Redistricting Forever

Texas Democrats are considering a challenge to the redistricting plans put in place for the state House and state Senate two years ago. If they sued, they would be seeking a revision based on this summer's U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a Georgia redistricting case. Some Democrats say the logic of that ruling, applied to Texas, could add as many as three Democratic seats to the state Senate and as many as 12 to the state House. Numbers like that, if they proved to be more than fantasy, would move both chambers of the Legislature to near parity between Democrats and Republicans.

A lawsuit would also yank the lid off of the can of worms opened this year, when Republicans decided to change congressional redistricting plans that could legally have been left alone until 2011.

The congressional map now in use was drawn by a panel of federal judges two years ago, after the Legislature — then split between Republicans and Democrats — failed to come up with new congressional lines. The Legislative Redistricting Board drew the state legislative maps now in place after Senate Republicans killed the work done by their fellow lawmakers.

That LRB was controlled by Republicans, as was the Senate, and the stonewalling threw the issue into the hands of three ambitious officeholders — Attorney General John Cornyn, Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, and Land Commissioner David Dewhurst. They drew maps that strengthened the slim GOP majority in the Senate and that overwhelmed Democrats in the House, which now counts 88 Republicans among its 150 members. Cornyn went on to the U.S. Senate. Voters promoted Dewhurst to lieutenant governor. Strayhorn won reelection.

Now that Republicans have control of the Legislature, they've reopened congressional redistricting to eliminate the last stronghold of Texas Democrats. But all of that happened before the Georgia redistricting case went to the U.S. Supreme Court. Democrats in the Legislature (and outside of it), looking to regain some power, think a lawsuit might be a way to reopen the legislative maps. Should that work, they'd have enough legislators to redraw the congressional maps again.

Redistricting in Texas and other southern states looks more and more like segregation every time the maps change. That wasn't what Congress intended, but voting trends and voting rights laws are conspiring to divide southern states into minority Democratic districts on the one hand and Anglo Republican districts on the other. More people are voting Republican. Minorities vote overwhelmingly with the Democrats. And voting rights laws don't allow lawmakers to cut up existing minority districts. It's increasingly difficult to elect or reelect Anglo Democrats in Texas, and the GOP has only two minority officeholders in the Legislature: Elvira Reyna of Mesquite and Martha Wong of Houston. Minority Democrats think the Supremes are trying to back down a bit, so that the maps in Texas and throughout the South don't produce "political ghettoes" of minority voters.

Republicans don't read that case the same way some Democrats do. In fact, you can get a range of readings of the ruling from members of either party. Some say the court gave states more leeway to draw maps, that the rules for redistricting are more lenient now than they were two years ago. That group says the courts would leave the current maps alone, since there is no new standard to apply.

Others say the court has revised its views of race and how it should be considered when lawmakers are drawing political maps. That camp's reading of the tea leaves? Maps that dilute minority voting strength in particular districts — while protecting minority voters' ability to elect candidates of their choice — are legal. In Texas, that could produce up to 15 more Democratic seats.

Circular Firing Squads

If he'd had politicians bonking his head instead of apples, Sir Isaac Newton might have produced something like this: Legislation in the process of falling apart tends to continue to fall apart.

The congressional redistricting bill, in various forms, has been falling apart for about three months.

The House map produced in the first week of this special session was pronounced dead before it really got to the Senate. At best, it could gather only 14 Republican votes in the upper chamber and it needs a minimum of 16 to pass. Senators hated it all sorts of ways and began drawing their own maps.

Ten of the 12 Democrats in the Senate signed a letter saying they wouldn't vote to suspend the rules and bring up a bill for consideration — no matter how the congressional districts were drawn. That wasn't enough to block the bill. But then Sen. Bill Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, agreed to add his name to the list. A day later, Sen. Frank Madla, D-San Antonio, added his name. And the other Democrat, Sen. Ken Armbrister of Victoria, said he would "lead the exodus" of members if Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst attempted to engineer things so that passage required only a simple majority of 16 senators instead of a two-thirds majority of 21.

The letter signed by 12 senators doesn't appear to leave any negotiating room. The senators said they won't consider congressional redistricting at all. Ratliff said in a press conference that the issue would tear up the Senate if allowed to roll forward. They appear to be dug in.

Senate threats often have hidden conditions, best posed as questions. Would it be "tampering with the two-thirds vote" if the Legislature adjourned and then came back for a special session that didn't have a blocker bill at all? No way to know until it happens. A simple majority would rule the Senate in a session like that and the opponents of redistricting would have only one tool: denying a quorum by getting at least 11 senators to be somewhere else when it's time to meet. (Thanks to a court ruling earlier this month, state police aren't allowed to round them up; opponents could wait outside the room, or in their offices, instead of driving to another state.)

Never, Never, Never, Maybe...

Impasses get old and the history books are full of politicians who folded after standoffs of various kinds. An impasse over workers' compensation laws broke in 1989, in the second special session on that subject, after three Democrats buckled and agreed to join with other senators to bring up the legislation. Tax bills get passed after tables are pounded. Redistricting happens at least once every ten years, and it's always unpleasant for somebody.

Dewhurst is betting on that history, offering this proposition to Democrats and other opponents: The negotiating lever available now, with the two-thirds rule in place, won't be available if another special session is called. Want to change the map? Now's the time.

But that didn't work a couple of weeks ago, when the management in the Pink Building was getting ready to call the first special session. Redistricting opponents, unlike their counterparts fighting workers compensation changes or other matters in the past, have little incentive to settle. If the Republicans force a second session and try to do it with a simple majority, there are still enough Democrats to deny them a quorum. And without another issue on the table, there's no reason for the Democrats to show up. It is playing like an endless loop, and the delays favor the minority.

Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, isn't offering up a firm date, but says redistricting has to be out of the Legislature's hands "soon" if it's to have time to move through the required legal filters at the Department of Justice and then to survive an inevitable court challenge before filing for the primary elections. Those elections are in March. The filing dates are often moved for things like this, but they generally fall in December. The Justice folks want up to 120 days to do their work, and the only time constraints on courts exist solely in the minds and hearts of the judges who run them.

The "Bullock Precedent"

It sounds like the title of a spy thriller, but it's Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst's name for a 1992 special session on redistricting that was run without the benefit of a blocker bill. The Senate voted the bill out with less than two-thirds support and they were done and gone in about a week.

What began as a historical footnote has now acquired a title and some weight. Dewhurst, who now refers to the earlier incident as "the Bullock precedent," after then-Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, had his staff whip up a memo on the subject. Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio, who chairs the Democratic Caucus in the Senate, also had a memo whipped up. And what's the story?

As usual with these things, you can argue it round or flat. Dewhurst is reading history to say that if redistricting is the only thing on the call for a legislative session, or even if it's the most important thing on the call, he doesn't need to have a blocker bill. No blocker, no two-thirds vote. No two-thirds vote, and the Democrats are completely shut out. He says it like this: "If we find ourselves being called back into special session, then under the Bullock Precedent, the first bill will be a redistricting bill."

Secretary of the Senate Patsy Spaw did a memo on the history of this thing, and ends by quoting lobbyist Jack Roberts, a Bullock confidant, who told her Bullock didn't use a blocker because he didn't have the 21 votes he needed to pass the bill. That bill — a Senate redistricting plan — got out on an 18-12 vote in a Senate that had only nine Republicans. (In another special session that year, on different matters, a blocker bill got filed but wasn't put in place. The 21 votes weren't used then, either, but nobody's using that one as a precedent yet.)

The Democrats read history differently. Imagine that. The 1992 Senate was trying to fix a broken map in time for the 1992 elections. That's not how it worked out, because a federal court kyboshed their plan and used another one, but the Senate was trying to replace a temporary plan with a permanent one. This time, the Democrats argue, the Republicans are trying to replace a permanent plan drawn up two years ago with another permanent plan more to their liking. And they say the Republicans liked the blocker bill just fine when they were killing legislative redistricting two years ago to take it out of the hands of a closely balanced Legislature and into the hands of a more partisan Legislative Redistricting Board. The biggest difference we can see between then and now: Senate Democrats are crying foul this year. The Republicans, in 1992, didn't.

Questionable Parentage

Sen. Chris Harris, R-Arlington, was supposed to be the author of the upper chamber's redistricting plan, but after giving several signals that there were a lot of different hands in the pot, he withdrew his maps and said he was done. Harris said he'd leave the cartography to Sen. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, who heads the Senate Republican Caucus. Staples said that he was introducing the map for Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, who said she originally got it from a citizen, then moved some of the lines around. Harris' maps were drawn, according to Harris, by the attorney general's lawyers. According to those folks and to the lieutenant governor's aides, they were drawn by former legislator Bob Davis, by Dewhurst aide Rob Johnson, and others. All this to say that map has many parents, and also none.

Democrats teed off on Harris' mention of the attorney general's office. AG Greg Abbott has hired Andy Taylor, a private attorney who worked for AG John Cornyn, to handle redistricting when it goes to court. Taylor has also done legal work for a political action committee called Texans for a Republican Majority that was started by U.S. Majority Leader Tom DeLay (Shapiro was one of several people who loaned their names and time to TRMPAC during the last legislative elections). Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, put it this way: "Why should we let Tom DeLay's lawyer draw our maps?"

A spokesman for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said Taylor hadn't participated in the meetings. In fact, he became scarce at public redistricting sessions after the Houston Chronicle wrote about potential conflicts that could arise out of his service to DeLay, to the Texas Association of Business and to the attorney general on the redistricting case. Taylor will handle redistricting litigation for the state, but hasn't had anything to do with map-making, according to Dewhurst aides.

Another Opening, Another Show

What turns out after all the gyrations to be the first Senate redistricting map would put 22 Republicans in the Texas delegation, and ten Democrats. That's on paper. Actual mileage may vary. Expect to see plenty of folding, spindling and mutilating before this is done.

It would pair four incumbents:

• U.S. Reps. Gene Green, D-Houston, and Nick Lampson, D-Beaumont, would be fighting each other in a district drawn to favor a suburban Anglo Republican. In the closest race on the statewide ballot two years ago, David Dewhurst got 58.2 percent of the vote. The average statewide Democrat got 38.4 percent in the proposed CD-2.

• U.S. Reps. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, and Martin Frost, D-Dallas, would lock up in CD-6, where Dewhurst got 60.1 percent of the vote two years ago. Frost currently represents a minority district; in this map, he and Barton would be in an overwhelmingly Anglo district.

• Houston Reps. Chris Bell, a Democrat, and John Culberson, a Republican, would share the new CD-7. It's a Houston version of the Barton-Frost match-up: A Democrat who now lives in a majority-minority district gets tucked into safe Republican territory that already has its own incumbent.

• Democrats Chet Edwards of Waco and Jim Turner of Crockett would be paired in the new CD-11. Both have survived in Republican districts up to now, but the new district has features to upset either of them. Turner loses much of his East Texas base, while Edwards would lose Fort Hood, where he's nurtured a reputation for bringing home the bacon. Like the Green-Lampson match-up, this one could easily end with a new Republican replacing two incumbent Democrats.

• U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio, would still have a district that stretches to El Paso, but it would have a population that is Hispanic and more Republican.

• Several Republican incumbents, like Kevin Brady of The Woodlands, Michael Burgess of Highland Village and John Carter of Georgetown, would lose Republican voters. They'd still be in safe districts, but not with Republicans packed in like they are now.

• Austin Democrat Lloyd Doggett, another incumbent on the GOP target list, would have a district where Dewhurst got 52.8 percent and where average statewide Republicans got 60.3 percent. The new district's minority population would be 25 percent smaller than what he's got now.

• Democrat Ralph Hall of Rockwall is already winning in an overwhelmingly Republican district, but the Republicans like him. His proposed district is Republican, but less so than what he's got now.

• U.S. Rep. Max Sandlin, D-Marshall, didn't get paired, but he got the next worse thing. The average GOP statewide candidate got 63.2 percent in his proposed district; Dewhurst got 56.0 percent.

Charlie Stenholm, D-Stamford, has, like Hall, been winning in GOP territory for years. But his new map — while the numbers are similar — has lots of new territory in it, and it stretches down to grab some ardently Republican territory on the edges of the Hill Country.

• Some districts look the same statistically but go weird on the map. Democrats Ciro Rodriguez of San Antonio and Ruben Hinojosa of Mercedes would both have districts that stretch from the Texas Border to Central Texas. Squeezed in between them is an open seat — CD-25 — with a population that is about two-thirds Hispanic and that voted about two-thirds Democratic in the last elections.

• Two other open seats on that map — both in Harris County — are also drawn with minority voters in the majority. Black and Hispanic voters combine for about two-thirds of the vote in the proposed CD-9, and Hispanic voters make up 65.8 percent of the population in the proposed CD-29.

• The last open seat, carved out of Dallas and Tarrant Counties, would be ripe for someone like state Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell. Voters there gave the average Republican statewide candidate 63.5 percent of the vote in the last elections.

We mentioned state Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth, R-Burleson, as a possible contender for a West Central seat on a previous map. The district would fit, but she's not interested in a run for Congress. She said something about liking her family.

Off the Pedestal

Former Texas Attorney General Dan Morales, a Harvard-educated lawyer who rose through the Texas Legislature, into the top legal job in government and then into a race for governor of Texas, pleaded guilty to mail fraud and filing a false tax return in federal court, charges that carry up to a four-year prison term. Federal prosecutors said Morales admitted backdating official government contracts and forging government records "for his enrichment and the enrichment of his friends." And he admitted lying on his federal income tax return for 1998, when he made "substantially" more than he reported to the IRS. He made the plea in federal court; sentencing was set for October. Morales was accused of trying to divert money from the state's $17 billion tobacco settlement to himself and another lawyer, of lying on a mortgage loan application, and lying to the IRS. He was tossed in jail earlier this year, after telling a federal judge he couldn't afford a lawyer and then applying for two car loans and listing at least $20,000 a month in income on the applications.

Other Matters

While they're not in motion on redistricting, the Senate Democrats have more or less agreed to keep moving on some of the other stuff that's in the system. That means government reorganization legislation is still moving, although it's got some snares in it. Begin with caution: During the regular session, a similar bill went to the floor and in one 30+-page amendment, the Senate added language remodeling several legislative agencies to the advantage of the Senate and the disadvantage of the House. The House tried to avoid that by putting government reform ideas into several small bills, but on the Senate side, it's one big lump. Some details:

• The Legislative Budget Board, empowered to move money around when the full Lege is out of town, could meet by teleconference.

• The state commissioner of insurance would no longer be required to have five to ten years of experience. The governor wants insurance commissioners to serve one-year terms, but the Senate bill keeps two-year terms in place.

• The 18-member Pardons and Paroles board would be replaced with a seven-member board which could employ "commissioners" to help with the workload.

• It would allow — not require — the governor to create an "innocence commission" that would investigate post-conviction exonerations to find out what's amiss in the criminal justice system.

• The state auditor would move into the LBB. The Sunset Commission would be replaced with a new Performance Review Commission that would poke and prod state agencies and universities for problems and inefficiencies and such.

• It would require voter approval or any "increase, change, modification, or alteration" of the governor's powers passed during this special session.

Tidbits

The first state that jumped into mid-decade redistricting, Colorado, is still fighting. The Democratic attorney general there, Ken Salazar, is suing other state officials to stop the remap, saying that state constitution prevents the same sort of thing that's going on here in Texas. The governor and other officials there say he can't do that, and the matter has fallen to that state's highest court. It started with redistricting, but that court fight is about what AG's can and cannot do. And Salazar's fellows have gathered in his defense, including Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. Abbott didn't sign off on any redistricting stuff; he's issued an opinion here that says the Legislature is allowed to go back and map.

• Sick of the map wars? Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, is trying to win support for creation of a citizen's commission that would draw the maps for lawmakers. He's filed similar legislation seven times, but this is different: It doesn't include maps for state lawmakers — just for the congressional delegation from Texas.

Political People and Their Moves

Don Brown, the state's commissioner of higher education, is quitting at the end of April. Brown's been in that job since 1997 and was deputy commissioner for nine years before that. He said he wants to devote all of his time — instead of part of his time — to closing gaps between higher education in Texas and higher education elsewhere and within the Texas system itself. He gave ten months notice so the Higher Education Coordinating Board will have time to find a replacement... Gov. Rick Perry named Jerry Farrington to chair that board when Pam Willeford's term is up at the end of August. Farrington, chairman emeritus of Texas Utilities Co., is already on the board. He'll get the center seat, but Perry has yet to name Willeford's replacement on that panel.

Hired, according to campaign finance reports, for "legal and consulting work" that paid $45,000 for the first six months of the year: Christi Craddick, daughter of House Speaker Tom Craddick, by her dad. The younger Craddick quit lobbying lawmakers after her father was elected speaker in January. There's a precedent, sort of: Scott McClelland, now the White House press secretary, was the paid campaign manager for his mom, Carole Keeton Strayhorn, when she got elected in 1998.

Three of George W. Bush's judicial nominees from Texas — Kathleen Cardone, Frank Montalvo, and Xavier Rodriguez — have been approved by the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. Those three will be federal judges if the full Senate goes along. Cardone and Montalvo were judges when Bush appointed them; Rodriquez was tapped for a federal judgeship after losing his spot on the Texas Supreme Court in last year's GOP primary.

Quotes of the Week

Sen. Ken Armbrister, D-Victoria, telling reporters he would "lead the walkout" if Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst tries to get around the Senate's two-thirds rule to pass congressional redistricting bill: "Any kind of gamesmanship that violates the tradition of the Texas Senate, they [will] have no quorum."

Dewhurst, a couple of days later, saying that if there's another special session, it won't include the customary blocker bill: "I will not change the rules and break the Senate tradition... to take up redistricting while we have other pieces of legislation in front of us. If we find ourselves being called back into special session, then under the Bullock Precedent, the first bill will be a redistricting bill."

Gov. Rick Perry, asked whether he'd call another special session if this one doesn't produce a congressional map: "I didn't call them here for an exercise in futility."

From Harold Cook, a consultant to the Senate Democratic Caucus: "The two-thirds rule is the only thing that separates us from the animals."

Sen. Chris Harris, R-Arlington, withdrawing his maps and handing things over to Sen. Todd Staples, R-Palestine: "At this point, I am out of the map-drawing business, and Sen. Staples now has the privilege." Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock: "I don't know if he wants that." Harris: "Well, he's got it."

Rep. David Swinford, R-Dumas, on the death of a bill that would have allowed the governor to keep public eyes off the Guv's budget papers, quoted in the Houston Chronicle: "The news media really gets persnickety about anything being closed, so they just start beating the living heck out of everybody. There were a lot of members who said, 'You're right but we really don't want to take the beating,' so the intimidation factor of the news media worked, so they all ought to go celebrate."

Olivia Cornyn — U.S. Sen. John Cornyn's sister — when the Houston Chronicle found her among the Democrats protesting redistricting: "My brother's toes are probably going to curl up in his shoes."

Evangelist and former presidential candidate Pat Robertson in an open letter asking "fellow Americans" to pray for some retirements from the U.S. Supreme Court: "One justice is 83 years old, another has cancer, and another has a heart condition. Would it not be possible for God to put it in the minds of these three judges that the time has come to retire? With their retirement and the appointment of conservative judges, a massive change in federal jurisprudence can take place."

Rachelle Iadicicco of Gilbert, Arizona, describing that Phoenix suburb's rapid growth to The New York Times: "They say there are two kinds of roads here — under construction and not enough lanes."


Texas Weekly: Volume 20, Issue 6, 21 July 2003. Ross Ramsey, Editor. George Phenix, Publisher. Copyright 2003 by Printing Production Systems, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission from the publisher is prohibited. One-year online subscription: $250. For information about your subscription, call (800) 611-4980 or email biz@ texasweekly.com. For news, email ramsey@ texasweekly.com, or call (512) 288-6598.