In the News
El Paso Times: Escobar: First draft of Texas congressional map a 'slap in the face' to El Pasoans
El Paso, TX, October 1, 2021
By Anthony Jackson
Newly proposed district maps for Texas' congressional districts could separate Fort Bliss and the El Paso International Airport from future El Paso representatives.
On Monday, Texas Republicans filed the first draft of a new state congressional map with the Texas Legislative Council that suggested moving Fort Bliss to the 23rd U.S. Congressional District, represented by U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-San Antonio.
Fort Bliss is currently in Texas' 16th District, represented by U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso.
Escobar called the draft map "an absolute slap in the face to El Paso."
"There was absolutely no need ... for our district to be carved up that way," Escobar said, adding that it was only carved up to make neighboring districts easier for Republican candidates to win elections.
Gonzales' office was contacted for comment, but none was received by deadline.
What does losing Fort Bliss in a district map mean for El Paso?
Gonzales' district stretches across the southwestern portion of Texas from parts of San Antonio to Horizon City.
Congressional District 23 represents 3% of the city of El Paso and 11% of San Antonio, according to data from the Texas Legislative Council's Cities and Census Designated Places.
Escobar said El Pasoans will lose out on "access and accountability" if someone whose home district and major voting base is in San Antonio, but incorporates parts of the city of El Paso.
"If the vast majority of his or her voters are in San Antonio and not El Paso, their priority is going to be San Antonio and not El Paso," Escobar said, adding that important community projects and funding for Fort Bliss and the airport can be ignored or overlooked.
Joaquin Gonzalez, a staff attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, said the first round of congressional district maps for El Paso is concerning.
"Overall, they're making CD-23 more Anglo and lowering the Spanish, Hispanic voting population," Gonzalez said. "On top of just removing Fort Bliss, they're putting some heavier Latino precincts into CD-16 and taking some lesser Latino districts."
Jason Rhode, the national coordinator for Princeton University's Gerrymandering Project, said the draft congressional map splits a large number of counties and has many noncompact districts.
The project grades draft congressional, state House and Senate maps as a way to bring attention to creating fair districting maps.
The project gave the map an F grade, citing a "significant advantage to Republicans" for partisan fairness. The project gave the map a C in competitiveness and an F in geographic features for noncompact districts.
Proposed Texas House District map pits 2 Democratic lawmakers against each other
On Thursday, Texas state lawmakers released their first draft of districts for Texas House members.
The proposed boundaries shrink districts from three members of El Paso's delegation to the House and leaves the county with one less representative.
The precinct for District 76, held by state Rep. Claudia Ordaz Perez, D-El Paso, would merge with District 77, held by state Rep. Lina Ortega, D-El Paso.Democratic state Reps. Joe Moody, Art Fierro and Mary González would be forced to cede portions of their districts, 78, 79 and 75, respectively, to state Rep. Heriberto “Eddie” Morales Jr., a Democrat who represents a swath of land from the El Paso-Hudspeth county line to the edge of Webb County in southern Texas.
The move could pit Ortega and Ordaz Perez against each other for reelection.
Ortega announced her run for a third term on Sept. 27.
"This proposal pits the two Hispanic female Representatives from El Paso who did not waver in the recent fight for voting rights," a statement Thursday from Ordaz Perez said on Twitter. "One of those Representatives is the third most senior member in the El Paso delegation."
Ordaz Perez, a freshman House representative, in July joined other House Democrats in denying Republicans a quorum for weeks in protest of bills the lawmakers said would make it harder for people to vote.
Ortega, in a statement on Twitter, said the new House maps proposed by House Redistricting Committee Chairman Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, are a "direct attack on our border community and weakens the representation of minorities in the Texas Legislature."
"El Paso was challenged by slower growth than the rest of the state, however, this proposed map is the worst possible outcome for our community," Ortega said.
According to 2020 U.S. census data, the population in El Paso County grew less than 10%. Although the region grew, it didn't keep up with other regions in Texas. To keep the representation apportioned, El Paso's delegation to the House is at risk of losing a seat.
El Paso County Commissioner for Precinct 2, David Stout, testified before the Texas Senate Redistricting Committee Thursday against proposed maps which would shrink Congressional District 16 and merge state House Districts 76 and 77.
Stout called Fort Bliss's exclusion "head-scratching," and called the proposed merging of the two House districts a partisan attempt "to diminish El Paso's representation" to create more Republican districts.
The gerrymandering project gave the draft state House map an overall C grade. The map was given a C in partisan fairness, citing a "slight advantage to Republicans."
However, the map received an F for competitiveness.
"Very uncompetitive relative to other maps that could have been drawn," the report says.
The project also gave the draft map a C for geographic feature because of the amount of noncompact districts.
What happens next?
Texas state lawmakers must approve congressional maps. Usually redistricting maps go through multiple revisions before lawmakers from Texas' House and Senate approve them to send to the governor's desk.
When new district boundaries are signed into effect by the governor, they're in place for 10 years until the following U.S. census releases new data on population change.
On Oct. 4, the Texas House of Representatives will hold public hearings at 7 a.m. Mountain Time at the state House in Austin. The public hearing will be broadcast live online. To view the livestream, visit https://bit.ly/39U9kQz.
To testify before the House Redistricting Committee virtually through Zoom, register before 7 a.m. Mountain Time on Sunday at https://bit.ly/3mjhKGK.
To testify in-person in Austin, get registration information at https://bit.ly/3B0swI4.
To submit an electronic comment, visit https://bit.ly/3F5IPGd.
"The political landscape of Texas for the next 10 years is going to be determined by the maps drawn during this redistricting process," said state Sen. César Blanco, D-El Paso. "It's essential that people participate so that we draw fair maps that are drawn to ensure that all Texans and El Pasoans are represented at the state and federal level."