A House committee heard testimony yesterday on whether or a lawmaker used the threat redistricting as a tactic to coerce a colleague into supporting Speaker Joe Straus. Ben Philpott of KUT News and the Tribune reports on the testimony — and what's next in the investigation.
by Ben Philpott
Lawmakers will use 2010 census data to redraw the state’s election maps during the 2011 legislative session — a practice that is almost always a partisan affair, with the party in power gaining more control by tweaking the maps in its favor. But with the population of rural Texas dwindling, Republican state representatives from certain areas of the state could end up having to run against one another next time around. State Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, told the House General Investigating and Ethics Committee on Tuesday that expressing that concern recently to state Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, elicited a shocking response.
“I mentioned to Representative Phillips that I am actually vulnerable in redistricting because I live on the edge of my district. Representative Dan Flynn and I live about 20 miles apart. My district goes off to the east and his off to the west,” Hughes said, ”and it would be very easy to match us up in redistricting. I’m pretty vulnerable. And Representative Phillips said to me, 'What are you talking about? You’ve got nothing to worry about as long as you stay on the list.'”
The "list," Hughes said, referred to members who supported Speaker Joe Straus — and Phillips was implying that anyone who didn't back him could be redistricted out of a job. Or at least Hughes told the committee that those were the facts as he saw them.
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“Representative Hughes statement is unequivocally false,” Phillips said in response. ”I did not tell Representative Hughes that maps were already being drawn to get rid of Representative-elect [Erwin] Cain or Representative Flynn. I also did not tell Representative Hughes that there was a plan to use redistricting to punish those who were not on Speaker Straus' support list.”
State Rep. Chuck Hopson, R-Jacksonville, the chairman of the committee, ended the hearing by characterizing the matter as a case of “he said, he said.” Hopson said committee members didn’t have enough information to determine if misconduct had occurred. But as today’s testimony indicated, the tone already set in a session not yet begun doesn’t bode well either for a cordial election of a House Speaker or even, perhaps, for a happy working relationship among GOP members during the session.
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