The Brief: Top Texas News for Dec. 14, 2011

The Big Conversation:

A pointed warning from the Obama administration has heightened the drama surrounding the state's already chaotic redistricting process.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder visited Austin on Tuesday to deliver a speech opening an aggressive federal review of new, largely Republican-backed voting laws and redistricting plans across the country that critics say imperil minority voting rights.

As the Tribune's Julián Aguilar reports, Holder, speaking at the LBJ Library on the University of Texas campus, said Texas' Republican-drawn redistricting maps fail to account for burgeoning Hispanic growth in the state. Protecting voting rights "must be viewed not only as a legal issue but as a moral imperative," he said.

Holder also took aim at laws requiring voters to furnish identification before voting. Texas' law, which passed during this year's legislative session and will take effect Jan. 1, will undergo a thorough review, he said.

Holder's speech came just as Texas is facing off with the federal government over voter ID and redistricting. The Justice Department has refused since July to clear the voter ID law. And over the weekend, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked Texas' redistricting maps, effectively freezing the state's 2012 elections.

The move by the high court has thrown the state's elections process into disarray, leaving the state without districts for its congressional and legislative races and setting up the prospect of a delayed primary.

As the Tribune's Ross Ramsey reports, a panel of judges on Tuesday moved the filing deadline to Monday but left other issues, like primary dates, unresolved.

Culled:

  • Gov. Rick Perry embarks today on his 44-city, 14-day bus tour of Iowa, which his campaign hopes will revive his chances in the early caucus state. With significant ground to make up in polls, which have shown him rising slightly in the past few weeks but still stuck in fourth place, Perry must defy critics who have called his strategy too little, too late. "This kind of activity would have really paid off for him in November," Craig Robinson, founder of the website the Iowa Republican told the Los Angeles Times. "Waiting till the last minute, you have to compete with all these ads, all the candidates visiting, there's all these debates, there's going to be all these media interviews. It becomes really hard to cut through the chatter." As Politico notes, Perry's not the only candidate making a last-ditch tour of the Hawkeye State.
  • The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund on Tuesday brought the fourth lawsuit this year against the state's school finance system, which the group says insufficiently funds education for low-income and English-learning students. Coalitions of school districts have signed on to the other lawsuits, which challenge the constitutionality of the finance system and follow a $4 billion cut to Texas public school funding.

"Better late than never. It is what it is."Matt Whitaker, Rick Perry's Iowa co-chairman, to the Los Angeles Times on the governor's bus tour

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