One is a black real estate agent and the other a white millionaire. For two new districts created to reflect Texas’ soaring Hispanic population, they might be the representatives elected to Congress. That’s not exactly what Hispanic leaders pictured, and some are disheartened. The number of Hispanics in Texas grew by 2.8 million in the last decade – second only to California – and drove a population boom that rewarded the state with a total of four new U.S. House seats. Yet in Tuesday’s primaries, Texas voters may put no more Hispanics on the path to Congress than the six the state has sent since 1997. The reasons illustrate why more population doesn’t necessarily mean more political power in an ethnically diverse state. In this case, the way the new districts were mapped by a Republican-controlled legislature, combined with the natural advantages enjoyed by political veterans who already are well established, has left a group of eager Hispanic candidates facing formidable opponents from other races.
“Cheated. We’re cheated. Are we going to wait another 10 years?” said Sylvia Romo, a Hispanic former state lawmaker running against wealthy Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett. Some Hispanic leaders already are beginning to look toward the next election cycle, when they hope pending legal challenges will bring about helpful changes in the district maps.
Between 2000 and 2010, Hispanics accounted for three out of every five new Texas residents. Nearly 38 percent of the state’s population is now Hispanic. Population gains have been reflected in the number of Hispanic officeholders elected in down-ballot races from the legislature to school boards – up 46 percent to about 2,500 between 1996 and 2010. Yet gains on Capitol Hill have not kept pace. The six Hispanic members represent about a fifth of the state’s 32 congressional seats.