Texas House districts in Bell County could look like a doughnut under a proposed plan lawmakers are set to deliberate this week.
On Tuesday, the House will consider House Bill 1, a district plan that recently was moved out of the House Redistricting Committee. The bill, authored by Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, lays out the proposed new districts in the state.
With new Census data, that means a change to districts — especially in Central Texas.
An amendment filed by Rep. Jacey Jetton, R-Richmond, proposes a new version of the plan that was proposed on Sept. 30.
District 55 — represented by Temple Republican Hugh Shine — would encompass Temple, Belton, Nolanville and Harker Heights.
District 54 — the area represented by Brad Buckley, R-Salado — would encompass Killeen and the rest of Bell County.
When the plan was originally proposed, District 54 would have had a large portion of Temple and most of Bell County east of Interstate 35, and District 55 would have had a large portion of Killeen.
Wait and see
Buckley and Shine both said they are taking a “wait and see” approach as they anticipate the discussions on the House floor.
“The whole idea is there’s all sorts of rules — there’s constitutional requirements that have to be met — and that’s what the process is — populations have to be balanced, legal requirements have to be met, and that’s the process we’re going through,” Buckley said in a phone interview Thursday.
Shine said he anticipates many amendments being filed by other House members.
“I think it would be premature to take any kind of position other than trying to protect your community of interest until we see what actually happens on Tuesday when the House debates those boundaries and we see all the amendments that come in,” Shine said in a phone interview Thursday. “There could be some dramatic changes that still take place on Tuesday.”
Opposition to plan
Opponents of the map during public testimony targeted the proposed split of Killeen, saying it divides the black vote.
Chris Rosenberg, chairman of the Bell County Democratic Party, said he agreed.
“The city of Killeen with its large, blue voting bloc, has been the victim of gerrymandering in the last decade, and it appears Republican lawmakers have more of the same in mind for this decade,” Rosenberg said in an email Friday. “To accomplish this gerrymander, they use several techniques, one of which is ‘cracking’ districts.”
Rosenberg said the Legislature has still “cracked” the district in Bell County by substituting Lampasas County with rural communities in Bell County in District 54.
Part of the reason for the change from the original proposed map was criticism House Redistricting Committee members heard from others in public testimony.
Rosenberg mentioned specifically that in the two elections that Buckley has won, he has lost Bell County but rode to victory through red Lampasas County.
“The Lampasas vote rendered the city of Killeen powerless to elect the folks they wanted to represent them, a perfect example of cracking communities of interest,” Rosenberg said.
Buckley and Shine said they’re not sure if they will file their own amendments, but they said the option is on the table.
“I’m just evaluating my options and looking at it like we would any bill,” Buckley said. “We look at what we like about the bill and what we don’t like about the bill, and if we feel like we can improve the bill, we’ll offer an amendment to do so.”
Buckley made sure to emphasize that the process for redistricting is not foreign to the Legislature.
“What people lose track of on redistricting is it’s just the same process as any bill goes through,” Buckley said. “A bill is drafted, there’s a committee hearing, there’s testimony taken, then that bill is voted out and amended as a committee substitute, and then this bill has to come to the floor, where there will be amendments that will be offered — some will be accepted, others will not be, some will probably be voted on.”
Shine said amendments could impact all districts in the state.
“The only reason I would file an amendment would be an amendment to an amendment, like if somebody tries to divide up my community of interests in the area that I represent,” Shine said.
Shine said he believes there will be quite a few lawsuits as there were the last time the Legislature tackled redistricting.
“Bell County experienced lawsuits in 2013, and I anticipate we’ll see lawsuits again in 2021-22,” Shine said.
Under the proposed map, Coryell County would remain in District 59, which is represented by Stephenville Republican Shelby Slawson.
Lampasas County would move into District 68, which is currently represented by Rep. David Spiller, R-Jacksboro.
Along with each chamber — House and Senate — submitting bills for their own proposed districts, the legislators as a whole are tasked with redrawing districts for U.S. Congress and the State Board of Education.
What about the elections?
Currently, the primary election for the November 2022 election is scheduled for March 1.
The time it takes to adopt plans and get them signed by Gov. Greg Abbott will determine whether the election will still take place on time or get pushed back.
During the second called session of the summer, Hunter authored a bill that laid out timelines but doesn’t take legal challenges into effect.
Abbott signed the bill on Sept. 10, and it will go into effect upon passage of redistricting plans or the 91st day after the completion of the legislative session.
If the redistricting plans are adopted on or before Nov. 15, candidate filing would be from Nov. 29 until 6 p.m. Dec. 13, and the primary election would be March 1, with a May 24 runoff.
If the redistricting plans are adopted after Nov. 15 but on or before Dec. 28, candidate filing would be from Jan. 10 until 6 p.m. Jan. 24, and the primary election would be April 5, with a June 21 runoff.
If the redistricting plans are adopted after Dec. 28 but on or before Feb. 7, candidate filing would be from Feb. 21 until 6 p.m. March 7, and the primary election would be May 24, with a July 26 runoff.