AUSTIN, Texas – Texas House Republicans rolled over Democratic objections and gave final approval to a map that redraws the state's congressional districts in favor of the GOP, although a looming Senate fight could still derail the plan.
The state House voted 83-62 early Tuesday on the map, which if implemented, could send as many as 21 Texas Republicans to Congress. Democrats currently hold a 17-15 edge in the Texas congressional delegation.
Now the measure goes to the state Senate, where its fate is uncertain. Senate Democrats have the numbers to block the bill from being debated if they stick together.
"Thank God for the Senate," said Rep. Jim Dunnam, leader of the House Democratic Caucus.
Two Senate Republicans have expressed reservations about the House plan, which was backed by U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (search), a Texas Republican.
Any new redistricting plan is likely to face a court challenge.
Texas House Democrats called the Republican plan an unnecessary "power grab" that diminishes the voting rights of blacks, Hispanics and other minorities and of rural Texans.
Rep. Phil King, the plan's author, disputed that allegation, saying he expects the plan to easily win approval from the U.S. Department of Justice, which must rule on whether it meets the standards of the federal Voting Rights Act (search).
"I can assure you that there's no dilution of minority voting strength," King said. "It's a fair map that recognizes our voting patterns in Texas."
Normally, redistricting is done every 10 years after a new census. The Legislature failed to act in 2001, and a federal court drew the district boundaries.
The outnumbered legislative Democrats thwarted a redistricting bill in the House in the regular legislative session in May by fleeing to Ardmore, Okla., for four days and preventing a quorum. That halted debate and killed the bill.
Republican Gov. Rick Perry (search) later called a special legislative session to address redistricting, and many Democrats acknowledged they couldn't politically afford to go on a road trip again to stop the debate. They said it would be up to Senate Democrats to act.
"I'm so glad we live in a process and a system where we have two houses," said House Speaker Pro Tem Sylvester Turner, a Houston Democrat. "I hope when it gets to the Senate that the Senate will not move forward."
Senate rules require a two-thirds vote before debate is allowed. The Senate is divided 19-12, and 11 of the 12 Democrats would be enough to block debate.
Republicans who were pushing the bill said they were fulfilling their constitutional duty to redraw district lines. Perry has said that elected officials, not federal judges, should be deciding the boundaries.
The GOP contends the existing districts don't reflect the state's increasingly Republican voting patterns. All statewide elected offices are held by Republicans and have been since 1998.