Redistricting and other boundary testing in the week in Texas politics
The redistricting process entered a new and long-awaited phase this week with the release of the first proposed maps for Congress and the Texas House. The maps meet expectations of partisanship coupled with personal score-settling – there isn’t a fig leaf big enough to hide the naked self-interest on display. (Rhetoric and abstract visions of the process aside, this is, of course, to be expected within the current norms and rules governing redistricting). The Texas House map strongly favors all but a very few Republican incumbents (one big exception is State Rep. Cason) as well as many Democratic incumbents. It delivers hard blows to Democrats targeted for either defeat (e.g. Reps. Talarico and Zwiener) or perhaps being tempted to switch parties (e.g. Rep. Guillen), and decreases the number of Black and Hispanic majority districts.
At first cut, the demographic patterns of growth appear to have constrained the party from drawing maps as ambitiously as in 2011, though some day-one measures suggest the map increases GOP advantages from the status quo by a few measures (e.g. Trump vote share, number of white-majority districts). All of the maps remain subject to changes in the ongoing process, but there are plenty of interpretations out there, with more to come. GOP consultant Derek Ryan, a frequent provider of public goods when it comes to voting and elections in Texas, tweeted a handy list of the new House districts in the first version of the map ranked by ORVS score for each district. It’s a pretty efficient way to take a first pass, though best with a map handy. The House map is below. You can find the other Texas maps and related data at the Capitol Data Portal maintained by the Texas Legislative Council. Meanwhile, the Senate Redistricting Committee is scheduled to vote on the amended Senate map at 9 a.m. meeting Monday morning. (H/t Chuck Lindell)
The ramping up of redistricting politics took place amidst a lot of other notable stories that have important if less structural consequences. Here are a few quick(-ish) references with some relevant polling data below.
Former President Trump registered his dissatisfaction with Governor Abbott’s response to the letter he sent him last week, telling The Texas Tribune that it is "a big mistake for Texas" not to pass legislation calling for an audit of results of the 2020 election. Trump’s post-defeat favorability ratings remain positive, and intensely so, among Texas Republicans and conservatives. An Abbott spokesperson’s response, in part: "We have all the tools necessary to conduct a full, comprehensive audit.” Trump seems to be pushing less hard this week than last – will be interested to see if that lasts.
The Texas Public Utility Commission held an open meeting Thursday to adopt two orders related to legislation passed in response to the effects of the historic February winter storm in Texas; a political storm of a more fecal nature ensued. The orders implemented legislative provisions for the securitization of storm-related debt incurred by different utility businesses, a complicated matter I’m not qualified to fully explain. But the politics that erupted around this open meeting, implementing already-passed legislation, exposed continuing rifts in the GOP on the issue, and remind us that political leaders are well-aware that the public has little faith in Texas government’s efforts to address problems with the state’s energy infrastructure. Lt. Governor Dan Patrick continued the posture that he adopted shortly after the infrastructure collapse in an aggressive letter sent to members of the commission prior to the meeting, urging them not to adopt the orders under consideration. In a statement after the meeting (in which his advice was not taken), he excoriated State Rep. Chris Paddie, who authored one of the relevant bills (HB 4492), as “disingenuous” and motivated by “seeking a highly compensated position in the same electric industry that stands to benefit from his position of no netting and no transparency.” This (presumably) moved Speaker Dade Phelan to take to Twitter to defend “Chairman Paddie’s steady leadership, his character, and his integrity,” while calling for a hearing to provide “an informed progress report about the state of our grid.” This came after a largely embarrassing hearing in the Texas Senate on the progress of the power grid winterization earlier in the week. I won’t try to parse the posturing and intra-legislative trash talking and interpersonal hostility here; but no small amount of polling data suggests that Texans were not approving of the state’s response to the power outages, and have little faith that the legislature’s action will prevent further outages like the one that took place last winter.
Speaker Dade Phelan also clashed with the other corner of Texas government’s most important unstable triangle Thursday evening after Governor Abbott added “Legislation increasing the penalties for illegal voting that were reduced in Senate Bill No. 1 that passed in the 87th Legislature, Second Called Session” to the agenda for the third session. The message to the Senate was stamped as received at 5:01 pm; a few hours later, the Speaker pushed back on Twitter. Beyond being yet another instance of the ongoing friction between the executive and legislative branch, this is also a sign that the governor is determined to continue working "election integrity," even if other Republican elected officials are made to serve as foils for signaling his commitment to Republican primary voters. In our August 2021 Texas Politics Project poll, 70% of self-identified conservatives reported that they thought rules for voting in Texas should be more strict - including 80% of those who identified as "extremely conservative".
Pundit, consultant, former Democrat, former Republican, and apparent early riser Matthew Dowd declared his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for Lt. Governor in the wee hours Wednesday. Dowd’s many-splendored political history is well-rehearsed in numerous places, including in a curiously schematic Wikipedia biography. The brand he has constructed is more or less aptly captured in the title of the “Country over Party” group he founded a few year ago, and in his trenchant criticism of partisanship and institutional failure as a pundit on ABC and elsewhere, and, more recently, on MSNBC (live from Wimberly!). Another appearance on MSNBC's 11th Hour with Brian Williams Thursday night illustrates Dowd's ability to generate "earned media," but also raises questions about whether and how his media associates past and present, especially the liberal-leaning MSNBC, will be a more arms length now that Dowd is a political candidate. Last night, host Brian Williams treated Dowd as if he were already the candidate facing incumbent Dan Patrick, which is obviously not the case.
Whether Dowd's positioning makes for an appealing brand for the Texas Democratic Party c. 2021 is a big question, given the trend in Democratic ideological identification in recent years - see below. Another related question is whether someone who once worked for George W. Bush, despite subsequent performative public renunciations, can attract large numbers of Texas Democrats. Sure, some younger Democrats (and there are a lot of them) might not make much of an association with Bush. But many other older Democrats are likely to still have strong – very strong, in my experience, anyway - and personal feelings about George W. Bush that will prove to be a very big obstacle. The campaign of Mike Collier, engaged in an effort to seek a rematch with Patrick in 2022 after losing by less than 5 points in 2018, was unimpressed with the new entrant. A statement by Collier Deputy Campaign Manager Ali S. Zaidi, included in n coverage by Christian Flores on KEYE in Austin among many others, was direct: "Mr. Dowd—you may notice things have changed a lot since you were working for Republicans. Democratic voters will be interested to hear how selling a false war, ensuring the deciding Supreme Court vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, and leading the charge to pass numerous anti-marriage equality ballot measures have shaped your current views."
There continues to be a great deal of political activity around Texas' boundary-testing abortion law, SB 8, including testimony in the U.S. Senate this week by Austin State Rep. Donna Howard. and a federal court hearing today on the U.S. Justice Department's motion to freeze the law. Josh Blank compiled a deep dive into multiple dimensions of abortion attitudes and policies in Texas. It is a more extensive look at public opinion on abortion in Texas than you will find anywhere else, built on more than a decade of results, organized into four key takeaways, and with some great tables that are too big to fit in this email. The subject also comes up in this week’s Second Reading podcast, in which Josh and I riff on the question hovering over politics in the state in the wake of the 87th Texas Legislature's right turn and the emerging politics of the 2022 election: How far is too far for the Texas GOP? You can find a link to the podcast in a post on the Texas Politics Project website, along with some graphics of results we reference in the podcast.
Have a great weekend. If you have tickets for the ACL festival in Austin this weekend, I’ll cross my fingers and hope the weather takes a good turn for you, though I read in the recently inaugurated Axios Austin vertical that cancellation was a possibility. (And by the way, you can sign up for that newsletter, reported and written by Asher Price and Nicole Cobler, here.) I attended part of one of the soaked ACL's...let’s see, the rain ruined my last Blackberry...2009, maybe?
Be well and keep in touch,
Executive Director, The Texas Politics Project
College of Liberal Arts / Department of Government
The University of Texas at Austin