County political parties are split on a federal judge panel’s Thursday ruling to invalidate nine Texas House district boundaries — including those of District 54 Rep. Scott Cosper, R-Killeen, and District 55 Rep. Hugh Shine, R-Temple — due to alleged minority discrimination in the districts’ mapping.
Chris Rosenberg, co-chair for the Bell County Democratic Party, said the ruling exposed a “pattern of voter suppression” throughout Bell County, where no Democrat has been elected to state or national office since the Texas Legislature redrew its congressional maps in 2011.
“The Bell County Democratic Party agrees with the court’s decision, which confirms what has generally been understood to be a pattern of voter suppression and discrimination against people of color in Bell County, and in the state of Texas,” Rosenberg said. “Since at least 2011, The Republican-controlled Texas government has manipulated the vote in their favor by means of unlawful drawing of House district lines.”
In 2012, the same federal district court in San Antonio ruled the state’s new map utilized discriminatory gerrymandering and redrew a temporary map the state has used for three consecutive sessions. The new map was ordered to be drawn prior to the 2018 elections.
The Thursday ruling invalidated five House districts held by Republicans and four held by Democrats.
Nancy Boston, chairwoman of the Bell County Republican Party, said the ruling effectively called the court’s own maps discriminatory and had no effect on Cosper’s or Shine’s 2016 election victories.
“I think it’s kind of strange because the three-judge panel drew these lines after the last census, and now they’ve ruled they’re illegal,” Boston said. “I think the reason these two gentlemen won is because they went out and talked to their constituents, and the majority of the people voted for them. I think people appreciate them, and I think they’ve done a really good job this year.”
Cosper said Saturday he would continue to represent his constituents despite a possible district redrawing.
"It is the honor of a lifetime to fight for the families of the 54th district and address the challenges we face, and I plan to keep up the fight for our families, schools, taxpayers, and military community no matter how the district’s boundaries may change," Cosper said in a news release. "These boundaries are unfortunately in the court’s hands unless Governor Abbott reconvenes the legislature to address the court’s concerns. If that happens, rest assured that I will do my best to make sure any changes are sensible and in the best interests of the Bell and Lampasas County communities."
Cosper, a first-time state legislator, was elected to the District 54 seat in November 2016 after beating out Democratic challenger Sandra Blankenship by 5,100 votes — or a roughly eight-point margin.
Cosper narrowly defeated Republic primary challenger and Killeen optometrist Austin Ruiz by 40 votes in a May 27 runoff election and previously served as mayor and councilman for the city of Killeen.
Shine told the FME News Service Thursday the ruling directly targeted Cosper’s district, which would have an effect on Shine’s district map.
“Anything that affects Cosper’s seat has the potential to affect House District 55 also,” Shine said. “Because we share the county, anything that happens to 54 could, in fact, affect 55.”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said Thursday the state would appeal the court ruling before the U.S. Supreme Court.
On Aug. 15, the same federal judge panel invalidated two of the state’s 36 U.S. Congressional districts held by District 27 Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, and District 35 Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin.
On Friday, Paxton requested the U.S. Supreme Court stay the order to redraw the two national districts.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this story has been updated to include comments from Texas House District 54 Rep. Scott Cosper.