The 2012 Elections, Off to a Stumbling Start

Candidates began filing for the March 6 primary elections Monday, while the state's attorney general asked the U.S. Supreme Court to block legislative and congressional maps drawn by a San Antonio court — even if it means delaying some primaries to May 22.

The candidate surprise of the day came from state Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, the chairman of the House Redistricting Committee and a top lieutenant to House Speaker Joe Straus; Solomons has decided not to seek re-election next year. He is the 24th state representative to say he won't be in Austin when the Legislature convenes in 2013. 

Another member of the Straus team, state Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, was paired with state Rep. Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria, in the interim House map drawn by a San Antonio court, meaning the two incumbents are in the same district and have to run against each other unless one moves or blinks. Hunter filed for re-election in the new district Monday, saying he can adjust if the maps change again.

"I go from the old school," said Hunter, who said this is his third round of redistricting. "The courts have drawn the maps, and you have to get out there and run."

Those court maps were ordered last week by a three-judge federal panel in San Antonio. On Monday, Attorney General Greg Abbott asked the Supreme Court to block them, contending that the judges overstepped their authority and should give deference to maps drawn by legislators. The Supreme Court asked for responses from the other lawyers and gave them a Thursday afternoon deadline.

The Legislature's maps face a second court test in Washington, where Abbott asked another panel of three federal judges for pre-clearance — to make sure the maps maintain the protections currently in place for minority voters in Texas elections. That court could hold hearings next month, and Abbott told the Tribune on Monday that a victory there would effectively erase the plans drawn by the San Antonio judges and revert to the plans drawn by legislators.

The differences are partly political. The Legislature's maps have a higher number of Republican districts. They're also geographical. For instance, Hunter and Morrison aren't paired. State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, is in a more hostile district. And U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, is in a district that doesn't gives the population advantage to someone from Houston over someone from the coast.

It could all change depending on the courts. Abbott is hopeful. "What we're dealing with right here are interim maps," he insisted.

First-day filers hit every spot on the ballot, from the top of the ticket — both Rick Perry and Herman Cain filed with the Republican Party of Texas to run in its presidential primary — to the last House race on the ballot, where state Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, and Republican challenger James Wilson of Tomball each paid the fee and signed up.

The Texas Democratic Party's list includes former U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez of San Antonio, who is running in a new, open congressional district: CD-35. That's a swing seat where Republicans and Democrats at the top of the ballot have been competitive. And there's already a Republican in the race — former San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz.

Williamson County GOP Chairman Bill Fairbrother jumped to the front of the line, letting three candidates come to his house just after midnight to sign up. State Rep. Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock; House candidate Tony Dale, running in a new House District in Cedar Park, HD-106; and County Commissioner Lisa Birkman all put their names into the hat.

Barring court action, filing will continue through Dec. 15. In one scenario, however, the state's politicians could be in for a reboot: Abbott's request to block the new maps suggests the justices don't need to worry about election deadlines. In that filing, the state's lawyers say primaries could be moved to May 22 for any legislative or congressional districts affected by changes in the maps.

We've started compiling our list of active candidates, assuming the maps in place are the maps that will be used for the election. If that changes, so will the filings and so will our list. For now, we're listing the incumbents and the people who filed to run, a list we'll supplement as new names come in.

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