Rural, Sparse, and Wrecked

This past week, the third special session of the Texas Legislature began with fervor over Governor Greg Abbott’s redistricting item on the call. Already, Texas Senate Republicans publicly released their proposed map and it received much scrutiny for manipulating districts in the urban areas to benefit themselves. This sort of district manipulation by the majority Party in order to maintain its dominance is better known as gerrymandering. Texas’ sordid and bipartisan past on this rigging measure is a topic for another time. What is more pressing is this area’s representation and how nervous the rural areas should be once the drawing ends and the new maps are adopted into law.

From the past decade, Texas had an estimated 16% gain in residents. This equals roughly 4 million people who made Texas their new home. Where did the large growth take place? As predicted, it mostly happened in the metroplexes of the I-35 Corridor. The population growth in Denton County alone (approximately 243,808) is greater than the combined growth of all the Panhandle, Caprock, Permian Basin, Conch Valley, Big Sky, and Far West Texas counties (roughly 211,646). To put it another way, the new Texans chose to live in the urban and suburban parts rather than Texas’ rural areas.

So what does that mean for redistricting? To give a quick refresher on the process, the states redraw the legislative maps to account for the population change in the state. These maps are meant to last for roughly the rest of the decade. With the population gains in the big cities of Dallas, Austin, Houston, and San Antonio coupled with the resident losses in the rural areas, the heavily populated cities will see more representation at the expense of the sparsely populated rural sections.

Rural Texas town. Credit to KSAT 12

With roughly 17 State Representatives that cover Texas’ Panhandle to its Far West, there is much to lose in terms of interest and resources. Once the new map emerges, this area could lose anywhere between 2 to 4 representatives due to a gerrymandering tactic known as pairing. Speaking with longtime Texas legislative observers, however, this is inevitable. It appears, as though, the representatives whose districts consist of large swaths of land that contain small cities like Plainview, Levelland, Post, Pampa, and Gainesville have the most to lose. With the less representation a region has, the loud voice grows softer throughout the years that it is eventually unheard in the lawmaking process, leaving those areas to lose on any chance for a better future.

The ways to combat this is through legislative chamber leadership and to use it as a mechanism for population growth. It is not like this area never had strong players in the legislative process. We had those in the Governor’s Mansion, Lt. Governor’s position, as well as the House Speaker. We certainly cannot forget the numerous delegates from this area who served on powerful committees in both chambers and their personalities left a mark in those hallowed halls.

The area needs those power players to use their influence to bring about a strong population growth in the next ten years. The way for growth is through opportunity, creativity, and employment, just to name a few. Those characteristics exist in this part of Texas. There is the legendary story that Lt. Gov. Bullock told leaders from the University of Texas they can go to whatever conference they wanted, but Texas Tech and Baylor had to go with them or else lose legislative funding. Imagine that same approach to Tesla owner Elon Musk or to a car manufacturer, or to a minor league baseball team.

Dallas in the night.

The point being made is by the time the new legislative maps are adopted, our regional voice will be weaker than it currently is due to population redistribution. Simply put, the metroplexes grew and we did not. We have to deal with those consequences but leadership can counteract this problem. It has in the past and can be repeated. It is in our region’s best interest those leaders attain powerful committee positions and keep them.

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