AUSTIN, Texas — As the Texas House Committee on Redistricting approved its initial draft of Texas’ new state house districts this week, District 84 representative John Frullo says he is focusing on elevating West Texas’ representation and preserving conservative-leaning districts.
In a decade when Texas gained 4 million people, almost exclusively in the major Metro areas, rural districts risk losing representation to the big cities. Rep. Frullo says Lubbock, however, has kept pace with the rest.
“We all know about the Republican versus Democrat discussions, and for lack of a better term, arguments that we have down here. Just as prevalent are the rural versus urban,” Rep. Frullo said. “We want to keep the rural representation out there… it’s very difficult to do when our growth rates are not keeping up with the other areas of the state, the urban areas of the state. Lubbock and the surrounding areas have pretty much kept up.”
Strong representation is especially important as the legislature moves next towards doling out billions of dollars in federal relief money from the American Rescue Plan. In order to ensure Lubbock’s two representatives can secure money for their districts, in the face of metro areas that can have more than 25 representatives, Rep. Frullo said he leans on his seniority and committee placements.
“Part of it comes with how long we’ve been in office,” he said. “We try to get together to work things out… it gives us chance to get things done for us out here.
Rep. Frullo also said he hopes to maintain the same partisan level in his new district.
“We want to make sure that, as most of our values in our area are conservative, Republican values, we keep them conservative and Republican… we don’t want to do anything to reduce that,” he said.
Rep. Frullo acknowledged that much of this process is driven by self-preservation and political gain.
“It does have an effect on what is happening, and we have to work on that,” he said. “We want to keep the districts to where they do represent those conservative values… if you look at [House District 84], the Republican strength of that district is around 57 percent… we need to make sure that we can maintain that and keep both representatives able to have a conservative voice.”
Rep. Frullo worried that his district will lose old constituents due to the new lines, as his district gained more people than will fit in the ideal number of people needed per district.
“The district itself picked up about 30,000 people, so we needed to get rid of about 20,000 of those,” he said. “Which means roughly about 17,000 people are being represented by a different representative. I would like to reduce that number… you like to keep things similar and not have to change things for folks who are used to getting ahold of their current representative.”
Rep. Frullo said no matter how the lines are drawn, the maps will end up in a lengthy and contentious legal battle. Texas Tech political science professor Mark McKenzie said that is a scene Texas has seen many times before.
“We have a problem with racial discrimination and voting in this state going back over a long history, with in particular African Americans and Hispanics in Texas where the state government drew the lines to dilute their votes,” Professor McKenzie said. “We have that history there we have to grapple with, and the Voting Rights Act requires that we comply with making sure that we don’t continue what happened in the past.”
Census data shows 95 percent of Texas’ new population growth in the last decade came from minority populations. However, the latest congressional map proposed by the Texas Legislature contains fewer majority-minority districts than it did ten years ago.
“It will be interesting to see if certain groups representing minority interests are able to make a successful Voting Rights Act litigation challenge… if the number of minority districts in Texas [doesn’t] increase, yet all of the increases in Texas has been from new minority residents,” Professor McKenzie said.
Each state house district is required to contain within five percent of 194,000 people, or 1/150th of the state’s nearly 30 million people. The legislature hopes to finalize these maps by the end of the month, in time for the next elections to be held on these new playing fields in May.
“The legislative process is somewhat like sausage-making,” Frullo said. “This is the most difficult part of that process… get a big bag of popcorn and a comfortable seat and watch what happens.”