Reapportionment: Here we go again

(By Michael Schumacher)


The late Teel Bivins was a Republican state senator from Amarillo, Texas, who served in the Legislature from 1989 until 2004, when he got a job as U.S. ambassador to Sweden.

Bivins told me once that he hated the task of redrawing congressional and legislative district lines. He then offered a quip that I never thought to ask what he meant by it. Reapportionment, he said, was a way to “give Republicans a chance to eat their young.”

I scratched me noggin at the time, not quite understanding what Bivins meant by that. He did say he detested the task that fell to legislators to do the job, although he never offered an alternative. Indeed, the Texas Legislature has balked repeatedly on any effort to amend the way it redraws those boundaries.

I happen to like the idea of letting non-politicians do it. The governor, the lieutenant governor and the House speaker could select a non-partisan commission to do the task every 10 years after they take the census.

The Legislature, though, is going to start the task once more soon. The census will be finalized in about a month and the Legislature will have divide the state into roughly  38 congressional districts; Texas is expected to gain two seats, given its population growth. They all have to be of roughly the same population, which I figure will be about 700,000 people. The Legislature also will redraw its 31 Senate and 150 House seats. That’s where it gets tricky, because the state doesn’t expand the number of legislators, but must spread the population more or less equally among them.

Republicans control the Legislature. I am dead certain that the GOP pols who run the show in Austin are going to be driven to achieve one goal: to keep their power.

The state is changing before our eyes. Yes, it’s still Republican red, but its redness isn’t nearly as vivid as it has been in recent election cycles. Donald Trump won the state in 2020 by less than 6 percent; he defeated Hillary Clinton by 9 points in 2016; Mitt Romney won by a margin of 16  points in 2012; John McCain won it by roughly 11 percent in 2008.

Texas is turning slowly but inexorably into a more “purple” state.

All of this tells me that Teel Bivins’s quip about Republicans “eating their young” makes even less sense now than when he uttered it. However, the changing political demographics of this state tells me the need for reapportionment reform is more critical than ever.