The redistricting process in Texas has produced increasingly intense negotiations and conflicts in recent decades as the Republican Party gained enough support to challenge, and then reverse, the Democratic Party's historical monopoly in the state. These struggles over redistricting have been compounded by profound demographic changes - considerable population growth, and high rates of urbanization and immigration - in recent Texas experience. Partisan conflict over redistricting culminated in the intensely politicized process during the 78th Legislature in 2003, when the leadership of the new Republican majority in the legislature revisited the redistricting process and passed a plan supplanting the 2001 plan that had been implemented by the courts. In the video clip in the bar to the right, two major players in the 2001-2003 fight - former Senator and, briefly, acting Lieutenant Governor Bill Ratliff, and former Speaker of the House Pete Laney -- discuss the nature of the 2003 fight and it's ramifications. (This video was recorded in 2006 as part of the Texas Politics speaker series. It is about 45 minutes long, and you can use the slide bar at the bottom of the frame to move through the video.)
Before the 1960s the pace of demographic change in Texas was relatively slow. Democrats dominated the political system while African Americans and other minorities were widely excluded. This meant that the social and political structure of legislative districts changed very little or were of little consequence since many working class individuals, especially African Americans and Latinos, were shut out.
Changes made by both Congress and the courts in the application of voting rights to the drawing of district lines sought to ensure minority representation. Some of these new rules had unintended consequences, as this chapter's feature The Rules Matter: Redistricting and Civil Rights illustrates.
Several demographic trends have increased the stakes of redistricting. The process of urbanization in the post-World War II period caused profound shifts away from the countryside (which had dominated the political system) to the cities. Urbanization gave way to a long and ongoing process of suburbanization, enabled in part by the interstate highway system, which was begun during the Eisenhower Administration in the 1950s. In the last couple of decades, suburbanization gave us "soccer-moms" and "office-park dads" as voting blocs increasingly targeted by political campaigns. Manipulating how district lines are drawn in relation to these constituencies has become a high-contact sport played in the arena of state politics.
Probably in part due to the political conflict surrounding the process in the last round of redistricting, a February 2012 poll directed by the University of Texas in conjunction with the Texas Tribune found that 42% of those surveyed in a statewide poll supported the idea of an independent redistricting commission. As the graphic presenting the poll results illustrates, however, redistricting was far from a burning issue -- 30% of those asked replied that they didn't know. But for those paying attention to the issue, Democrats favored the proposed commission at a higher rate than did Republicans and independents (click on the "breakdown by party" tab in the feature).
One way to understand the dynamics of this process is to look closely at a particular district that partisans have fought over in recent years. This chapter's feature Redistricting Texas style: a case study focuses on Texas's U.S. House District 24, in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, in the context of the recent history of redistricting in the state.