Hearings began last week in Austin that will bear on how much political representation Kerr County citizens will have in Washington, D.C., the Texas Legislature and State Board of Education.
At stake is more than $1.5 trillion in federal funds to support state and local programs related to health care, education, transportation and other services, Lloyd Potter, Texas State demographer and director of Texas Demographic Center/State Data Center, said during a Jan. 28 state senate committee hearing on redistricting in Central Texas.
“For Texas to receive our fair share of tax dollars that we’ve sent to Washington — to receive those back — we want to make sure all Texans are counted and we get our fair share of resources for programs like health care, transportation and education,” Potter said during the hearing.
The timeline for redistricting depends on when the U.S. Census Bureau can deliver data from the 2020 nationwide census. Various data files are set for delivery starting in April, Potter said.
In the meantime, officials are taking comments from the public. To learn more about how to comment, visit https://senate.texas.gov/redistrictingcomment/.
Recent redistricting hearings at the Capitol involved Dawn Buckingham, who represents State Senate District 24, which includes Kerr County. She sits on the redistricting committee.
“As a strong defender of rural Texas, we must always fight to ensure that rural Texas is heard just as loud as urban Texas,” states a post on Buckingham’s Twitter account Thursday.
Echoing this sentiment was Kerr County Precinct 1 Commissioner Harley Belew.
“I would prefer us to be separate from Austin and the counties north of us,” Belew told The Kerrville Daily Times on Friday.
U.S. House District 21 includes Kerr County and parts of San Antonio and Austin. Being lumped in with these populous areas “overrides us,” Belew said.
“We don’t have the same needs or interests,” Belew said. “What is important in Austin and Travis County and Williamson County and those places is not important here.”
He noted there are important differences in how urban and rural areas deal with water availability, trash disposal and property tax exemptions. For example, state and federal grants for water and wastewater projects depend on political representatives — at the state and federal level — being able and willing to educate themselves about the needs of their constituents and secure those resources.
Barbara Veldhuizen, chair of the Kerr County Democratic Party, indicated she was open to the idea of Kerr County not being in the same district as parts of Austin and San Antonio. She also argued the current redistricting process would be more fair if a bipartisan commission were in charge.
“There is no doubt that redistricting should be taken out of the hands of politicians — of any stripe — and put into the hands of a bipartisan commission and use accurate census data to create logical districts that encompass neighborhoods,” Veldhuizen said in an email. “TX21 was drawn up in a way so as to keep Lamar Smith in office for 30 years. And if TX21 redistricting resulted in the loss of parts of Austin, then so be it. But what would happen is that urban districts would increase in number, and that would mean that Texas delegation would reflect more of the true population than it does now.”
Changes ahead for representation in Texas
Because Texas has grown so much in population — more than any other state, Potter said — and other demographic changes have occured, there may be some changes in store for how the boundaries are drawn in the state. For example, data so far indicates Texas may receive two or three new congressional seats, Potter said.
Some of the major population increases since 2010 occurred in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and in the three major metropolitan areas of San Antonio, Houston and Dallas/Fort Worth, according to Potter’s presentation.
Boundaries in fast-growing areas will become geographically smaller as a result, Potter said.
Kerr County is one of the areas of the state where less population growth has occurred since 2010.
Representation demanded for some races, ethnicities
Race and ethnicity may play a role in how various political boundaries are drawn.
Among members of the public who offered comments during the Jan. 28 hearing was Ashley Chang, representing the Texas Asian/Pacific Islander Redistricting Coalition. Chang, a graduate student in social work at UT Austin, asked the committee to help make sure the redistricting process doesn't “diminish the ability of any minority community to elect a candidate of their choice or that manipulates maps for racial or partisan gain.”
Although she admitted her political views were “vastly different” from her father’s views, “we have a lot in common when it comes to the interests of API communities and the value of equal representation.”
She indicated that adhering to this principle would allow more fair representation for people who share “a common language and culture” and would be more efficient for politicians.
Chang objected that the area of Austin — north Austin, where she lives with her family — with the highest API density was “cracked into three congressional districts just a few miles apart.” Another API community in southwest Austin was separated into two congressional districts, she said.
“We go to the same restaurants and grocery stores, we attend the same churches, mosques and temples, and yet our voices are divided and minimized into further minoritization, practically rendering us invisible when it comes to political power,” Chang said.