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Will They Stay or Will They Go?

A perfect time for speculation: The legislative session isn't quite over, and the political season hasn't quite begun.

Attorney General Greg Abbott, announce legislation to modernize the Texas Open Meetings Act on March 7th, 2013. the bill wil…

Greg Abbott’s continuing push for a vote on redistricting would clear the decks for next year’s elections, including getting the issue largely out of his way while he’s running for whatever he decides to run for next year.

The attorney general has been pressing state leaders to adopt the maps drawn by federal judges for use in last year’s elections. That would cut short an ongoing fight over the maps passed by the Legislature in 2011. It’s also a bet that the U.S. Supreme Court will toss the part of the Voting Rights Act that requires Texas and other states to get federal permission before they can make changes to election laws.

Opponents of the court-drawn maps could still sue, but without the Section 5 pre-clearance protections, they’d be asking the courts to prevent the state from using the maps that were already used once. And approving the court maps would arguably cut off the ongoing litigation on the maps that were approved by the Legislature.

The 2012 elections were delayed by the court fights. That time lag was harmful to candidates like David Dewhurst, who had lots of money and early leaders, and helpful to candidates like Ted Cruz, who benefited from a longer primary and the attention it brought to him, eventually, by groups that could finance his run for U.S. Senate.

Abbott has more money on hand than anyone in Texas politics. In whatever race he choose to run — governor, lieutenant governor, whatever — he’d be a candidate with an early advantage. Who’d want to squander that?

The Dallas Morning News reported on Abbott’s visit this week to the House Republican Caucus, where he apparently expressed hopes for a quick special session on redistricting when the current session is over. When he was taking temperatures on this earlier in the session, senators were willing but the House wasn’t. The political alliances there are more fragile, and management didn’t want to ruffle feathers.

An alternate timeline would have lawmakers returning for a quick session after a Supreme Court decision. But the time is relatively short. Candidates will be filing to run in December, and the courts are slow.

If there are no other issues left over from the session, a special on redistricting would leave House Democrats without any of the bargaining ability they’ve cobbled together during the regular session. It would end the Kumbaya thing that’s been going on, but without other issues at stake, that might not matter to the Republicans.

If issues like budget, water, transportation and tax cuts run into overtime, the politics change. The same consideration that kept redistricting out of the mix in the House during the regular session would still be in place.

The political calculations are not confined to the House. One variable is hidden from everyone who is not named Rick Perry or Greg Abbott. Governors call special sessions. If the two are working together and if Perry buys the pitch that this is a good idea, he could bring lawmakers back. If he and Abbott are circling each other, Perry might have a different answer. It's hard to know what everybody will do without knowing what everybody wants.

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