It’s possible to lose an election before it even starts.
Geanie Morrison is running for an eighth term in the Texas House this year. Or not. Roger Williams is running for Congress. Maybe. Lloyd Doggett will have to move to hang on to the congressional seat he won in 1994. Perhaps.
Up and down the Texas ballot, candidates are waiting to see whether the redrawn political maps give them any chance of winning. Careers, plans and schemes are in the balance.
There are political maps approved by the Legislature. Another set proposed by three federal judges in San Antonio was swatted like a mosquito by the U.S. Supreme Court. Most important is the map nobody has seen yet.
The San Antonio judges will be drawing again, this time with instructions from the Supremes, trying to produce political lines to be used in congressional and legislative elections this spring. Those elections were supposed to be held March 6 but got pushed to April 3. They could be pushed back again, because election administrators — the studiously nonpolitical folks in the eye of this political storm — say it takes 60 to 80 days to throw together an election once the maps are complete.
Morrison, a Republican from Victoria, announced her re-election bid when the Legislature’s maps were drawn. But that map hasn’t won Voting Rights Act preclearance, so the San Antonio court — trying to get maps in place in time for the scheduled primaries — drew plans that could be used in the meantime.
Those maps paired Morrison in a district with another Republican incumbent, Todd Hunter of Corpus Christi. Putting Corpus and Victoria in the same district presented Morrison with multiple problems. It would no longer be the rural district it had been for decades, for one thing. “It’s a good rural district,” she said. “Who knows what’s going to happen, but I’m hoping the one the House drew — the one that those who were elected drew — is the map we use.”
On a personal level, the court plan would have turned her campaign into a three-month road show, driving back and forth from one end of the district to the other. Lots of districts are bigger: Look, for instance, at Pete Gallego’s 38,733-square-mile district in the Texas House, or Robert Duncan’s 43,465-square-mile state Senate district, both bigger than any of the Great Lakes. But Morrison has a family member in bad health and needs to stick closer to home. Her current district is small enough — 4,433 square miles — to keep her within close range of home; the one drawn by the courts, for that reason and others, just won’t work.
In early December, she announced she wouldn’t seek re-election. Just a few hours later, the Supreme Court froze the plans that the judges had drawn. As the arguments continue, she’s running again, talking to voters inside her district as drawn by the Legislature last summer.
Williams, the former Texas secretary of state, campaigned for the U.S. Senate for months without really contending. He bailed in June to run in the 33rd Congressional District, one of four new seats produced by the state’s growth spurt during the last decade.
But the map from the federal judges in San Antonio landed on him like a cartoon anvil, leaving him in a congressional district represented by Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth.
Texas Republicans have been trying to land an anvil on Doggett for years. This time, they drew the Austin Democrat an inhospitably conservative district running from south of Austin north to Fort Worth. He jumped instead into a race on the other side of Travis County that would have required him to win over voters in San Antonio and the counties between there and his home. The ill-fated court map offered him a soft landing, right at home.
The San Antonio judges meet with the redistricting lawyers on Friday to talk about deadlines, primary dates and maps. They’re trying to get maps in place and primary dates and filing deadlines set so they finally can get on with the elections that were supposed to be well under way by now.
That would answer voters’ two questions: What districts are we in? And when do we vote?
The candidates have a different question: Will voters decide their fates, or will judges?