Skip to main content

A Map to a Decisive Republican Majority

Republicans think they'll be able to put as many as 90 people in the Texas House next year and as many as 19 in the Texas Senate because of the new maps drawn by a panel of three federal judges. That's a ground shift, and a big one, and it potentially carries the biggest prize in redistricting: The ability to draw the maps that will actually be used to elect members of Congress and the Texas Legislature for the rest of the decade.

Republicans think they'll be able to put as many as 90 people in the Texas House next year and as many as 19 in the Texas Senate because of the new maps drawn by a panel of three federal judges. That's a ground shift, and a big one, and it potentially carries the biggest prize in redistricting: The ability to draw the maps that will actually be used to elect members of Congress and the Texas Legislature for the rest of the decade.

The court's maps were a decided victory for the GOP. The judges signed off on the Senate map drawn by the Legislative Redistricting Board, endorsing a 3-2 LRB vote that caused a furor among Democrats—and some Republicans—last summer. But if you toss aside personalities for a second, the numbers in the LRB plan favor the GOP. If you mix in the personalities, Republican poobahs will spend some of the next year calming angry GOP incumbents. But, they note, that's better than losing.

The House plan approved by the judges is substantially the same as the LRB plan. The U.S. Department of Justice disagreed with the lines in four of the 150 districts. The court redrew those, creating some new pairings and causing ripples in other parts of the map. But about 80 percent of the districts are just like the LRB drew them, and the changes in some of the others are legally important but politically superficial. It was a Republican map last summer, and it still is.

By the numbers, the House map drawn by the three federal judges has 97 districts where the majority of residents are Anglos, 8 where the majority are Black, 35 where most are Hispanic, eight where Blacks and Hispanics together make a majority and two where those two groups and others combine to form a majority.

But is it Enough to Take Control?

Republicans say the map should give them 88 seats in the Texas House, give or take one or two. That should be enough, they say, to put a Republican in the speaker's chair for the first time since the invention of basketball. Among the aspirants is Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, who had his spinners out in force after the redistricting decision. They were telling scribes and others that the map moves the momentum to their guy and that if current Speaker Pete Laney continues to run, he'll hurt chances that anyone but Craddick will win. Laney's still in it.

Put another way, Laney's continued presence in the race, they contend, is good for Craddick and bad for other wannabes. They're hoping the ruling on the redistricting maps will prompt a stampede in favor of their guy. Surprise, surprise, surprise, there is a counter-spin offered by Democrats and by Craddick competitors and their ilk: Laney has more votes at the moment than Craddick or anyone else, and third and fourth and fifth candidates offer House members—particularly Republicans—a safe harbor of sorts. House members who sign with Laney can say they're there because he's the boss.

Craddick voters can say they want a Republican in the office at long last and he's been around longer than any others and ought to get the job. He's also the favorite of some of the GOP's financial backers, and that can translate into financial support for his supporters in their own races in this election cycle. Supporters of other candidates like Brian McCall of Plano and Edmund Kuempel of New Braunfels can cut a middle path, saying they want a Republican, but not necessarily Craddick. It also gives people an excuse to hold their decision until later, after the elections have made the outcome a little clearer. And Republicans who want to stick with Laney—or are afraid not to—can give him their support while promising others they'll be the second choice if Laney doesn't make it.

Where's Your Crib?

Remember that bit a few weeks back about Sens. Chris Harris and Jane Nelson moving their residences to their new districts before the beginning of November? For a minute there, they looked like the smartest kids in class.

The federal judges drawing the redistricting maps didn't immediately waive residency requirements for candidates running for state office. That's unusual in a redistricting year—almost everyone expected a waiver in the orders that came down after Thanksgiving. Within a few hours, there was a great grinding and gnashing of teeth when politicos and their consultants realized that not everyone was living in the districts where they would prefer to run.

The court came back late the next day with a waiver, but wasn't required to do so. And in the meantime, people began acting on the assumption that residency requirements would stand.

The residency waiver applies to candidates for both the House and the Senate. Without the waiver, candidates would have to reside in the districts they're running to represent a year before the election. In this case, that means they would have to be living in those districts as of November 4. And it means that incumbents who moved out of their current district while chasing the lines would forfeit their seat.

The waiver says candidates have to reside in the districts they want to represent by January 2. And it says incumbents are free to leave their current districts for new territory without forfeiting their incumbency. That came out late, as we went to press, but you can expect some shuffling and shifting.

Odd Men Out

Rep. Kim Brimer, R-Arlington, was looking at running for reelection—and possibly for speaker of the House—or tossing fate to the wind and running for state Senate. He selected Door Number Two, partly because the residency waiver was missing from the federal court orders on redistricting.

Brimer lives in the district Harris left behind. Harris moved into the district Nelson left behind. She moved into the district occupied now by Sen. Mike Moncrief, D-Fort Worth. The polling showed, basically, that Moncrief—a former Tarrant County judge from a well-known Fort Worth family—would have been a slam-dunk favorite in Harris' old district.

Moncrief didn't move, however, and put out a statement saying he always wanted to run in the district he now represents. That means he now faces the prospect of getting reelected in a district that was drawn to knock him off in favor of a Republican. And his decision to stay put leaves the Harris seat open, and leaves Brimer or another Republican with a much better chance of beating a Democrat in the race. Moncrief had also talked about running for statewide office, but decided to try to stay.

Rep. Kent Grusendorf has an exploratory committee and is considering the race for the open Harris seat, but hasn't made a decision. When the redistricting maps came out, he said he was "leaning very much in favor of running" for Senate. But he also said he was torn about leaving the House when it looks like Republicans have a chance to take the helm there. (If everything falls right, Grusendorf could find himself as chairman of Public Education or another big committee.) Grusendorf said the Senate district should go Republican, as long as Moncrief isn't in it. And he says he thinks he would whip Brimer in a head-to-head race. If it's a head-to-head, it could be bloody: For instance, Brimer's list of supporters includes Grusendorf's ex-wife.

Fort Worth attorney Dee Kelly Jr. wanted to run for state Senate, but says he won't run against an incumbent Republican. Since Nelson moved into what would have been his district (a district she and others believe was tailor-made for Kelly), he's got an incumbent to deal with and is taking himself out of the conversation. A residency waiver could still change that, but Kelly says he's not likely to move to another district to try to win a spot in the state Senate.

House Numbers

The judges' House plan puts 72 incumbents in seats where voters liked Republican Carole Keeton Rylander more than they liked Democrat Paul Hobby in the 1998 comptroller's race. (That race, the closest statewide contest in that election cycle, is used by both sides to benchmark partisan balance.)

On the current map, by way of comparison, Rylander won in 70 districts and Hobby won in 80 districts. That offers some explanation of why the Democrats control the House 78-to-72 right now when Republicans hold all statewide offices. If you examine the court's map by looking at the average votes for statewide candidates in each district in 1998, voters in 105 districts favored Republicans and voters in 45 districts favored Democrats. Look at the averages for the statewides in 1998 on the current map: Voters in 54 districts voted, on average, for the Democrats; voters in the other 96 House districts voted, on average, for GOP candidates in statewide races.

The GOP average was 56 percent or higher in 87 districts. A few of those are held by Democrats like Rob Junell of San Angelo. He might decide to bail, however, for a federal appointment, and Republicans think they could win that seat if there's not a powerful incumbent blocking their way.

Because some incumbent House members are paired against each other, the judges' plan leaves 22 districts with no incumbent. Republicans have a 13-to-9 edge in the open seats. When you just consider seats where one candidate beat the other by ten or more percentage points, the GOP wins 9-to-6.

Those numbers pave the way to this: If all other things are equal, Republicans should win 87 or 88 seats, up from the 72 they hold now. But everybody knows that a Democratic goober can lose a sure race in a Democratic district just by showing a low political IQ or by having an opponent who is easier for voters to follow. A Republican can lose in a GOP-dominated district if the Democrats have a better candidate or if the candidate's a boob. And both parties have blown races by trying to force issues, taking something that's of interest in Dallas or Houston, say, to DeLeon or Kermit or Latexo, only to find that the voters there have a different reaction than respondents in a statewide poll.

Republicans say their best case result is 90 seats, as we noted above. Democrats say it's possible to hold the Republican majority to 80 seats, if everything falls right for them.

Conventional wisdom is that the high number puts a Republican in the speaker's chair and that the low number could leave Laney in power. The higher the Republican number, the line goes, the better for Craddick. If there are too many Republicans for Laney and not enough for Craddick, then the betting shifts to candidates like Kuempel and McCall. Our guess is that you can't count the votes until you know who the voters are, and that picture won't clear until election primaries are held.

Jumping in Front

Former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk smudged Ken Bentsen's announcement for U.S. Senate, releasing a list of endorsements from Democratic officeholders (the majority of legislative Democrats and of the State Democratic Executive Committee) on the day the Houston congressman was announcing, officially, his intention to run for Phil Gramm's seat in Washington. That's the second of three steps: Candidates announce their interest, then announce their candidacy, then actually file. Nobody has filed as of this writing, since the signup period starts on Monday, December 3.

Bentsen, sports agent Ed Cunningham and schoolteacher Victor Morales have announced they'll run. Kirk and former Attorney General Dan Morales have said they'll announce and file, but haven't done so. On the Republican side, Attorney General John Cornyn and retired University of Texas physicist Lawrence Cranberg each have said they'll run.

Bentsen is attempting to overcome one of the tough trends in Texas politics by jumping from a congressional job to a statewide position. Gramm was a congressman before he sought and got his Senate post, but most U.S. reps who make the leap don't survive. Except for him, none of the statewide officeholders in Texas got there by taking a path through Congress, and a number of Texas congressional types have fallen short over the last ten years. Bentsen is counting on a venerated political name and an open field and says he's the only candidate in the race with federal experience.

Mapmakers Put Explorers Out of Business

Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, called a series of press conferences in his Senate district without having made a decision on whether to run for reelection or for an open seat in Congress. He started in Bryan, went to Round Rock and then to Huntsville (which is inside the Senate district but not the congressional district) to spill the beans. The beans, surprisingly, are senatorial: Ogden will run for reelection. That was a shocker to some—it would have been difficult to draw a congressional seat better suited for Ogden, and many of his legislative colleagues figured he'd grab the ring.

That leaves an open congressional seat for the taking and the candidates fell out of the woodwork as word of Ogden's announcement spread.

Judge John Carter of Williamson County has been sniffing at the contest, gauging support, and said after Ogden's announcement that he'll definitely run. Carter touts himself as the first Republican elected in Williamson County since Reconstruction. He was appointed to the court in 1982 and won election soon after that. He planned to turn in his resignation from the court on Friday (after one last hearing) and work full-time on the congressional race. That'll give Gov. Perry a judicial appointment to make, and it puts a Williamson County candidate in the race. Harris County Judge Robert Eckels looked and took a pass, but State Rep. Bill Callegari, R-Katy, is looking at it from the Harris County end. And Rep. Fred Brown, R-Bryan, is looking at it from the middle, in Brazos County.

Williamson County has 31 percent of the district's population, but the eventual winner of this thing will have to have support outside of his or her home county, since no single spot has a controlling advantage. Almost a quarter of the voters live in Brazos County, and another quarter live in Harris County. Each of those potential candidates we mention here is a Republican; voters in the new CD-31 gave 70.3 percent of their votes to GOP statewide candidates in the 2000 elections.

Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, says he'll run for the Texas House and not for Congress. He's been a key Republican player in redistricting on the House side; now that the courts have sided with the GOP and given them a chance to take the wheel, he wants to stay. Krusee had expressed some interest in running for Texas Senate had Ogden decided to give up his seat for a congressional bid.

• And now, for something completely different: Brad Barton, the son of U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, plans to move to College Station and run for Congress. His dad considered doing the same thing before deciding to stay in Ennis and run in CD-6. Barton the younger, an A&M grad who still has a place there, works for Hillwood Development in Dallas (Ross Perot Jr.'s company). He's a Republican, like his pop, and we couldn't find anyone with gray enough hair to remember a father and son running for Congress at the same time.

• He's still leaving all options open, but you can probably scratch Sen. David Cain's name off of the list of Democrats looking at the job of Dallas County judge. The county numbers are more favorable to Democrats than you might think, and Republican Lee Jackson has announced his decision to get out of the post. In the 1998 elections, the close race between Carole Keeton Rylander and Paul Hobby came down to a difference of 158 votes in his favor. Because of a minor third candidate in the race, neither the Republican nor the Democrat got 50 percent of the votes.

Cain's name came into play, in part, because those numbers are better than the numbers in his newly drawn Senate district, and partly because his name is well known. Cain's ex-wife, Kathy Cain (now Kathy Hall) ran for the post several years ago. And Sen. Cain has run several high-dollar, high-profile reelection races, buying Dallas television time and running up his own numbers with the public. He's not saying no, but his sights are set on two other possible races: a reelection bid, or a bid for the congressional seat left open when U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, decided to run on the other side of the county. State Rep. Harryette Ehrhardt, a Dallas Democrat who used to serve on the Dallas ISD board is making calls about the county judge gig, but hasn't announced a decision. And Richard Rozier, the former mayor of Duncanville, is considering a bid for the judge job as a Republican.

Just Friends

Burn that 11th Commandment: The state's GOP hierarchy held a fundraiser for Curt Hinshaw III, a personal injury lawyer from Longview who's challenging Rep. Tommy Merritt, R-Longview, in the Republican primary in March.

Merritt is frequently a fly in the Republican soup, but party officials generally shy away from working against Republicans, even in primaries. The 11th Commandment is from former President Ronald Reagan, and goes this way: "Never speak ill of another Republican." The party has a bylaw that prevents the Texas GOP itself from endorsing candidates or supporting them, but the officers can jump out there and do whatever they want.

Still, the message here is clear: The fundraiser for Hinshaw was scheduled to be held at Denise McNamera's house. She's a national GOP committeewoman from Texas. The last invitation, sent by email, said attendees would be joined by "a large number of members of the State Republican Executive Committee and the Chairman of the Texas Republican Party, Susan Weddington, and Vice Chairman, David Barton."

The email invitations never mention Merritt, and sound every bit like what you'd see in a pitch for a Republican trying to knock off an incumbent Democrat: "The election of Curt is critical to Republicans' chances of electing a Republican speaker in the next session of the Texas Legislature..."

Through an aide, Weddington said that she reserves the right to support whomever she wants, that she didn't contribute any money to Hinshaw, that she and Barton were not hosts or guests of honor, and that Hinshaw is a personal friend. A spokesman for the party said he wasn't aware of any other fundraisers for Republican challengers to Republican incumbents, but didn't rule it out.

Political Notes

A Fort Worth preacher who used to work at the Texas Department of Agriculture says he's going to ride a Case International tractor town-to-town in a bid for agriculture commissioner. Koecadee Melton Jr., who'll turn 45 in a couple of weeks, says he'll run as a Democrat against the incumbent, Republican Susan Combs. He says he's a Texas A&M grad, a Vietnam veteran, a former ag department employee (under Jim Hightower) and is assistant pastor at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Fort Worth, where he also attends the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Melton says he'll start the trip on what he says is a brand-new, $200,000 tractor on his birthday on December 17.

• One of the open Texas House seats, HD-105, has attracted Irving Republican Rose Cannaday. She's a former sportscaster and is apparently the first candidate to bite at that contest.

• Put Houston engineer Wayne Smith on the list for another open spot—this one in Houston. Smith, who's been involved in a couple of high visibility public projects, will run in HD-128.

• We wrote a while back about a political action committee formed to elect a Republican majority to the Texas House. It's been folded into a new PAC that will also work on state Senate, statewide and judicial elections. The new Texans for a Republican Majority is headed by Railroad Commissioner Tony Garza, U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, state Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, and state Rep. Dianne White Delisi, R-Temple. The group's treasurer is former Rep. Bill Ceverha of Dallas.

• Take Rep. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, out of the race for Texas House: He's decided to seek a promotion to the Senate. Williams has been looking at the Senate since the Legislative Redistricting Board first voted out a map last summer. It cut Sen. David Bernsen's district in a way that's beneficial to Republicans and to candidates from Williams' end of the territory. He's in it. Others also in that race: Former Sen. Michael Galloway, who upset Sen. Carl Parker, the Democrat who held the seat for years, and then lost to Bernsen; and Dr. Martin Basaldua, a physician who's on the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

CORRECTION: Yeah, we know the Legislative Budget Board doesn't have anything to do with redistricting, but we wrote that anyway. We meant to write Legislative Redistricting Board, but our scribbler went awry and left us looking like Bleedin' Idjits. Sorry, sorry, sorry.

Political People and Their Moves

Put former Rep. Gwyn Clarkston Shea on your list of top candidates for Texas Secretary of State. Shea, who lives in Irving, is a constable now, but served in the House with then-Rep. Rick Perry and is rising on the list of potential replacements for Henry Cuellar. Cuellar, a Democrat from Laredo, abruptly resigned from the SOS job after less than a year in office, but says he still supports Perry. Shea did five terms in the House, starting in 1983... Perry appointed state District Judge Sherry Jarrell Radack of Houston to a spot on the 1st Court of Appeals. Radack, elected in 1998, is the spouse of Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack, which can't hurt her chances at the polls: She'll be on the ballot for the new job next year. She replaces Scott Brister, who left that court to take on the chief justice job at the 14th Court of Appeals in Houston... The Guv also installed a new regent at the University of Texas System. He is Robert Estrada, a Dallas attorney who founded and heads an investment banking firm. He's also a former special assistant to the first President Bush and worked as state director for former U.S. Sen. John Tower... The Texas Municipal League named Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff their Legislator of the Year. Ratliff, who got the Senate's top job in an in-house election a year ago, is also still the senator for Northeast Texas, and is running for reelection to his Senate seat... Lisa Ross, who's been cornering legislators for 17 years, is giving up her lobby chair to become director of Leadership Texas. That program, part of the Foundation for Women's Resources, has been training and networking leaders for two decades... John Hildreth is leaving Cap Texas to start his own consulting shop. He'll try to help clients get along better with environmental, consumer, and other public interest groups and vice-versa. Hildreth, formerly with Common Cause and Consumers Union, started Cap Texas five years ago to help electric utility companies connect with normal people... Tammy Dowe, who left state employment to work for the Houston Partnership, will start lobbying for that outfit on state and national issues. She'll join Anne Culver, who's been doing all of that work... Deaths: Retired U.S. District Judge David Belew Jr. of Fort Worth. Belew was best known for presiding over a Delta Airlines crash trial, but was remembered also for little things like paying for a defendant's hair cut and ordering a woman to go to church as part of her punishment. He was 81.

Maybe they don't want to see "Perry Endorses Sanchez" in print or on a bumper sticker. But the governor might be the only one who hasn't signed off on Orlando Sanchez's campaign for Mayor of Houston. The endorsers include President George W. Bush and his folks, former President George H.W. Bush and former First Lady Barbara Bush. Outgoing New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani added his name to the list of supporters. Houston lawyer Jack Rains, a former Texas Secretary of State and gubernatorial candidate in his own right, is in the middle of the Sanchez effort. But so far, no word from Gov. Rick Perry, who'll face Tony Sanchez Jr.—a Democrat of no relation to the mayoral candidate—in next year's gubernatorial contest.

Quotes of the Week

Land Commissioner David Dewhurst, quoted in the Tyler Morning Telegraph on state security in Texas: "I want to emphasize that, as of today, there has not been any confirmed terrorist action in Texas or any incidents involving infectious diseases, involving anthrax. While that is good news, it is not time to remain complacent."

Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, after pleading no contest to drunk-driving charges: "I made a serious error in judgement. I made a mistake and I accept responsibility for the consequences of my conduct. To my family and constituents, I'm really sorry."

Sharon Rankin of Houston telling the Houston Press how legislators at a hearing reacted to calls from her and others for campaign finance reform: "They sat up there and basically said, 'Do you really think that we as senators want the ethics commission to have more teeth?"

Greater Austin Right to Life director Joe Pojman, quoted in the San Antonio Express-News on an legal appeal in a case involving state funding of abortions: "We hope the (Texas) Supreme Court will rule to protect mothers, their unborn children and taxpayers."


Texas Weekly: Volume 18, Issue 23, 3 December 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.


Support public-service journalism that gets the context right

Yes, I'll donate today