AUSTIN, Texas — A Texas House committee is holding a hearing on a proposal by Senate Republicans to redraw the state’s congressional districts. A lot of the reaction is focusing on one element of the new map, a controversial proposal to put two Black Democratic members of Congress in the same district. Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and Rep. Al Green once again traveled to Austin in hopes of convincing Republicans in the lower chamber to toss out the proposed redraw.
Dr. Michael O. Adams said he was not born in Texas, but he said he got there as fast as he could. He has been a professor at Texas Southern University in Houston for about 40 years. The historically Black college is in Texas’ 18th Congressional District, where he has lived for nearly as long. It was a district once represented by Barbara Jordan, the first African American woman from the South elected to the U.S. House. Adams said since then the district has been a "bastion of political power."
“It’s the culture, it’s the sum total of the people existence in the city of Houston, in the Houston metropolitan areas. Everything that defines Houston from our our food in terms of who we are, our politics, our churches, in terms of the black churches, we find these in the Third Ward and in the Fifth Ward," Adams said.
Houston’s historic Third and Fifth Wards, as well as TSU and the University of Houston have been in the district for nearly 50 years. The Texas Senate’s redistricting proposal splits them up. Jackson Lee has represented the district since 1995, but the Senate Republicans’ proposed map would take her home and those historic neighborhoods out of it.
"No matter what the district ultimately looks like, representation of whoever the people are is crucial. But the protection is to protect people who've had a history of discrimination, a history of segregation, to give them an opportunity to select a person of their choosing," Jackson Lee told Capital Tonight.
The plan would also pit her against her Democratic colleague Green. Both have come to redistricting hearings at the Texas Capitol a second time hoping to change the minds of House Republicans. Out of the 36 U.S. House members from Texas, they are the only two who have appeared in person to testify.
“I've been inundated with persons who have called to my attention that they believe that this is unfair. They believe that is being disrespectful, and there are persons who believe that it was done with intentionality. My hope is that we can resolve this," Green told Capital Tonight.
After the Senate passed the maps on party lines, they were handed off to the House committee on redistricting to decide if they will address these concerns and others regarding how the lines approach Texas’ explosive growth driven by people of color.
“It goes beyond just descriptive representation. It actually is defined as substantive representation. We need somebody to advocate for those issues that impact upon people of color, and a part of the diversity that we see,” Adams said.
When laying out the bill at the beginning of the hearing, redistricting committee chair, Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, read information sent by the Senate. It mentioned the author's objectives which included complying with the law, requiring the equalization of district populations based on the 2020 Census, keeping communities of interest together, and preserving the core of existing districts.
The hearing on the proposed congressional maps comes hours after the Texas House approved a redistricting map for its 150 members that aims to solidify Republican control of the chamber for the next decade.
"The plan achieves fair representation for the citizens of Texas while complying with the law," Hunter said about the House maps.