The U.S. Department of Justice–that same bunch that said a couple of weeks ago that they wouldn't be ready to say anything about the Texas House until the end of the month, uncorked a letter at midmonth that might change everything. Or, it might not.
The agency, which reviews redistricting plans in southern states for signs of discrimination under the Voting Rights Act, waited until after three federal judges heard testimony on the new political maps for the Texas House. But DOJ's opinion letter came out before those judges ruled. Now, as the judges ruminate over the letter, the testimony, and the maps, the combatants stand outside and spin and spin and spin.
Start with what the letter actually says.
DOJ objects to the Texas map because it cuts the number of Hispanic seats in the Texas Legislature in spite of numbers that show increases in Hispanic population in the state. Four districts are affected, and the map drawn by the Legislative Redistricting Board, according to DOJ, would result in a net loss of three Hispanic seats. That's in spite of an increase in the number of districts where a majority of voters are Hispanics; DOJ's analysis is that, even with those numbers, it would be impossible for minority voters in those districts to elect their candidate of choice.
The net loss is three Hispanic seats, but there are more than three districts in play here. The letter specifically mentions seats held by several incumbent Democrats: Reps. Pete Gallego, Irma Rangel, Ignacio Salinas, and Jim Solis. The districts that belong now to Debra Danburg and Gary Walker would be affected–both become Hispanic districts in the LRB map–and the Salinas mention comes because the map would pair him with Judy Hawley. But at the end of it, according to the folks at Justice, the map cuts minority representation.
In this next bit, you can see where the spin comes from on both sides: "... the state may remedy this impermissible retrogression either by restoring three districts from among these problem areas, by creating three viable new majority-minority districts elsewhere in the state, or by some combination of these methods."
Redecorate or Remodel?
Republicans read that to say that these require relatively minor repairs. A bit of wood there, some paint, maybe some curtains, and Presto, it's good as new.
The Democrats say the repairs would have to be extensive, and that it might be better to knock down the whole thing and start fresh, making sure not to make those mistakes all over again.
Where the elephants say only two percent of the map needs fixing, the donkeys say the remodeling needed as a result of those seemingly small problems will ripple through many of the other legislative districts in the state, effectively killing the chance that the LRB's House map will stand. The pachyderms suggest starting with that map and altering it would be the best course. The asses want to begin with a sharp set of crayons and a clean sheet of paper.
Both sides, we'll note, seem less than fully confident. Both sides, in fact, seem apprehensive and more than a little fearful that their foes will prove to be right.
All that's at stake is control of the Texas House, and whether there will be a new speaker for that chamber, and who will be around in 2003 to fiddle with the redistricting maps and set up the geography, finally, for the rest of the decade's legislative races.
The tension over what might happen with redistricting has lawyers, politicians, political hacks, and reporters shuffling through the papers and statements and maps trying to read the minds of the three judges. They purse their lips over this, and cluck at that, argue with each other, create and murder rumors. At our deadline on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, the judges had not ruled on plans for the Texas Senate or for the Texas House.
They had hinted that the Senate map would be out before Thanksgiving and that the House map would come out in early December, however, fueling day after day of speculation that plans were imminent. The palm readers have little to go on.
The judges, in their ruling on congressional redistricting, wrote a prescription for how they worked. Congressional redistricting was a different nut to crack because the Legislature never passed a plan that the court could use as a starting point. But the map the court drew, and the opinion that goes with it, might offer some insight about how the judges think.
They began by drawing the minority districts that are protected by federal law. They added the two districts that accrued to Texas because of the state's rapid growth over the last decade, starting those in the Dallas and Houston suburbs that outgrew the rest of the state. That's probably the point where the judges decided not to draw new minority districts. If they had wanted to account for minority growth in the state, they'd have put the new districts elsewhere. Instead, they went to geographic growth centers, dispersing some of the new minority voters and leaving advocates for more Hispanic seats with nothing to show for their arguments.
Then the judges went to what they called the "general historical locations" of legislative districts, more or less at the top of the map and going from there. They did a check to see whether they had done any avoidable harm to any incumbents. And then they looked to see whether the result was, in their eyes, unfair to either political party. They said the result (probably a 16-16 tie or a 17-15 GOP advantage) roughly reflects the state's voting patterns, and they signed it.
We walked through that to get to this: Republicans fear that the same kind of logic could yield a roughly similar result in the map for the Texas House, preserving incumbents there and robbing their party of the turnover needed to give them the result they want: A solid GOP majority.
Democrats are worried that the logic will never come into play–that the judges will simply do some cutting and pasting with the LRB's map to satisfy the Justice Department. They fret over a line in the letter from DOJ that says the map–except in the specific areas where Hispanic voting rights were violated–meets all of the tests required by federal law.
A Little Bit Too Much Democracy
The Texas Association of Business and Chambers of Commerce is having its annual meeting in Austin at the end of January and the powers in that group decided to hold a forum where some of the statewide candidates could face off. But the Republicans, most of them incumbents, don't want to play. In fact, some of them were mad that the business group would offer their challengers the opportunity to appear and to gain credibility.
The group invited the major candidates from each party in the four big state races: Rick Perry and Tony Sanchez Jr. for governor, David Dewhurst and John Sharp for lieutenant governor, Greg Abbott and Kirk Watson for attorney general, and Carole Keeton Rylander and Marty Akins for comptroller. Only Sharp has agreed to appear, according to TABCC president Bill Hammond. He says the group wasn't trying to stir up trouble, but wants to hear the candidates. "We invite who we see fit, and they can decide whether they want to show up or not," he says.
The group's political action committee will make its recommendations for endorsements a few days later. In that round, they'll be concentrating on primary races; most of their other endorsements will come later, when it's time to talk about inter-party feuds instead of intra-party feuds.
Seats, Please. Music, Maestro?
Pretend, for a moment, that you are Sen. David Cain, D-Dallas. You're staring at a Senate map drawn by Republicans and approved by three of them on the Legislative Redistricting Board. You currently have a district that would belong to the Republicans if you hadn't squeaked through the 1990s by winning a series of elections you were certain to lose. The new map takes that district and, as the TV chef Emeril Lagasse would say, kicks it up a notch. The voters in the current district elected Cain and also favored the Democrats in the race for comptroller in 1998, giving them 51.1 percent of their votes (Cain himself got 53.2 percent of the vote the last time he ran in the district, in 2000). As drawn by the LRB, the Republicans would have received 57.4 percent of the vote in the 1998 elections. A Cain win would be a much more difficult proposition in that district, and the same opponent he beat last time–Dr. Bob Deuell of Greenville–is back for a rematch.
So, if you're Cain, what do you do? You watch U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, move out of his current district and into what will certainly be one of the richest legislative districts in the country. The new CD-31 has Preston Hollow and the Park Cities in it, areas that have huge numbers of wealthy residents. It's a district that lets Sessions stay in Congress while cutting down on the amount of time he spends covering his territory. By moving, he leaves behind CD-5, an East Dallas County district that stretches into East Texas and overlaps big hunks of territory where Cain has been winning for the last decade. Use that same 1998 comptroller race as a reference point, and you still find yourself in GOP territory, but it's not as pure: 52.5 percent voted with the GOP. If you're Cain, that's more attractive.
The bottom line is that Cain's looking. If the Senate map drawn by the federal panel is as unfavorable as the map drawn by the LRB, don't be surprised to see him switch to the federal race. If his Senate map is okay, his preference is to stay put. That would clear the way for another Democrat, former state appellate Judge Ron Chapman, who says he might run if Cain doesn't. They're friendly, and apparently worked in the same law firm at one point. Chapman is a visiting judge now; he was on the 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas for several years. He lives in Cedar Creek, in Henderson County.
Republican Jeb Hensarling made his exploration of the CD-5 race official. He's a former aide to U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm and a business associate of Charles Wyly of Dallas, a regular and big giver to Republican candidates. Hensarling, like Sessions, will apparently have to move into the district he wants to represent; he had planned to run in CD-32, but not against Sessions. Now that the congressman has announced a move, so has Hensarling. State Rep. Ken Marchant, R-Carrollton, wanted to run for Congress, but probably won't take on Sessions and doesn't want to move to another district. Marchant says he's leaning against it and will make a final decision after Thanksgiving.
The Cows Come Home
Most groups will wait a bit to do their endorsing, but the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association has a full slate. They'll back John Cornyn for U.S. Senate, Perry for governor, Sharp for lite governor, Abbott, Rylander, Michael Williams for railroad commissioner, Susan Combs for agriculture commissioner, and Texas Supreme Court appointees Wallace Jefferson and Xavier Rodriguez for election. Sharp is the only Democrat in that group. And the only statewide executive office left off is land commissioner. The group hasn't picked anyone in that contest.
Still to come: Several other seats on the Supreme Court will be open next year. Like the candidates in most of those races, the cattle raisers are still sorting those out. Several of the candidates have moved from one place to another, causing some trade groups to hold endorsements for now. One more: The cattle raisers will back Dan Gattis Jr. in his race for the Texas House from Williamson County. They've stayed away from other legislative races so far (those endorsements come later) but this is about kin: Dan Gattis Sr. heads the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
More Musical Chairs, Harris County Style
Rep. Fred Bosse, D-Houston, is considering a campaign for an open U.S. House seat, but won't make a decision until he's seen what a federal court does with redistricting in the Texas House. Ditto Scott Hochberg. Ditto, less emphatically, Debra Danburg. Ditto, also, former Rep. Paul Colbert, Hochberg's former boss. All are Democrats, and the current House members are all staring at lousy political districts that might force them to seek greener pastures.
U.S. Rep. Ken Bentsen, D-Houston, plans to run for U.S. Senate. At one point in the redistricting saga, he was paired with U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee in a district that favored her. But the maps approved by the three federal judges in charge of redistricting left Bentsen more or less intact, alone, and in CD-25, a district that a Democrat should be able to win.
Bentsen says he wants to run for the Senate in spite of that map and in spite of imprecations from other Democrats who want a less contested primary for U.S. Senate. He'll announce on Monday.
With him out of the way, others are considering the possibilities. The same three judges who drew the federal plan are also in custody of the maps for the Legislature, and Bosse says he wants to see those before he makes a final call. Others have mentioned him as a possible candidate for county office if the House thing doesn't work out and if the congressional race doesn't suit him. Bosse's new district is a minority district in the plans drawn by the LRB. Still, with some lawyers suggesting that the federal court could completely overhaul the map, he wants to wait.
Hochberg says the new congressional district has all but four of the precincts in his current House district (and then some–congressional districts in Texas are almost five times the size of statehouse districts). He wants to see what his own seat looks like in the Texas House map and also wants to have a look at what kind of House that would be in a new map; in other words, who's gonna be back and who's not and what that means for leadership and committees and all that.
Danburg says she's knee-deep in the runoff for Houston mayor and won't make a decision on congress until after that's over and she's had a look at the Texas House map. Her preference? Stay in the Texas House unless the maps make that a problem.
• Right names, wrong race: We had Chris Bell and Chip Staniswalis running against each other for Congress in last week's issue, when in fact, they ran against each other in a legislative race. Staniswalis won. Bell moved to Houston where he became a city council member, a third-place finisher in this month's mayoral race, and a potential candidate for Congress.
Leaving the Texas House, For Different Reasons
Freshman Rep. Sid Miller, R-Stephenville, is exploring a challenge to U.S. Rep. Charlie Stenholm, D-Abilene. Stenholm is a perennial target of the GOP; even Democrats say he's one of the few Democrats who could win in his congressional district. Now that the lines have been redrawn, Miller says he was approached to make a race of it. He is investigating, looking at numbers and trying to figure out the way to a win. He says he'll visit with Republicans in Washington, D.C., and will make a decision in a couple of weeks. He's not worried about his own district, and says he's got someone lined up to run in his place if he moves to the federal race. He won't name the potential successor. Word of his interest has traveled: Stenholm called personally, Miller says, to say he would be seeking reelection.
• Take Rep. John Longoria, D-San Antonio, out of the race for his own seat in the Texas House. Longoria, the former Bexar County judge, has been diabetic for some time and doesn't want to plow through another political race. Longoria, who's 56, first took a seat in the House in 1993, and a new term there would have been his sixth. He was a Bexar County commissioner before winning election as county judge. Friends say Longoria was having a harder time raising money for his campaign this year. Former San Antonio City Councilman Raul Prado was challenging him. There was also a flap in the background over the speaker's race. Longoria, by some accounts, had agreed to support Speaker Pete Laney for reelection next year. But he told others that he would support Republican Tom Craddick, who hopes to win the gavel away from Laney in 2003.
Confusion from Houston to Austin
Rep. Peggy Hamric, R-Houston, is interested in running for Harris County judge, but she's got some Ifs, Ands, and Buts attached to that. She hasn't talked to County Judge Robert Eckels, who started the speculation by telling the Houston Chronicle that he might run for Congress. She probably wouldn't run against him if he wants to return. Second, she likes being in the House and has a safe district, so that's not really a concern. And third, she has some homework to do on the race itself. That said, she says she's always been interested in county government and just might take a crack at it.
Take Sen. John Whitmire out of the county judge rumors. He's not interested in running for county judge. He wants to return to the Senate, where, if everyone who wants to get reelected does so, he'll be second in seniority behind only Sen. Carlos Truan, D-Corpus Christi.
The district Eckels is sniffing–CD-31–is a new one that stretches from northeastern Harris County all the way into Williamson County, north of Austin. State Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, has already said he's interested, and state District Judge John Carter of Williamson County is also looking. The biggest chunk of voters–202,000–is in Williamson County. Harris County has 153,000 voters in the district, and Brazos County, where Ogden lives, has 152,000 residents within the district. Early handicapping favors Ogden, who has represented a lot of the area in his current Senate post. Carter has the biggest bunch of voters, but state district judges often are not as well known as legislators.
Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, says he's not interested in running for the Senate seat. He is, however, interested in running for state Senate if Ogden isn't seeking reelection. He can work as a blocker to make Williamson County safer for Ogden, thus cutting a trail for his own run.
U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, put out a press release with a headline saying he will run for Congress in the 6th district. That shouldn't be news, because the 6th district is what he represents now. But there were rumors that he was looking for another place to run, and Barton says in his press release that he "was approached" about running in CD-31. He owns property there and says he hasn't dismissed the idea. But he says it would be unlikely.
That's bad news for Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth, R-Burleson. She wanted to run for Congress in the 6th district, but not against an incumbent Republican like Barton.
Mid-Game Jitters and Other Notes
Texas GOP Chair Susan Weddington circulated an email assessing the current redistricting situation after the federal judges let go of their congressional map. She said that map was disappointing, but made a small step toward the GOP. She defended Attorney General John Cornyn, who's taken some heat from partisans on his side who think the Republicans should be faring better in the intermediate stages of the redistricting fight. And then she shared some fears about the court's leanings on legislative matters. She wrote before the Justice Department turned down the map for cutting out Hispanic seats, but said without DOJ's guidance, "... then we can expect to see a map very similar to the Laney map adopted by the Texas House on a partisan vote become the map under which the election will be held. This would be most unjust and I pray it will not come to pass."
• Lt. Col. Michael Bunch of the U.S. Air Force Reserves is announcing his bid for the Texas House by email, since he's been called up. As the maps are currently drawn, he'd be running against Rep. Debra Danburg, D-Houston (Bunch is a Republican). He says in the email that he's fighting terrorism and will be back when the job is done. "I take pride in knowing that I personally have had a hand in obtaining that goal," he wrote.
• Tad Nelson, a former city councilman in League City, says he'll be in the race for HD-24. That's an empty seat on the LRB map. Nelson says he's for free market solutions and wants to help elect a Republican speaker of the House for the first time since Reconstruction.
• Texans for Lawsuit Reform endorsed Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, in his reelection bid. He's got a challenger from Plano in the GOP primary: John Roach Jr.
Political People and Their Moves
It's hard to believe something this good could happen to a graduate of El Paso's Eastwood High School, but Carlos Sanchez, a former capitol reporter who is currently the state editor of the Austin American-Statesman, is getting his own paper. Sanchez, 41, has been named editor of the Waco Tribune-Herald. He'll take the reins from Bob Lott–who has been in that job for 22 years–in a couple of weeks... Appointments: Gov. Rick Perry named Eva Guzman of Houston to the 14th Court of Appeals. She's the judge in the 309th District Court right now. She will replace Don Wittig, who retired. Guzman's appointment is subject to Senate confirmation, but by the time they get back to look at the appointment, she will have been through an election... Kathy Golson, a former aide to Sen. David Bernsen, D-Beaumont, who left to teach school, has landed at the Texas Association of School Boards as the number two in their government relations shop... San Antonio-based SBC Communications is putting William Daley in the president's chair. He was campaign chairman to Democrat Al Gore, Commerce Secretary in the Clinton Administration, and son and brother to a couple of Chicago mayors. The company deals with lawmakers and regulators a lot and said Daley can help with that, but putting a nationally prominent Democrat in a spot like that in the Republican president's home state raised some GOP eyebrows...
The Texas Department of Parks & Wildlife installed Bob Cook as its interim executive director. He's been the chief operating officer there as well as assistant director, and will take over at the beginning of the year. Andy Sansom, who had the top job at the agency, resigned; Cook will fill in while a search committee looks for a permanent replacement, and he apparently intends to be among the applicants... Judicial spankings: Tilman Pyle, a former Justice of the Peace in Cass County, agreed to resign rather than face disciplinary action from the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. He denied allegations made against him, and because he decided to resign, the commission neither investigated the charges nor repeated them... The commission also got a voluntary resignation out of H.N. McElroy, a Harris County J.P., who was accused of racial slurs and of making sexual advances on a court clerk. That was on its way to trial when he agreed to step down. He denied the allegations but agreed to stay out of the state's judiciary. He was a county employee for 45 years... Deaths: Former Rep. Joe Hubenak, who represented Brazoria and Fort Bend counties in the Texas House for ten years. He was a Democrat, and lost the primary for Agriculture Commissioner in 1978 and then a Senate race in 1986. He served on the state's board of Pardons and Paroles in the 1990s, and also worked at the Texas Department of Insurance. He was 64.
Quotes of the Week
Gubernatorial candidate Tony Sanchez Jr., quoted in the Tyler Morning Telegraph, on politicians: "Professional politicians there (in Austin) for a long time have not been able to fix the problems. It's time to let someone with business knowledge come in and run this government efficiently. I know how to make $1 become $1.15 or $1.20 and I'm high on running things in an efficient, effective way. We will bring a lot of efficiency to state government."
GOP consultant Ted Delisi, asked by Texas Monthly whether Attorney General John Cornyn, Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander and Land Commissioner David Dewhurst showed their redistricting plans to [subsequently unhappy] Republican senators before presenting and approving them: "Were they called in and invited to hold hands and sing 'Kumbayah'? No, they were not."
Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, telling the El Paso Times how to fund public education: "For our county, the choice is very clear. Texas needs to cut the property tax, pass an income tax that can be deducted from the federal income tax and dedicate that money to education. But the chances of that happening next session are about the same as Haley's Comet coming back early."
Former U.S. Senator Alan Simpson, R-Wyoming, quoted in The New York Times on what's happened to politicians, good and bad, since September 11: "If you're in the game long enough, you're going to be the toast of the town one day, and the next day you'll be toast."
Texas Weekly: Volume 18, Issue 22, 26 November 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 email@example.com. For news, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (512) 288-6598.