State Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, will play a pivotal role when state lawmakers redraw political lines in 2021 after he was named to a bipartisan committee to lay the groundwork before the Legislature reconvenes that year.
His appointment to the Senate 2021 Redistricting Committee, made Friday by Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, coincided nearly to the hour with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that essentially takes the brakes off the practice of gerrymandering for political advantage.
The high court on Friday ruled that using political motives to redraw political boundaries is fine, unlike using race as a criterion. Congress is free, the court said, to legislate a ban to the use of partisan motives.
“The timing is interesting, too, with that Supreme Court ruling that just came out,” Hughes said Sunday of his appointment. “The Supreme Court got it right.”
Chaired by state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, with state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, as vice chairman, the panel Hughes joins has 10 Republicans and seven Democrats. Hughes and state Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, are the East Texans on the committee.
Hughes said Huffman is organizing a work schedule, including possible public hearings across the state, in preparation for 2020 Census numbers that lawmakers will crunch in 2021.
The Legislature redraws congressional, State Board of Education and its own House and Senate districts with the every once-a-decade census. Partisan motives typically color the process, such as in 2003 when a new Republican majority redrew the lines a Democratic-majority Legislature had drawn in 2001.
In his freshman session as a House member in 2003, Hughes voted against the GOP-favored lines designed by then-U.S. House Speaker Tom Delay, saying they diluted the rural voices he represented. He might have been the sole GOP no-vote in that redraw, which separated Longview from Marshall and paired it with Tyler in Congressional District 1.
Texas stands to gain three or four congressional seats in 2021, given its growing population. That would make redrawing those boundaries a closely watched exercise.
Several states leave the politically charged chore up to an independent, appointed commission, but Hughes said he opposes that idea.
“Political decisions ought to be made by voters and legislators,” he said. “The promise of those independent commissions is that they take politics out of the system. But, in fact, all they do is remove the transparency. The decisions are made behind a closed door by people who are not accountable to the voters.”
With a greenlight for political gerrymandering, Hughes said the panel will strive to draw districts that reflect Texas voting trends.
“Oftentimes, one party will use redistricting to gain an advantage,” he said. “All we’re looking for is lines that are fair. ... You look at communities of interest, and you look at the choices those voters have made and whom they’ve elected. The political lines, the districts, should reflect the voting patterns in the state.”
Hughes laughed as he recalled former state Sen. J.E. “Buster” Brown, a Brazoria Republican who famously said he couldn’t wait to be “fair” to the Democrats like they had been “fair” to the GOP when it was the minority party.
“I don’t want to be ‘fair’ to them,” he said of Democrats. “I (really do) mean ‘fair’ in the normal sense of the word.”