Texas lawmakers expect redistricting battle after state gains four House seats

Next year's messiest redistricting fight is likely to take place in Texas, the same state that saw an all-out brawl the last time House districts were redrawn. 

Texas gained four new House seats under the numbers released by the Census Bureau on Tuesday, and Democrats and Republicans alike expect a struggle that will be decided in the courts.

Republicans control the Legislature and governor's mansion, leading Democrats to worry the GOP will opt for a power-grab and rewrite districts to ensure Republicans gain more seats.

"The question now is whether the State Legislature will be reasonable or whether they will look at this as an opportunity to basically overreach," said Rep. Charles Gonzalez (D-Texas). "I anticipate that reason won't prevail."

Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) said Tuesday that the goal for the GOP is ensuring the newly drawn map is "fair to everybody," but he indicated that Republicans were ready to go to the mat for a map that increased their edge in the state's congressional delegation.

"We're a Republican state," said Olson. "And we think most of those seats should be red seats, reflecting the people in our state."

Since Texas is a Voting Rights Act state, the new map will need the approval of the Justice Department. Democrats predict that for the map to pass DoJ muster, two of those four new districts should be Democratic-leaning Hispanic-majority districts.

"Two of these seats should probably end up Democratic," said former Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas), who led the national redistricting effort for his party last decade. "You could create a Hispanic district in Dallas-Fort Worth; you have San Antonio or the Houston area."

The problem, warns Frost, who lost his reelection bid after the last bout of redistricting: "Republicans tend to be very greedy in Texas."

Back in 2001, Texas lawmakers were unable to agree on a new map, prompting the involvement of the state's Legislative Redistricting Board. But it wasn't until 2003, after Republicans took the majority in both chambers of the Texas Legislature, that the party launched a controversial mid-cycle redistricting effort led by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).  

Frost was a casualty; he lost to Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) that year.  

Sessions, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said the addition of four new seats is "great" for his state and suggested Republican candidates will have competitive districts in 2012 regardless of how the map comes out. 

"I don't think there's any question that the growth in Texas has included Hispanics and that's why the Republican Party will be very active," said Sessions. "You saw that we won two Hispanic seats this past election cycle."  

One thing lawmakers from both parties do agree on: The upcoming battle is all but assured to end up resolved in court. 

"Oh, it will be in the courts, there is no doubt" said Gonzalez. "But my real concern is that [Republicans] will fail to recognize that the growth in Texas is due to the minority population. And if you fail to recognize it, you fail to accommodate it and then you run into the Voting Rights Act." 

Olson also predicts a court battle, but said, "I just hope it doesn't break down the way it did the last time." That breakdown including years of litigation and the spectacle of close to a dozen Democratic state senators fleeing to New Mexico in protest of the GOP's redistricting effort. 

"We're ready for the battle," said Olson. "And there's going to be a battle."