districts to be drawn in a way that reflects the growth in Hispanics."

In states with large Latino populations, the group's support can help sway elections. Last month in California, 75 percent of Hispanic voters in the most-populous state favored Governor-elect Jerry Brown, while 62 percent picked victorious Senate incumbent Barbara Boxer, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. Both are Democrats.

Hispanics composed about 70 percent of the 3.9 million people added to the Texas population in the past decade, said Lloyd B. Potter, a demography professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio who is the official state demographer. Anglo-Americans made up 8.1 percent of the gain, he said.

The growth was propelled by people seeking work in an economy buoyed by oil and gas companies and expanding technology industries, said Pat Guseman, president of Population & Survey Analysts, a research firm in College Station. Exxon Mobil Corp., the world's largest oil company by market value, is based in Irving and Round Rock is home to Dell Inc., the third-largest maker of personal computers.

About 25 percent of eligible Texas voters are Latino, the Washington-based Pew Hispanic Center said Oct. 15. About 75 percent of those who voted on Nov. 2 backed Democrats, according to Richard Murray, a University of Houston politics professor.

Hispanics will dominate two or three of the new Texas districts, predicted Green, Farenthold, Gonzales and state Representative Delwin Jones, a Lubbock Republican who has led redistricting committees three times.

Farenthold, who in November defeated 28-year incumbent Solomon Ortiz in his southeast Texas district, said the election showed Latino voters will support an Anglo-American Republican who shares their views on abortion and other key issues. Farenthold beat Ortiz by less than 1 percent of the vote in the district, which borders Mexico.

"South Texans are mainly Catholics with traditional values and people who value a hard day's work," Farenthold said last week in a telephone interview. "We've done a poor job until this election of getting that message across."

The 435 congressional seats are reapportioned every decade after completion of the decennial census, with each district drawn to contain roughly the same number of people. After the 2000 Census, each district was supposed to have about 647,000 people, which will now increase to reflect the nation's growth.

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