The Texas Senate approved new political districts that protect all of the Republicans and all but one of the Democratic incumbents in that body and, after a delay, gave tentative approval to a House map already approved by the House.
Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, had the House map up for a vote when Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, interrupted and asked for a delay while the Senate retreated into a private caucus. Ogden, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has been negotiating with House leaders about the budget. They've settled everything but public and higher education funding; senators immediately assumed the two were linked. But when they came out, it was much less dramatic; Ogden wanted to tell other senators that the comptroller had made another $1.2 billion available for the 2012-13 budget.
The debate over the Senate map was relatively short. After knocking down two amendments from Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, and approving one by Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, the Senate approved a map very similar to one passed last week by its Redistricting Committee.
Davis is still in a district that will be difficult for a Democrat to win. Travis County's lines were altered a bit, but it would have four senators where it now has two, with one of them residing in the county. Taylor County remains split between two senators; it was whole before. And Bexar County would have parts of four Senate districts, three of which are anchored by San Antonio incumbents.
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One more amendment swapped some property between Sens. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, and Dan Patrick, R-Houston. With that done, senators debated for a few minutes and then passed the bill.
Democrats don't like the bill but fear what might happen if they leave it to a panel of five Republicans to draw. As Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, told his fellow senators, "As much as I don't like it, you all look pretty good to me when I consider the Legislative Redistricting Board."
Ellis said the Senate map discriminates and doesn't reflect the state's growth patterns. "All of the growth in Texas has been because of minorities," he pointed out. "What do people of color get out of it?"
The final vote was 29-2, with Davis and Ellis voting no.
The Senate map now moves to the House for consideration, and the Senate will turn its attention — scheduled for committee on Thursday — to congressional maps. Without some parliamentary magic, it will be impossible to get congressional maps out of the Texas House. They're out of time unless they vote to ignore some of the deadlines spelled out in their rules.
Senators didn't finally approve the House map. Ordinarily, the two chambers approve each others' redistricting maps simultaneously to keep the political horse-trading to a minimum. Even without the budget in limbo, it wouldn't be unusual to hold the House bill until the House is ready to vote on the Senate maps. That, according to Seliger, is the plan this year.
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