Highlighting the 2011 Legislature’s job of redrawing congressional districts, Washington activist Matt Angle says Texas stands to gain three to four congressional seats thanks to the state's population growth from 2000 to 2010.
That’s widely expected.
Angle spices his April 29 e-mail blast for the Lone Star Project, the pro-Democratic effort he directs, by saying: “This increase in federal political clout is almost entirely due to the growth of the African American and Hispanic populations in Texas in virtually every region of the state.”
A boom in black and brown residents is driving the pending expansion of congressional power? We sought to learn more.
Some background: Relative population changes, as measured by each decennial census, determine whether states gain or lose seats in the 435-member House. Texas is poised to add to its 32 House seats because its population has grown at about twice the national pace. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates there were 24.3 million Texans in 2008, up 17 percent from 20.8 million residents in 2000. In contrast, the nation’s overall estimated growth from 2000 to 2008 was 8 percent.
Here's how population affects congressional representation. First, every state gets one House seat. Then the remaining 385 seats are divvied up according to a formula that ultimately gives states with the most residents—California and Texas—the most seats.
Angle, referencing the bureau’s estimates, said the state’s African American and Hispanic population increased by 29 percent since 2000 while the “rest of Texas” grew at around 8 percent. “Without the high growth rate of the Hispanic and African American populations,” Angle said, “Texas would have grown at the same rate as the United States and earned no additional congressional seats.”
Next, Angle pointed to an April report by the Texas Legislative Council, which advises state legislators. The report includes maps showing that from 2000 to 2008, growth in the Hispanic and black populations outpaced the state’s overall growth in nearly every region. A map suggests the Anglo population exceeded the state's growth rate in 11 of 254 counties.
“Over the past decade,” the report says, “the most significant change in the ethnic composition of the state population is the increasing proportion of Hispanics and the decreasing proportion of Anglos.” Hispanics increased from 32 percent of the population in 2000 to 36 percent in 2008, while Anglos fell from 53 percent to 47 percent. “The changes in the Black and Other proportions of the population are small by comparison,” the report says, with black residents amounting to 11 percent of the population both in 2000 and 2008.
For outside perspective, we contacted Kimball Brace of Virginia-based Election Data Services, a consulting firm that specializes in reapportionment, redistricting and the census. In December, the firm issued a reapportionment analysis concluding Texas will gain three House seats, possibly four. Brace, looking over the census population estimates for Texas, told us he’d attribute the projected gain largely to Hispanic population growth and not to growth in African Americans.
Election Data Services calculates that each House district in Texas will likely be home to 698,552 residents. Presuming that the state’s Hispanic and black population increases by one projected amount, 2.6 million, it’s correct to say the growth equates to nearly four new districts.
We wondered if one could just as easily credit Hispanic plus white population growth for the new seats, by limiting the focus to raw population numbers. Our speculation? The census could show a raw increase in the white population that exceeds the numerical increase in African Americans. It goes to reason, then, that the white gains might justify an increase in congressional clout more than the black gains, at least by raw numbers.
"You are correct," Brace told us. "In rank order, clearly Hispanic growth is giving (Texas) three out of the four (potential) seats." Both Anglos and African Americans are less significant in that respect. Still, Brace said, other factors besides raw population will come into play when legislators draw districts. Those factors, he said, include relative growth rates of different racial segments, regional distribution of residents and to what degree different segments comprise more or less of the state's population than in 2000.
His comments were a reminder that redistricting is a fascinating, complex process with future elections hanging in the balance. "You have this attempt by all groups to push their particular story," Brace said. "Republicans are going to say, 'Hey, we should get at least one (new seat).' Hispanics will say, 'We should get at least three.' African Americans will say, 'Hey we’re significant still'" too.
Ed Martin, a Democratic consultant versed in redistricting, said Angle's statement is correct for reasons including the reality that for now, population projections vary widely, while it's undisputed that the relative growth of the state's major population groups place Hispanics first, blacks second and Anglos a distant third.
Martin said in an e-mail the "reason Texas can overcome the relatively slow Anglo growth rate to get new seats is the much higher growth rate of Hispanics and African Americans, which far exceeds the national average."
Martin's comment prompted us to look at the proportional impact of the growth in black and Hispanic populations in excess of the expected national growth rate of 10 percent. We employed one of several 2010 population projections by the San Antonio-based Texas State Data Center to estimate that population growth among black Texans could account for about 90,000, or 6 percent, of the residents fueling the state's congressional seat gains. Meantime, growth in Hispanic Texans in excess of the nation's growth rate could account for more than 1.5 million, or 94 percent, of the additional residents driving the gains.
Martin cautioned against using any projection to reach conclusions. He said in an e-mail: "Unless you gather a lot of projections and somehow average them out and make an informed decision about why a lot of smart people come up with different numbers, using any single projected raw number is not reliable."
In the end? We're persuaded that Hispanic growth alone stands to merit most credit for Texas gaining three to four additional House seats, but no one can say for certain until the census is complete.
We rate the statement as Mostly True.