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Texas lawmakers pass new congressional maps bolstering GOP

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The Texas House and Senate passed a final version of their Congressional maps for the next decade late Monday and will now await Republican Governor Greg Abbott's signature. 

After a series of amendments and negotiations, the final map does much of what the first draft would've done: it helps Republican incumbents who have seen their districts turn competitive in recent years by drawing in more rural areas, and it reduces the number of Hispanic-majority districts — despite their role in driving nearly half of the state's population growth. 

"Texas Republicans have proven time after time that they don't want to risk fair elections. They know they are out of touch with the majority in the Lone Star State, and instead of adjusting their policies and politics for their constituents, they're trying to manipulate the structures of our democracy to artificially hold onto power," wrote former Attorney General and current chair of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee Eric Holder.

The final product does put Democratic Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee back in her 18th District, after a draft map pitted her against another incumbent Democrat, Congressman Al Green, in the 9th District. The map also puts the home of Democrat Vicente Gonzalez in Texas' 34th District, instead of his current district, the 15th, which Republicans have drawn to make it  a potential pickup for the party.

Since the map drafts were released, Gonzalez has signaled he would run in the nearby 34th anyway, left open by retiring Democratic Congressman Filemon Vela. 

Texas state Democratic representatives argued that the redistricting process had been crammed into a special session called by Abbott in September, and that negotiations on last-minute changes over the weekend were rushed. Mapmakers and legislators received the population data they needed from the Census Bureau in mid-August. 

They also note the maps dilute Hispanic voting power and that while 95% of the growth in the state was due to new Hispanic, Asian and Black residents, neither of the two new congressional districts gained from population growth this year are minority-majority seats. The number of seats with over 50% Hispanic voters also decreased from eight to seven. 

"What we are doing in passing this congressional map is a disservice to the people of Texas," said Democratic State Representative Rafael Anchia before the vote. "It's hurtful to millions of Texans."

Texas' new 37th District has been placed in the state's capitol of Austin, a heavily Democratic city. Democratic incumbent Lloyd Doggett announced Monday he'd be running in the 37th, after representing the 35th since its inception in 2010. 

Democrat Julie Oliver, who lost her 2020 bid in the nearby 25th District, updated her campaign website Monday with an email sign up that reads, "Austin deserves a choice."

The new 38th District is in northwest Houston and its suburbs. Republican candidate Wesley Hunt, who had an unsuccessful campaign against Democrat incumbent Lizzie Fletcher in 2020, has already declared for the GOP-friendly 38th and has endorsements from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

Before the maps passed, Texas Republicans were already facing a lawsuit challenging their constitutionality. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education fund filed a suit against Abbott and Deputy Secretary of State Jose Esparaza over the maps, saying they discriminate against Latinos "by intentionally manipulating district boundaries to reduce Latino voting strength and by making improper and excessive use of race in redistricting."

The suit asks for a three-judge trial court to find the maps unconstitutional, to set a new deadline for adopting maps that don't dilute Latino voting power, and to disallow any elections from occurring in the meantime.

The filing deadline for candidates in Texas is December 13. 

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