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The Single Most Political Thing They Do

In politics, the crayon is mightier than the ballot. A political mapmaker can do more to change the power structure than a herd of consultants with fat bank accounts behind them. And 2011 will be the Year of the Mapmakers.

In politics, the crayon is mightier than the ballot. A political mapmaker can do more to change the power structure than a herd of consultants with fat bank accounts behind them. And 2011 will be the Year of the Mapmakers.

They'll take the new census numbers — Texas is expected to have a population of more than 25 million — and use them to draw new congressional and legislative districts for the state. The last time this was done, in 2003, Republican mappers took control of the U.S. House by peeling away enough seats from the Democrats to give the GOP the numbers it needed for a majority.

Now, Texas is poised to add up to four seats to its congressional delegation. And early numbers indicate political bad news ahead for West Texas and other areas that haven't kept up with the state's phenomenal growth.

"The mistake is to ask, 'Where will they go?'" says Matt Angle, a Texas Democratic consultant based in Washington. "What's really important in Texas is who." He says the Anglo population has grown (according to early estimates) by about 3 percent, while the Hispanic population is up 50 percent over the decade, and the black population is up 21 percent. "If the whole state was growing at the rate of the Anglo population, we would only get one seat."

Republicans agree with some of that. Republican consultant Craig Murphy, who like Angle is a veteran of several redistricting bouts, has the same answer as to geography. "'Where' is a misnomer," he says, noting that mapmakers can put new seats wherever they please — not just in the high-growth areas — and adjust the rest of the state to make them fit.

The official numbers won't be available for a year — after all, people are only now getting the census forms that'll be used to produce the actual count. But the government does projections each year, and that's a place to start.

Polidata, a Vermont-based politics and demographics research firm, building on estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, projects Texas will turn out to have grown 20.6 percent over the decade and could get up to four new seats in Congress. They've got 10 states each losing a seat or two and eight states gaining, with a total of 11 seats moving to the winners from the losers. Other outfits, like the National Center for an Effective Congress (with the Democrats) and the Republican National Committee, estimate the same gain: four for Texas.

Texas would be by far the biggest gainer; each of the other winners — Washington, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina — would gain one seat.

That would bring the size of the state's congressional delegation to 36, but it wouldn't necessarily mean everybody who's there now gets to stay. The growth hasn't been evenly spread throughout the state. Some areas gained population, some lost population, and some just didn't grow as fast as others. Check out this map of the state's growth done by Matt Stiles of The Texas Tribune: The consultants can say there's not a "where," but you can find out why people are saying seats might go to the Valley, to DFW, to the Houston area, and to Central Texas.

Draw a line from Wichita Falls on the North to Del Rio on the state's southern border: Most of what's to the left of that line — except for El Paso — is expected to fall well behind the growth of the rest of the state. Not all of that region actually lost population; it just hasn't kept up with growth in South Texas and in the major metropolitan areas (especially the suburbs). And that area of lost population, no growth and slow growth is likely to suffer political losses when new maps are drawn. Districts simply have to be drawn bigger to hold the populations they need.

The state's added congressional seats might mean West Texas can hang onto the members of Congress it's got now. "They don't have to beat Dallas — they have to beat Ohio, or Philadelphia," Murphy says. But in the state House and Senate — where the number of seats is fixed at 150 and 31, respectively — the region to the west of that Wichita Falls-Del Rio line is likely to lose seats. Just how many, and where, won't be clear for a year, when the numbers come out. But it's already an issue in at least one legislative race, where Rep. Delwin Jones, who's been through decades of political mapping, is trying to convince voters they should stick with him in the Republican Party runoff and not sacrifice Lubbock's chances to Charles Perry, a rookie who wouldn't have the political tenure to have any influence. And it's certainly a concern where community leaders meet in towns and cities throughout that part of the state. "That's where West Texas gets hurt," he says.

Creative cartography can help.

"Texas is the perfect shape for malleability," Murphy says. "Perfect is a circle, and we're close." A state like California is harder to gerrymander, since you can't grab people from the north and put them in the same districts as people in the south. Texas, on the other hand, has state-sized legislative and congressional districts that stretch from San Antonio to El Paso, from Eldorado to Pampa, from Matador to Gainesville, from Seguin to Pharr, from Mentone to Burnet.

"We've done the most extreme things of any state," he says. "Drawing seats the other party can't win — we've been very good at that. It's partly our geography … and high population growth gives us lots of options."

The state agency at the center of this — the Texas Legislative Council — has beefed up the redistricting section of its website. They've started building up a bank of data, including detailed maps of the estimated growth in Texas by county and congressional district, among other things.

The timeline for drawing the new maps isn't a long one, although the litigation that always follows can last for years. The Legislature convenes in January of next year, and mapmakers will have the preliminary numbers from the census and the official decision on how many seats the state is getting in Congress within a few days of that start. The population data used to fill out the maps, however, isn't promised until April 2011 (it could come earlier, as in past years), leaving only two months to draw maps for Congress, the Legislature and the State Board of Education.

If the Legislature doesn't get the job done — that's the historical norm — the congressional maps go to federal court, and the legislative maps would be drawn by the Legislative Redistricting Board. That five-member panel includes the lieutenant governor, the House speaker, the attorney general, the land commissioner and the comptroller. The panel is currently 100 percent Republican, but the Democrats are taking a crack at four of those incumbents. Comptroller Susan Combs doesn't have a Democratic opponent on the ballot. And the way the Democrats will get a new speaker is by winning enough chairs in the House to deny Speaker Joe Straus a sophomore session in that post.

"The most important thing to bring fairness to the maps is to win the state House," Angle says. "… What gets missed is to look at the treatment of minority votes. It's whether or not African-Americans and Hispanics are in districts where their voices can be heard."

Republicans say the new seats in the congressional delegation will likely be split between Republicans and Hispanics. Not that Hispanics are a political party; the GOP would like to draw Hispanic seats they can win. Democrats say the new seats should go to the fastest growing parts of the population: Hispanics and blacks. In particular, they think African Americans in Tarrant County should already have a district drawn for them. "The only group of residents decreasing as an overall percentage of voters is Anglos," Angle says.

All of Texas' new maps have to be cleared by the Justice Department — this will mark the first time that's done under a Democratic administration in Washington — and they always end up in court. Filing for the elections starts in December 2011, so the elapsed time from start to end — from the delivery of the first actual census numbers to the Legislature, to the LRB, to the Justice Department, to the courts and to the elections under the new maps — is about a year. Republicans have the upper hand at most of those stops; for Democrats, Justice is the best hole card.

A Texas House committee started its work last month, hearing from the census about the process ahead. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst will soon name a Senate committee to hold public hearings and begin the preliminary work that can be done before the numbers are here.

Murphy says it's easier to make big changes when one party has a clear upper hand in the legislative process — something that won't become clear until after the November elections.

"When you see dramatic changes, it's not the slow movement of demographics," he says. "It's because one party is strongly in control."

The Line to the South

Washington, D.C., turned its attention to the country’s border with Mexico this week as Texas lawmakers urged the U.S. Senate to confirm the president’s nominee, current border czar Alan Bersin, to head U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The agency has been without a permanent director since September.

Democratic U.S. Reps. Henry Cuellar of Laredo, Solomon Ortiz of Corpus Christi, Ruben Hinojosa of Mercedes, and Silvestre Reyes of El Paso, wrote to Senate Finance Committee members urging the confirmation of the former U.S. Attorney. “Other members of the border know that you have to have direction as to what you do on the border,” said Cuellar. “They know the importance of [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] and Border Patrol, and you have to have the leader that can set that direction.” U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, also weighed in on border situation as he urged the Senate Judiciary Committee to call an immediate hearing to address the violence on the border, which he said is spilling over into the U.S.

And in a sign that the two countries are intent on cooperation, officials from both sides signed intelligence-sharing agreements in Mexico City on Wednesday. Mexican President Felipe Calderon and his Interior Secretary Fernando Francisco Gómez-Mont met with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and agreed to swap intel on suspected terrorists traveling through the Mexico City airport. The U.S. will share information on Mexican nationals who have served time for felonies in U.S. prisons and are on their way back to Mexico.

The violence in Mexico has not waned. Two teenage sisters in Juarez were gunned down the same day of the presidential visit, and in a separate attack two men were murdered in a part of Juarez that borders Hudspeth County, just east of El Paso, according to the El Paso Times. Also this week, the Barrio Azteca prison gang, believed to be involved in the deaths of two U.S. citizens in Juarez earlier this month, might have given its enforcers the “green light” to kill U.S. law enforcement officers, according to DHS. The order could be in retaliation of a gang crackdown initiated last week in response to the murders of the U.S. citizens.

— Julian Aguilar

Cheap at First, Expensive Later

The price of the controversial health care law won’t affect Texas immediately, prompting some proponents of the bill to balk at claims the legislation will drive the state further in to a financial hole. But in a few years, the expansion of services mandated by the bill will require Texas to spend billions to draw down federal dollars. Under the legislation passed this week, people with an annual income less than $14,000 and families of four with combined incomes of less than $29,000 would qualify for Medicaid coverage in 2014.

Through 2016, the federal government will foot the bill, an estimated $3.7 billion annually, according to the Center for Public Policy Priorities. But Texas will be required to fund five percent of the costs in 2017, about $185 million. The figure increases to seven percent, or about $259 million, by 2019, and culminates at 10 percent, or $370 million, in 2020, according to the CPPP.

The fiscal concerns and what some GOP leaders insist is more meddling in state affairs by the federal government prompted Texas Attorney Greg Abbott to join 12 other states in filing suit against the federal government.

“We believe that strength in numbers will look good with a coalition of Attorneys General from various regions across the country,” said Abbott. “That shows that the various regions of the country are against the legality of the health care bill that was passed.”

—Reeve Hamilton

False Start

In 2007, 9/11 Pentagon attack survivor Brian Birdwell flirted with the idea of a run for the seat occupied by state Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, but it turned out he didn’t meet the constitutional requirement of two years of Texas residency. Now, he’s filed in the special election to replace state Sen. Kip Averitt, R-Waco, and stands to be undone by the same problem.

The Texas Senate has slightly more rigorous eligibility standards than the lower chamber. According to the Texas Constitution, “No person shall be a Senator, unless he … shall have been a resident of this State five years next preceding his election.” If Birdwell was unable to adequately demonstrate two years of residency prior to November of 2008, then it will be impossible to establish that he has been living in Texas for five years preceding the May 8 special election.

There's more. A post on Birdwell’s website, dated February 22, 2008, says, “LTC (Ret.) Brian and Mel Birdwell moved to Granbury, TX in June 2007.” A September 2006 article in The Dallas Morning News seems to confirm this date: “These days, the Birdwells are busy getting ready to move to Texas in June — the day after their son finishes high school.” According to the campaign, that son is now a junior at Texas Tech. Birdwell also voted in a November 7, 2006, election in Virginia. In order to do so, he was required to be a registered voter in that state, which includes filling out a form swearing “under felony penalty” that he was a Virginia resident.

Despite this, the campaign appears to be marching on. "Lt. Col. (Ret.) Brian Birdwell is a lifelong Texan and is eligible to run for State Senate,” Maggie Moran, Birdwell’s campaign spokesperson, said in a statement. “For the past 37 years, the only time he has lived out of state is when he was serving his country or when he was receiving medical treatment for wounds received while serving his country. Birdwell will soon be filing his papers for State Senate."

—Reeve Hamilton

Imagine There's No SBOE

You wouldn't have the State Board of Education to kick around any more if Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, had his way. Hinojosa says he'll introduce legislation to abolish the SBOE next session. "In framing curriculum guidelines, the SBOE appears to be shaping an extreme, if not myopic, view of social studies material to be used in Texas schools," he said in a press release.

It didn’t take long for that to upset people. Americans for Prosperity sent out a scathing missive arguing that Hinojosa was trying to disenfranchise voters by moving the SBOE’s educational responsibilities from the elected board to “the hands of an unelected, appointed board.” Further, AFP argued, “Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Bill White and others on the left have grossly misrepresented the board’s actions.”

This has come up before. Last session, Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, offered a bill to take the Permanent School Fund oversight away from the SBOE, but her efforts failed to garner the votes necessary to amend the Constitution, which gives the board that power.

—Abby Rapoport

Tomorrow, Tomorrow...

Despite assurances from the Comptroller’s office, two legislators-turned-lobbyists are worried about the Texas Tomorrow Fund's contract holders. Former Reps. Curtis Seidlits and Keith Oakley launched the Tomorrow Families Fund last week in what they say is an effort to keep the state accountable to those holding contracts in that prepaid college tuition program.

“We’re concerned and we want to ensure that the path the legislature takes leads to a full funding and honoring of this obligation,” Seidlits said.

They don’t need to worry, according to the Comptroller’s office. “Your payments are coming to you,” says RJ DeSilva, a spokesman for Comptroller Susan Combs. “The payments are constitutionally guaranteed, so if the fund runs out of money, the state will put money in to cover the payments.”

The fund allowed parents to pay for their children’s college educations at tuition rates in place when the contracts were purchased, locking in the rates and protecting those contract holders from what turned out to be massive increases in tuition at the state's colleges and universities. The fund has been “temporarily closed” since 2003, when the state deregulated the cost of tuition and made it hard for the actuaries to set prices on the prepaid plans. Investment income didn't cover the gap, and the state has struggled to find the money to make good on such contracts. Existing contracts, however, are constitutionally guaranteed. Lawmakers will have to do something eventually: In the latest audit report that's been made public — the numbers as of Aug. 31, 2008 — Combs reported the program's unfunded liabilities were $206.3 million. The fund had about 90 cents on hand for every dollar it's obligated to spend, and the numbers have been worsening each year.

That’s no comfort to Oakley, who says the Legislature may be able to change the terms of the contracts. “There are no guarantees in life,” he says of the constitutional provision.

Seidlits and Oakley hope to attract members through Facebook and other types of outreach, but Seidlits said he did not know the number of members. They're just starting, but the numbers are thin: Currently, the group has only six Facebook “fans” and half of them are associated with Seidlits’ firm, Focused Advocacy. Both men say they aren’t receiving payments for their efforts — there's no client behind this, they say — but they plan to charge those who join a $40 fee. There are 158,442 contracts in force, and if every one of them joined (unlikely), the take would be $6.3 million. Oakley’s not holding his breath. “It looks like we’re going to be doing this out of the kindness of our hearts,” he says.

—Abby Rapoport

The Tangled Web

You might remember that snarky websites were part of the armory in the first round in HD-66. They're back, now that former Plano City Councilwoman Mabrie Jackson and businessman Van Taylor are in a runoff to replace retiring Rep. Brian McCall, R-Plano. Taylor, whose 33 percent in the March 2 primary was second to Jackson’s 41 percent, is going on the offensive with a new website: mabriefacts.com. The site hits her for, among other things, receiving money from “liberal special interest groups,” voting to increase spending while on the city council, and for causing an expensive special election by leaving that municipal seat prematurely to run for state rep.

“There’s not a lot of editorializing. It’s a fact-based website,” Taylor says, contrasting his effort with an attack website put up by the Jackson campaign before the runoff. That site described Taylor as a “political carpetbagger who was registered to vote in 3 different counties over a 3-year period of time.” Taylor says, “When the facts are on your side, which they are in my case and they weren’t for her, you don’t need to make up nasty ridiculous allegations.”

— Reeve Hamilton

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

1. Attorney General Greg Abbott joined other state attorneys general who think the health care legislation approved by Congress unconstitutionally forces people to buy a product, i.e., health insurance. Abbott then came under fire from Democrats who say his opposition to the new federal health care law contradicts his past support for mandating health insurance for children whose parents pay child support. Abbott argues the recent health care law violates the limits of federal government while his earlier efforts to require parents to buy into an insurance pool should they not provide it elsewhere, remains within the rights of the state.

2. As ardently pro-life U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Michigan, rose Sunday to speak in favor of the healthcare bill, viewers at home could hear someone yell out “Baby-killer.” Later, Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Lubbock, 'fessed up and apologized, but he lawyered it some, saying he said, “It’s a baby-killer,” and was referring to the bill. Stupak says he believes Neugebauer was referring to him and asked for an apology from the House floor. Neugebauer not only refused, but also positively referenced the outburst in online fundraising ads.

3. As he was finishing his last meal on Wednesday evening, death row inmate Hank Skinner got word that the U.S. Supreme Court wants more time to decide whether to hear the case and is staying his execution for now. Skinner says he didn't commit the 1993 murders of his live-in girlfriend, Twila Busby, and her two mentally disabled adult sons. Some DNA evidence in Skinner’s case has never been tested and he maintains those tests will prove his innocence.

4. A federal appeals court in New Orleans tossed out a lower court’s order that the Texas Education Agency revamp its bilingual education system. Instead, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the case back to the district court because it deemed the failures could be due to school district policies and wasn't necessarily TEA’s fault. In 2006, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and the Multicultural Education, Training and Advocacy, Inc. (META) argued on behalf of the G.I. Forum and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) that the state wasn’t sufficiently addressing the dropout rates and low performance levels of the state’s bilingual students.

5. The Farmers Branch law against leasing apartments to undocumented immigrants is unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled. The ruling from U.S. District Judge Jane Boyle ended the city’s third attempt to enact the ban. The City Council might vote to appeal the ruling.

6. Despite costly efforts to create support for the U.S. Census, only seven percent of San Antonio residents have returned their forms so far. That’s lower than the state average of 12 percent (which is also the average in other Texas cities like Dallas, Houston and Austin), and that rate's lower than the national return rate.

7. It’s hard to say good-bye. Republicans in the Texas congressional delegation begged Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison to stay in the U.S. Senate. A letter from all 20 Republican House members in the delegation specifically pointed to the dangers of leaving her term with 33 months to go. Hutchison has said she will leave her position when health care and cap-and-trade are out of the way. The latter hasn't even come up yet.

8. Texas schools aren’t in danger of getting grounded for students’ grades — but they’re not exactly overachieving. The National Assessment of Educational Progress ranked Texas fourth graders 33rd compared with other states, and Texas eighth graders 34th. In both cases, the scores were slightly below average for the country. Education officials found good news in subgroups: black eighth graders had the 17th-highest scores compared to other black students; Hispanic eighth-graders came in 19th compared to their peers, and Anglo eighth graders ranked 10th.

9. Backlash against the State Board of Education’s handling of Texas textbook standards is coming from all over. California state Sen. Leland Yee, a Democrat who represents San Francisco and San Mateo counties, says he’s drafting legislation to ensure none of the SBOE’s history curriculum revisions seep into any California textbooks. Meanwhile, a mocking new Twitter feed, @TexasTextbook, spoofs the state's textbook circus. A sample tweet from March 23: “On this day in 2005, an explosion at a Texas City BP refinery wasted much precious oil. Also, 15 people died.”

Political People and Their Moves

Lisa Garcia, who had a political and government consulting firm in Austin before going to Washington, D.C. is the new chief of staff to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, the former Dallas mayor and U.S. Senate candidate.

Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Jeff Daiell added Brandon De Hoyos as a media consultant on his campaign. De Hoyos is in his third year as an editor at The New York Times.

Sara Talbert, whose been working in television in Waco, joins the Texas Public Policy Foundation's new publication, Texas Budget Source, which will focus on state and local government financial information.

Austin Bank vice chairman Jeff Austin III of Tyler has been reappointed to the Northeast Texas Regional Mobility Authority. Austin will serve a term that expires February 1, 2012.

Gov. Rick Perry named Timothy Branaman of Dallas chair of the Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists, which regulates the practice of psychology in Texas. He also appointed neuropsychologist Leslie Rosenstein of Austin and reappointed businessman Carlos Chacon of El Paso to the board. Branaman will serve at the pleasure of the governor, but Rosenstein and Chason’s terms expire Oct. 31, 2015.

Perry named business development consultant Gigi Bryant has been named the new chair of the Family and Protective Services Council. There is no limit on her term.

The governor appointed two new members and reappointed three members to the Texas School Safety Center Board. All five will serve terms that expire Feb. 1, 2012. The new members are Mike Cox of Driftwood and Stephen Raley of Lufkin. The repeat appointees are Garry Eoff of Brownwood, Daniel R. Griffith II of Pflugerville, and Dawn Dubose Randle of Houston.

Perry reappointed Dean Bernal to the One-Call Board, which has authority over the systems that notify underground facility operators of excavation plans so that pipelines and utility lines can be marked beforehand. Julio Cerda of Mission, Jason Hartgraves of Frisco, and Janie Walenta of Quitman were also appointed. All four will serve terms that end on August 31, 2012.

Galveston Police Department lieutenant Henry Poretto was appointed to the Board of Pilot Commissioners for Galveston County. His term will expire February 1, 2014.

Quotes of the Week

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison as reported by Politico at a panel on why female politicians don’t have affairs like their male counterparts: “You just don’t have the time. With all the multitasking [women] do, who could plan that whole scheme? Getting a flight to South America?”

Mexican ambassador Arturo Sarukhan to the San Antonio Express-News on tales of violence crossing the border from Mexico to Texas: “The term ‘spillover’ would, at least in my eyes, seem to be a bit of a false dilemma. You speak of ‘spillover’ as if you had the pristine waters of Alaska contaminated by the spill of the Exxon Valdez. That is, there was nothing there before the Exxon Valdez created the accident.”

Pollster John Zogby on the ramifications of passing health care legislation, in the Houston Chronicle: “Republicans have won the bumper-sticker war thus far. But Democrats won the bill and they have an advantage selling a fait accompli. Republicans should not lick their chops yet."

William Frey, a demographer at Brookings Institution who analyzed recently released census data, in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "Texas is the bright light in this very dim decade."

U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, the senior House Republican from Texas, to The Dallas Morning News on the Republican delegation asking Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison to remain in the Senate: "There are many qualified people who could be a senator from Texas — myself included — but I don't think any of us are ready to step in and immediately be as effective as she is now."

Jerry Huff, a former Texas Department of Criminal Justice employee who runs a prison ministry, to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, on large amounts of mail prisoners send the media: "Lot of them try to sell you a hog — they lie to you, looking for any angle to get out. Then some are sincere and mean every word they tell you."

State Board of Education member-elect George Clayton on his stance regarding the place of evolution in the science curriculum: “Should creationism be taught as a counter to evolution? … No, I don’t think so. I think evolution is in the science book — it should be taught as a science.”

Henderson County Sheriff Ray Nutt to the San Antonio Express-News on why he has not apprehended constitutional militia advocate John Joe Gray, who has been wanted for 10 years for assaulting a state trooper and has threatened to kill anyone who steps on his farm: “I’m not going to stage an assault and get people killed and get my deputies killed. It’s not worth it.”

An oldie-but-goodie from Quotes of the Week in our 19 April 2004 edition: "Victor Carrillo, quoted in the Austin American-Statesman after winning his runoff: 'This should dispel the notion that having a Hispanic surname in a Republican primary is automatically a liability. This shows we can win and we can win big. That spells good news, in my opinion, for our party.'"


Texas Weekly: Volume 27, Issue 12, 29 March 2010. Ross Ramsey, Editor. Copyright 2010 by The Texas Tribune. 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 (512) 716-8600 or email biz@texasweekly.com. For news, email ramsey@texasweekly.com, or call (512) 716-8611.

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