Racial and Ethnic Politics
Racial and ethnic politics have always played a significant role in Texas elections. For most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the Hispanic and African American voters of the state were effectively excluded from participation in the state's electoral process. As these minority voters grew in number and voting strength over the past forty years, the number of African American and Hispanic members of Congress and the Texas legislature increased. Nevertheless, on several occasions in recent decades the Democratic-controlled Texas legislature chose to forgo or even dismantle minority-opportunity districts (i.e., districts in which minority voters have sufficient voting strength to be likely to elect the person of their choice) in order to draw districts likely to preserve Anglo Democratic incumbents in office.
The role of race and ethnicity has become more nuanced, but no less important to the outcome of recent Texas elections. Some observers have even suggested that because race and ethnicity have become a proxy for forecasting political affiliation and voting (i.e., minority voters tend largely to vote Democratic), the issue now overwhelms redistricting.
In 2003 both major political parties understood the crucial importance of the race and ethnicity of voters in any district to the partisan effect of any redistricting plan. Both Republicans and Democrats attempted to exploit equity for racial and ethnic voters as justification for their disparate positions on how districts should be drawn. The truth regarding the impact of the redistricting on African Americans and Hispanics is much more complex than either party has suggested, and is best understood in the context of the evolving role of race and ethnicity in Texas elections over the past sixty years.