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The clock is ticking on orders to redraw this gerrymandered blue district in Texas

The Texas Capitol building in Austin. The current legislative session ends May 27.
The Texas Capitol building in Austin. The current legislative session ends May 27. Star-Telegram

The countdown is on.

Federal courts last year gave Texas lawmakers 45 days from the beginning of this year’s legislative session to start redrawing boundary lines for Fort Worth’s House District 90 because of gerrymandering.

The 45-day mark is Thursday.

If a proposal isn’t introduced within the first month and a half of the session — or if it doesn’t appear likely that a new plan will come up during the session that wraps up May 27 — then the three-judge panel in a U.S. District Court in San Antonio will undertake the “unwelcome obligation” of fixing the district.

So far, no bill to redraw the district represented by Democrat Ramon Romero has been filed.

“The Supreme Court has ruled that we must have a narrow tailored correction to District 90,” Romero said. “The most narrow tailored line is that those precincts split by amendments in 2013 must be brought back to the way they were before.

“Will the district be fixed by the Legislature or will the Legislature pass on filing a bill ... to let the courts do it?”

He said the next step is to see what fixes are proposed by the Texas Attorney General’s Office.

The Attorney General’s Office plans to submit a proposal regarding the HD 90 boundary lines by the 45-day deadline, said Kayleigh Lovvorn, a spokeswoman for the office.

Divided precincts

Last year, the federal court singled out HD 90 as the only Texas district that must be redrawn for the 2020 election.

The ruling cited deliberate discrimination in the Fort Worth district, saying race was wrongly used as a key factor when the boundary lines were redrawn in 2013.

At the time, the district was represented by former state Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, who was defeated by Romero the next year.

The oddly shaped district stretches through much of Fort Worth and includes the Stockyards, Como, Polytechnic Heights and the near north side. The northern border is near Fort Worth’s Meacham International Airport; the southern border is near Edgecliff Village.

The court ruling noted that Burnam’s changes to the district mostly modified the western boundary of the district by swapping some populations with House District 99, represented by Republican Charlie Geren of Fort Worth.

Burnam said the district’s boundary lines were redrawn because he wanted to return Lake Como, an African-American community, to the district.

“We wanted to get Como back in the district,” Burnam said. “But you can’t increase the number of white votes in the district. So you do have some precincts divided in a bizarre way.”

The changes in 2013 were geared, Burnam said, “to maximize the number of people of color in District 90.”

Moving forward

The concern for some in taking a redistricting bill to the House or Senate floor to fix HD 90 is that any lawmaker could try to add an amendment changing boundaries in other districts. If a majority of the chamber approves, that proposal would become part of the full bill.

In 2013, 11 precincts were split. Romero said he believes the court’s concerns could be restored if those precincts were restored and Como was left the district.

The Texas House Redistricting Committee will review any proposal that is submitted, said state Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, who heads the committee.

“This is like any legislation,” King said. “Someone has to file a bill and that bill must be referred to the committee.

“All the redistricting committee can do is respond to bills that are filed.”

Fort Worth investors Michael Barnard and John Altman have quietly acquired the Como real estate over the last decade. Now, the investors are ready to sell to a developer or a series of developers.

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Anna M. Tinsley grew up in a journalism family and has been a reporter for the Star-Telegram since 2001. She has covered the Texas Legislature and politics for more than two decades and has won multiple awards for political reporting, most recently a third place from APME for deadline writing. She is a Baylor University graduate.
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