The Texas congressional delegation doesn't reflect the state's diversity. Will the election change that?

©Austin American-Statesman

Rep. Will Hurd of Texas. - U.S. House of Representatives/U.S. House of Representatives/TNS

WASHINGTON — The Texas congressional delegation long hasn’t reflected the demographic diversity of the state. Currently, Anglos occupy roughly two-thirds of the Texas seats in the U.S. House, while Anglos make up 41% of the Texas population. Latinos, on the other hand are severely underrepresented, with 19% of seats and comprising 40% of the population.

This year, amid a national reckoning of systemic racism in all aspects of American life, candidates of color are running in 24 of the state’s 36 congressional districts, including 10 districts where both Democrat and Republican are nonwhite.

Yet when the dust settles from the election, now less than two weeks away, the state’s delegation is expected to remain mostly white.

There are 13 people of color representing Texas in the U.S. House — six Blacks and seven Latinos. Eleven of them are running for reelection and none are expected to lose their seats, according to national political forecasters. Two are retiring: U.S. Reps. Bill Flores, R-Bryan, and Will Hurd, R-Helotes.

The two candidates running to replace Flores — Republican Pete Sessions and Democrat Rick Kennedy — are white. Running to replace Hurd, who is the only Black Republican in the House: Republican Tony Gonzales and Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones, who is of Filipino descent.

No white incumbent facing a challenger of color is expected to lose — including U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, who faces Republican Jenny Garcia Sharon — because their districts were drawn to favor one party or the other. But some might face close races. And a few open seats that are occupied by retiring white representatives have drawn candidates of color and are up for grabs.

7 RACES TO WATCH

Here is a look at a few high-profile races involving candidates of color:

23rd Congressional District: The perpetual swing district that runs from San Antonio along 800 miles of border to El Paso is an open seat with Hurd’s retirement. Jones, a former military intelligence officer who narrowly lost to Hurd in 2018, faces Gonzales, a former U.S. Navy cryptologist. Democrats have highlighted this race and are counting on it as the Texas seat most likely to flip in November.

24th Congressional District: The compact district in the Metroplex that includes diverse suburban areas of Dallas and Fort Worth is an open seat after the announced retirement of U.S. Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell. Democrat Candace Valenzuela, an educator who was homeless as a child and would be the first Afro-Latina member of Congress, faces Republican Beth Van Duyne, former mayor of Irving who served in the Trump administration as a regional administrator of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

22nd Congressional District: The Houston suburban district is an open seat after the announced retirement of U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, who won by a small margin in 2018 against former Foreign Service officer Sri Kulkarni. Kulkarni, who is Indian American, is the Democratic candidate again and faces Republican Troy Nehls, Fort Bend County sheriff.

31st Congressional District: The district that covers most of Williamson and Bell counties, including Austin’s fast-growing northern suburbs, has been represented by U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, since 2003. Two years ago, he eked out a win over MJ Hegar, now the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate, and this time faces Donna Imam, an electrical engineer who has roots in Bangladesh.

7th Congressional District: The Houston-area district is represented by Democrat Lizzie Fletcher, one of two Democrats to flip U.S. House districts in Texas in 2018. (The other was Colin Allred, an African American who topped white incumbent Sessions in a Dallas-area district.) Fletcher, who is white, is facing Wesley Hunt, an Army veteran and West Point graduate who is African American.

2nd Congressional District: This Houston-area district is represented by first-term Republican Dan Crenshaw, a former Navy SEAL who is white. The Democratic challenger is Sima Ladjevardian, an Iranian immigrant who was a law school classmate of Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris.

3rd Congressional District: This suburban Dallas district is represented by former state lawmaker Van Taylor, who is white. Democratic challenger Lulu Seikaly is Arab American.

DIVERSITY ADVANTAGES

Diverse representation brings diverse points of view and can benefit a district, as well as the political process, said Luis Fraga, professor of political science at Notre Dame University and the director of the Institute for Latino Studies.

“Representatives of color make more ethnic-specific policy proposals,” he said.

He said research shows they also respond more quickly to constituents and speak out more often on issues that are symbolic to their communities, such as Hispanic Heritage Month.

“These sorts of benefits are absolutely critical to bringing more people into the political process,” he said.

“The challenge in Texas for Latinos is turnout,” he said, adding that having Latinos on the ballot helps build enthusiasm in the Hispanic community.

Fraga, who is from Corpus Christi, is a mentor to former Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro and his twin brother, Democratic U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, both of whom he taught at Stanford University.

Hurd, in an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” in 2019, summed up how he sees the political landscape.

“Just look at my state of Texas, ruby red Texas. It’s actually purple,” he said. “Just because we don’t have a statewide elected Democrat, doesn’t mean that we aren’t purple. And I’ve been telling people if we want to keep a Republican Party in Texas, the Republican Party in Texas needs to start looking like Texas.”

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©2020 Austin American-Statesman, Texas