With Clock Ticking, Congressional Redistricting Set to Begin

The legislative session ends in less than two weeks, and lawmakers won't take up a bill to redraw the state's congressional districts until later this week. Ben Philpott of KUT News and the Tribune reports on how the delay could affect how the new lines are drawn.

The legislative session ends in less than two weeks, and lawmakers still haven't taken up a bill to redraw the state's congressional districts.

Lawmakers' first look at a new map may not come until Thursday morning, when a Senate committee is expected to begin debate on how to add the four new congressional seats allocated to Texas through 2010 census figures. State Sen. Kel Seliger, the Amarillo Republican who chairs the Senate Redistricting Committee, said he's aware of the time crunch.

"We're getting to congressional redistricting maybe a little late, but we're going to do everything we can until the very last minute and go as far as we can,” Seliger said. “We will have a map out of committee, I believe, and on the record, and that's important if the map is ultimately drawn by the courts. If everything goes along and the stars align and we get a map out, then it will be done." 

Audio: Ben Philpott's story for KUT News

That's the safety net for lawmakers. A three-judge panel will redraw districts, probably working off of the current congressional map, if lawmakers don't meet the end-of-session deadline. Seliger hopes, though, that the map released this week will be taken into consideration. 

"It will be one that will have had a good deal of work go into it,” Seliger said. “I think it will be a legitimate starting place for a court."

Court intervention usually bodes well for current members of Congress. The courts tend to draw with an eye to incumbent protection, which could alleviate the fears of some Democrats who remember the 2003 redistricting process that decimated that party's numbers in D.C. In an interview last month, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, said he's seen a Republican-drawn map that could hurt his chances for re-election.

"No. 1 is to create as much trouble for me and Austin as possible,” Doggett said. “I think the desire is to have three-fourths of Austin forced into districts that are represented by Tea Party sympathizers, in the hope that maybe the remaining fourth would be represented from San Antonio."

Doggett's office said he's eagerly awaiting the release of Seliger's map to see what makes it into the first version of this bill.

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