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Senate committee advances redraw of congressional districts – Spectrum News

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AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Republicans are working to cement their GOP dominance for the next decade as new political maps advance at the State Capitol. A Senate panel passed a map that redraws congressional districts. In one part of the state, it pits two African American representatives against each other. 
In a rare sighting at the Texas Capitol, two congressional members testified before senators to amend the proposed congressional maps. The 18th congressional district is currently held by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston. Under the plan, Lee’s home would be removed from the district, and she said it would also affect historic institutions that have been around under this district for decades.
“You have surgically undone what we have worked to create for many, many years,” Lee said. 
Parts of Lee’s district would be folded into the 9th congressional district, which fellow Democrat Rep. Al Green serves. 
“It doesn’t look right for the only two persons in the state of Texas to be running against each other in a congressional district from the same party to be of African ancestry,” said Green, D-Houston. 
Ultimately, the Texas Senate Special Committee on Redistricting passed the version that envisions them facing off. It is just one aspect of the Texas Republican strategy to tighten their grip on the levers of power.
Brandon Rottinghaus, political science professor at the University of Houston, said suburban Texas has been a “wildcard” for Republicans. 
“They assumed a decade ago that they were going to be able to win these districts, but demographic change has really remade the state, and politically, the lines they drew are much more competitive than they expected,” he said. “Republicans are trying to draw the lines in ways that shore up districts they already have that they know that they can win.” 
It has already raised concerns among civil rights organizations. In North Texas, where there are large communities of Latinos, those areas have been carved out of the 33rd congressional district and separated into various rural Republican districts under the proposed boundaries. 
The increasingly Democratic-leaning Denton County would be a part of the 13th congressional district that overwhelmingly voted for former President Donald Trump and is currently held by Republican Rep. Ronny Jackson. Jackson served as the White House physician under Trump. 
Delia Parker-Mims, chair of the Denton County Democratic Party, decried the response to the fast-growing suburban community and the possibility that a congressional lawmaker would effectively serve the interests of Denton and Amarillo. The two cities are over 300 miles apart. She likened the results of the Republican proposal to taxation without representation, and fears her community’s voice will be drowned out. 
“They are not about maintaining powers or empowering our communities. They’re about grabbing their own power. It’s just pretty clear and pretty obvious, so it’s just a strong gut punch,” Parker-Mims said. 
Alex Keuhler, southwest communications director with the Republican National Committee, recognizes that redistricting is a partisan battle, but he said they remain focused on the groundwork. In the redrawn 15th congressional district in the Rio Grande Valley, the RNC just opened a Hispanic engagement office in McAllen. The first-of-a-kind investment was planned before redistricting, as it comes following the GOP’s performance in South Texas in the 2020 elections. 
“We’re excited no matter how the maps look, is, what we’re telling voters is that, you know, in the Republican Party, we’re seeing a lot of enthusiasm on our side, especially with what’s going on with the Democrats in Washington, D.C.,” he said. 
This year will be the first time in decades the redistricting process does not need federal approval. Since the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Texas’ redistricting plan has been found in violation of those protections. If Democrats were to now challenge the plan in the courts, Rottinghaus said they would have to prove the lines are drawn by race and drawn to benefit one party. 
“As you gerrymander districts to benefit one party or the other, you do minimize the voices of those people who are not in the majority,” Rottinghaus said. 
Another map of concern is the 16th congressional district, currently held by Democratic Rep. Veronica Escobar. It largely encompasses El Paso. The Senate’s proposal would take out Fort Bliss and the El Paso International Airport and push them into Republican territory.
In tweet, Escobar wrote that “assets” are a part of El Paso’ history and said “I’m very worried for Texas and our democracy.”