THE FRONT PORCH – “Hi,” says a guy holding a clipboard. “I’m with the U.S. Census Bureau, taking tabs on all Americans. Are you newly arrived, Muslim or one of those traitors against making America great again and vote Democrat?”
“I’ve been here a long time,” I reply. “Actually, I’m a sixth-generation Texan and a member of the Sons of the Republic of Texas. And I vote.”
He scribbles something on his clipboard. “So you are a citizen of the Republic of Texas and not of the United States? And you have voted in U.S. elections? Just like Governor Abbott said, voter fraud in Texas is ‘rampant.’” And thus begins the 2020 head count of Americans, get ready. But Texans are being hornswoggled by our own aforementioned Gov. Abbot and his Republican buddies which will cost you and me lots of money. Let me explain. As you know, the U.S. Constitution requires that every 10 years the federal government makes a headcount of all Americans — citizens and noncitizens alike. The census is used to determine the number of members of the U.S. House of Representatives from each state. The census also determines how $1.5 trillion in federal funds are distributed to states and local communities every year for services and infrastructure, including health care, jobs, schools, roads and businesses.
So the more people, no matter their legality, Texas has, the more loot we get from Washington — our own loot, incidentally. One might think the states would be fighting to chalk up the most people, and many states do. California and New York have allocated huge amounts of money to census outreach and counting efforts: $187 million in California and $60 million in New York. Worried about an undercount, not only California and New York but 24 other states are pouring close to a third of a billion dollars into pumping up response rates for the count. Experts in such matters say it is money well spent. “They are hoping to preserve or poach a seat at [a] state like Texas’ expense,” Justin Levitt, a Loyola Law School professor who studies such matters, said. And how much is Texas spending to make sure we get our share? Zero. Nada. Not one cent. There are 24 states like Texas that are not spending anything, and there is a reason. The political divide is stark: Seventeen of those 24 are led by Republican governors and legislatures, including population heavyweights like Texas, Florida and Ohio. But of the 26 states that are spending money, only four are Republican-controlled. Do you see a pattern here?
Although our 29-million residents make it second in population only to California, the Texas Legislature has declined to fund any effort to make sure we all get counted. A bill to commit $50 million to census response died in the Republican-controlled Legislature. Rep. César J. Blanco, the El Paso Democrat who sponsored the bill, claimed that the Legislature wanted to blunt a demographic shift that has strengthened Democrats. “They’re concerned that if you have a more accurate count, it would put them at a disadvantage.” There we have it: Most of those Texans in barrios hiding from ICE live in Democratic-controlled areas, and those regions might get another member of Congress and the Texas Legislature. So, because of Republican leaders in Austin and their need to retain power, we are going to let millions if not billions of dollars go to other states. It’s all a matter of priorities.
The latest projections suggest that Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina, Oregon, and Texas may gain seats following the 2020 census. Those seat gains would come at the expense of 10 others: Alabama, California, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and West Virginia. Texas might get three new Congressional seats, maybe four if we count everybody. And, of course, we’d get more money. Texans could use it. The state adds more than 1,000 new residents every single day. Half are newborns. Nearly 30 percent hail from foreign countries, a hefty share from Asia. The remaining 20 percent moved from other states, led by California, which is expected to lose a House seat for the first time ever. In some ways, Texas mirrors California: Four in 10 residents are Hispanic. One in four is deemed hard to count. One in 17 is an undocumented immigrant. Fortunately, a volunteer corps of civic groups, philanthropies, local governments and others are trying to fill in with their own get-out-the-headcount programs.
If we count all Texans, our Congressional and Legislative districts will be heavily re-drawn, since rural Texas’ population is shrinking: Of the state’s 254 counties, 87 (about one third) saw a decline in population from 2013 to 2018. The bulk of these counties are in the Panhandle and West Texas. Meanwhile urban areas are growing, especially the suburbs. More people in a district means a smaller geographic district. The I-35 corridor from the Metroplex south through Austin, San Marcos to San Antonio is booming. So is the Houston area. Take our 22nd Congressional District which covers the south-central portion of the Greater Houston metropolitan area. The Census Bureau estimates it had more than 850,000 people in 2018. That is almost 50,000 residents more than the next largest district in the state. The Metroplex might get another U.S. Rep, but it would be a minority district, which would probably vote Democrat.
Then there is Hidalgo County on the Mexico border. Officially, 866,000 people, almost all Hispanic, live there. Unofficially, county officials count more than a million. In the 2000 census, fewer than one in five households filled out forms. Residents refused to open their doors to Spanish-speaking census takers sent from Puerto Rico, because their accents marked them as strangers. Others never received forms because they used post office boxes, which the Census Bureau does not count as mailing addresses.
Wait a minute, the doorbell is ringing again. It’s Gov. Abbott with a clipboard.
Ashby counts at firstname.lastname@example.org