A federal court ruled on Thursday that the Texas House’s district map intentionally discriminated against Hispanic and black people in parts of Texas. Although redrawing the map won’t dramatically overhaul the makeup of the 150-member body, it will make the moving parts of next year’s elections and the future of House Speaker Joe Straus a little more interesting.
Unlike other statewide leaders, the House speaker is not elected by the voters at large. Instead, the speaker is chosen from among the House members by a vote of the sitting legislators. At present, the House has 55 Democrats and 95 Republicans. Straus—known for building cross-party coalitions—can count on the Democrats for his re-election, but he needs support from 21 Republicans to win re-election this year.
Depending on how the maps are redrawn, Democrats may pick up four seats in next year’s elections, still leaving them short of a majority. But for Straus, redrawn maps might cost him two supporters and win him two opponents.
The court found that in Nueces County, the district maps discriminated in the placement of minority voters in a way that favored the re-election of Representative Todd Hunter, a key Straus Republican ally and chairman of the House committee that sets bills for debate on the daily calendar. To make his district safe, the court said Hispanic voters were packed into the district of Representative Abel Herrero, a Democrat. Redrawing the districts won’t automatically guarantee Hunter’s defeat, but it will make it more difficult for him to win re-election.
The court also ruled that the Legislature intentionally split a minority community in Killeen to guarantee the election of two white Republicans in Districts 54 and 55, Scott Cosper of Killeen and Hugh Shine of Temple. Both have backed Straus in the past. Putting the minority community in Killeen back together probably endangers Cosper’s re-election, and may put a Democrat in that rural district. Either way, this likely is a wash in the politics of electing the next speaker.
In Dallas and Tarrant counties, the court ruling likely would help Straus win re-election. In declaring that five districts in those two counties discriminated against minorities, the most likely losers in any redrawing of the district maps will be Republican Representatives Rodney Anderson of Irving and Matt Krause of Fort Worth. Anderson was among nineteen House members who voted against Straus in one election for speaker, and Krause is a member of the Freedom Caucus, which has been trying to force a speaker vote in the caucus instead of on the House floor, where Democrats also have a say.
The court is giving the state an opportunity to hold a special session to redraw the maps before it draws maps of its own. However, Attorney General Ken Paxton said he will appeal the court’s ruling. But if the districts are redrawn, Straus’s next session could be more contentious than the last.