Texas House committee approves redistribution plan that would give Democrats a seat in Collin County

A Texas House Committee Tuesday advanced a redistribution plan which creates a Democrat-friendly Collin County district, while also fortifying the Republican districts of several of the county’s veteran GOP lawmakers.

As part of the proposed plan to redesign the Texas House Districts, District 70 of Collin County, now represented by retired Republican Scott Sanford, would move from a district that was once red to a district that in 2020 the President Joe Biden increased from 55% to 44% margin.

Although the revised district has the same number as the seat held by Sanford, it is essentially a new district. Collin County has seen tremendous population growth over the years, including a large influx of Asian, Hispanic and Black voters. The new district would include central and western Plano and part of the Collin County portions of Richardson and Dallas.

But by ceding District 70 to the Democrats, Republican map designers strengthened two Collin County districts that had become fierce battlegrounds. Collin County Republicans Matt Shaheen and Jeff Leach, both of Plano, will now be in districts Trump won in 2020 by a 53% to 45% margin. The original House redistribution proposal had those two districts within the boundaries that Trump won by a 50% to 48% clip, while leaving the Sanford district winnable for a Republican candidate.

“The GOP gave up a vacant seat to save two individual incumbents,” said David de la Fuente, senior political analyst at the center-left group called Third Way. “Republicans are playing defense. They want to protect their majority. Everything else is gravy.

De le Fuente said the House map, which must be approved by the Legislature, reflects the changing demographics of North Texas.

“It shows Republicans are covering that Democratic strength in Collin County goes beyond Trump,” he said. “This indicates a long-term Democratic emergence in Collin County and cedes I-75 hallway to Democrats.”

Having a shot at winning the District 70 seat is a victory for Collin County Democrats, who are poised to win in this once red and reliable county for several election cycles.

Plano Representative Matt Shaheen and other officials pray during the first day of a special legislative session Tuesday, July 18, 2017 at the Texas State Capital in Austin, Texas. (Ashley Landis / Staff Photographer)

Elsewhere in north Texas, the plan changes the Denton County district represented by Democrat Michelle Beckley from a Democratic lean to an area that will most likely be carried by a Republican candidate. Beckley, who denounced the redistribution plan, is running in Congress against Republican incumbent Beth Van Duyne, instead of being re-elected.

Democrats are also expected to secure a seat in Tarrant County, currently held by Republican Jeff Cason.

Dallas County remains largely unchanged, with Republicans slightly adding potential Republican voters to districts held by Republicans Morgan Meyer of University Park and Angie Chen Button of Garland. But these districts still risk being won by a Democratic Party candidate.

The latest card, which was rejected by the committee in an 8-6 party line vote, puts more districts in the solid red category. Under that map now heading towards the full house, Biden would have won only 65 of the 150 quarters in the house. The map could change again when it is considered by the entire House, but Democrats are unlikely to make much more gains in the Republican-controlled House.

The plan decreases the number of districts where black and Hispanic residents would constitute the majority of voters while creating more majority white districts. Democrats opposed a committee change that divided the black population of Killeen in Bell County into two districts. Black residents make up about 40% of the city’s 157,632 residents.

Lawsuits are likely to be filed on any approved card, but this is the first round of redistribution that Texas will not operate under a clause in the voting rights law that has forced d former Confederate states like Texas to get the Department of Justice approved electoral law changes. The Supreme Court struck down this clause in 2013. There is pending federal legislation – including the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the People’s Act – that would end gerrymandering and restore the preclearance provision for redistribution laws and electoral laws, but its passage in the Senate is unlikely.

“The adopted card raises serious moral and legal questions in the way it treats communities of color in Texas,” said State Representative Rafael Anchía, D-Dallas, chair of the US-Mexico Legislative Caucus. “There is a material under-representation in the existing electoral maps, and the proposal put forward today does not take into account the growth and diversity of our state.”

Anchía said Latinos are at least a third under-represented in the makeup of State House districts, despite accounting for nearly half of the population growth.

“This is a plan to protect incumbents based on a racial packaging and cracking strategy,” said Matt Angle, Democratic strategist and director of the Lone Star Project.

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