U.S. Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee and Al Green — both Houston Democrats — testified Monday at the Texas Capitol against proposed district maps that would break up communities of Black voters and pit the two incumbents against each other.
“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,” Green said at a hearing of the the Texas Senate Special Committee on Redistricting.
Green and Jackson Lee are two out of five Black members of Texas’ 36-person congressional delegation, but in the proposed redrawing of the districts, Lee is drawn out of her own district and looped into Green’s.
“Thirty-eight districts,” Green said, noting the two new congressional districts added to Texas because of population growth, which was fueled by people of color. “Two African Americans running against each other in the proposed map.”
Despite their objections, the Senate committee voted out the redrawn congressional map Monday without addressing the district overlap. The map heads next to the full Senate for a vote. It also has to be approved by the House and can still change before it is signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott.
Jackson Lee represents District 18, once represented by Barbara Jordan, who in 1972 became the first Black Texan elected to Congress after Reconstruction. There are families in the district who have lived there for 50 years, Jackson Lee said.
“The 18th [District] has been surgically, erroneously and unconstitutionally, under federal law, been drawn incorrectly,” Jackson Lee said.
The proposed new map “eliminates the base of the historical 18th Congressional District,” said Carl Davis, chair of the Houston Society for Change, who testified before the Senate committee.
While the current congressional district map in Texas has one district with a Black majority of eligible voters, the proposed new map has none. The proposed map increases by one the number of districts with white majorities and cuts the number of districts where Hispanic Texans make up the majority of eligible voters from eight to seven.
The current proposal moves downtown Houston, the Third Ward, Texas Southern University, the University of Houston and Jackson Lee’s own home out of the 18th District.
Green noted that the proposed plan would put his office in the 29th Congressional District, his home in the 9th and a “good deal” of his constituents divided between the two.
Both representatives expressed a desire to help the committee redraw their districts, though Green said it would be difficult to meet the 9 a.m. Thursday deadline to file amendments.
State Sen. Joan Huffman, who leads the chamber’s redistricting committee, said the maps comply with the Voting Rights Act.
This redistricting process — which happens every 10 years to reflect the results of the census — is the state’s first since the Supreme Court in 2013 struck down provisions to protect voters of color from discrimination. For the first time in decades, federal law allows Texas to draw political maps without federal approval to ensure they don’t violate the rights of people of color.
Since the enactment of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, Texas has not made it through a single decade without a federal court admonishing it for violating federal protections for voters of color.