Federal judges apparently like theme weeks as much as network television executives do.
• The Colorado Supreme Court, in a decision based on its own state constitution, decided lawmakers there shouldn't have tinkered with congressional redistricting in an off year.
• A three-person panel of federal judges will convene in Austin Tuesday to decide a similar question about the Texas Legislature's recent foray into congressional redistricting.
• The United States Supreme Court, on Wednesday, will hear a Pennsylvania case on the subject. Republicans there redid the maps to their advantage; Democrats contend the partisan gerrymandering went so far that it denied some voters any reasonable voice in congressional elections.
• On Thursday, the federal judges working on the Texas case will start up their engines for a trial on the legality of the new congressional maps drawn by lawmakers in special session. The Monday hearing is about whether the maps should have been touched in an off year; the Thursday trial is about whether those maps a re legal under all the various laws that govern this stuff.
• Into the middle of that mix, the U.S. Department of Justice could drop a grenade. Voting rights lawyers in that federal agency have been looking at the new Texas maps to see whether they think it comports with federal laws and the string of court opinions interpreting those laws. As it happens, they've got a Hanukah deadline (January 19) for rendering their opinion.
The Colorado case doesn't affect Texas, at least on legal turf, because it was a state case in another state and the laws there don't apply here. Still, lookit: The judges went through some reasoning behind their decision that's of interest to anyone — whether wearing robes or Hawaiian shirts — who's following redistricting. The Rocky Mountain State's Republicans are asking the U.S. Supremes to take the case, and if that happens, the ruling will be of interest everywhere. If they don't take the case, lawyers everywhere will make something of that. Another lookit: On the political front, Republicans hoped to pick up a couple of congressional districts in Colorado. With that prospect dimmed, the seats the GOP is hoping to harvest in Texas are all the more important to management in Washington, D.C.
The Pennsylvania case is interesting to the redistricting world, but isn't likely to affect the Texas proceedings directly. The high court usually doesn't issue opinions until summer, and the Texas elections should be well underway by then. Courts hate to interrupt elections that are in progress, so even a ruling that fell after the primaries and before the general election would be ignored, for this election cycle, in Texas. Pennsylvania could matter later (as could Colorado) if the rulings give lawyers on either side some reason to dive back into the cartography labs here.
The DOJ ruling in Texas, as we've written before, would have its biggest impact if the feds don't like what the Legislature drew. If they approve it, the attention will turn to the three federal judges, who have the final say in this. If DOJ were to disapprove some or all of the congressional plan, the teams would get to switch sides, with Democrats on offense and Republicans on defense. A thumbs-down from those folks would give the judges an easy out, if they're looking for one. They could tell lawmakers to go away and come back later, with a map that passes muster at Justice.
A tangent: Texas Democrats have been questioning the partisan leanings of the DOJ under George W. Bush, but Republicans say this is old stuff. Redistricting done in 1991, 1981 and 1971 went to lawyers working for Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, all Republicans. In Texas, the plans drawn in those years all favored Democrats, even as the state trended Republican.
Maps Drawn, While You Wait
All of those other hearings and trials are important, but they're peripheral to the big show — the trial set to begin late next week over the content of the new maps drawn in a special legislative session.
The three-judge panel will be looking at some of the same issues getting knocked around now at the Justice Department, but under much tighter deadlines than DOJ faced. And the judges, unlike the DOJ's lawyers, have the power to redo the Legislature's work.
The judges are working against the clock, particularly if they find problems with the congressional districts approved by lawmakers at the end of the third special session. The hearings on the contents of the maps start two weeks to the day before Christmas, and that week is followed, for most people, by another three-day week truncated by New Year's Day celebrations.
That's why the judges fiddled with filing deadlines for the congressional races. They won't let candidates file for Congress in the new districts until next month, and the confusion is immense. If the judges decide to fiddle with the lines drawn by lawmakers, it'll get more confusing as candidates decide whether they're still interested in whatever puzzle pieces come out of court.
The filing for most of next year's elections is already underway and will stop on January 2. The judges already opened the filing window to give candidates more time to decide whether they'll run, but they did so in a way that's awkward for some candidates, who'll have to file to run for offices that might or might not be available when new maps are approved and candidates at the top of the food chains make some decisions. Candidate A might want to be in the statehouse, but only if Candidate B is leaving to run for Congress. But B won't know until there's a map, and the filing period for the office A desires might be closed by then. To cover, they'll both have to file for the statehouse office, with B hoping to drop off that list to run for Congress, and A hoping not to have to decide between dropping out and facing an incumbent. You can find variations of that all over the state, and a couple of areas are juggling that and a couple of special elections for the state Senate at the same time.
Candidates, election clerks and others who've been in the middle of this say it's a mess. They'll work it out: In 1991, the maps came out of court on Christmas Eve, and everybody figured it out in time to make their political moves.
Related: The federal judges say U.S. Reps. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, and Joe Barton, R-Ennis, don't have to testify on redistricting, yet. Until the judges decide that they'll go ahead with the case — that's one of the things to be decided early in the week — they can't rightly say that testimony from the congressmen is needed. For now, that's on hold.
The Midland group that's trying to get the state to lease it land in the Chihuahuan Desert got an earful from west Texas ranchers and others who showed up at an Alpine hearing. The group wants to pay the state for the land, then sell the water it pulls out. The prices don't appear to work — at least in the current market — but they're still talking, and Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson is still interested in bringing in some money for the state's permanent school fund.
In the meantime, some of the details are starting to emerge. The General Land Office put out a copy of the contract "form" so lawyers can start tearing into it. Business people will have a harder time, though, since none of the numbers are filled in. Opponents say the land office should open the process to bids if the water leases are viable, and want to see some numbers on what a big water extraction will do to their part of the state.
They're also sweating about regulating a deal once it's signed. Local water districts will have jurisdiction in their own territory, but they're concerned that the leases will include areas that don't have local water districts. That would allow a company like Rio Nuevo to get to the water without running it by the locals. The contract form is available online at the GLO's site, under this address: www.glo.state.tx.us/events . Look under "Special meeting of the School Land Board in Alpine."
State legislators who can sit still might be in for some rewards if the pace of promotions and resignations keeps up. When a seat opens, candidates jump. But when a committee chair or a plum assignment is left open, legislators jump.
F'rinstance, the Senate is suddenly without chairmen for Finance and State Affairs, two of the heavy-hitting committees in that body.
Sen. Teel Bivins, R-Amarillo, finally got the appointment he's been waiting for; President George W. Bush nominated him to be U.S. Ambassador to Sweden. The U.S. Senate will get the final say in that, but Bivins followed the first announcement with a second: He'll quit on January 12. Bivins is chairman of Senate Finance and his departure leaves that coveted position open. Sens. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, and Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, are among the names often mentioned for that spot. On a related note, Ogden knocked down speculation he'd run for Congress by telling local reporters he'll remain in the Senate.
Sen. Bill Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, is resigning and leaving that second spot open. He's resigning at the same time, too, setting up a special election that Gov. Rick Perry has set for January 20.
Aides to Perry say that special election date allows candidates to file between December 8 and December 22, and for early voting to hit a window that doesn't include any holidays. Early voting will run from January 5 to January 16. Ratliff is resigning on January 10, Bivins on the 12th. There is no legal reason to put the special elections on the same date, but it would save a little money since the Secretary of State has to staff both contests. And it would allow the replacement senators to get campaigns out of the way in time for a spring special session on school finance.
Bivins is the last of the three Republicans who got front seats for the switch from a Democratic Senate to a Republican one. He, David Sibley of Waco, and/or Ratliff were involved in almost every major issue that came up during the 1990s. They came in within months of each other, and they're leaving the same way (Sibley didn't run for reelection after the 2001 session). Bivins was chairman of the Senate Education Committee before taking over at Finance; he and Ratliff had the most experience on those two issues in the Senate and both are leaving on the eve of a session on just those areas.
Quitting, or Just Taking a Break?
With the exception of the Speaker of the House, members of the lower chamber don't get the regular attention Senators and statewide officials get. So it's often big news when a prominent senator leaves but less noteworthy, somehow, when a House member quits. We saw an exception this week.
The House is losing Rep. Steve Wolens, D-Dallas, who has played the part of Smartest Kid in Class almost since he got to Austin 23 years ago, barely into his thirties. Though he's something of a political loner, Wolens has been involved in all but two of the Legislature's major subject areas — school finance and budgeting — over those two decades, leading members through thickets of utility law and political ethics and securities regulation and other policy areas while nurturing a reputation as a dangerous opponent in a floor debate on almost any subject. He'll hang it up at the end of next year, but hints he'll be back, saying he remains interested in policy and the Legislature. Wolens' wife, Dallas Mayor Laura Miller, is often mentioned as a potential statewide candidate, but he's more familiar with state issues and could show up on a future statewide ballot himself. "I just love this stuff, and there will be a time when there's a chance to do it some more," he says.
The Dallas Democrat, who backed the former speaker over the current one a year ago, lost his major committee chairmanship. Nevertheless, Speaker Tom Craddick — who sat next to Wolens for years — put him in charge of ethics and campaign legislation as chairman of a select committee. Wolens says no particular thing triggered his decision to leave now. He thought about doing this two years ago, waiting until late in the game to file for reelection, but decided to have another go.
Pencil in this name in the replacement area on your scorecard: Rafael Anchia, an attorney who's now on the Dallas ISD board. He's not in the race yet, but he's looking.
Candidates on Parade
Jean Killgore is joining the race for HD-17 now that Rep. Robby Cook III, D-Eagle Lake, has decided not to run. Kilgore, a Republican, says she's been looking at the race for some time but had agreed to step aside if Cook would switch parties and run for reelection as a Republican. He decided not to switch or to run again, and she'll take a crack at the open seat. Kilgore ran against Cook last year, losing with about 42 percent of the votes cast.
She won't be alone, and she won't be the only candidate with some ballot experience. Cynthia Thornton, a former high school government and economics teacher who's now a member of the State Board of Education, filed for a spot on the ballot. She doesn't like the "deal-making" that went on around the Cook switch and says she wouldn't have agreed to stay out of the race to protect him or anyone else from competition. She says primaries exist to get rid of back-room deals; don't be surprised if this emerges as a campaign issue.
Republicans were trying to assure Cook that he'd have a clear sea if he'd sail under their flag, while Democrats were telling him that any Republican would beat him in a Republican primary, simply by saying he'd gone to Ardmore and they hadn't. Thornton says she didn't decide whether to run until after he'd announced his retirement, but she says she wouldn't have stayed out on his account.
• Rep. Kino Flores, D-Mission, says he won't run for Congress in a new district that stretches from the Border to Austin unless the fundraising gets better in a hurry. He says he's got a good organization and that the support is there, but says the fundraising has been slow. He filed for reelection to the Texas House, leaving open the possibility he'll run for Congress but saying he won't wait forever. Flores says many of the financial donors on his end of that district want to wait and see what the federal judges do with the maps before they start writing checks.
Meanwhile, Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, is still considering a run. The district's population balance is in the South, but only slightly, and it's three-quarters Hispanic. If Flores or another serious candidate doesn't run from the South, he's interested. He'd get a freebie: His Senate seat isn't up next year, so he'd either get a spot in Congress or return to his spot in the Texas Senate. U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, is also plotting a run in CD-25 if the new maps hold; Barrientos says he won't challenge Doggett in the congressman's current district, but says Doggett's presence in the CD-25 race wouldn't be a factor in his decision on that one. The two have tangled before, most recently when Jake Pickle quit the U.S. House and Doggett won his place; Barrientos ended up not running for that spot.
• Former Sen. Richard Anderson, a Democrat who unexpectedly lost to a Republican challenger named Bill Ratliff all those years ago, is looking at the special election to replace Ratliff. Filing in that election starts next week. Also looking: former state Rep. Jerry Yost, a Republican... State Rep. Tommy Merritt, R-Longview, has filed for reelection to his House seat, but he'll likely be filing again soon, for the Ratliff seat. If he wins the Senate contest, he can give up the House race in time for the Republican Party to get another candidate on the ballot before November.
• Rep. Patrick Rose, D-Dripping Springs, was expecting Republican opponents and he's got two so far. Alan Askew, a homebuilder and rancher from Wimberly, and Martin Harry, an Austin attorney, have both filed their papers and put on their running shoes...
• Rep. John Mabry, D-Waco, is similarly situated as a Democrat in conservative territory. He's drawn three opponents on the GOP side so far, including Charles "Doc" Anderson of Robinson, a veterinarian who lost in the GOP primary last year; Danny Smith, a retired Department of Public Safety commander from Lorena; and Stacie Virden, a Waco optometrist...
The number of state agency employees dropped by about 2,100 during the last year, according to the state auditor, but the average annual number of FTEs, including higher education employees, increased slightly over the last year and rose 14 percent over the last ten years.
(A Glossary Moment: FTEs are Full Time Equivalents — the number of people it would take, working full time, to cover all of the paid work hours it takes to run the show. It's not a count of actual employees — a number that would include part-timers — but a count of how many full-timers it would take to cover what the full-and part-time and temporary employees are doing.)
Higher education has 28 percent more FTEs than it did in 1993 (although only 54 percent of the FTEs now working at state colleges and schools are paid out of the state budget). The biggest increase in the government has come in prisons and public safety, where the numbers rose 53 percent over the last decade. The biggest decrease was in health and human services agencies, which have 19 percent fewer FTEs, on an annual average basis, than ten years ago. State government employment accounts for 53 percent of the total FTEs; 47 percent are in colleges and universities.
Now the big numbers: During the 2003 fiscal year (which ended in August), the state had an average of 280,542 FTEs, up from 276,857 a year earlier. At the end of the fiscal year, the state had 245,222 FTEs, including 245,22 full-timers and 51,050 part-timers.
John Hannah Jr.
Federal Judge John Hannah Jr., who served in the Texas House (a member of the Dirty 30 that ran down House Speaker Gus Mutscher) in the early 1970s, died after a heart attack while out of state at a legal conference. He was Angelina County's district attorney, general counsel for Common Cause after that, and then President Jimmy Carter appointed him U.S. Attorney for the state's eastern district. He prosecuted more than two dozen public officials and continued building a reputation for upholding ethics in public life. He lost a race for state attorney general in 1982, and stayed out of government until becoming Texas Secretary of State under Gov. Ann Richards with the mission of reforming state ethics laws during a scandal that enveloped then-Speaker Gib Lewis. Hannah became a federal judge on President Bill Clinton's watch in 1994. He later was elevated to chief federal judge for the eastern part of the state. Hannah was one of the three federal judges who drew the congressional maps now in use in Texas after the Legislature failed to act in 2001; he didn't rejoin the group for this year's trials. Hannah, husband of U.S. Judge Magistrate Judith Guthrie, was 64. Services were set for Monday morning in Tyler (and the redistricting hearings set for that day in Austin have been reset to Tuesday).
Flotsam & Jetsam
Add 60 more school districts — the poor ones this time — to the pending lawsuit challenging the state's school finance system. They contend the state isn't putting enough money into the system to educate kids, as required by the constitution. Richer districts say the state, by capping tax rates and skimming their budgets to fund poorer schools, leaves them short of what it takes to run a constitutional education system.
• Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst added two Democrats and a close friend to the Sunset Advisory Commission, naming Sens. Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso and John Whitmire of Houston, and attorney Howard Wolf to that panel. Two Republican senators — Mike Jackson of Pasadena and Jane Nelson of Flower Mound — are already on the commission. Wolf, Dewhurst's campaign treasurer, is a partner at Fulbright and Jaworski, but is planning to retire from that post at the end of the month.
• Former Austin Mayor Kirk Watson, a Democrat who lost last year's race for attorney general, is taking a new high-profile position; he's chairman-elect of the Austin Chamber of Commerce.
• DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS: A friendly reader caught us misspelling the name of Houston Republican Austen Furse, who might run for Congress in the new CD-2, if the courts approve the maps. Sorry, sorry, sorry.
Political People and Their Moves
Happy Holidays, and Poof! You're an appellate judge: Gov. Rick Perry appointed Felipe Reyna of Waco to the 10th Court of Appeals. And he named Thomas Wayne Gray the chief justice of that court. Gray's been on that panel since 1999; Reyna has been running his own law practice. He'll have to run next year to keep that posting...
Robert Pemberton, an attorney and the governor's former deputy general counsel, is Perry's pick for an open spot on the 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin. Pemberton was also a briefing attorney for Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Phillips, and he's already cranked up his election campaign to try to keep the job for more than a year. In fact, he announced for the job before the appointment was announced, saying he'd been interviewed and was under "final consideration" at the time...
The Guv is promoting Adele Hedges to chief justice of the 14th Court of Appeals in Houston. She's been a justice on that court since 1992...
Lori Massey of San Antonio is Perry's pick to be judge of the 288th Judicial District Court. She's an attorney at Haynes & Boone and a former Texas Supreme Court briefing attorney...
Press corps moves: Mark Langford, who left United Press International to work for then-Speaker Pete Laney, is rejoining the news ranks; he'll be assistant state editor at the San Antonio Express-News...
Houston Chronicle reporter Armando Villafranca is leaving the Austin bureau to return to the mother ship. He'll be an assistant city editor in Houston. No replacement has been named...
Dave McNeely, the Austin American-Statesman's political columnist, has a new online supplement that'll include breaking news and political tidbits that often don't make it through a daily paper's condensation process. The plan is to update it frequently, as things of interest occur. The address is www.statesman.com/ insidetexaspolitics/...
David Guenthner, the managing editor of the Lone Star Report, is leaving that publication after six years to open a public affairs communications shop. William Lutz moves up to the ME's job...
M.J. Nicchio, who worked on the Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee during the legislative session(s), is leaving for the Texas Association of School Boards, where he'll join the legislative shop...
Susan Durso, a former legislative attorney and aide, is moving to the Texas Residential Construction Commission, where she'll be general counsel, from the Public Utility Commission, where she's got that same title...
Quotes of the Week
U.S. Rep. Jim Leach, R-Iowa, quoted in The New Yorker on redistricting's effect on Congress: "A little less than four hundred seats are totally safe, which means that there is competition between Democrats and Republicans only in about ten or fifteen per cent of the seats... redistricting has made Congress a more partisan, more polarized place. The American political system today is structurally geared against the center, which means that the great majority of Americans feel left out of the decision-making process."
Louisiana beer and liquor lobbyist George Brown, quoted in The Wall Street Journal: "It's unfortunately true that some people abuse alcohol, but people abuse fast cars, too, and sometimes they get themselves killed. I just don't believe we should be passing laws telling people how to live."
Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley, quoted in the Houston Chronicle: "The idea of a penal code is to have broad categories and leave it to prosecutors. You can't come up with a list of all the dumb things people do."
Lanny Dreesen, spokesman for the Texas Christmas Tree Growers Association, on being told by the San Antonio Express-News that the Texas House has an artificial tree this year: "Oh no, oh no... I wonder if they ate plastic turkey for Thanksgiving last week?"
Nadine Craddick, wife of Speaker Tom Craddick, explaining, in the same paper: "It's a lot less work. A real tree can dry out and shed, and I understand that in the past, sometimes bugs would come in with these trees, so we decided to do something a little bit different this year."
Sheriff's Capt. Larry Locke, announcing that he'll run against his uncle, the incumbent Dallas County Sheriff, in next year's Republican primary, quoted in the Dallas Morning News: "I am related to Sheriff [Jim] Bowles by blood, not by management style."
Texas Weekly: Volume 20, Issue 25, 8 December 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.