Ignore the minutiae for a moment and the congressional redistricting tangle has only two apparent dramatic points. Will 21 senators allow the issue to come up for consideration? And if they do, will the courts approve the plan that then passes through the Legislature?
Everything else is poetry.
House Republicans rolled out a map on the second day of the special session with the intention of zipping it through committee and then on to the full House on the first day of the session's second week. At that point, the Senate will still be holding public hearings. After the House passes a bill — and there is little doubt on either side of the partisan wall that the 88 Republicans in the House will run over their opponents — it'll go to the Senate.
It'll take approval from two-thirds of the state's senators to make the issue eligible for a vote. After that, a simple majority will be all that's needed for approval.
If the House and Senate approve different versions, it'll go to a conference committee for reconciliation, then back to the two chambers for final approval. That last bit turns the weary to the wary: A simple Senate majority can approve a conference committee report. A sneaky person would run a mild map through the state Senate to get the 21 votes needed for consideration, then amend it with a stronger version in conference committee. With 19 Republicans in the Senate, it shouldn't be all that difficult to get 16 votes for a map that rewards the GOP at the expense of the state's Democrats.
The Republicans and the Democrats alike have been talking about that situation. On one hand, it's an easy way to step around the empowered minority party in the Senate. On the other hand, since the Democrats know about it, they're looking for assurances that the Republicans won't do a bait-and-switch if there's a conference committee. There are a couple of ways out.
One would require the Republican lieutenant governor to do something that would make his own party's officials and activists go numb with anger. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst could send the Senate home after voting out a map, putting the House in a Take it or Leave it position. That would comfort Senate Democrats, but if Republicans outside the Pink Building didn't like the Senate map, Dewhurst would be taking a huge political risk. Gov. Rick Perry could call lawmakers back to Austin, restarting the legislative clock, forcing legislators to re-file the bill, hold new hearings and try, try again.
The second maneuver would require House Republicans to vote out a map they can live with, and then to live with it. If the House sends the Senate a map it can approve without changes, the plan is on its way to the governor without any meaningful Senate fireworks. A variation: The Senate could make changes that were then acceptable to the House, and concurrence there would send it to Perry. Either play would avoid a conference committee, placating Senate Democrats (remember: the Republicans need their votes at the outset). But some in the GOP fear they would get a watered-down map as a result. As we said, it could provide a touch of drama.
Getting the map out of the Pink Building is only the first step for Republicans, and it's not the end of the world for Democrats. The reason they needed to spoil the summer with a special session is to allow time for the U.S. Department of Justice to vet any new plan, and for the opponents of the map to sue in federal court. The legislative fight is the prelude to the court fight. If the Democrats prevail, the maps now in place could remain in place. But if the GOP can get a map out of Austin that's acceptable to the courts and to the Bush Administration, next year's elections will use the new map.
Stumbling at the Starting Gate
The plan in the House was to vote a congressional redistricting map out of committee on the third day of the session. On the fourth day — that'd be July 3 — they were planning to have the Calendars Committee put it on the agenda. They hoped to get a Sunday deadline for amendments to the bill — the better to look through them and plan strategy before everything got to the floor for debate on Monday. Toss at least part of that scheme in the round file: The first map laid out by management didn't pass legal muster. That delayed the committee vote, which might now be held over the July 4 holiday weekend, and could wreck the effort to put a deadline on amendments.
If House leaders still want the bill on the floor on Monday, they'll have to risk people writing amendments on the fly, dragging out the debate and trying to expose problems with the new plan that can later be exploited by lawyers attacking it in court. All because they didn't pull a map together until the last minute and didn't have time for their own lawyers to pick it apart before showing it to the public — and to the other side's lawyers.
Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, laid out a map for a late Tuesday hearing and retracted it less than 24 hours later. The redistricting panel that had hoped to pass it along for House consideration had to wait a day while the lawyers made repairs.
U.S. Rep. Martin Frost, D-Dallas, blasted King's map for attaching much of Tarrant County's Black community to a Republican district based in Denton County and now held by U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess. Frost's hit: The King map takes power away from minority voters, in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act. Less than 24 hours after introducing his map, King was asking for help from "retrogression experts" — the people who know what's legal and what's not when fiddling with districts dominated by minority voters.
King's first redistricting bill splits McLennan County, and takes away Waco's best chances for electing a resident to Congress. One district would stretch from there to Williamson County, north of Austin, and the population is concentrated on the southern side of it. The other grabs Fort Hood and stretches back up to get some of Fort Worth's Southern suburbs. That didn't require legal redrawing, although it might be redrawn for other reasons. And the House didn't have to apply the first patch: After some complaints about that, and about the lack of public hearings in that city, the Senate added Waco to its list of places for public hearings. They'll hold one on Wednesday of next week.
The King map creates an open seat that includes Midland-Odessa, which would take that community out of Lubbock's sphere of influence and give it a crack at electing its own member of Congress. The least compact district includes chunks of Eastern Harris County and stretches through Chambers, Jefferson and Orange Counties. Harris County would get two other open seats, both with majority-minority populations. Another open seat includes Fort Hood and stretches up to the southern suburbs and exurbs of Fort Worth, a configuration that is tailored for a rural Republican like Arlene Wohlgemuth of Burleson. Northeast Dallas County would get a district that might suit someone like Ken Marchant, R-Coppell.
• Sen. Teel Bivins, R-Amarillo, begged off the Jurisprudence Committee that's handling redistricting and was replaced on that panel by Sen. Todd Staples, R-Palestine. Bivins left the committee due to "family commitments." Most of the maps floated out so far this year have left Amarillo alone. Staples' part of the state, however, is right in the middle of a partisan and demographic tug-of-war. It's rural, and it's got Democrats in it, and those two characteristics have the area in play.
• The Texas Democratic Party issued this headline: "Dewhurst Pressured by Out-of-State Partisans." They were flogging national newspaper reports about Republicans elsewhere counting on Texas lawmakers to send more Republicans to Washington. They pinned their headline, apparently, on a quote from activist Grover Norquist in The New York Times: "The whole world is watching. He [Dewhurst] can't possible screw up." The Democrats never mentioned that Dewhurst is a Republican.
Rep. Phil King's first map paired federal representatives in six districts. That creates six open seats. Three are safely Republican. One, the minority district mentioned above, is slightly Republican. The other two are safely Democratic, one with a majority Hispanic population, the other with a Black/Hispanic combination that totals 70 percent of the population. In the closest election on last year's ballot — the contest for lieutenant governor — Republican David Dewhurst beat Democrat John Sharp in 26 of the districts on the King map. In 22 of those, Dewhurst got more than 55 percent of the votes. King said the map would produce 19 Republicans in Congress, "in an average election."
• Joe Barton, R-Ennis, would share CD-6 with Frost, as noted above. That district is more than 70 percent Anglo, and Republican candidates drew more than 60 percent of the votes in 2002. Frost's CD-24 would be a Dallas County district with a completely different wavelength: More than 55 percent of the residents would be Black or Hispanic, and more than half voted for Republicans in 2002.
• It pairs Republican John Culberson with Democrat Chris Bell in a solidly GOP Houston district that includes 44 percent of the Republican's current voters and only 18 percent of the Democrat's.
• Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, and Nick Lampson, D-Beaumont, would share a district tilted strongly to the Republican.
• Houston Democrats Sheila Jackson-Lee and Gene Green would be paired in a district that includes almost 80 percent of Jackson-Lee's current district.
• Freshman Republican Randy Neugebauer of Lubbock would be paired with Democrat Charlie Stenholm of Abilene. Lubbock has the population, but it's an agricultural district and some Republicans looking at the map think Stenholm could actually wrestle the seat away from Lubbock.
•Republican John Carter of Round Rock and Democrat Chet Edwards of Waco would be paired in a district made for a Williamson County Republican like Carter. Edwards would bring along a chunk of his current district, but the chunk is more Republican than the district as a whole.
Statewide Officials: Present, Departing, and Former
The state budget spends all but $98.6 million of the money that will be available during the next two years, according to Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn. That's after accounting for gubernatorial vetoes and the like, and it means the budget is in the black.
Strayhorn followed that news with a bomb, saying the Legislature muffed some dates when moving money from one fiscal year to another. If they don't fix that date moving $800 million in school funding back into the current fiscal year, she wrote, the state could hit school districts with a nasty cash flow mess. At worst, she wrote, "Some teachers might actually go without pay for a couple of weeks." That got a muted response from the Pink Building, and Gov. Perry hasn't added it to the agenda for the special session.
• Texas Secretary of State Gwyn Shea became the second high-level appointee to step down in as many weeks. She tendered her resignation from that job a week after Education Commissioner Felipe Alanis told Gov. Rick Perry he's quitting this summer. Alanis didn't say where he hopes to land. Shea, a former House member from Irving, will take a "senior advisor" position on Perry's staff to help him with "the restructuring of the executive branch and related projects." The governor, meanwhile, is looking for his third secretary of state, a post that can be a springboard to statewide political office.
• Follow-up: Former Attorney General Dan Morales will remain jailed until October, when his trial on fraud and conspiracy charges is set to begin. Why? A few days after he told a federal judge he had no monthly income, Morales filled out applications for two car loans, listing monthly incomes of at least $20,000. The October trial is on charges that Morales lied to get a mortgage loan, lied on a federal tax return, and tried to divert some of the state's tobacco settlement to himself and a friend.
Never mind what Sen. Kyle Janek said about his asbestos legislation a week ago—the Houston Republican will forge ahead with that bill during the special session.
The legislation would define who can get on a registry of asbestos victims (aginners say it would keep injured people off of the registry; supporters say it would keep people who haven't shown any damages from receiving benefits) and thus, how many people would be eligible for benefits from companies that pay for those benefits as a result of court orders and agreements. Federal legislators are working on similar legislation and could preempt whatever the state does, but you can find lawyers who tell you the federal deal still leaves room for more restrictive state laws.
Burned once during the regular session, Janek had said he wanted to hold off during the special session, gather some more support, and try again later. But since then, he's talked with some of the Austin Powers That Be, and they want him to try to get the votes together. Gov. Rick Perry added the issue to the list of eligible topics for the special session.
Janek tried to win Senate approval for the bill during the regular legislative session, but pulled it out of consideration when it became apparent he didn't have the 21 votes he needed that day. He might still be short of votes, but other nose-counters say Janek could have the right mix on a day when some senators are absent. The Senate's two-thirds rule only applies to the number of members present for the vote, and not on the number of total members. Two-thirds of 31 is 21 votes, but two-thirds of 24, for instance, is only 16. And when there is nothing exciting happening in the Senate at a particular time, the herd thins and migrates to golf courses and other places. If a certain number of "no" voters go missing, Janek could zip his bill through.
End this item with a yellow caution flag: The vote totals in the Senate are close and the status and strategy for this bill change every day, sometimes more than once. As we shut down for the long holiday weekend, Janek was hoping for a hearing early next week in committee, with a floor vote possible sometime later next week, and House action to follow after that.
All You Gotta Do is Call and They'll Be There
With the loudest bitching located, for the moment, in the House, the Senate didn't have much to do. Sure, the Jurisprudence Committee took to the road to take testimony on congressional maps, but most senators aren't on that panel. Gov. Rick Perry has just the thing: He added big chunks of the government reorganization bill that failed earlier this year to the agenda of the special session.
Perry added 28 items to the agenda, but he was selective, leaving out provisions of that legislation that were fatal a couple of months ago, like cutting the number of non-teaching employees in schools to fit a state-set formula. He added some things that he particularly wants, and assembled the list so that some things can die without wiping out everything else.
The government remodeling agenda is open to changes at legislative support agencies and offices; telephone meetings of the Legislative Budget Board instead of in-person conferences; and top-to-bottom reviews of the state's major university systems. The governor's powers could expand, if lawmakers follow Perry's lead. The agenda includes moving the state's Washington, D.C. office into the governor's office; giving the governor hiring and firing power over state agency executives in the executive branch; "streamlining" environmental regulation and permitting; and letting him makeover the boards of Parks & Wildlife and the Building and Procurement Commission.
The governor also added a couple of items that don't have anything to do with reorganization. Asbestos, as mentioned above, is one. Remember the tangle over when to move funds in the transportation bill, so as to keep the budget balanced? The fix for that is on the agenda. He'll allow lawmakers to clean up discrepancies over runoff dates and canvasses in the election code.
So far, the list doesn't include anything about the Texas Tech medical school in El Paso or the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen; he mentioned both items in his letter to legislative leaders announcing the session as possible topics. Aides said Perry isn't necessarily finished adding.
Department of Investigations, File #1
The grand jury that has been trying to investigate the political actions of the Texas Association of Business is itself out of business. Its term expired. And TAB is trying to convince Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle not to revive the issue when the next grand jury sits for its term.
Earle is waiting for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to say whether he can proceed. TAB's attorneys have asked that court to stop the inquiry, which they say violates their First Amendment rights. Prosecutors want to know whether the business group and its political action committee improperly used corporate money to promote the elections of several Republicans running last year for the Texas House, and whether that was part of an improper coordinated effort to elect House Speaker Tom Craddick. TAB's lawyers say the group's direct mail advertising didn't cross the line between issue-advertising and electioneering. They contend that if the ads were legal, then the investigation is improper and ought to be stopped.
In the meantime, a third TAB official — Executive Director Bill Hammond — was briefly held on contempt charges for defying a judge's order to appear before that grand jury. He's out on personal recognizance while the appeal is pending. Hammond said Earle is wasting taxpayer money in an effort to hurt the group's reputation. He told reporters the investigation has hurt the organization, but said no members have quit and said the affair hadn't affected the group's fundraising.
Department of Investigations, File #2
A Travis County grand jury found nothing criminal in what the Texas Department of Public Safety did last May while troopers were trying to find Democrats who scooted off to Ardmore to derail a GOP redistricting plan. After the first few days, a DPS official sent an email to employees directing them to destroy records of the investigation. The most interesting thing that survived, ironically, was the email ordering the destruction. Earle said the grand jury "had concerns, which were communicated to the appropriate officials," but added that no further action is expected.
Quick, Nurse! The Running Shoes!
Politicians with a sense of history don't ruminate for long in their hospital beds — they announce for reelection and get a picture in the local paper of themselves lifting weights or laughing with doctors or something healthy. That's what Rep. Delwin Jones, R-Lubbock, did the last time he was in the hospital. The late Sen. Tom Haywood, R-Wichita Falls, did the same. Both won reelection after they were supposedly too sick to serve. Add another member to the anti-grave-dancing squad: Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, fresh off a well-publicized heart attack that prompted doctors to put a stent in one of his veins, announced that he will, in fact, be running for reelection.
Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn pushed hard during the session to get her agency's property tax division spun off into a separate agency. She even put a positive fiscal note on that idea, saying the state would actually save money by creating a separate agency. In truth, it's a dead political weight to comptrollers, since it puts them in the position of taking blame for rising property values and doesn't give them any way to take any political credit for their trouble.
It was included in the government reorganization legislation during the regular session, but it's not on the governor's list of agenda items for the special. It could be an oversight, or might have been lumped in with other money-savers that aren't needed right now (the budget's not on the block, after all), but Strayhorn and Perry have parried over the budget certification and now, a week later, over school funding. That might have moved her wish list down a notch.
CORRECTION: Gov. Rick Perry vetoed accreditation funding at the Board of Nurse Examiners, but didn't kill that agency. The Board of Vocational Nurse Examiners died in another piece of legislation, and the governor's line-item veto was the last step in consolidating the two agencies. We left that critical word out of last week's edition and killed the wrong agency. Sorry, sorry, sorry.
Political People and Their Moves
The State Preservation Board's new director is Gaye Polan, a longtime aide to Gov. Rick Perry. She'll replace Rick Crawford, forced out by Perry and other board members after the last elections. The board oversees the Capitol and other state buildings, and runs the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum... Gov. Perry appointed Diane Vinson DeVasto of Flint to the 12th Court of Appeals, which covers a hunk of East Texas. Until now, she was a district judge in Smith County and before that, she was a municipal judge in Tyler. That term is up next year — the appointment puts her in position to run for a full one... Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, is now the chairwoman of the Senate Democratic Caucus, replacing Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, who stepped down after five years at the helm... Rep. Ray Allen, R-Grand Prairie, is recovering from triple bypass surgery that kept him from playing in his own golf tournament/fundraiser. Surgery, we're told, went just fine... The new president and chancellor of the University of Houston will be Jay Gogue, now the president at New Mexico State University. He's replacing Arthur Smith, who's leaving September 1 after more than six years at UH... Travis County Constable Bruce Elfant is the new president of the Justice of the Peace and Constables Association, which bills itself as the state's "largest association of county officials."
Deaths: Mack Wallace, a former Texas Railroad Commissioner (for 14 years), lobbyist, county prosecutor, and lawman. He was 73... Judge Charles Ben Howell, an amiable nut (he once wore a "Judge Kook" sign to a political debate) who served as a state district and then appellate judge in Dallas. He ran for a spot on the Texas Supreme Court every two years for almost a decade, but never got to the high chairs. He was 77... Former State Rep. E. Carlyle Smith Jr., a Grand Prairie Democrat who served six terms, from complications that began with a brain tumor. He was 64.
Quotes of the Week
Bill Delmore, a Harris County prosecutor, after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Texas sodomy law on a Houston case, quoted in The New York Times: "Obviously I am a little bit disappointed in the outcome because of the amount of work we put into it. But I have a lot more serious criminal offenses in files on my desk than this. It is going to be something of a relief to leave the social implications and philosophy and all that behind, and just focus on putting the bad guys in prison."
Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, presenting his first congressional redistricting map of the summer: "Obviously, this was done for political purposes... my interest in this was simply to send a few more Republican seats to Washington to hold on to a majority to assist President Bush in his endeavors."
Rep. Richard Raymond, D-Laredo, on first seeing King's new map: "This is a fake! This is a fake! The map they have just handed out is absolutely fake!"
U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, on remapping, in the Houston Chronicle: "It's only divisive to those who don't like to see the state of Texas have its rightful representation. Some people will do anything they can get away with in order to protect their political skins."
Tarrant County GOP Chairwoman Pat Carlson, quoted in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on King's new map: "No plan's perfect. But if we can come up with a plan that helps us get rid of [U.S. Rep.] Martin Frost, I'm all for it." Travis County GOP Chairman Alan Sager, in the Austin American-Statesman: "I don't care if Austin is divided eight ways as long as [U.S. Rep. Lloyd] Doggett is gone."
Tim Storey, a redistricting whiz-bang with the National Conference of State Legislatures, quoted by the Washington Post: "This is a political strategy we haven't seen before. People who study this area can't find any case in the last 100 years of mid-decade redistricting without a court order."
State Rep. Garnet Coleman, a black Democrat from Houston, putting U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay in rhetorical robes, as reported by the Houston Chronicle: "If you think he represents the interests of our people, you believe that the grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan represents our efforts."
Mac McGuire, an Austin redistricting guru (and founder of the Lake Travis Republican Men's Club), in the Austin American-Statesman: "Redistricting is simple. It doesn't get difficult until you try to protect incumbents or get rid of someone."
Texas Weekly: Volume 20, Issue 4, 7 July 2003. Ross Ramsey, Editor. George Phenix, Publisher. Copyright 2003 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.