I know it’s boring to talk about nonevents. But one of the important stories of last night was the yawn-inducing nature of the vast majority of races for the Texas Legislature and representation in Congress. Thanks to the GOP’s 2021 gerrymander, only a handful of races were truly competitive on Tuesday. The rest were effectively decided earlier this year in primaries by a small, generally unrepresentative fraction of Texans.
Among the 38 congressional races, only three—all in South Texas—were ever considered in play, and in the end only one gerrymander flipped a seat. Republican Monica de La Cruz defeated Democrat Michelle Vallejo by eight percentage points. And even this was a bit of a fait accompli: Republican mapmakers in the Legislature last year specifically drew this Republican-leaning, fajita-shaped district so a Hispanic Republican would likely win.
Among the 31 Texas Senate seats, only one—SD-27, at the southern tip of Texas—was close. (Democrat Morgan LaMantia appears to have narrowly prevailed over Adam Hinojosa, a Republican businessman.) The rest were blowouts, some of which didn’t even feature challengers, preserving the Republican party’s hold on the upper chamber. And in the 150-member Texas House, which often sees a plethora of nail-biters, only a few races ended up coming close. Only four were within ten percentage points. The result is that the Republicans likely only netted one extra seat, though some of the contests haven’t been officially settled.
Rice political science professor Mark P. Jones crunched the numbers and found that of 219 statehouse and congressional races in Texas, only 3 percent were decided by a margin of less than 10 percent.
As I wrote yesterday, in the past, the Texas GOP has gerrymandered in an attempt to gain more ground—a riskier approach that can leave some Republican incumbents vulnerable. Last year, the party took a different approach: consolidating Republican power by protecting incumbents. This type of “defensive gerrymander” leads to boring elections.
You often hear nonvoters, or casual voters, complain that their votes don’t matter. In Texas in 2022, there is some truth to this. Let’s say you’re a Democratic-leaning voter in a purple suburban county, for example Williamson County, in the rapidly growing suburbs north of Austin. For the last few elections, WilCo, population 609,017, has had an almost perfect fifty-fifty split between Democrats and Republicans. Beto O’Rourke barely won it in 2018. Ditto for Biden in 2020. This year, Greg Abbott narrowly won the county. You would think down-ballot elections for Congress and for the statehouse would be at least somewhat competitive. Nope.
If you live in, say, Taylor, the town of 16,267 in eastern WilCo, the district of your current state representative, Democrat James Talarico, was redrawn to safely elect a Republican. Last night, Republican Catherine Harris cruised to victory, beating her opponent 56–44. Meanwhile, Talarico packed his bags and moved into a neighboring district designed to safely elect a Democrat, where he won by nearly 57 percentage points.
The state senator for Taylor and most of WilCo, Republican Charles Schwertner barely broke a sweat in his +18.4 Trump district, which stretches into Aggieland and East Texas, snatching up enough reliably conservative voters to ensure he never has to try. (Notably, no Democrat even bothered to run against him, yet his Libertarian opponent got 33 percent of the vote in WilCo—a protest vote, I think, not an endorsement of an ultra-minimal state.)
Finally, Congressman John Carter’s district, which includes Taylor and most of WilCo, was redrawn from one that Trump won by 2.9 points in 2020 to one he would have carried by 20.3—such a deep red district that no Democrat ran for the seat. It doesn’t have to be this way: WilCo is almost populous enough to have a congressional district entirely within its borders. That would make for an interesting race and a congressperson who would have to represent a coherent community! Instead, the county is split into three districts, represented by three Republican incumbents who never have to break a sweat in November.
This is your democracy, Texas.