The census numbers are in and the blood sport of politics has begun: Redistricting. There is no more personal or partisan issue that the legislature considers. An elected official's most visceral drive is generally to be reelected. To be reelected, he/she needs a district they can run in and win. Redistricting is a zero sum game. There are winners and there are losers; there is no win-win.
With that cheery backdrop, let's drill down into the redistricting process for Texas Senate and House seats. Customarily, the Senate will draw its own map for the Senate, the House will approve whatever Senate map is passed over to it, and vice versa. If the legislature fails to pass a redistricting plan in the Regular Session (by May 30), then the legislature loses jurisdiction and redistricting will be done by the Legislative Redistricting Board (LRB). The LRB consists of 5 Republican elected officials: Lt. Gov. Dewhurst; Speaker Straus; Attorney General Abbott; Comptroller Combs; and Land Commissioner Patterson.
I believe that the Senate will be able to pass a Senate redistricting plan. The Republicans intend to draw a 20R - 11D map with Sen. Wendy Davis' seat becoming more Republican. Sen. Huffman's seat will be shored up. The Republican leadership will need to find 2 Democrats to vote to suspend the rules to bring up the map for Senate debate. Finding the votes to suspend appears achievable, given that if a map does not pass the all-Republican LRB will then draw it.
The real question is can the House pass a redistricting plan. In my judgment, the House has a far greater challenge than the Senate. There are currently 101 House Republicans. I believe that you can only draw 86 to 88 Republican seats if you want those seats to remain Republican for 10 years. If you draw too many Republican seats, the Republican majorities will be too thin and the Democrats will flip the seats in succeeding elections given the changing demographics in the state.
Let's say I am right and you can only draw 86 - 88 Republican seats. That means the Democrats will pick up 13 - 15 seats in the 2012 election; and you could have to pair up to 26 to 30 Republican members. Pairings will probably be less because of retirements: e.g. Rep. Warren Chisum has already indicated that he is running for the Railroad Commission.
It will be very difficult for the House Republican majority to pass a map for two reasons. One, they will have to pair numerous Republicans. Secondly, they will have to go back to their primary voters and say we had a 101 seats, and I just voted for a map that will give us 86 to 88.
Finally, we have history as a guide. In 1971, 1981, 1991, and 2001, a legislative plan did not pass in regular session and the LRB drew the seats. The odds are that it will end up at the LRB again this year.
*Note: This post does not address Department of Justice review or litigation that will be filed regarding any redistricting plan, but rather only examines what may happen in the 82nd Regular Session.