July 09, 2003
Editorial roundup

Time for a little tour of the editorial pages. The Chron says "Enough already" and slams most of the main participants, especially Governor Goodhair:

Gov. Rick Perry bears ultimate responsibility for pointlessly prolonging the agony of the redistricting battle in a special session.

Perry might not care that editorials in most of the state's major papers oppose redistricting. He might not care that most of the voters who attended public hearings on redistricting spoke vehemently against it. But he should have some regard for his own honor and credentials as a leader who puts the good of the state above the whim of a Washington powerbroker.

Perry, like other state leaders of both parties, acknowledged before the start of the regular session that Texas had more crucial needs than redistricting. Many of those needs, such as school finance reform, have not been met. Perry should not have wasted the Legislature's time and the taxpayers' money on a divisive issue that offers benefits to few and harm to many.

The Star-Telegram doesn't go quite as far as the Chron (and how often do you hear that?), but they're on the same page:

This plan moves on to the Senate, where it can only be hoped that the grown-ups will see it for what it is -- pure politics -- and stop wasting their time and the people's money on this unnecessary effort.

The Waco Trib fears a bait and switch:

The Senate map could be very much like the one that the House Democrats went to Oklahoma in May to block by preventing a quorum.

That map would have made McLennan County a minor appendage of a district in which the major voting clout would be in Greater Fort Worth. Other options now would be to marginalize an intact McLennan County in a district that contains the Dallas or Austin suburbs, or even Greater San Antonio.

The Corpus Christi Caller-Times says gerrymandering is so last decade:

Some will say, correctly, that if the situation were reversed (as it was for decades, when Texas was solidly Democratic), Democrats would be working just as hard to ensure their pre-eminence.

Fair enough. But in this presumably enlightened age, the heart of the once-a-decade redistricting process is, or should be, the notion of one man, one vote: District boundaries should reflect the composition of the populace as a whole.

The Dallas Morning News stumps for a nonpartisan panel to draw lines every ten years, noting that Sen. Jeff Wentworth (R, San Antonio) has proposed this before and is proposing it again:

The San Antonio Republican wants his colleagues to create an independent redistricting panel. Republicans would name four members to the body, and Democrats would name four. Those eight Texans would then select the all-important ninth member. Together, the group would draw the lines for Texas' political boundaries in 2011 and every 10 years thereafter.

This idea stands out for several reasons, but particularly because it would generate more competitive elections. An independent panel would have the gumption to draw lines that reflect real communities of interest and encourage real political contests not just partisan slam dunks.

Texans would then see candidates working hard for every vote, not just for the Republicans or Democrats in their district. That's healthy for democracy.

The Austin American-Statesman is on board with this:

A sensible way to redistrict is to turn the matter over to a bipartisan committee, as state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, has proposed. That would ensure a degree of fairness to both parties, a focus on communities of interest and lively elections.

Earlier in that same editorial, the author notes that "One expert has predicted that the GOP plan could result in only minority Democrats in the Texas delegation". What they didn't go on to say is that this is more or less the basic idea, at least in the world according to Grover Norquist:

The GOP can live with urban liberals such as [Rep. Maxine] Waters, Norquist said; it's moderates such as [Rep. Charlie] Stenholm who are its prime targets. If the Texas redistricting plan is adopted, Norquist said, "it is exactly the Stenholms of the world who will disappear, ... the moderate Democrats. They will go so that no Texan need grow up thinking that being a Democrat is acceptable behavior."

Elsewhere in the Statesman, a former reporter who attended one of the public hearings noted that those who held the hearings were not very responsive to those who testified.

At 3:30 a.m. Wednesday, nearly eight hours into a congressional redistricting hearing, Lenox Waciuma Wanjohi elicited a newsworthy answer from State Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, the architect of the map designed to get more Republicans elected to Congress.

Wanjohi appreciated King's "refreshing candor" in saying that electing Republicans was the goal, then said, "Normal campaigns have market checks -- to get elected one has to get votes and donations. But this campaign to get Republicans elected is being paid for by public money." The cost to Texans of the special session has been pegged at $1.7 million, and many observers foresee millions more in court costs incurred by challenges.

"Is there a point when you, Mr. King, would say that this campaign costs too much, and it can wait until 2011?"

"No!" King replied vehemently.

Wanjohi was called to the podium earlier, but deferred until King returned to the hearing room. When King was present, he worked at his laptop computer rather than paying undivided attention to the hundreds of people who arrived for the hearing at 2 p.m. Tuesday only to find it postponed for five hours. At 7 p.m. so many people came that another hour and a half elapsed to move to a larger room.

I confess that at the hearing I attended, I only stayed to hear the public officials, so I cannot say whether the panel was as unresponsive to the great unwashed as that one was.

Thanks to Hope and Byron for some of the above links.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 09, 2003 to Killer D's | TrackBack

Yes, the cost of this redistricting endeavor is one of my favorite topics. I find it curious that a state that can't afford to keep children enrolled in a health insurance program could find the millions of dollars it takes to put forth a redistricting plan. Because of the job I am paid for, I see a side of the elections and redistricting processes that few people would be interested in.

The 1.7 million they keep quoting as the "cost" of redistricting is only going toward turning on the lights and the AC in the Capitol. It might also cover the members' per diems, but that's about it. Have you considered how many maps get printed? How muach does all that paper cost? Who pays for that?

When/If the legislature gets a bill the governor will sign, the whole thing has to be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice. Who pays for all the documentation and postage to DOJ? How much does THAT cost?

At the same time, you can bet your boots that SOMEBODY (probably lots of somebodies) will file a lawsuit. The state will hire an attorney. In 1997, when congressional redistricting ended up in court, the state's attorney got about $840,000 to represent the state. How much would such an attorney cost today? Who pays for THAT?

Wait: we're not finished yet. Once DOJ approves the plan, the individual counties must redraw their precinct lines to correct any precincts which become split by these new congressional lines. In 2001, almost every county in the state with more than four precincts hired an attorney or consult to do this work for them. How much did that cost? Big bucks in places with hundreds of precincts like Dallas or Harris counties. THAT comes out of the county budget. How's your county's budget these days? Cash-strapped like the city's?

So, the counties make their changes to the precincts. Guess what: they have to submit their changes to DOJ, too. Now we're back to calculating the cost to ship documentation to DC again. Remember, the counties are responsible for conducting the elections, so they are also trying to get this done as expeditiously as possible because they face a January filing deadline for the 2004 elections. How many people (and at what cost) will be working through their Christmas holidays to make sure Tom DeLay's bald-faced power grab is ready to go for the 2004 elections?

Conservative cost for power-grab: $10 million
Effect on elections in Texas for decades: priceless

Posted by: quancuvo on July 10, 2003 1:03 PM

And we wouldn't be paying for the special-session-related costs if the Democrats hadn't run off to Oklahoma.

Let's repeat that, we wouldn't be paying for the special-session-related costs if the DEMOCRATS hadn't run away.

Posted by: Rob Booth on July 10, 2003 5:01 PM

C'mon, Rob, you know as well as I do that special sessions are solely at the discretion of the governor. Rick Perry called this session. He didn't have to, he chose to. Period.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on July 10, 2003 5:05 PM