Texas saw the greatest increase in population of any state in the nation in the last decade and estimates that up to 85 percent of the 4.5 million new residents in the state are Hispanic.
This put Texas at the top in the number of congressional seats gained, but presents a challenge for the Republican controlled legislature, which is in charge of redrawing district lines for the new seats, since Hispanics turn out for Democrats more often than not.
“That fact isn’t lost on Hispanic leaders, who see Texas gaining four seats in Congress and want their share,” Dr. Michael K. Moore, associate professor of political science at the University of Texas at Arlington, said.
Dr. Steve H. Murdock, former head of the Census Bureau and now chairman of the Hobby Center for the Study of Texas at Rice University, says 90 percent of the state’s growth comes from just five areas: Dallas-Arlington-Fort Worth, Houston-Galveston, San Antonio, Austin and the Rio Grande Valley.
In Dallas County, the Hispanic population increased from 30 percent to 40 percent and in Houston and surrounding Harris County it increased from 33 percent to 40 percent. The Rio Grande Valley is a Hispanic dominant area along the border with Mexico.
“In both Dallas and Harris counties, you see them going from a white plurality in 2000 to a Hispanic plurality now,” Murdock said.
While Republicans currently enjoy a supermajority in the Texas legislature, giving them control over redistricting, any new districts they carve out will have to adhere to federal voting rights laws enacted to ensure the minority vote isn’t diluted.
“So these are important decisions, and Republicans need to find a way to draw four more districts they think they’ll win,” Moore said. “If they can figure a way to draw all four and include districts that will likely elect Hispanic Republicans, that’s even better.”
The recent 2010 midterm elections saw an unprecedented number of Hispanic Republicans voted into office both in Congress and at the state level, but none of them won with a majority of Hispanic voters. And with recent anti-immigrant measures introduced by Republicans at the federal and state level, which critics say have created anti-Hispanic sentiment and led to racial profiling of Hispanics, the GOP isn’t favorably positioned to court the fastest growing minority group in the country.
“The Texas state demographer’s projections for the next three decades show that only 3 percent of growth will be white, and everything else will be principally Hispanic,” Dr. Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University, said.
It remains to be seen if Republicans in Texas will draw out districts reflecting the Hispanic growth in the state.
“But don’t underestimate the impact incumbents have on this process,” Murdock said. “They’re self-interested.”