For purposes of redistricting, break the House into seven pieces. Six parts would each be comprised of members from the six largest counties in the state: Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Bexar, Travis, and El Paso. The seventh group includes representatives from the other 248 counties in the state.
The reason for that split is easy: Delwin Jones says so. The Lubbock Republican who heads the House Redistricting Committee wants the legislators from those six counties to take their numbers off to the side, get out their crayons and draw their own lines. He says they know their local business better than he does, and it also puts lines covering 72 members of the House into small groups, thus cutting fractionally into the number of fights over lines. Besides, that's what they were going to do anyway. Houston folks will draw Houston lines. Dallas will draw Dallas, and so on.
Bexar County, which will almost certainly lose a House seat, will be the glummest group, with several Democratic freshmen who would like to return for a sophomore term eyeing each other warily. Harris County could hold all 25 of its seats, but it's close: If you look at the numbers and don't cut them any slack, the delegation from the state's largest county would lose one member. If you do a little rounding, it doesn't. That's one area that will get some attention from others in the state. For legislators from underpopulated areas like, say, West Texas, a reduction of one in the Houston delegation could yield some fractional breathing room somewhere else.
Ahead: Sixty Days of Secret Maps and Low Talk
The rest of the state is where the big map wars are and will be taking place. That's not to take away from the knife fights that will develop in the big counties, but those battles are mostly limited to the local delegations. Just about everybody in the Legislature is fiddling around with rural and suburban lines. One plan cooked up by a group of Republicans—or, to be precise, widely credited to a group of Republicans that vociferously denies it—would start by pitting House Speaker Pete Laney against Rep. Gary Walker, R-Plains. It would then pair 20 other members, most of them Democrats, most of them Laney supporters and many of them committee chairs.
Why, if anyone would do that, would anyone do that? Some Republicans are convinced that they won't be able to get House approval of a plan acceptable to them and Gov. Rick Perry. In that schema, Perry would veto whatever the House does and the Legislative Redistricting Board, with four Republicans and one Democrat, would jump in and save the day. But with what map? Ah: That's where the map with all the pairings would come in.
The map doesn't include anything in the big counties and only scratches on the suburban counties that surround the big six. Most of the fire in that particular piece of artwork is directed at East Texas and West Texas and more matchups beneficial to the Republicans could almost certainly be cooked up in the urban and suburban maps. Nothing about this is definitive, but it gives you the flavor of what some lawmakers are considering.
We're a little more inclined to buy the alternate rumor that Republicans are working on a 90-seat plan for the House that would leave Laney and most of his top folks alone. That one, according to Pink Building lies and scuttlebutt, would leave Republican incumbents alone and would move 18 or more seats that are now in the Democratic column to the GOP side of the ledger. That could be done, we're advised, without hitting too many high-ranking Democrats. One exception: Rep. David Counts, D-Knox City, would be knocked off because of low West Texas populations.
The Texas Senate, United
Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff says he is optimistic about the Senate and House passing redistricting plans, but he's hedging his bets a bit—as are some others in both parties—on the Legislature's chances of reaching a deal on congressional maps. That's not really a partisan assessment so much as a practical one: The state gets two new congressional districts this year and inserting them into the current political map will cause ripples for miles and miles in every direction.
Plus, none of the incumbents who really care deeply about the results will get to actually vote on the map, and there are some congresspersons, Ratliff says, who'd rather let the courts draw their lines. All of those factors will make the cartography more difficult.
Senate lines will be easier in some ways. No new seats are being added. The Senate is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats. In fact, when Ratliff doesn't vote, the split is exactly 15 to 15. Odds are against either party winning solid control of the Senate—that would require 21 of the 31 votes in the upper chamber. Throw in one more thing: It'll take 21 votes in the current Senate to get a plan to the floor, because that's how the rules work. In short, the partisan balance in the Senate will force members to work together and will probably cut down on the partisan stuff.
When it's all said and done, Ratliff says, there will be eight to ten solid Republican seats, eight to ten solid Democratic seats and ten to 12 tossups. That's about the same formula for a congressional map if the Legislature is able to assemble one that'll pass.
It's All in the Timing
Maybe it got stuck on somebody's desk somewhere, but you have to wonder if people read these things. The redistricting lawsuit filed by the Associated Republicans of Texas two weeks ago names Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, as the presiding officer of the Texas Senate and has the population of the state about 500,000 people short of what the U.S. Census Bureau says it is.
Now, both of those things were true just a short while ago. After Rick Perry became governor, and before Bill Ratliff was elected by the rest of the Senate to jump into the role of Lite Guv, Ellis was the presiding officer of the Senate. But that was back in December.
And it's also true that the estimates of the state's population were about a half million people short of the actual number, but the real numbers were out a couple of days before the suit was filed.
That suit, like others, is a placeholder. Democrats started the redistricting legal battles late last year by filing in courts in Texarkana and Austin in an effort to keep the matter in front of friendlier judges. Republicans are doing the same thing, pursuing venue in Houston and now, in Waco.
Numbers and More Numbers
The six biggest counties in Texas include 47.7 percent of the state's population; the rest are in the other 248 counties. If you go a little further with that thinking, 63.5 percent of the state's residents are to be found in the 15 biggest counties, and the top 20 counties contain 69.2 percent of all resident Texans. Most growth in Texas over the last decade—76.7 percent—was in those 20 counties.
Ten years ago, the optimum size for a House district was 113,243. That's risen to 139,012. In gross numbers, there are 93 House districts with less than the optimum number of residents. And there are nine districts that are actually below the optimum for ten years ago. On the Senate side, the optimum rose to 672,639 from 547,952 ten years ago. There are 17 Senate seats with fewer than the perfect number of people in them; none are below the optimum for ten years ago. In Congress, the optimum rose to 651,619 from 566,217. Ten are below the current line; none are below the decade-old number.
Much has been written about the growth of the Hispanic population in Texas and elsewhere, but not about where they are. More than half of the Texans who identified themselves to census takers as Hispanic live in five Texas counties: Harris, Bexar, Dallas, El Paso and Hidalgo. One of every six Hispanics in Texas lives in Harris County. One in four lives in either Harris or Bexar County. And nearly two in five live in Harris, Bexar and Dallas counties.
State Employees, Teachers and the Poor
State budgeteers have reached that point in the biennial number-crunch where the Senate and the House dicker over their favored giant programs. The duel will go on for a while, but the turf is now set. Various lawmakers want money for teacher health insurance, for state employee pay raises, and for making it easier for eligible Texans to sign up for Medicaid. At the moment, they're fighting over the first two and waiting for more information before they jump at that last one.
The Senate has taken up the cause of state employees, including an across-the-board raise for state workers and targeted pay raises on top of that for prison guards and for caseworkers in protective services and mental health and mental retardation agencies and other places where turnover is high. The targeted raises are included in the House version, but the expensive part—the across-the-board hike for all employees—is not. Those hikes on the Senate side call for each employee to get the greater of $100 per month or a 5 percent increase in pay.
The House is holding out for teacher health insurance. Most lawmakers seem to want the state to offer insurance to teachers, but they disagree dramatically over how much money to pour into a system. Rep. Paul Sadler, D-Henderson, cancelled committee meetings on the subject until he gets some indication, he says, of how much money the leadership is willing to devote to insurance.
The real issue isn't whether the legislature will do something about teacher health insurance, but about how much it will do. Full funding of an insurance program would cost well over $4 billion (not counting the money it would save those local school districts that currently pay for insurance). Senators, led by Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff, have said all along that they want to put a health insurance plan in place, but that they don't think they would find enough money to fully fund it.
There's a fair amount of concern in both houses that too big a plan could force tax increases two or four years from now. And the Texas Association of Business and Chambers of Commerce chimed in on that note, saying plans proposed by Democratic Rep. Harryette Ehrhardt and Republican Sen. John Carona, both of Dallas, would force future legislators to adopt a personal income tax to pay the bills.
Ratliff says many school districts would benefit from a state plan even if they had to pay most of the cost, since a state plan would give them some choices and options they don't now have. Small school districts in particular have a hard time getting good rates on insurance because of their size. A state plan, even if they have to pay for most of it, would allow them access to coverage at lower rates than they can get now.
This is Awful. Wanna Try It?
It hasn't been that long since the old property tax board was added to the comptroller's office, but there is some conversation about moving it again. The property tax division collects information and puts out reports that are used, among other things, in the public school finance formulas.
Though she's not publicly saying so, Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander would probably not fight to keep the division. We failed to get a rise out of Land Commissioner David Dewhurst—aides say they haven't seen it and offer no opinion on it. Generally speaking, property taxes are unpopular and make elected officials nervous, but the division doesn't set rates or determine values. The closest it comes to actual controversy is in its certification of the appraisal rolls used for setting the state's share of education spending.
The rationale for putting property taxes in the comptroller's office a few years ago was, basically, "Hey, this is about taxes. You collect taxes." The rationale for moving it to land would presumably be "Hey, you handle some of the state property that contributes to public schools. This is about property and schools." We couldn't find legislation actually proposing the move, but Rep. Talmadge Heflin, R-Houston, has been kicking the notion around. It could surface later this session.
Unexpected Speed Bumps for Campaign Finance
Campaign finance in the House got bollixed up after the sponsor got into what was described to us as a testy debate at the regular dinner meeting of House committee chairs. But although it got pushed back a week, the legislation appears to be back on track and should be up for a vote before the month of March ends.
The squabble between Reps. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, and Steve Wolens, D-Dallas, started while Gallego was telling the rest of the House leadership about the legislation. Wolens began asking more or less hostile questions and said the whole bill needed to be revamped. He said he had a particular problem with listing the occupations and employers of contributors who give more than $200 to a candidate in a given reporting period. The Senate's version, already sent to the House, has a similar provision with a higher dollar amount to trigger the disclosure.
The two chairmen have patched up some of their disagreement, but the bill is still ahead and it's not clear whether Wolens will actively oppose it when it goes to the floor this week. Two years ago, the House passed a campaign finance bill late in the session that didn't make it out of the Senate. That bill, which included an employer/occupation provision for contributors of $100 and more, drew only four "no" votes. Wolens was among the 138 members of the House who voted for the bill in 1999.
The campaign finance bill met some unexpected opposition from Right to Life groups that contend it would cut into their issue campaigns by requiring them to reveal the names of donors when they run ads intended to influence political races. Those "issue advocacy" ads don't tell viewers to vote for or against candidate Joe Schmoe, just that Schmoe is a dope. The way the laws read, that's not campaigning for or against a candidate, and the groups that do it don't want those laws changed. They contend the bill would limit the amount and kinds of information available to voters. The bill's advocates say it would simply require disclosure before they did their ads and other materials.
Not Only Do the Dead Vote—They Endorse Candidates
Marty Akins put an odd feature on the website (www.martyakins.com) where he promotes his gubernatorial bid. If you add your name to the list of his supporters, it appears immediately on the website as part of the list for everyone to see. That tricky gizmo is part of the reason, according to an Akins associate, that the list of supporters temporarily included Kirk Watson and Howard Peak, the mayors of Austin and San Antonio, respectively. Others who showed up included Adolph Hitler, Marilyn Monroe, and Gov. Rick Perry. That was simple enough, but there was also some official hacking, according to campaign manager Billy Horton. He says the perps also linked the website to a porn site, sending anyone who wanted Akins' biographical information to an altogether different kind of show. The angry mayors made their respective local papers on the same day, with Watson saying he'll probably support Tony Sanchez Jr. and Peak putting himself down as a Perry man.
Horton says nobody on Akins' team put the mayoral names on the supporter list and said they've never asked either of them for help or support. The porn link is gone, but the name "feature" was still hooked up at our deadline. Horton says the website has been hit more than a million times on the English version and more than 700,000 times on the Spanish version over the last 11 months. He notes that the weird stuff didn't happen until after Akins started getting attention in the statewide press.
Separately, that campaign is talking to consultants and will announce some of the lineup within a matter of weeks. Nothing's final, but here are some of the names we've heard in the mix: Steve McMahon of media firm Trippi McMahon and Squire and former Ann Richards aide John Hatch.
CORRECTIONS: We listed the wrong number on the prison guard career ladder last week. The author is Rep. Bob Turner, D-Voss, and the correct bill number is HB 3185... While we're eating crow, put another sponsor on an election bill we told you about. Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, is sponsoring the proposal that would allow local election officials to call off uncontested special elections for the Legislature. The co-author is Rep. Myra Crownover, R-Denton.
Lottery, Lite Guvs, Caskets & Firsts
The other giant state contract is out for bid. Lawmakers have spent the last several weeks talking about the huge contract for Medicaid operations. Meanwhile, the Lottery Commission started the process of hiring a company to operate the state's numbers game. That contract has been on the front pages more than once in the last ten years, but the request that went out last week drew scant attention. The agency doesn't know yet how many companies will bid or who they might be, but the amount of money involved is fairly serious. During the fiscal year that ended in August, Gtech Corp., which runs the lottery for the state, made $90.8 million on the Texas lottery. Since the company signed on in 1992, the state has paid it $907.0 million.
Vaguely related information: Legislation passed by the Senate and on the way to the House would let lottery commissioners go into closed meetings to talk over negotiation points and tactics. Open meetings laws prevent them from doing that; proponents of the change say the state is at a disadvantage in negotiations if the commissioners have to talk over their strategy in open meetings where the lottery operator can listen in.
• Lite Guv watch: Land Commissioner David Dewhurst told the Austin American-Statesman that he hasn't made up his mind yet, but just can't imagine the race without him in it. Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander hasn't decided, is keeping her head down in order to minimize speculation, and is giving off ambivalent signals to supporters, some of whom think she'll stay right there and some of whom think she's going to run. And Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff says he thinks he could win the race but hasn't decided what to do. He says it would be hard to give up the "political luxury" he's had as a senator: "They [Northeast Texas voters] have always just trusted my judgement... In 12 years, I've never had to make policy decisions based on any kind of pressure."
• A Houston business is using pending legislation as the takeoff point for its sales pitch. The Pine Box, which sells caskets, has been running newspaper ads knocking a bill by Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, that would make it illegal for anyone other than the director of a funeral to sell the casket used in that funeral. That would put the company out of business (or would force it into selling its boxes for other uses) and they don't like it. So much for the first half of the ad. In the second half, the Pine Box says their stuff is cheaper and can be delivered right to funeral homes. They don't tell you how to change the legislation, but do list their own phone number and starting prices of $395.
• Senate Bill 286 by John Carona of Dallas would allow county judges to delegate their power to grant permits for mass gatherings. Write it down—that'll be the answer to this trivia question in the future: What was the only bill that had been sent to Gov. Rick Perry for signature or veto ten weeks into the 20-week regular session in 2001? Perry designated only one bill as an emergency measure, thus allowing it to be considered by lawmakers during the first 60 days of the session. That bill, making it easier for convicts to obtain DNA tests to prove their innocence, has passed both houses, but in different forms. Perry will probably get a look at it in a week or so. Carona's bill, the first to make it to the finish line, didn't have any special status.
Gov. Perry is on the verge of naming three women to the University of Texas Board of Regents, reappointing former Texas First Lady Rita Clements; appointing Bexar County Judge Cyndi Krier, who is also a former state senator and former Lady Longhorn basketball player; and appointing Dr. Judith Craven of Houston, a former dean at the UT Health Science Center and executive director of the United Way of the Texas Gulf Coast. Krier and Craven replace Don Evans, who's now on Bush's cabinet, and lobbyist Tom Loeffler of San Antonio. The expected appointments give Houston four votes on the nine-member board. No other city has more than one vote... The governor named Esperanza "Hope" Andrade of San Antonio to the Texas Turnpike Authority, replacing Mary Kelly, also of San Antonio, whose term was up. Andrade started and runs a health care employment agency.
Political People and Their Moves
David Sampson, who headed Arlington's economic development efforts and made frequent forays into Austin on eco devo issues for the last several years, will join the Bush Administration in Washington, D.C., as assistant secretary of commerce for economic development... When Sen. Drew Nixon, R-Carthage, decided not to run, Ann Quirk, his chief of staff, made sure everybody in that office found a job somewhere. Now she's found a place for the last person on the list: Quirk herself is the new Director of Public Outreach (we do not make up these titles) for Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander... Rylander raided Sen. Tom Haywood, R-Wichita Falls, for the latest addition to her press shop. Jennifer Ransom Rice makes the jump at about the same time you read this... Bill Eggers, who was hired early on by the comptroller as a policy wonk with a specialty in privatization, left that post late last year at about the same time the agency kicked out its e-Texas report. Now he's landed. Eggers will work at the Washington, D.C.-base Manhattan Institute on a book on the Internet and government institutions... U.S. Attorney Bill Blagg, the San Antonio-based prosecutor appointed five years ago by then-President Bill Clinton, is leaving that post at the end of April. That will leave at least two appointments (Dallas is the other) for the Bush Administration... Gene Acuña left television reporting in Austin several years ago to be the spokesman for then-Agriculture Commissioner Rick Perry. He's since moved to the Texas Railroad Commission, and now he's moving into the Pink Building. Acuña will work in Gov. Perry's press shop with Kathy Walt, the governor's press secretary... Fred McClure is leaving the Dallas offices of Public Strategies Inc. to open Washington offices for the Winstead Sechrest & Minick law firm. McClure worked in the other Bush Administration, the Reagan Administration, and for former U.S. Sen. John Tower, R-Texas. He was until recently on Texas A&M's Board of Regents. PSI is expanding its Washington, D.C., operation with the additions of Jay Velasquez, former general counsel to U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas; Billy Moore, who worked for former U.S. Rep. Jim Chapman, among others; and Audrey Duff, a former journalist who most recently worked for U.S. Rep. Ken Bentsen, D-Houston.
Quotes of the Week
Gazillionaire Warren Buffett, a supporter of campaign finance reform, talking to ABC News about the "arms race" of contributions to candidates: "It's not buying votes, but it's getting in the door. And the people with the most money are going to get in the door the most frequently."
Tax activist Grover Norquist, assessing the Bush Administration in The New York Times: "There isn't an us and them with this administration. They is us. We is them."
Clint Bollick of the Institute for Justice, a group that didn't like the last administration's judicial appointments, but is pleased, so far, with this one's, in an interview with the Houston Chronicle: "I think the administration places a high priority on judicial nominations. If Bush learned anything from the last election, it is that federal judges are important."
Sen. Tom Haywood, R-Wichita Falls, extolling the virtues of the covenant marriage license he wants the state to offer at a lower price than the standard license: "It's cheaper and it lasts longer."
Rep. Paul Sadler, D-Henderson, on how to fund a teacher health plan that could cost more than $4 billion a few years after it starts: "If the state is going to fund health insurance, it will require a tax increase either this session or next session. You can vote a plan in this session, but the next time you walk in this chamber, you better be prepared to vote a tax bill in place to fund it."
Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack, railing in the Houston Chronicle against city-supported redevelopment tax breaks that force the county to spend money inside Houston city limits instead of elsewhere: "They want to be the king and want other governments to turn their money over to them and say, 'Trust us and, by the way, we're going to cut ourselves in for a few million in fees.'"
Trey Parker, co-producer of a new television sitcom called "That's My Bush," on what sort of reaction he expects from the presidential administration that's being spoofed: "We told our actors to get their shit together because we're all getting audited."
Texas Weekly: Volume 17, Issue 37, 26 March 2001. Ross Ramsey, Editor. George Phenix, Publisher. Copyright 2001 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. For news, email email@example.com, or call (512) 288-6598.