Editorial: Redistricting committees should begin to move away from politics

It’s no secret that politics has become more contentious over the past 50 years. If that dismays you, then hold onto your hats.

It’s redistricting time, when congressional lines nationwide get redrawn as mandated by the U.S. Constitution after each census. In Texas, that means party partisans — members of the state Legislature — will be drawing the lines for congressional, State Board of Education and their own state House and Senate districts.

They will not necessarily devise those lines with a mind for what is best for Texas, but with a goal of protecting their own political interests and, secondarily, protecting the interests of their political party.

In case you want to blame Republicans for this terrible way of deciding how lines will be drawn, you should know this is not a system of their making. Rather, this is the way it has always been ,and when Democrats have been in power they have done it the same way.

In fact, the margins of party power in the Texas House are such that it is possible the Democrats will be in power in the next Legislature. A gain of seven seats would give them a majority, and we assure you if that happens, the Democrats will use redistricting to strengthen their party’s hold.

Gerrymandering is — and always has been — a way of political life.

State Sen. Bryan Hughes of Mineola has been picked to serve on the Senate committee that will work to redraw the lines. That is good for East Texas, as one of the factors considered is the power of rural vs. urban areas.

Hughes has always represented rural East Texas, and we know he is keen about preserving whatever clout is possible for our region. Those from the state’s major population centers have the edge, of course, because representation is based on population.

For instance, Texas’ 1st Congressional District, which U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert represents, stretches from Angelina County (Lufkin) in the south to Wood County (Winnsboro) in the north and from west of Tyler to the Louisiana border. This is a big district, but not nearly the biggest. The 23rd Congressional District reaches from San Antonio in the east to almost El Paso in the west, a distance of about 550 miles.

But representation has nothing to do with the amount of land involved, only the population. Thus, the Dallas-Fort Worth area is pieced into six congressional districts including the 33rd, whose lines are about as convoluted as one can imagine. And it is only one of many districts stretched and pulled into contorted shapes.

This is not what the Founders had in mind but, then again, they could never have guessed the look or population of today’s United States.

It would certainly seem to be a better idea for congressional districts to be more orderly and grouped by geographic interests. Some are drawn that way. Gohmert’s district, for instance, makes both political and geographic sense. To the extent possible, we would think it should stay about the same.

But all the districts around Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio are so contorted as to make little sense in terms of shared interests or geography. They are clearly drawn for political advantage.

There is a better way. Some states use committees that are, at least in theory, bipartisan, to draw the lines. Others have enacted laws to remove the process from politics as much as possible.

If Hughes were to ask typical voters and not hyper-partisans how to draw the lines, we would guess most would want districts more evenly and less politically drawn.

But it is doubtful that will happen even if Hughes were to support it. That is because it would require legislative approval, and we know Republicans will want to keep the status quo, if possible, and Democrats will want payback if they get the chance.

A new system is called for, one put in place by the Legislature but that does not include approval of the maps by those now in office. It is too late for this to happen for the next redistricting, but it is possible down the road.

As legislative redistricting committees work during this interim, we encourage them to also look at ways to move the process away from politics and toward ensuring districts are drawn for the good of all Texans, not one party or another.

Today's Bible verse

“And may your hearts be fully committed to the Lord our God, to live by his decrees and obey his commands, as at this time.”

— 1 Kings 8:61

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