February 18, 2011 | Wall Street Journal | Original Article

Latino Numbers Soar in Texas, Promising More Political Clout

DALLAS-Latinos accounted for 65% of Texas's population growth over the past decade, and for 95% of the increase among its rapidly expanding under-18 population, numbers likely to amplify the group's political clout for years to come in the second most-populous state.

Data released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau show that Texas, long associated with cowboys, cattle and the wide-open range, became more urban and more Latino from 2000-2010. Non-Hispanic whites ceased being the majority, shrinking to 45.3% of the population from 52.4%.

Texas was already big, with nearly 21 million people counted at the turn of the century, and it added another 4.3 million residents since then, for a 2010 total of 25.1 million. The increase was more than any other state, and accounted for one-sixth of U.S. population growth. Only California has more people.

If there was a way to grow, Texas did it. It added people through births, lured job seekers from other states, offered a refuge to those fleeing the wreckage of Hurricane Katrina and remained a magnet for legal and illegal immigrants alike.

But the makeup of Texas is changing along with the growth. Overall, the minority population grew by 38% while the white population rose by 4%. The counties where Dallas and Houston sit lost white residents. These demographic changes are likely to have a long-term impact on Texas's political landscape as Democrats and Republicans compete for the new voters, state political observers say.

The growth will give Texas four additional U.S. House representatives when the next Congress is sworn in, more than any other state, providing more political sway and a greater share of the Electoral College.

For now, the Lone Star state is likely to remain a GOP stronghold, with that party firmly in control of the state legislature after big gains in the election last November. Republicans will lead the effort to redraw boundaries of House districts, including the new ones.

"The Republican control of Texas will be more difficult to sustain over the coming decades, but right now they hold the whip hand," said Cal Jillson, a political-science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

In coming decades, though, the state's political ranks could be transformed by the growing Latino population, some experts said. Although Republicans have had occasional success attracting a sizeable portion of the Latino vote in Texas, the majority of Latinos usually sides with Democrats, according to Richard Murray, political scientist at the University of Houston.

State demographers calculate that a larger chunk of the past decade's growth came from births rather than migration, which had been a driver in prior years. This is boosting the number of Latinos who are U.S. citizens and thus eligible to vote, Mr. Murray said. "The $64,000 question is, does that translate into voter registrations and turnout," he said.

Residents from states such as California, Florida and Arizona seeking job opportunities also contributed to Texas's population bulge, according to Lloyd Potter, the state demographer. "Over the last part of the decade, the economy in Texas was doing better than many of the other states," he said.

Daisy Bolivar represents both the growth of Latinos and the influx of migrants: Her parents immigrated to New Jersey from Colombia, and she herself moved to Austin in 2006 for a job.

"The economy was not picking up in New Jersey and I wasn't able to buy a home," said the 34-year-old Ms. Bolivar. "I told myself, 'I have nothing to lose, but an adventure to gain.' "

The state also gained residents due to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which devastated New Orleans and forced many people there to flee. Though the census numbers didn't reflect where people moved from, counts conducted by Texas after the storm showed more than 100,000 hurricane survivors settled in the Houston area. The population of Harris County, where that city sits, grew by 20%, or about 692,000 people. The county's growth included a 22% increase in the black population.

Houston itself, however, lost about 1,900 blacks. Steve Murdock, a professor at Rice University and former U.S. Census director, said that decline appears in line with a statewide trend.

"We are seeing in some Texas cities a good deal of suburbanization of African Americans," he said.