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Texas This Week: State demographer explains redistricting

State Demographer Lloyd Potter, Ph.D., spoke with Ashley Goudeau about the changes he's seen in the state's demographics.

AUSTIN, Texas — This week in Texas politics, the attorney general was handed a partial win in his first fight against the Biden administration, Gov. Greg Abbott is doing what he can to block the new president's agenda and the state demographer spoke with KVUE's Ashley Goudeau about redistricting.

Three things to know in Texas politics

President Joe Biden was in office for only a few days before Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit aimed at stopping one of his executive orders. This week, a federal judge issued a nationwide temporary restraining order halting the executive order President Biden signed ordering the Department of Homeland Security to freeze deportations.

RELATED: Judge bars Biden from enforcing 100-day deportation ban

This week, Gov. Greg Abbott held listening sessions in different parts of the state. In San Antonio, he talked about the impacts of COVID-19 on the economy and construction industry and outlined legislative priorities to help companies and workers rebound. In Odessa, oil and gas was the main topic of discussion and Abbott announced he was signing an executive order directing every State agency to use all lawful powers and tools to challenge federal action that "threatens the continued strength, vitality, and independence of the energy industry."

The frustration many Texans are feeling about the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine is not lost on the members of the Texas Senate. What was supposed to be a brief 10-minute session on the Senate floor Tuesday turned into a discussion about what's working – and what's not – in getting shots in the arms of Texans. The lawmakers said they want people to know they see the issues and are working to find solutions. Watch Tuesday's Senate session.

State Demographer Lloyd Potter, Ph.D.

One of the most important things Texas lawmakers will do this session is redraw congressional and state districts. The Senate Special Committee on Redistricting started meeting this week to learn about the growth in each region of the state. 

They're learning from State Demographer Lloyd Potter, Ph.D., who spoke with KVUE's Ashley Goudeau about the growth of the state and how it could impact politics.

Ashley Goudeau: First, tell our viewers exactly what is the Texas Demographic Center?

Lloyd Potter: "Well, the Texas Demographics Center is sort of a pseudo governmental agency. I serve as the Texas state demographer and the Demographic Center is – in many other states, it's called the state data center. We ran into the problem where there's a state data center that has computers and things like that in it. So, we were getting calls, so we changed the name to the Texas Demographic Center. So we serve as a resource for the demographics in the state. We work a lot with State agencies, with the legislators and their staff. And then we also produce population estimates for all the counties and places in the state in the non-census years. And we produce population projections for counties in the state. And that's something that's really useful for the Texas Water Development Board, Department of Transportation. I could go on about the different agencies who use our projections for planning purposes."

Goudeau: Your projections are going to be more important than ever this year for the members of the legislature because it is a redistricting year. So, for our viewers who maybe aren't familiar with the process, explain to us what exactly is redistricting?

Potter: "Well, redistricting has to do with, over time, the population both grows and shifts. And in our democracy, the idea is that every person has reasonably close to equal representation. And so when, when we draw representative districts, in this case in Texas we're drawing – will be drawing – Senate districts or redrawing Senate districts, Texas House districts and then the U.S. House districts. And there's actually a whole range of districts that – the idea is that each district has about the same number of people in it. So when, over time, we see some areas in Texas that are growing fast, we actually have some areas in Texas that are losing population. And so, periodically, we redraw the districts to even that out so that the population within each district is about the same.

RELATED: Texas Senate special committee starts redistricting process

Goudeau: Talk to us a little bit about the changes you've seen in the demographics of Texas since 2010. 

Potter: "Well, Texas has grown a lot. And in fact, we've grown in terms of population more than any other state. The Census Bureau has released a 2020 estimate, which is not the census count. So, it's an educated guess as to what the population's going to look like when the census count comes out. And with that 2020 estimate, comparing that to 2010, we've added ... more than four million new Texans and we're close to 30 million Texans. We're kind of like 29.5, somewhere in that range, million Texans in 2020. And then when we look at where that population change has occurred, it's happened in many of the urbanized areas. So, we refer to the population triangle of Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio, Austin, Houston. The area surrounding each of those urban cores has really grown dramatically. And then if you look out west, we see cities that have grown like Lubbock and Amarillo, certainly Midland and Odessa have grown dramatically, El Paso and the lower Rio Grande Valley. So – and I don't want to leave out East Texas. Tyler is also an area that's kind of growing pretty dramatically as well. 

So, so that's where we've seen a lot of the growth. And when we look at the growth and what's driving it, about half of it is, is the result of more births than deaths. So, we're essentially growing our population, much of it, by having babies and having a pretty good positive rate of natural increase. And then the other half is from that in-migration. And about a third of our total population change has been from domestic migration and a smaller percentage has been from international migration."

Goudeau: You are taking part in all of these redistricting hearings that the Senate is currently holding. They've been holding them all this week, going to continue holding these, these hearings because it's a very important process. What's some of the key information you're arming senators with as they try to make these decisions?  

Potter: "Well, essentially, we're trying to make them aware of where population change has been occurring because they don't have the census data yet. So once the census data are released to them and then they have that information about where they're going to be needing to draw larger boundaries – meaning those are places that have lost population so they'll have to make the districts bigger geographically to pull in additional people to get up to that threshold. 

And then there are areas, especially in the suburban ring counties around the urban cores, that have just grown very dramatically. And so, they've had bigger districts because 10 years ago there were fewer people there. And now they're going to have to make those districts smaller to get them down to the threshold in order to even out the population in each district across the state. 

So what we're trying to do is communicate to them that, 'These are the areas that you're going to have to look at hard in terms of either growing or shrinking.' And then there are some districts that are probably going to end up being pretty close to the same in terms of geography ... It all depends on how the census numbers come out. But currently, our forecast is that Texas will receive three new U.S. congressional seats. I have seen forecasts suggesting Texas may only get two, but, but we're expecting to get three new U.S. congressional seats, which would mean that Texas has 39 representatives in the U.S. House in Washington."

Goudeau: And just how big of a role will that play in terms of politics and Texas politics? 

Potter: "Well, certainly it will result in Texas having much stronger representation in Washington. And that's a good thing for the state, that we ensure that our, our needs are being taken care of, that the federal tax dollars that we're sending to Washington, that we get our fair share of those in return for the different kinds of federal programs. So, so that's an important thing. 

You know, I think the other thing – which, which our office really stays away from – is kind of the politics of it because certainly there's, you know, as these senators and the representatives start drawing districts there, they have some intent to try to ensure that, that the redistricting favors their party. And so, there's a lot of back and forth and positioning around trying to ensure that, that they each maximize their outcomes in terms of creating districts that are likely to elect candidates in their party. But we pretty much, our office works but we just stay out of that. We don't get involved in that part of it."

Click here to watch hearings from the Senate Special Committee on Redistricting.

WATCH: Texas This Week: What to expect in the 87th Texas Legislature


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