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Harris County: Minus One?

Tidbits from the Census release:

» 2010 Texas Population: 25,145,561

» Avg. People per US Representative: 701,901 ... this is double what it was in 1950 and over 3X what it was in 1910. Count me among those who think it's detrimental to watch that number grow to that extent.

» Estimated population per State House district: 167,637 ... keep in mind that the largest counties are (state) constitutionally mandated to have all districts nested within county lines. Why is that important? ...

» State Population Growth: 20.6%
» Harris County Population Growth: 19.7%
» Fort Bend County Population Growth: 57.1%
» Dallas County Population Growth: 10.5%
» Collin County Population Growth: 61.0%

Bear in mind that the county growth numbers are taken from Census estimates and reflect growth from 2000 to 2009 (via Trib). So there's some imperfections and it involves comparing oranges to tangerines, but it's good enough to make the following point.

When you hear talk of population growth in the "Houston area" it does not mean that inner-loop Houston will be the beneficiary of a Congressional seat. In order to understand what localized growth numbers mean, politically, for Texas, you have to compare it to that 20.6%. The fact that Harris County grew slightly slower than that means a couple of very important things for us, locally. And they mean worse things for Dallas.

The first thing it means is whether a county loses State House seats. Dallas County most certainly will lose one and for what it's worth, Tarrant County will gain one. Harris County, however, is a more interesting situation.

In 2001, Harris County population stood at a point where a perfect mathematical division of population by the avg. for State House seats would have placed us at having 24.5 seats. The Harris County delegation made a pact to hang tough for all 25. Rural members would have loved for it to be 24 (freeing them up to be slightly overpacked and not having to erase an extra district somewhere). The Attorney General (Cornyn) was asked for an opinion and it was basically determined that either 24 or 25 would be fine from a legal standpoint.

Enter the two factions of the 2001 State House redistricting debate: Kenny Marchant and Delwin Jones. Jones, looking to save West Texas a seat, convinced Harris County Democrats that if they accepted 24 seats, they would get favorable districts. Marchant wanted a map that reflected the growth in suburban areas more faithfully and his map stuck with the agreed-upon 25 for Harris County. The process got bogged down and if memory serves correct, I believe the Senate failed to pass it in order for the LRB to resolve the matter. The LRB borrowed very heavily from Marchant's map and Harris County was given 25 seats.

Now, do the math: 4,070,989 divided by 167,637. What do you get?

24.2 ... the most important number for Harris County State Reps so far. Unless the 2010 county number raises that significantly, Harris County will take a step back from the 24.5 we were at in 2001. At best, we're back to the same situation we were at before. My sense is that the GOP sweep outside of the major urban counties and South Texas counties will mean that there's a predisposition to remove a seat from Harris County.

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Comments (4) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Well, that throws off all of my math, which had Harris, Bexar, and Travis keeping their current numbers of 25, 10, and 6, respectively. I also had Tarrant taking one from Dallas, like you mentioned too.

  2. Theoretically, the number might end up being 24.5 again. The most hopeful indicator for the 24.2 number being on the low side is that Texas population, overall, ended up being higher than the estimates the Census had (which correspond to the county estimates I use in my calculations). So it’s possible that Harris County ends up with a higher growth rate as well – and hence, 25 seats.

    For now, I’ll put a small wager on losing a seat. I think it’s far likelier. Just not sure whether or not the electoral outcome will be enjoyable as a result.

  3. It all depends, of course, on the final county numbers. Some projections I have seen have put Harris at what would be just over 24.5 districts.

    I agree that Dallas loses one to Tarrant and Bexar stays at 10, and that if Harris DOES drop to 24.2 districts in size, it will be a prime target to lose a district.

  4. So far, most of the projections have been on the low side, which is optimistic for Harris County maintaining 25 seats when the official numbers are in. I’m still a bit pessimistic that we’ll hit 24.5 again. But if we do, I suspect there’ll be an easy acceptance to go ahead and round up to 25. There aren’t any Dem seats that can be drawn out, since they’re all VRA seats.

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