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Redistricting Reboot

Eight days isn't much of a cooling off period, but the Legislative Redistricting Board will convene on Wednesday to start up to 60 days of work drawing political boundaries for the 2002 races for Texas House and Texas Senate. That start date puts the deadline for the LRB in the first week of August.

Eight days isn't much of a cooling off period, but the Legislative Redistricting Board will convene on Wednesday to start up to 60 days of work drawing political boundaries for the 2002 races for Texas House and Texas Senate. That start date puts the deadline for the LRB in the first week of August.

The Texas plans have to be approved by the Department of Justice, since Texas is one of the states included in the federal Voting Rights Act. DOJ has another 60 days to act, and unlike the state folks, they have the option of extending their time. But if they stay with 60 days, their deadline would fall somewhere in the first week of October. Attorney General John Cornyn says he would like to have time to run the LRB's plans by the state and federal courts before the election-filing deadline of January 2. If everything stays on schedule, that would leave almost three months for the courts.

That's not where this will end, to be sure, but it's important for a real simple political reason: The legislators elected under the first set of maps will draw new maps that get argued in court into the next decade. Chances are, the plans drawn for the 2002 elections will be challenged in court. The LRB will be out of business, but the Legislature will be in Austin again in January 2003. Lawmakers then in office will be able to take control of the mapping process, whether the maps need a tweak or a complete overhaul after the first round of elections and court fights. Cornyn says it's unlikely that the same maps will be used in 2002 and 2004 elections. The 2002 winners will probably draw the 2004 maps.

Put it another way: This particular redistricting fight will continue for years, but the 2002 elections will likely determine control of the Legislature for the remainder of the decade. The first year after districts are redrawn generally sees the biggest legislative turnover in a given decade and that makes this first set of maps potentially more important than maps drawn for later contests.

For Democrats, that's a big problem. Four of the five LRB members are Republicans. Two of them–Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff and Land Commissioner David Dewhurst–will face each other in the GOP primaries (for Lite Guv) in March, raising the possibility that they'll go through the next 60 days trying to out-GOP one another. There's friction, too. Dewhurst spent some of his time during the last two years in a sibling-like sniping contest with another member of the board, Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander. And Cornyn is the guy who'll take the whole thing to court and argue the state's case, which raises interesting questions, particularly if he's on the short side of a majority opinion.

The lone Democrat on the panel is House Speaker Pete Laney. He's outnumbered, but isn't completely boxed in. The House passed a plan that favors incumbents and gives Democrats a chance of maintaining control. Republicans don't like it, but it's the only plan that passed either chamber of the Legislature and Laney can probably be expected to stick with it. He's generally considered one of the best political players around, but he's been dealt a weak poker hand this time.

For Republicans, the output of the next two months is strategically critical. If there's a map that favors Republicans but disregards incumbency, the party could win control of the House while at the same time losing some of the experienced people who would form a Republican leadership. Lean too far toward incumbents and Laney and his team have a better chance of winning two more years at the wheel. Overreach and try to get too big a majority and the Democrats would have a better argument in the courts, where they would contend the plan is unfair. They'd be better off at the polls, too, since Republicans can't build a supermajority unless they thin out heavily GOP districts and thus increase chances for Democrats.

Break Out a New Set of Crayons

The non-legislative Republicans on the LRB won the first two rounds, for what it's worth. After Laney said he'd like to wait until August to start, Ratliff told everyone that he'd like to wait until at least the end of June. The other three–this was all done at the staff level, mind you–said they wanted to go quickly and they set the June 6 organizational meeting of the panel. If you hadn't already done it, shift your attention to the people from the executive branch.

Next, they'll pick a chairman. The Rylander aides told the other aides that the comptroller would be nominating Cornyn for the head seat, and that shut off conversation from the legislative types that Ratliff, the ranking member of the group, should be chairman. After all, they don't expect Dewhurst to vote for the guy he'll face in the GOP primary. Cornyn says he didn't lobby for the post, but says it makes sense to put the only lawyer among the five in the chair.

While he's talking, he says the panel should travel the state and take testimony, although testimony piled up in a series of hearings before legislators over the last year. (There is no quick end to this pestimony: Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, wants his Senate redistricting panel to hear from Texans who want to talk about congressional plans and State Board of Education plans.)

For what it's worth, the state's top lawyer says incumbent protection probably shouldn't be at the top of the list of things to do. Even if the panel takes testimony, it should be able to finish before the deadline, maybe way before the deadline. Cornyn says it doesn't make sense for Republicans to get greedy; that's the same line followed by House Republicans who drew a map they said would elect up to 90 GOP members. That's higher than the 72 they have now, but lower than the 100 to 105 some members think is possible under the new Census numbers. Finally, he thinks this is just the beginning of a long and hard fight over the Texas political map. Over what aspect? "Anything that can be a point of attack will be a point of attack," he says.

Exploratory Committees, Legislative Style

Gov. Rick Perry asked Ratliff and Laney to test the legislative waters and see if a special session on redistricting could produce a plan. That's doubtful in the Senate, where lawmakers couldn't agree on a plan of their own and never took a serious, official look at what came out of the House.

The only congressional plan that got over any legislative hurdles was the one produced by Rep. Delwin Jones, R-Lubbock. He passed it out of his committee three days before the end of the session. All the Republicans except him voted against it. All of the Democrats except for Ron Wilson of Houston voted for it. At that late date, House rules prevented the plan from going another step, but even so, no congressional plan made more progress than that one.

Without a special session to try to draw maps, the courts would have to decide whether to use the Jones congressional plan or start from scratch. If Perry calls lawmakers back, it'll be because the Senate broke its deadlock. And even in that case there is a risk for the Republican governor: The House is narrowly controlled by Democrats, and the GOP might prefer to take its chances with a judge and Jones' thinly supported map over letting Laney's troops loose to build more support for the plan.

Jones drew an SBOE map that corrals House districts into groups of ten and makes a district for each of the 15 school board members out of the result. Wentworth's panel never got to look at congressional and SBOE plans. That's why he'll have his bunch back in town on the same day the LRB is supposed to meet. The Wentworth committee is bigger than it was during the session. For purposes of finding out whether a special session is possible, Ratliff added Sens. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, and Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, to the eight-member board. They were the co-chairs of the interim committee on political districts last year. The appointments don't change the committee's balance: Instead of four Democrats and four Republicans, now it's five to five.

Col. Mustard, Kitchen, Lead Pipe

Guess what? There's not a new campaign finance law on the books, and it's the legislative equivalent of the perfect crime, or the starting round of the game Clue. Everybody's fingerprints are on the murder weapon and everyone claims to have been the true friend of the victim. If everybody in the Pink Building wanted to kill a campaign finance bill and try to make it look like someone else should be sent to Huntsville for the murder, this is pretty much what it would look like.

Here's the autopsy report.

The Senate sponsor passed a bill early, in part because the Senate got knee-capped two years ago when the House sent over a bill late in the session and senators didn't or wouldn't or couldn't pass it out in the remaining time. Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, even agreed to put the bill under the House label since Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, has been working on the bill for six years.

But the House bogged down, partly because of a running squabble between Gallego and Rep. Steve Wolens, D-Dallas. The feud culminated with a contentious House session in which the bill got cut up and a key provision–identification of a political contributor's occupation and employer–was voted down. That cost the House the upper hand in later negotiations with the Senate. The provision remained in the Senate version of the bill, but the House didn't like other provisions there, like one that required candidates to say how much political money they have on hand.

Both chambers were slow to get their bills to conference committee to work out the differences–it's more fair to blame the House than the Senate for that–and then they started the kind of productive conversations that haven't been seen since the last Al Pacino-Robert DeNiro movie.

Gallego and Shapiro came to their final impasse on the last Saturday of the session, and by doing that, ended chances of a compromise bill being approved by both the House and the Senate. As the negotiations broke up, each blamed the other for the problems.

Outside advocates, notably the political parties and the Campaigns for People group that's been pushing reform, sided with the Senate, signing off on Shapiro's plan and urging the House to come along. And then the governor spoke up for the first time since his State of the State speech in January, writing a letter on Saturday afternoon to tell the two they should resolve their differences and get a bill before the hard deadline on Sunday night.

After the deadline for a compromise passed, there was one more play. The House could simply vote to accept the Senate version and call it a day. But the House sponsors claimed the Senate bill was worse on some points than current law. Perry weighed in publicly five hours before the Sunday deadline, imploring the House to vote for the Senate plan. The Republican Party of Texas had a similar press release on our fax machine within about 20 minutes, but the deal was dead.

In his session wrap-up, Perry blamed the House leadership–that would be Laney–for not supporting campaign finance reform strongly enough to get it done. Laney responded by knocking Perry for not pushing the issue during the middle part of the session. Perry was asked during his post-mortem whether he would add the issue to the agenda of a special session if he calls one; he said he hadn't thought beyond congressional redistricting as a special session topic.

The Governors' Dictionary

Maybe it's the water, or airborne dust from some old historic thingamabob in the office, but Gov. Rick Perry is picking up right where George W. Bush left off. Unusual words in Perry's post session press conference included: Combustive, which has something to do with an object's propensity to catch fire and turns out, if you look hard enough, to be an actual but uncommon word; Dimish and Dimishing, variations on the idea of something that dwindles or goes into a non-augmentation scenario; and Visionarily, the useful and heretofore unknown adverbial form of foresight.

Here's the funny part: Although there was some tittering, nobody in the room seemed to misunderstand what Perry was saying, even when the words were new. All in all, the potentially combustive choice of words failed to dimish the governor's visionarily crafted message.

Now the Elections, Already in Progress

Texas Supreme Court Justice Greg Abbott is telling supporters that he'll run for lieutenant governor unless he fails to get the financial support to do it, and some Houston money folks are lining up. There's also a draft campaign underway on phones, by email and by plain old snail mail from people who want him in the race. If he gets in, Abbott, a Houston attorney, would be in the GOP primary with Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff and Land Commissioner David Dewhurst.

If you squint at it, this has some of the same political angles as the 1998 GOP primary for attorney general. There is a conservative in the race–Dewhurst–who makes moderate Republicans uncomfortable and who doesn't necessarily hold all of the financial people in place even if they're from his part of the Party. That described former GOP Chairman Tom Pauken in 1998. There is a decent general election candidate who is seen as a weak GOP primary contender. That would be Ratliff this year, John Cornyn in 1998. And there's the third wheel: Abbott now, Barry Williamson then.

The parallel is interesting but probably doesn't bear close analysis. For one thing, Dewhurst is telling folks he is willing to spend all the money it'll take to win. And he evidently does have that much money. And Abbott isn't in the race yet: Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander talked about it and couldn't figure a short route around Dewhurst's bankroll. Ratliff's an incumbent, sort-of, and there wasn't an incumbent in the attorney general's race. And the Republicans aren't as confident, at this point, that they can beat Democrat John Sharp. In 1998, they were less worried (but still worried) about former Attorney General Jim Mattox. As long as they see two tough races in one–the primary and then the general–some candidates will stay away.

Mad Money

You can't ethically tie campaign money to a vote, but Republicans are accusing one of their own, Rep. Tommy Merritt, R-Longview, of doing just that. House Republicans have his photograph on their dart boards for voting with the Democrats on redistricting and for producing a map of his own that–until he retracted it–appeared to be about 15 votes more popular than the map Republican leaders themselves produced. (It also had ten more votes at one point than the map that finally prevailed.) A couple of weeks after that redistricting fight, the House passed a resolution honoring Merritt for being a great Republican. It was sponsored by some of his fellow rogue elephants; four Republicans voted with Democrats on redistricting. This was not amusing to a number of GOP legislators, who pulled their names off the resolution.

Now, in addition to being a member of the Legislature, Merritt runs the Alamo PAC, which contributes to Republican incumbents in contested House races. That outfit gave $2,000 to Rep. Elvira Reyna, R-Mesquite, during the last election cycle. After 30-odd Republicans removed their names from the resolution, Merritt's anger, for some reason, was directed at one of them: Reyna. He demanded that she return the money. Reyna, visibly upset, did so. He cooled off, apparently, and put her check back on her desk in the House. She mailed it to his office in Longview a couple of days later with a cover note; both that note and an earlier one were copied by Merritt foes and handed out to reporters. Merritt, when we talked with him, wasn't aware that the check was winging back his way. In any case, he says he made a mistake and apologized to Reyna.

TDED Lives–Smart Jobs Rides into the Sunset

In the interest of closure on an item we did last week: Legislation remaking the Texas Department of Economic Development died and the agency will continue pretty much untouched for two more years, with one very large exception. The Smart Jobs program is getting spiked. The House wanted to move it. The Senate couldn't work out an acceptable version of that, so they sent back a bill keeping it in TDED. The House got peeved and voted unanimously to reject the Senate version and the bottom line, gentle reader, is that Smart Jobs will die later this year.

Sine Die Notes

The Texas Legislative Service (also known as Telicon and, in the interest of disclosure, an outfit we do business with) figured up the numbers for you stat-heads out there. The 77th Texas Legislature filed 5,544 bills and passed 1,594 of them. That compares with 5,766 filed and 1,621 passed two years ago. They also filed 168 House and Senate joint resolutions–those turn into constitutional amendments and bond authorizations when they grow up–and passed 20 this year. The corresponding numbers from the 76th session, according to TLS, were 142 and 17.

• Sen. Buster Brown's water legislation started the new year with $450 million a year in new fees that would have been used for water infrastructure projects. That drowned early on, but the Lake Jackson Republican's massive bill survived with an unfunded bonding program. If voters okay it, the Texas Water Development Board will have $2 billion in new bonding authority, and up to $50 million of that money would be used for infrastructure. If voters approve, and if the water wonks find the money to issue the bonds, the new fund will be in business.

• Legislation that would have made it illegal (and punishable by criminal penalties and by civil fines of up to $10 million) to clone humans in the state did not pass. Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, got it out of the Senate but not the House. Expect a replica in two years.

• We had Sherry Boyles speculating about the wrong statewide race last week. Boyles, a former executive director of the Texas Democratic Party who now heads the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, is actually talking to folks about a possible run for the Texas Railroad Commission. We had her (and everybody else on this particular political planet) running for land commissioner. Sorry.

• Timing is everything. Gov. Rick Perry vetoed legislation that would have allowed car dealers to charge car buyers $75 for documents instead of the $50 the state allows them to collect now. That won cheers from consumer groups, but the car dealers didn't like it. They got word as they were holding their annual post-session get-together for lawmakers at a local Mexican food restaurant.

• The Turnout Burnout bill made it all the way through the legislative session, making it harder for local governments to hold elections 361 days of the year. The legislation by Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, and Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, sets four dates for standard elections and allows infrequent deviations for bond elections.

• This is probably making Republicans nervous, but Gov. Perry won another round of applause from the Texas AFL-CIO for signing legislation increasing the state's minimum wage to $5.15 from $3.35 (the new number matches the federal minimum wage). The primary beneficiaries are farm workers and some domestic workers, according to the union folks.

• Surviving twice is twice as good: Citizens for a Sound Economy came out on the session's last weekend with papers saying the tort reforms of the 1990s survived attacks and contending incorrectly that no new taxes passed (there are, for example, $136 million in new taxes and fees in the clean air bill that lawmakers sent to the governor). The press release was headlined "Bush Legacy Survives 78th Legislature." Within 15 minutes, they sent the revised edition: "Bush Legacy Survives 77th Legislature." On a more serious note, the group accused legislators of threatening the long-term health of the state by passing a $114 billion budget that the group contends will force future lawmakers to choose between new taxes and deep program cuts.

• Here's an interesting gizmo for campaign wonks of the Republican denomination–and an early warning for anyone whose mailbox is on the regular bombing runs of GOP fundraisers: John Doner & Associates has pulled together a 75,000 database of people who gave to George W. Bush and every other Republican on the statewide ballots in 1998 and 2000. It includes givers in the two big state Senate races last year. And they include lists of Democrats "for research purposes."

• The Texas Railroad Commission added a search engine to its website (www.rrc.state.tx.us), which is no small thing in an online stack of 4,000 pages. Now you can, for instance, type in the name of a company and find out what they've been doing at the commission.

Political People and Their Moves

Wayne Scott, who took the helm at the scandal-ridden Texas prison system in 1996, is retiring July 31. Scott is credited with fixing some of the biggest problems at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, and rebuilt the agency's credibility with lawmakers. But he is leaving behind an unhappy set of correctional officers who think his administration should have done more to raise pay and give them professional status. TDCJ is looking for a replacement and hopes to pick one by the end of the summer... Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont, will chair the Texas Legislative Black Caucus during the next legislative session, and he'll be succeeded by Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, who was picked as chairman-elect. The group, which in spite of its name is for House members only, has been headed by Rep Yvonne Davis, D-Dallas, for four years... Lucky Bastard, Second Verse: Lawrence Collins, you might remember, was mentioned here two years ago when he left his post as staff director of the House Appropriations Committee to gallivant around in Mexico for several months. He came back, like he promised his boss, Rep. Rob Junell, D-San Angelo. Now he's leaving again, and without any intention of returning. Collins is gone from the Pink Building as you read this. Don't be surprised if he ends up in, gulp, the Big Bend. The new staff honcho over in the House budget shop is Cody Sutton, who most recently worked on natural resources issues... Jimmy Glotfelty, a former policy aide to then-Gov. George W. Bush (on electric issues), is moving to Washington, D.C. He'll work on electricity matters for U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham. He has been lobbying for California-based Calpine, an electricity generating company, since leaving the Bush (state) administration... President Bush picked Frank Yturria of Brownsville to chair the Inter-American Foundation. He was appointed to that board by George H.W. Bush, then reappointed by Bill Clinton... Mark Franz, who had been the Washington, D.C., liaison for the University of Texas System, has signed on with Loeffler, Jonas & Tuggey. He'll do some work in the nation's capital as well as in Austin for that San Antonio-based firm... Houston attorney Vidal Martinez will be the next chairman of the board at the State Bar of Texas. Martinez, who's with Winstead Sechrest & Minick, will be the first Hispanic to hold that job, according to his law firm. He'll be the second Houston attorney in a row, succeeding Lynne Liberato... Former El Paso Mayor Larry Francis got whacked in a runoff that he hoped would mark his return to City Hall. The new mayor, winning more than 62 percent of the vote, will be attorney Ray Caballero, a close friend of Democratic Sen. Eliot Shapleigh... Deaths: Thomas Noel Haywood, son of Sen. Tom Haywood, after a lengthy fight with HIV-related lymphoma. He was 30.

Quotes of the Week

Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff, on where the state might look for money if future school finance reforms require new financing: "We have to revisit at least how we fund schools and I think when we do that, I think that will lead us inevitably to look at other parts of our tax structure... We still have a lot of very big businesses in Texas that don't pay a business tax because they are not organized as corporations. That is a real luxury for those businesses."

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, quoted by the Associated Press after fellow Vermonter James Jeffords left the Republican Party to become the Senate's only official Independent: "I have been there with six presidents and the two presidents who have had the most out-of-touch staff have been Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush... Bush is a good man, but he is being ill-served."

Sen. David Sibley, R-Waco, quoted in the Austin American-Statesman on how to promote economic development in Texas: "Maybe the most significant tool we have is a surplus of electricity. If people ask me, 'What are you doing economically?' I'd say, 'We keep your lights on.'"

Texas Attorney General John Cornyn, on the prospect of going to court to defend political maps drawn by the Legislative Redistricting Board, of which he is a member: "It's a vast improvement over my usual situation, which is to defend things I don't get to vote on."

Joel Best, author of "Damned Lies and Statistics: Untangling Numbers from the Media, Politicians and Activists", quoted in The New York Times: "Bad statistics are harder to kill than vampires."


Texas Weekly: Volume 17, Issue 47, 4 June 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 biz@texasweekly.com. For news, email ramsey@texasweekly.com, or call (512) 288-6598.


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