Democrats in Texas, and elsewhere, have been ramping up for years for election year 2020.
It’s not just their desire to get rid of Republican President Donald Trump in November, although that’s huge.
It’s also that the Democrats in Texas, and other states, hope to make enough gains in state legislatures and governorships that they can recover from the disastrous Republican gerrymandering that followed their banner election year in 2010.
There is usually a drop-off for the party of a new president in the first mid-term election that follows. But the Democratic losses two years after Democratic President Barack Obama’s ascension to the White House were particularly large.
Part of it was the rise of the Tea Party in Republican ranks. Part of it was reaction to the nation’s first black president.
And part of its energy was because President Obama finally pushed for the first major revamping of the nation’s healthcare system since Medicare passed in the 1960s — nicknamed ObamaCare.
Election year 2010 was the year legislators and governors were elected who would oversee redistricting in 2011. And that allowed Republicans to have a significantly larger role in several states, including Texas, during the re-drawing of congressional and legislative districts that follows the census every 10 years.
The problem with partisan gerrymandering of legislative and congressional districts, by either party, is that the political middle largely disappears.
In partisan gerrymandering, the party in control draws districts to give them a comfortable majority, while packing the remaining districts with as many of the other party as possible.
The result is that the great majority of the districts are won in the primary elections.
The November general elections matter in just a fraction of the districts — which pushes the representation either to the far left or the far right — leaving the large political middle way under-represented.
The passage of the federal Voting Rights Act in 1965, and the so-called “pre-clearance” provision, required states with a history of electoral discrimination to have any election decisions cleared by the U.S. Department of Justice or a three-judge federal court in Washington before they could take effect.
A revamp of the law in 1975 extended the pre-clearance provision in Section V to Texas. So for several years, there was some protection against overly aggressive partisan gerrymandering.
But following the 2010 election, the Supreme Court decided in a 2013 decision called Shelby County vs. Holder, that the voting rights history in that Alabama County was unconstitutional because it was too dated.
That decision essentially gutted the pre-clearance provision of the Voting Rights Act.
And so the states, including Texas, are no longer included in having their electoral changes pre-cleared — unless a more recent history of voter discrimination can be proven. That hasn’t happened yet.
One Democratic group, spearheaded by former President Obama, and chaired by his attorney general, Eric Holder, is the National Democratic Redistricting Committee. It was formed specifically to stop partisan gerrymandering.
Its mission statement spells out the problem, after the 2010 Republican blowout, and redistricting that followed, as the Democrats see it:
“The result was immediate: in 2012, 1.4 million more Americans voted for Democrats for Congress, but Republicans won a 33-seat majority in Congress.
“And the problem hasn’t gotten better. In 2016, despite winning fewer than half of all votes for Congress, Republicans again won a 33-seat majority.
“In battleground states like Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Ohio, Michigan, and Virginia, the make-up of state legislatures are wildly different than the voting population.
“These gerrymandered districts have had disastrous policy consequences, leading to some of the most right-wing legislation in decades both in Congress and at the state level, including assaults on women’s health, suppressing the vote for people of color, failing to address climate change, and refusing to stand up to the epidemic of gun violence.
“These policies don’t reflect the majority of voters, but because Republicans have rigged the system in their favor, voters are limited in their ability to do anything about it.”
Which is yet another way to stress the importance, for both Democrats and Republicans, of control over the Texas House.
The Texas Senate is almost totally controlled by Republicans, and Democrats may gain perhaps a seat from their current deficit of Republicans on top, 19-12.
But the House Democrats, who gained 12 Republican-held seats in 2018, need a total gain of nine more seats, to take control of the 150-member body — and elect a speaker.
The Republicans, of course, are working to not only hold their current 83-67 majority, but also to win back many of the seats they lost in the last election.
Stay tuned. It should be a very, very interesting election year.