Sometimes a baseball pitcher will throw one on the outside of the plate to lure a batter closer, then follow it with a fast inside pitch to send the batter sprawling. If you've been watching Austin District Judge Paul Davis handle congressional redistricting plans, you can probably identify with that batter.
A week after laying out a proposed map of congressional districts, Davis decided—based on comments made by the litigants—to make some fairly dramatic changes to that map. Republicans who initially didn't like his first map had just come around to a full appreciation of it when he replaced it with a map that did them less good. The second map left them in the position of our plunked batter, angry, dusty, and looking for a fight. They squawked, saying they didn't have enough time to analyze Davis' changes before a scheduled appearance on the matter before three federal judges.
Those federal judges responded to the squawking by delaying their hearing by one week. But because time is short, that upended their plans to get together with Davis and hear statehouse redistricting arguments together. They were going to convene their federal panel and the state court in the same room to save time. The delay in the federal hearing on congressional maps will prevent that, however, and they basically told Davis they were going to go ahead without him. He won't be part of their panel on the Texas legislative maps. They didn't tell him not to hold a trial, but they didn't give him much time to do so. As a practical matter, some state lawyers think that ends their business with the state court and moves the whole legislative case on to the federal panel.
Meanwhile, the three-judge federal panel will start work on the congressional plan on October 22 in Austin. When they're finished with that, they can move on to the statehouse maps.
(Nothing in the order prevents Davis from moving ahead, but he would have to set a trial immediately and finish it before the lawyers leave town to make the federal pre-trial conference in a week. It's possible, but it's probably not practical. And since the federal judges are already adjusting to what amounts to a broken deadline on congressional plans, they might not take kindly to a new state trial that further slows things down.)
Despite the delays, the new Davis map on congressional districts will be the starting point for the federal judges. Republicans, who currently have only 13 of the 30 seats in the Texas delegation, would gain ground on the Democrats. But the map Davis presented a week earlier was much better for them and much rougher on the Democrats. The new one protects more incumbents and leaves the parties close to parity, an idea that doesn't make either side particularly happy. Davis' new map—the final one, which now enters the appeals process—takes away the current Democratic majority, but only barely. It doesn't give the Republicans the majority they believe they're entitled to, based on voting trends and growth in the state.
In fact, the earlier map was a variation of a map drawn during the summer by Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff. Davis copied Ratliff's map (even leaving in a Ratliff glitch that put two Smith County voters in their own voting precinct) and made changes in the Panhandle and in Central Texas.
The initial reactions from both sides were cautious, but Democrats came quickly to hate the plan, and Republicans ultimately decided to bless it. We scribbled about the details last week, but briefly, it would have given the GOP a shot at 19-13 advantage over Democrats in the Texas congressional delegation, a switch from the current 17-13 Democratic edge (Texas is getting two new seats because of population growth).
The Starting Point for the Federales
The federal judges who'll hear the redistricting case say the second Davis map is the one they'll work from. It's essentially a Bill Ratliff map with Pete Laney amendments. Davis' first map was remarkably similar to Ratliff's, with changes in the Panhandle and in Central Texas. Laney's lawyers suggested a series of changes during the one-week comment period. Davis adopted the whole kit, surprising lawyers who had supposed his final map would be a fine-tuned version of his first.
It fixes problems for a number of Democrats who were worried about their prospects in the preliminary version. U.S. Reps. Martin Frost, Max Sandlin, Jim Turner, Charlie Stenholm, Chet Edwards and Ralph Hall are all better off in the new map than in the old one. Houston Democrats Sheila Jackson Lee and Ken Bentsen remain paired in the new map. That snuffs Bentsen and might encourage him to jump into the race for U.S. Senate, which he had been considering anyhow.
There is still an open seat that stretches from Central Texas to the coast. Add former state Rep. Steve Holzhauser, R-Victoria, to the list of interested parties. He's formed a search committee to look at that, and allies say he talked to U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Surfside, to let him know he was interested but not planning a challenge if the lines are redone. There's still an open seat in Houston, and there's still an open seat stretching from San Antonio to Laredo to El Paso. Laredo is the biggest population bump in that district, but potential challengers are waiting to see whether U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio, will run there or in the Hill Country district the court drew around his house.
There are some goodies in there for some Republicans. U.S. Rep. Kay Granger of Fort Worth was in a Democratic district in the first map. That's fixed in the second one. Sam Johnson got pushed out of Dallas County in the first; he's got some of it back. John Culberson of Houston wanted his historic core district restored and he got that. Overall, though, the Republicans dislike the plan.
Republicans find themselves in the odd position of arguing that the state is 58 percent theirs and that they should, on that basis, hold 18 or 19 of the Texas seats in Congress after the next elections. That's odd: When they get down to the numbers for each district, they argue that George W. Bush's numbers should be excised because they skew the results and make voters appear to be more Republican than they really are. It's more accurate, they say, to use the results from the 1998 races for lieutenant governor and comptroller. Those races were won by Republicans by the thinnest of margins, and probably understate the Republican voting strength in Texas.
But if you use the results of those two races for the state as a whole, Democrats contend, it "proves" that an even split in the congressional delegation is the only fair result.
Both sides have a point, but they're also spinning furiously: Most of the real argument in close districts is whether this candidate can beat that one and not about how the numbers spill to the advantage or disadvantage of hypothetical Republicans and make-believe Democrats.
And a Very Quiet Redistricting Fight, Settled
It's easy to forget that the State Board of Education is subject to redistricting, and part of it is because their districts are so large that they're difficult to tamper with. The Legislature didn't even turn out a map for the 15 members of the SBOE. They took it upon themselves, more or less. Vance Miller, a Dallas real estate baron whose wife, Geraldine Miller, is a member of the board, commissioned a map. The SBOE members knocked it around some. Most of them agreed it would work. They went to court over it, just to get it on the record. And now, a federal panel has tentatively adopted the Miller map for next year's elections. None of the members are paired. Only Dan Montgomery, a freshman on the board, disputed it, and now the judges are busy putting it into a final order.
• We need to do a little patching on last week's issue. First, House Speaker Pete Laney is in his fifth term and will be seeking a sixth term in 2003. Second, the law allows the sizes of statehouse and State Board of Education districts to deviate by up to ten percent from the largest district to the smallest, but congressional districts have to be as close to zero deviation as possible. And a reader who's for it suggests we point out the number on that proposition for the Texas Mobility Fund. It's Prop 15.
Seeking a 13-Month Senate Term
Six folks, including an independent, a Democrat and four Republicans, signed up for next month's special election to the Texas Senate. The winner will serve out the term of the late Sen. Tom Haywood, R-Wichita Falls. If the district lines are just so, whoever wins will also be able to run for reelection as an incumbent in next year's elections. It's not clear, because of redistricting, what that Senate map will look like after 2002, but one of the six will be the next senator from North Texas. The independent is Rick Bunch, a Wichita Falls attorney. The Democrat is Greg Underwood, a Bowie attorney who lost to Haywood by a 63—37 margin in 1998 (even while winning endorsements from the papers in Wichita Falls and Abilene, the two biggest cities in the district). The Republicans are Craig Estes, a Wichita Falls businessman; Doug Jeffrey, an attorney from Vernon; Harry Reynolds of Sherman; and former Denton County Judge Kirk Wilson. That special election will be on November 6.
A Houston House District Full of Candidates
Former Houston City Councilwoman Martha Wong says she'll run for the Texas House in HD-134. That was represented, in part, by Rep. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, who is giving up his seat to run for the Texas Senate. Wong says the district has lots of voters in common with her old city council district. But there's a hitch. The residents of the freshly drawn HD-134 include Reps. Debra Danburg and Scott Hochberg, Democrats who each want to return to the House.
Wong served on the council from 1994 until last year, when the city's term limit law forced her retirement. That was a non-partisan contest, but she'll run for the House as a Republican in the new district, which leans strongly to the GOP. She's one of several Republicans looking at the race. Steve Munisteri, a Houston lawyer who founded the Young Conservatives of Texas (and whose brother, Richard Munisteri, is general counsel to Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander) is in the hunt. So is Mark Cole, also an attorney. Wong professes no concern about the map, even though it has yet to be banged around in court and could easily change (the Democrats' main line of attack on the Legislative Redistricting Board's statehouse maps is that they unconstitutionally put 25 House seats in Harris County, which they argue should have only 24 seats).
The statehouse plans drawn by the LRB were to be heard by two courts at once: a three-judge federal panel and a state district judge would hear the arguments together, and then the state judge would make whatever adjustments he deems necessary. Now, that's all left to federal judges who'll start with the maps drawn by the LRB. That court proceeding will start as soon as the same panel of federal judges is finished with congressional redistricting plans for Texas.
Janek, meanwhile, garnered endorsements from the Texas Medical Association and Texans for Lawsuit Reform, a couple of groups that don't often play well together. TLR helped spike TMA's legislative priority last session by opposing the prompt pay bill sought by doctors. The tort reformers contend the legislation would have created a new way to sue people. Ultimately, it was passed by the Legislature and vetoed by the governor. That put Janek, a conservative who is also an anesthesiologist, in a funny spot. Now the contestants are both backing him.
Interesting tangent: Houston consultant Denis Calabrese has signed on to work for Gary Polland, Harris County's GOP chairman, who plans to run against Janek for that Senate spot. Calabrese is one of the main consultants for the tort reform group that endorsed his client's opponent.
• First there was A-Rod, the nickname for Texas Rangers' quarter-billion-dollar shortstop Alex Rodriguez. Now there's X-Rod. He's the mild-mannered San Antonio lawyer recently installed on the Texas Supreme Court by Gov. Rick Perry. Justice Xavier Rodriguez hasn't run for office before, and now that he's on the ballot, he's got a new website. Ready? It's www.X-RodCampaign.com.
Too Early to Worry
Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander insists the state will avoid a recession. That might be right, and even if it's wrong, you can make the argument that she should stick with the rose-colored glasses until there is no way to defend the argument.
She might even get rescued by the same stinginess that made legislators so mad at her a few months ago. Rylander's estimates of the state's revenue are the official basis for the state budget. She might be wrong, and she might be crazy, but she's the only official in state government whose numbers count. The comptroller's certification of the state budget is the single source of the great power in that office. Rylander didn't build in the big growth numbers some lawmakers wanted. As a result, she doesn't have her neck out very far should the economy retract. And it appears to be retracting rapidly. The AFL-CIO estimates 413,000 Americans have been laid off since September 11.
The comptroller's number-crunchers will get a first peek within days at sales tax results from September. They expect it to be bad, but we're cautioned by budgeteers and revenuers alike to hold off on the gloom and doom.
First, they say, this is only the first month of the two-year budget cycle and even if there is a recession, there's a chance it will work itself out before anybody has to fidget.
Second, Rylander might be right—Texas might miss the developing economic mess.
The third reason is a kind of backhanded compliment to the comptroller. Her revenue estimates were frustrating to the budget folks because they thought she was being too conservative. Their own forecasts were rosier than hers and they thus assumed there would be more money in the till than she was letting them have. There's a smell of the spendthrift to this argument: Some lawmakers wish there had been more money to spend, so they could spend it. Rylander put a dare in front of them, though, and they passed on it. Had they wanted to, legislators could have spent $1 billion or so more than they did by tapping into the state's Rainy Day Fund. Rylander and others said they shouldn't, and when it came down to it, even the lawmakers who wanted that money didn't dare spend it. With that money still in the till and with her estimates of low growth, Rylander might have built in a buffer even if there is a recession that affects state revenue.
Ethics, and Repossessed Dogs and Cats
The Texas Railroad Commission cannot require its members to explain why they didn't recuse themselves in contested cases where they have potential conflicts of interest. That puts the AG on the side of Commissioner Charles Matthews, more or less. Commissioner Tony Garza proposed an ethics rule for the agency that would require such explanations. At the time, Matthews was voting in a case that involves the company that employs his son. He argued that his son wouldn't be a beneficiary of the ruling either way. Garza proposed an ethics rule, got it passed, and then Sen. Frank Madla, D-San Antonio, asked AG John Cornyn if such a rule is within the purview of the RRC. Cornyn says the Texas Ethics Commission has authority to pass such a mandatory rule, but the RRC doesn't. That syncs up with Matthews' position that the ethics commission should tackle this, if anyone should. Garza plans to make another run at the rule, however, clarifying it to make it a goal and not a mandate.
• Talk to people who've worked for attorneys general and they'll tell you the opinions that continually stream from that office give nightmares to political hacks. Some get a lot of play in the papers, like recent opinions from Attorney General Cornyn that bar public hospitals from giving anything but emergency care to illegal immigrants and that say state officials can't require someone to get a Social Security card to get a drivers license.
But the real danger is in the everyday request: Cornyn recently dodged (apparently) a bullet with an opinion that says your veterinarian can't repossess your dog if you don't pay. The question to the AG was whether the vet could hold the dog until payment came in. The answer: They can only "dispose" of an animal that's been "abandoned," and they're not considered abandoned unless they haven't been picked up—paid or not—with 12 days of notice being mailed.
Fun in Fort Worth
Tarrant County might have the weirdest statehouse elections next year. Dee Kelly Jr. says he intends to run for state Senate in the seat now held by Sen. Mike Moncrief, D-Fort Worth, and says Moncrief is still his focus and his target. But that's probably not how the race will go, since Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, plans to run in that district and Sen. Chris Harris, R-Arlington, plans to run in the district she is leaving behind. Moncrief hasn't said, finally, whether he'll run for reelection, move to what is now Harris' district, or run for Texas Railroad Commission.
That probably leaves Kelly running against Nelson, if he sticks to this, if Moncrief moves, and if the legislative maps drawn by state officials hold up in court. He wrote a letter to potential supporters expressing surprise that Nelson would move into the district to run against him. His version: He's running against a Democrat in order to increase the number of Republicans in the state Senate. Others (he's talking about Nelson and Harris) are trying to protect incumbents (themselves and Moncrief) without regard to whether that's good for the party. He says in the letter that he didn't intend to run against a GOP officeholder, but doesn't seem to back away from the prospect, either. And he says he's a lifelong resident of the district and has supported Republicans for the last decade.
The response, apparently also sent to GOP activists in the area, is signed by four Republicans including Rep. Mary Denny, R-Denton. It's a pitch for Nelson. It touts the senator and then says she has "an unusual challenge" in the GOP primary. It calls Kelly a Democrat-turned-Republican and implies he's disloyal to the GOP because he's running against one of their stalwarts. It says he voted in the Democratic primaries every two years from 1988 through 1994 and says he and his family have been longtime supporters of Democrats running against Republicans.
The bug in the soup is that Dee Kelly Sr. has been involved in politics for years, on his own part and on behalf of his blue-blood clients including, among others, members of the Bass family. He runs their PACs, and their PACs contribute regularly and heavily to incumbent Democrats and Republicans. One of the jabs in the Nelson letter is that the Kellys gave $25,000 to Sen. Bob Glasgow, the Democrat she defeated in 1992. Kelly Jr., the candidate, says he is a Reagan Republican who has contributed to only one Democrat he can remember (former U.S. Rep. Pete Geren, who he describes as a friend) and that the other contributions detailed in the Nelson letter were from the PACs his father oversees. He doesn't dispute the voting record, and he hedges slightly when asked if he expects to run against Nelson when redistricting and jockeying are all said and done. Keep watching.
Flotsam & Jetsam
Put Republican consultant Jim Arnold on the Melinda Ballard campaign. She's a Republican from Hays County—southwest of Austin—who plans to challenge Rep. Rick Green, R-Dripping Springs, in next year's primaries. She's known in insurance circles as The Mold Lady, since she's suing her insurers over mold that she says has made her house uninhabitable.
If things fall like they appear to be falling, Rep. Patti Gray, D-Galveston, might find herself in a judicial race. Current redistricting maps pair her with Rep. Craig Eiland, D-Galveston, but they won't run against one another. They even had a joint fundraiser, promising that the proceeds would go to the one who stays in the House. Gray is looking at options, including a run for a state district judgeship. She hasn't decided to do that yet, however: There's still time to see what the legislative redistricting maps will look like.
Republican AG candidate Greg Abbott picked up an endorsement from the Texas Society of Professional Engineers... The Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC endorsed Mike Schneider for Texas Supreme Court. He's a Republican running for the seat now held by Justice James Baker, who has said he won't seek reelection... Rep. Kip Averitt, R-Waco, has a slogan in tiny print on the letterhead of his campaign for state Senate. Right there above the logo, it says "A Republican Leader for George W. Bush and You." He's running for Sen. David Sibley's seat. Sibley, Averitt's former boss, is the senator for a little town called Crawford.
Political People and Their Moves
Phil Wilson, state director for U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, will move to the governor's office and assume the title of communications director. That will apparently include oversight of scheduling and advance for Gov. Rick Perry. The title has belonged to Robert Howden, who is moving into another spot on the org chart, but the job is a little different, since Howden will continue to travel as a surrogate speaker for Perry... Jeff Norwood is striking out on his own by starting Anthem Media, an Austin-based Republican consulting firm. Norwood, who lives and works in Midland (most of the time), had been with Scott Howell & Associates... It would have been downright goofy to name anyone else, so Gov. Perry named Steve Murdock to be the first State Demographer. Half of the people who know Murdock thought he already had the title, but it was only created this year. Murdock heads the Texas State Data Center at Texas A&M University and is now—officially—the man to see about demographics and population trends in the state... Daisy Stiner, executive director of the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, is resigning that job after more than two years...Appointments: Gov. Perry named Austin dentist Richard Box to the State Aircraft Pooling Board. He replaces Scott Rozzell of Houston, whose term expired... He reappointed Rod Bordelon to the Office of Public Insurance Counsel, the agency that represents consumers before insurance regulators... Perry named John Castle, an attorney and former EDS executive, and Anne Crews, an executive at Mary Kay Inc., to the board of the Department of Protective and Regulatory Services. He also said Richard Hoffman of Brownsville, who is already on that board, should chair it. That agency is looking for an executive director, and among the candidates is former Sen. Chet Brooks, now a consultant, who used to oversee these matters as head of what was then the Senate's Health and Human Services Committee. He was one of the legislators who wrote the law creating the agency in the first place... U.S. Sens. Phil Gramm and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas recommended four people to be U.S. Marshals. Greg Anderson, a former assistant U.S. attorney from San Antonio, would be the marshal for the western district that goes from San Antonio to El Paso. Fort Worth Deputy Police Chief Randy Ely would get the northern district, Deputy U.S. Marshal John Moore would get the eastern district, and former Drug Enforcement Agency Special Agent Ruben Monzon would get the southern district. Those names go to President Bush, and if he appoints them, go on to the full Senate... Pardoned: Calvin Edward Washington, who had been serving a life term for the murder and rape of a woman in Waco in 1986. DNA records proved that he didn't do it.
Quotes of the Week
Andy Taylor, former first assistant attorney general and now one of the state's lawyers on redistricting, in a legal motion asking for more time after District Judge Paul Davis' sudden changes to congressional maps: "If that extension is denied, we cannot, on the short deadline imposed this morning, adequately grapple with all of the consequences of these last-minute revisions."
Taylor's boss, Attorney General John Cornyn, telling the Austin American-Statesman last July why the Legislative Redistricting Board he chaired was rushing to vote in spite of protests from the two legislators on the panel who said they hadn't had time to see what they were voting on: "The public can try to keep up with it as best they can, but at some point we have to get the job done."
U.S. Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston, contending in the Houston Press that the redistricting map drawn by Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff would give several state senators a crack at seats in Congress, something Green himself did ten years ago: "You know, I can't believe a state senator would do that, having served there in '91 and helping draft the lines we have now."
Texas prison spokesman Larry Todd, quoted in the Dallas Morning News about inmates who have volunteered to go overseas to fight in Afghanistan or wherever: "We have politely declined."
Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton, telling the Lexington Herald-Leader about a new law that allows residents to pick the photo on their drivers licenses from four different snapshots: "If you can't do it in one of four, you're in trouble. You may actually be ugly."
Texas Weekly: Volume 18, Issue 16, 15 October 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.