Latino Texas lawmakers are calling for the creation of new Hispanic-dominated seats in Congress and the Legislature after new Census numbers show ethnic minorities have accounted for a staggering 89 percent of the population growth in Texas over the past decade.
The latest figures released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau, support projections putting Hispanics on pace to soon outnumber whites in the nation's second-largest state.
The rapid Latino growth, confirmed by the long-awaited release of the local 2010 Census numbers for Texas, immediately sparked calls from Hispanic leaders that say it's time to redraw the political map.
Texas is picking up four seats in Congress this year, twice as many as Florida, the next highest. Latino politicians say it's time their demographic strength translated into political power.
Rep. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas, says map drawers could configure all four of the new seats to be dominated by Hispanics, even though he figures the Republicans who control the Legislature won't do that. He's particularly keen on getting one centered in Dallas, which currently doesn't have one despite heavy Latino growth.
Seven of the state's 32 U.S. House districts have Hispanic majorities, including one in the largest city of Houston — a seat held by Democrat Gene Green, who is not Hispanic.
"The moral thing to do would be to have the creation of Hispanic impact congressional districts," Alonzo said. "The political thing historically has been whoever is in power draws the line in their favor . . . we won't get the four, but we'll get as much as possible."
Some Republicans acknowledged more Hispanics likely means more Hispanic-majority districts, albeit not necessarily Democratic-majority ones. State Rep. Aaron Peña, a Republican, says he can see a scenario where three of the new U.S. House seats go to Hispanic Republicans.
"I think it would be a bold statement by the Republican Party to have three Hispanic opportunity seats that reflect the Census numbers," Pena said.
The Latino growth accounted for two-thirds of the state's population gains between 2000 and 2010, and Latinos now make up 38 percent of the population. Non-Hispanic whites dropped to 45.3 percent and blacks make up 11.5 percent of the population.
Republican House Speaker Joe Straus said he looked forward to passing "fair and legal maps that represent the make-up of Texas."
Projections compiled by the Texas State Data Center show Hispanics will be the majority in Texas in the next decade, with conservative estimates showing it will happen in nine years, or in 2020.
Former U.S. Census Director and longtime Texas demographer Steve Murdock said the figures for the number of non-Hispanic whites came in below previous estimates. Their numbers grew by just 4 percent. Minority groups accounted for almost 90 percent of the 4.3 million increase in the state's population.
Asians and other racial groups went up the most on a percentage basis, increasing by 58 percent. The black population went up by over 20 percent and Hispanics saw their strength rise by more than 42 percent, figures show.
"The Hispanic growth has been even larger than we anticipated," Murdock said.
In Harris County, the state's largest political subdivision and home to Houston, there are now 1.7 million Hispanics, accounting for 41 percent of the population. Non-Hispanic whites make up only a third of the county, while blacks account for 18.4 percent.
In 2000, Latinos accounted for 33 percent of Harris County's population, while non-Hispanic whites made up 42 percent. Statewide, non-Hispanic whites were still the majority in 2000, making up 52 percent of the population.
Texas grew by more than 20 percent over the last decade, more than twice the national rate of 9.7 percent. The state's population stands at 25.1 million. Though the state's total population grew by more than any other state, Nevada, which saw its population rise by more than a third, grew the fastest. Michigan is the only state that lost population in the past decade.
When it comes to added strength in Congress, Texas is in a league by itself. Because the seats go where the people are, the southwest is gaining influence.
Texas already had the largest Republican delegation in Congress, holding 20 of the state's 32 seats. In the 2010 elections, the party picked up another three seats, two of them in heavily Latino districts in South Texas. With all the new growth, Texas will now have 36 seats and 38 presidential electoral votes.
Democrats say the numbers bode well for a party that has been pushed to the brink of irrelevancy in Texas. The Voting Rights Act requires map drawers to give special protection to districts that contain mostly minorities. Hispanics have tended to favor Democrats, but they are younger than the white population and traditionally have not turned out to vote in comparatively high numbers.
"If the Texas Legislature follows the law and protects all existing minority opportunity districts and respects the new minority population growth in new district lines, then Democrats should be positioned to pick up ground in the Legislature and in Congress," said Democratic political strategist Matt Angle.
The Associated Press contributed to this content.