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.
The reapportionment also will alter electoral-vote calculations for presidential elections. A state's Electoral College vote is the sum of its House and Senate seats.
Federal law prevents legislators from drawing reapportioned districts filled with too many or too few voters from minority groups, said Bruce Cain, who teaches politics at the University of California, Berkeley. "Texas Republicans will try to pack Latinos into districts to the extent they can to limit Democratic strength in the state," he said.
In the last redistricting, Tom DeLay, a U.S. representative from suburban Houston who was House Majority Leader from 2003 to 2005, "wiped the Democrats out," Murray said. On Nov. 2, 23 Texas Republicans won election or re-election to Congress for a net gain of three seats.
DeLay engineered a redistricting plan in the state Legislature that enabled Republicans to pick up five House seats in 2004. Democrats tried to block the plan by leaving the state.
Last month, DeLay was found guilty of channeling $190,000 in corporate donations to legislative candidates and of conspiring to commit money laundering.
Republicans now hold 101 of the 150 seats in the state House, enough so that they can pass bills without the votes of any Democrats. The party also controls 19 of 31 Senate seats. Rick Perry, a Republican, has been governor since George W. Bush was elected president in 2000. Republicans elected statewide include U.S. Senators Kay Bailey Hutchinson and John Cornyn.
Five-term state Representative Aaron Pena of Edinburg, elected as a Democrat, and colleague Allan Ritter of Nederland in East Texas both strengthened the Republican hold by switching parties last week.
"If you don't have a seat at the table, you may be on the menu," Pena, 51, wrote on his blog on the day of his switch.
Republicans will be fair in the redistricting process, said Pena, who is part of his South Texas district's Latino majority.
"There is a trending away among Hispanics from the Democratic Party," he said in a telephone interview.
Such a trend may be crucial to the party's continued dominance in the state: Hispanics may outnumber Anglo-Americans in Texas by 2017 because of higher birth rates, lower mortality and continued migration, said Potter, the state demographer.