With Gov. Rick Perry out of the state and U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay on the scene to bridge the gap between lawmakers on either end of the Texas Capitol, Republicans finally ended their 10-month quest for a congressional redistricting map that's kinder to their candidates.
Now that they've got a map (assuming it'll pass both houses), they're ready to start fighting the legal battle that will precede next year's elections.
DeLay's House-to-Senate-to-House shuttle produced a map that imperils ten Democrats in the Texas delegation to Congress. If all were to fall to Republicans, the current mix of 17 Democrats and 15 Republicans would be replaced with a 22-10 mix in favor of the GOP, after three new Democratic seats are added.
The Republicans, who started working on this right after last November's elections, said they wanted the delegation to reflect an electorate that put Republicans in each of the statewide offices in Texas and gave the GOP 58 percent of the state House and 61 percent of the state Senate. (The DeLay map would give the GOP 69 percent of the congressional delegation.)
Two obstacles remain before the map can be used in elections. First, the maps coming out of the Pink Building in Austin have to be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice, which most Republicans and Democrats think will be a no-brainer, considering who's in charge of the executive branch of the U.S. government at the moment. The second obstacle is in federal court, where outcomes are unpredictable.
Lawyers will argue this six ways from Sunday, but they'll likely include some of these points, in no particular order of importance:
• Should maps drawn by legislators two years late take precedence over maps drawn on time by a three-judge panel and approved all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court?
• Is it okay, given the Voting Rights Act, to wipe out a Democratic district with high minority population in Dallas County, sending many of those voters into a new Republican district, while creating a new Democratic minority district in Harris County? Through the lens of federal law, is the net gain a fair tradeoff for the loss of minority voter power in Dallas?
• Is it legal to draw maps in a way that results in contests that can only elect Democrats who are minorities, and that tends to elect Republicans only when they are Anglos? Democrats, with an eye on recent Supreme Court decisions, say the DeLay map could easily wipe out all of the Anglo Democrats in the congressional delegation and box Democrats into districts that can only be won by minorities. Republicans say race isn't the issue and that not all minority voters are Democrats, and say the Democrats have been doing a variation on what they decry, by rarely drawing seats that can be won by minority Republicans like Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio.
• Did lawmakers commit a foul when they cut Webb County in half, protecting a Republican Hispanic while cutting the number of Hispanic voters in his district?
• Is it possible for someone to represent the interests of a district that stretches from the Texas-Mexico border, through rural South Texas, into San Antonio and into Austin, or will the courts say the communities of interest in the proposed CD-25 are too different for that district to work.
• Is rural Texas unfairly cut out of the proposed map, which reflects huge losses of influence for voters in rural East and West Texas, or is that just a reflection of the relative population gains in the area that stretches from Dallas-Fort Worth to Houston to San Antonio to Austin and back to Dallas?
The GOP attacked a congressional map that produced 17 Democrats and 15 Republicans last November, hoping to break incumbents' holds on Democratic districts. If the map survives, the next Texas congressional delegation could have as many as 22 Republicans and as few as 10 Democrats.
On the chopping block are ten Democrats, some of whom represent minority districts, but all of whom are Anglos. They get the axe in different ways, either through pairings pitting incumbent against incumbent, or by cartography that leaves Democrats representing districts that have been redrawn to favor Republicans. The DeLay map has five open seats. Two are at least two-thirds Anglo and Republican statewide candidates won the closest races there with at least 61.5 percent of the vote. One, CD-11, is anchored in Midland; it's the seat House Speaker Tom Craddick, a Midland Republican, was holding out for. The other, CD-24, is a Dallas County seat drawn to wipe out U.S. Rep. Martin Frost, D-Dallas, and to be winnable by a candidate like state Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Carrollton.
Three open seats were drawn to favor Democrats, so long as they're not incumbent Democrats. CD-9, in Harris County, is solidly Democratic; 38.3 percent of the population is Black, and 32.8 percent is Hispanic. CD-25 stretches from the Texas-Mexico border in Hidalgo and Starr counties all the way north to downtown Austin. It's also solidly Democratic and 68.6 percent of the residents are Hispanic. CD-29 is an open seat in Harris County, solidly Democratic and 66.1 percent Hispanic.
The Hit List
Ten incumbent Anglo Democrats would be in trouble on the new map:
• Max Sandlin, D-Marshall, would find himself in a redrawn CD-1 where 55.1 percent of the voters favored Republican David Dewhurst over Democrat John Sharp in the closest ballot-top race last November. On average, statewide Republicans got 63 percent of the vote in the new district last November. Sandlin has run in what looks like GOP territory before, but not this strongly GOP.
• Gene Green of Houston and Nick Lampson of Beaumont would be paired and if that's not enough, the winner of that potential primary would face a challenger in a strongly Republican district. In last year's Lite Guv race, Dewhurst got 57.2 percent of the votes in the new CD-2.
• CD-4 puts Ralph Hall of Rockwall in Republican territory, but he's won there before and might survive. The district goes Republican the minute he retires, though.
• This version of CD-6 features a three-way fight between Republican Joe Barton of Ennis, Martin Frost, D-Dallas, and Jim Turner, D-Crockett. It's Republican territory, and the population base favors DFW suburbs, where Barton already has a base. Dewhurst got 58.7 percent from voters here last November and the population is more than two-thirds Anglo.
• Houston Reps. Chris Bell and John Culberson would be paired in the new CD-7, and it's drawn to preemptively favor Culberson. Bell could move to another district – CD-9 is an adjacent empty seat – but he would almost certainly face opposition in a primary and in a district designed to elect a Black politician to the U.S. Congress.
• U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Austin isn't paired with anyone in his district, but it's not really in Austin and it is hostile territory for a liberal. Dewhurst got 56.4 percent of the vote in the new district (compared with 32.9 percent in Doggett's current district). Only 40.3 percent of his old district is included in his new one, according to the Texas Legislative Council.
• Chet Edwards of Waco would lose Fort Hood, the biggest political asset in his current district. Edwards was threatened on the current map and the new map increases the danger by taking away the military base and redrawing it into conservative rural country stretching from suburban Dallas to College Station (where Edwards went to school and might have some Aggie support). He'll face Dot Snyder, a former Waco school board president who's already hiring consultants.
• Finally, there's CD-19, where Charlie Stenholm of Abilene is paired with Republican Randy Neugebauer of Lubbock. Neugebauer is a freshman and Stenholm has fended off tough challenges for years, but this district is more Republican than the last and it forces the Democrat into new territory.
Spring and Fall
Redistricting maps, in recent history, make legislative and congressional races less competitive. Districts are drawn to favor Republicans or Democrats and lawmakers rarely set out to create intensely competitive districts, at least in the November elections. They draw maps that leave, for instance, a Texas Senate with only two seats out of 31 that could swing from one party to the other, or a House with only a dozen seats or so out of 150 that could slide either way. March elections can still be fierce, if two Republicans or two Democrats lock up in their respective primaries, but not November.
If they approve this map, and the courts don't kill it, more congressional elections in Texas will be settled in the spring, at least by the numbers.
In the DeLay map, three of the 32 congressional districts are what you could reasonably call close, by the numbers, in contests between Republicans and Democrats. The new CD-23, represented by Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio, leans Republican: David Dewhurst beat John Sharp 51.3 to 48.7 last November. Dewhurst got 52.7 percent of the vote in CD-14, represented by Ron Paul, R-Surfside, and he got 54.7 percent in CD-21, where Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, resides.
Don't go blaming the Republicans, though, because the Democrats only drew four November districts out of 30 when they were in charge. Dewhurst got 48.9 percent in the current map in CD-9, represented by Nick Lampson, D-Beaumont, 49.3 percent in Paul's current district, 51.3 percent in the current CD-1, represented by Max Sandlin, D-Marshall, and 50.9 percent in CD-2, represented by Jim Turner, D-Crockett.
You have to say goofy things when you're in public office, and context is everything. House Speaker Tom Craddick held out for two weeks to get a congressional seat drawn so that someone with a Midland address could get a spot in Congress. Right now, they share with Lubbock. Lubbock's people keep winning races, and Midland has had enough. Craddick won that scrap.
But when they were announcing the deal, Gov. Rick Perry was asked if it's really fair to have three districts on the map that reach from the Texas-Mexico border to the state Capitol (or to adjacent counties). "The idea that somehow or another you don't live right on, or right in, a particular area, that you cannot represent their needs and their interests is inappropriate."
Perry also told reporters that the numbers won't determine election results, and to rely on what voters do when they go to the polls. That's been a difference all along, but it's one the Democrats have promoted. They've spent the year buttonholing everyone they could find to say that voters in five of the current districts in Texas voted to keep Democrats in Congress even while they were splitting their tickets and voting for people like Perry, George W. Bush, John Cornyn and Greg Abbott.
Their argument: Twenty of the current districts are Republican – statistically speaking – but the voters there support the Democrats they've got in Congress. Republicans point out that incumbency in Texas is worth seven percentage points, give or take, on Election Day. Perry told reporters not to rely on stats: "I will put my faith in the voters... That's who makes the final decision, not someone who tries to say statistically what the voters will do."
• Gov. Rick Perry went to New York and was ringing the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange on the Monday he had previously labeled the "drop dead" deadline for redistricting. The absence didn't make a difference, since negotiators trying to sync the House and Senate bills were deadlocked. And nothing dropped dead. When Perry got back on Wednesday night, U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Republican legislative leaders had a map just about done.
• State Rep. Jack Stick, R-Austin, is not ruling out a run for Congress, but he says he likes what he's doing here and might seek reelection. Stick lives in a part of Travis County that's included in a congressional district that would reach all the way to Houston (state Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, described it as "a surrealist artist's rendering of some kind of prehistoric animal"). It's a Republican district, and many of his House colleagues think it's tailor made for him.
Eeny, Meeny, Miney, Moe...
Put former Texas Secretary of State Henry Cuellar on the list of possible candidates for Congress, but leave the column identifying the district blank for now.
He's been gearing up for a race for Congress, contingent on the layouts for new districts, and is poring over the new map to see what's what. His hometown, Laredo, was split by Republican mapmakers who feared for the political life of U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio.
Bonilla beat Cuellar by about 6,500 votes last November, and wanted a little more wiggle room. Cuellar has been contemplating a rematch.
To protect the incumbent, State Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, split Webb County – the population center of the district – with a floor amendment when the Senate passed its redistricting bill. He said that's what Bonilla had asked him to do. Sen. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, called Bonilla and then went on the floor to say Wentworth was wrong – that Bonilla wanted Laredo left whole. Staples, author of the redistricting bill, then left the split county alone in the conference committee.
There's more to this: When the Senate bill passed, House Speaker Tom Craddick said the Webb County split endangered the bill legally. Now that it's in the DeLay map, state Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, says splitting that county was the only way to add a minority district. The argument is that there was more good done with the knife than damage.
If it stands, Cuellar has the choice of running against the San Antonio Republican who'll represent the Western half of Webb County, or against the Democratic incumbent – U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez of San Antonio – who represents the Eastern half of the county.
Cuellar's house is in Bonilla's district on the DeLay map, but you don't have to live in the district you want to represent in this round, so he's looking at both districts to find the most compatible one.
Change of Venue
Look at the legislative clock and it appears that Democrats are in position to do something truly damaging to redistricting. The session ends at midnight Tuesday, at the very latest, and that small window of time could easily be eaten up with parliamentary tricks, walkouts, filibusters, chubbing and any number of other delaying tricks. But there's a flaw in the logic. The Republicans have a map in hand, and they could simply come back on Wednesday and slam it through in a fourth special session that doesn't offer Democrats the ability to manipulate the clock. Democrats actually have a better chance of killing the DeLay map if they get it out of the Legislature and into the courts.
The Legislature has the power to push back the congressional primaries, and delays in drawing maps could be translated into later and later primaries. That could go on for months. The courts, on the other hand, have the power to decide whether new or old maps should be used in the next elections, and that's probably the best shot the Democrats have at getting another election out of the current maps. The courts might help them; the Lege won't.
The Republicans are loading up, anyhow. They've been talking for weeks about delaying the March primaries, which would effectively take Texas Democrats out of the process of choosing their party's presidential nominee. Now they're saying there still might be time to get this all done and preserve the March 2 "Super Tuesday" election date, but only if the Lege acts quickly. Delays caused by Democrats, they're saying, could cause delays in the primary dates.
Make a note: The new rules approved by the Senate bring sanctions against members who go for more than three days without an excused absence when there is a "call" on the Senate seeking a quorum. The rule is different at the end of regular sessions and during special elections, however. There is no three-day grace period. A quorum-busting Senate walkout now could cost the walkouts all of their seniority in the Senate, some of their funding, and so on.
A Different Sort of School Finance Reform
Remember when the Legislature added local politicians to the financial reporting requirements of the ethics bill? Members of local school boards and city councils in all but the smallest towns have to report their personal finances to the Texas Ethics Commission, just like their counterparts in state politics. They don't like that idea, and their trade groups – the Texas Municipal League and the Texas Association of School Boards – were both lobbying Gov. Rick Perry to veto the legislation.
The first time it came up, Perry said he favored the provision and thought the locals ought to disclose their personal finances. He didn't give the groups the veto they were seeking, but he might get another bite at it. A late-breaking provision in the government reorganization bill would repeal the provision regarding school trustees, letting those officials off the hook. Aides to Perry say he's against the repeal, but not so much so that he would veto a government reorganization bill that has other provisions he likes.
School boards around the state are faxing legislators to try to win their support, and some of the people backing other provisions of the government reorganization bill think the local pressure will help. A bill that would have done the same thing was signed by almost two thirds of the members of the House, according to Rep. David Swinford, R-Dumas, before it died in the House Elections Committee. An attempt to add the repeal in the Senate failed. But it's back, school boards like it, and the members would like to keep their local officials happy.
But it's risky to kill open government laws when local reporters are watching, or when voters think it's a special deal to help local pols hide. Campaigns for People, a campaign finance advocacy outfit, contends the disclosures would prevent local officials from intentional and accidental conflicts that occur when they vote for things that might benefit them personally. Local political types say the unwillingness to disclose personal financial info could keep good candidates from running for office. It's easier to weigh in on issues like this when nobody's paying attention.
In any case, the House and Senate would have to vote first to let the conference committee "go outside the bounds" of the original bill, adding items that weren't in versions of the legislation that passed either the House or the Senate. This is one item like that; another would speed up the dates for creation of some new courts around the state.
• Steve Salyer, a physician's assistant from Universal City (that's the northern San Antonio suburb and not the movie studio), says he'll challenge state Rep. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, in next year's elections. Salyer, a Desert Storm veteran (Army) and a Republican, works at the University of Texas Health Science Center. He got the politics bug working on legislation with the P.A.'s trade group.
• Things that make you go hmmmmm... The George Bush Award for Excellence in Public Service this year is going to U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, who has lately been warring with George W. Bush over the president's foreign policy. The award goes through Texas A&M – home of the original President Bush's official library and of a grad school in public affairs named for the former president. Previous winners: former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Some conservative groups hollered foul until they found out who does the choosing for that award: It's the former president himself, without any committees or functionaries.
• Outgoing Texas Democratic Party Chairwoman Molly Beth Malcolm (she's resigning, effective later this month) endorsed retired Gen. Wesley Clark for president, following a passel of Texas legislators into that corral. Malcolm cited the experience of having a stepson in Iraq.
• A clarification is in order on last week's item on drinking at the Texas Motor Speedway. You can buy a beer there, but not in the grandstands. And you can't take beer bought at the track into the grandstands. A change made in the regular legislative session would allow drinks sold on site to be consumed in the grandstands, unless that change is undone in the government reorganization bill being considered during the current special session.
Political People and Their Moves
The other guy charged with trying to cut some money out of the state's $17 billion tobacco settlement – attorney Marc Murr – pleaded guilty to mail fraud and will be sentenced in December. Murr was indicted along with former Texas Attorney General Dan Morales. Federal prosecutors said the two tried to cut Murr in on the attorney fees in the state's case against tobacco companies and planned for Morales to share in those proceeds. No money ever went to Murr, but the two men were indicted on related charges. Morales pleaded guilty to mail fraud and tax evasion charges earlier this year; he'll be sentenced in a few weeks...
President George W. Bush appointed Dr. Jose Manuel de la Rosa to serve on the U.S.-Mexico Border Health Commission. De la Rosa is the regional dean of the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center at El Paso, and will join three others on the U.S. side – from New Mexico, Arizona and California – on that bi-national panel...
Craig Enoch, until a few days ago a justice on the Texas Supreme Court, is joining the Austin office of Winstead Sechrest & Minick. He's been a judge for more than two decades, and will help in the firm's appellate, lobbying and litigation operations. Enoch's replacement on the court hasn't been appointed by Gov. Rick Perry, who can avoid the trouble of seeking quick Senate consent by waiting until the legislative session is over to name a new justice...
After nine years at the helm of the University of Texas at Dallas, Franklyn Jenifer is retiring. Jenifer, the first Black president of a UT System school, oversaw UTD's transition to a four-year school. He'll stick around until a replacement is found...
The Texas Association of Business hired Lucinda Saxon from the State Office of Risk Management to do their workers' compensation lobbying. She's replacing Richard Evans, who'll now be working on health care issues, which had been covered by Luke Bellsnyder, who returned to Sen. Florence Shapiro's staff...
The marketing director of the Texas Lottery, Toni Smith, has quit that post. Lottery officials wouldn't comment; they're starting the search for a replacement...
Deaths: Former Texas Rep. Anita Hill of Garland, who was a Republican in the House when those were few and far between. She was 75.... Tommy Dawson, husband of Rep. Glenda Dawson, R-Pearland, after a long illness. He was 70...
Quotes of the Week
U.S. Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, quoted in the Houston Chronicle after the House and Senate agreed to a map: "You could say I'm very satisfied."
U.S. Rep. Martin Frost, D-Dallas, quoted by the Associated Press on the DeLay map: "The Republicans decided to shoot the moon," he said. "They decided to eliminate the maximum number of Democrats. They run the risk of instead of getting seven of us, they will get zero."
House Speaker Tom Craddick, after the deal was cut: "We've got a better map for Texas. Both bodies are pleased. Obviously, no side got 100 percent of what they wanted, but I think that we are in great shape legally."
U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson, D-Beaumont, tossing several redistricting maps in the air at a press conference, quoted in the Austin American-Statesman: "I'm sick and tired of redistricting. This makes no sense to any of us. I've spend months looking over the map du jour. Where's the sense of any of this?"
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, quoted in the Austin American-Statesman, on whether the Senate would reconsider redistricting if it passes a plan that's then declared illegal by the feds: "This is the last bite at the apple. If our lawyers tell us our plan is legally defensible, we're going on to address school finance, Medicaid reform and other issues. And the governor's office and the congressional delegation understand and agree that the Senate's not going to take up this issue again."
Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, in a Houston Chronicle story about opposition to a housing project in her district: "My constituents bought their homes, invested time and money, are having their children and volunteering in schools to have a sense of community. To have an invasion by a situation with low to moderate-income housing, which traditionally always brings crime and traffic, simply flies into the face of everything they have been working for. I will fight this with everything I've got."
If lawmakers finish their business in a semi-orderly fashion this weekend, we'll take a week off to recover, along with everybody else, from a long, long, long summer. (The Daily News Clips will continue without a break.) If they drive off the road and continue to make news, we'll be back next week. Otherwise, we'll be back in two. Thanks.
Texas Weekly: Volume 20, Issue 18, 13 October 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.