With redistricting in the offing, battle for the Texas House heats up

RICHARDSON — It’s not easy to explain redistricting in Texas, but Brandy Chambers, a Democrat running for Republican state Rep. Angie Chen Button’s suburban Dallas seat, is willing to give it a try.

“Now you’re gonna have to hold on to your britches and let me walk you through it because it’s not a direct A+B+C,” Chambers playfully warns a gaggle of her supporters in a dimly lit back room of the Ye Shire Tavern at a summer campaign event.

The 46-year-old lawyer animatedly points to a few “nice, very expensive” homemade poster boards propped up on a table as she regales three dozen campaign volunteers and supporters with talking points on redistricting, top of mind for many state legislators and politically minded people these days, even if the process won’t start in earnest for another 15 months.

“Now the Texas House and the Texas Legislature are the ones that are responsible for drawing those lines and determining who gets to vote where in 2021,” Chambers says as she bumps into one of her posters with colorful maps and charts. “This is pivotal. And now that the Supreme Court has declared that political gerrymandering is not their business … then that means it is on us to basically set our own rules and to keep this accountable.”

The practice of reshaping political boundaries following the decennial U.S. census has long been a familiar political tug-of-war between Democrats and Republicans. For most of the last decade, Democratic lawmakers, civil rights advocates and other groups have been fighting the state’s maps — drawn in 2011 by a Republican-majority Legislature and redrawn in 2013, after a slew of legal challenges, also by a Republican-majority Legislature — arguing that they disadvantage voters of color.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that Texas lawmakers did not intentionally discriminate against voters of color in 2013 in 10 of the 11 Texas House and congressional districts being challenged in court. The one exception was a House district in the Fort Worth area that the high court said was illegally drawn using race as the main factor.

During the 2021 legislative session, state lawmakers will again take a stab at redrawing the state’s political boundaries — this time, for the first time in decades, without federal oversight.

But first it’s up to voters to decide in 2020 whether Republicans or Democrats will control that complicated process in the House. For Chambers — who lost to Button by 2.2 percentage points, or 1,100 votes, in 2018 — Democrats have a real chance at picking up the nine seats needed to claim control of the lower chamber.

Democrats are looking to flip 22 GOP-held seats and Republicans are targeting 12 Democratic seats, creating a wide-open battleground map, ranging from Corpus Christi to North Texas, but centered in the suburbs of Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and Austin.

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