The Senate Jurisprudence Committee, which is handling bills on redistricting, has adjourned until Monday and will not vote until Tuesday at the earliest amid concerns about lawyer Andy Taylor, rural representation, and the role of the House in crafting any maps. This is a long post, so I'm going to put it under the More link. Click on if you're interested.
From the Dallas Morning News, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has reassured Senators that there will be no bait-and-switch:
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst tried to reassure senators who fear that if they move forward with redistricting, they'll yield control of the outcome to GOP partisans in the House – as eight rural state representatives who are Democrats warned will happen.
"I believe that the House ... will be appreciative of our work and that we'll end up with a final bill that the Senate can be proud of," Mr. Dewhurst said.
The Republican lieutenant governor said he spoke to Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, about redistricting for 90 minutes Wednesday. "The speaker indicated he would do what he could to work with us," Mr. Dewhurst said.
A spokesman for Mr. Craddick confirmed the speaker pledged to cooperate.
But Democratic and some Republican lawmakers expressed anxiety that a map resembling one the House approved early Tuesday may resurface in the closing days of the special session, in a House-Senate conference committee.
Sen. Chris Harris of Arlington, the chief mapmaker for Senate Republicans, said if that happens, he will help stall any redistricting bill so that it doesn't pass during the session.
"If it gets to the point where I am not comfortable with that map, I have no problem being in 'lock down' until two years from now," Mr. Harris said. "I don't want something jammed down my throat."
In West Texas, the Lubbock Chamber of Commerce, the Plains Cotton Growers and Lubbock Mayor Marc McDougal, a former Lubbock County GOP chairman, have denounced the House plan because it would pair veteran U.S. Rep. Charlie Stenholm, D-Abilene, and freshman Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Lubbock, in the 19th District.
Mr. Stenholm is the ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee. Mr. Neugebauer also sits on the panel. Regional farm interests fear losing clout if they lose one of their representatives in Congress.
In addition, some Republicans worry that the well-known Mr. Stenholm might beat Mr. Neugebauer. That might reverse the results of last month's special election to replace U.S. Rep. Larry Combest, R-Lubbock, because Mike Conaway, a Midland Republican whom Mr. Neugebauer beat, could win in the redrawn, Midland-anchored 11th District.
"I see it as a change ... that we need to look at closely," said Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, the chairman of the Senate Jurisprudence Committee, which is handling bills on redistricting. "I have concerns."
Thursday, rural Democratic senators asked rural Republicans to join them in blocking redistricting in the Jurisprudence Committee. The panel consists of three Democrats and four Republicans.
"All it takes is one Republican vote on the Senate Jurisprudence Committee and the bill is dead for the special session," said Rep. John Mabry, D-Waco.
During committee public hearings in Waco and Lubbock, senators said they heard substantial public opposition to redistricting from Democrats and Republicans alike.
Duncan said he is feeling pressure in his district to vote against redistricting, but said, "It's premature to predict what will or will not come out of committee."
Sen. Kip Averitt, R-Waco, said he is opposed to the House plan because it divides his home territory into two congressional districts, but he said he still would like to see a redistricting plan pass.
"I'm all for sending Republican reinforcements to President Bush, but not at the expense of Central Texas," Averitt said.
The committee approved a motion by Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, to defer any vote on a redistricting map until at least noon Tuesday.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst told reporters he would consider the redistricting battle finished if the Jurisprudence Committee fails to report a map to the full Senate. As presiding officer of the Senate, Dewhurst would have the power to revive consideration of a bill that died in committee if he chose to.
Meanwhile, there's more grumbling about lawyer Andy Taylor:
"I would like to make sure the Democrats have the ability to have someone present as the counsel for the state to offset any potential taint," Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas told the Senate Jurisprudence Committee.
Sen. Chris Harris, R-Arlington, who is drafting a congressional redistricting map for consideration by the Senate, said he will not rely on any advice from the lawyer in question, Andy Taylor of Houston. Harris said he will take advice only from lawyers hired by the committee.
West said he has deep concerns about Taylor's dual roles.
"I don't know if they are legal conflicts or ethical conflicts, but they sure are political conflicts," West said. "The question is whether Mr. Taylor's conflict is of such great magnitude that he should be removed."
Jurisprudence Committee Chairman Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, told West he did not want to consider making such a recommendation to Abbott until the committee had gathered more information.
Duncan said Taylor had offered him unsolicited advice on how to conduct public redistricting hearings. But Duncan said he relied on committee-hired lawyers for making his decisions.
"They're loyalty is to the committee," Duncan said.
The [Senate] redistricting committee, fresh off public hearings around the state, heard from legal experts who outlined the challenges the Legislature may face if a successful redistricting bill is challenged in court.
Gerry Hebert, an attorney who represents Texas congressional Democrats, said he found that at least 36 procedural irregularities occurred during House redistricting hearings last month.
The allegations of irregularities include holding a hearing without a quorum, failure to have the entire committee present at the hearings and failure to appoint ethnic minority representatives to chair the subcommittees.
"The court will look at the legislative process as a whole," Hebert said.
[R]ural lawmakers feel like they are being run over unnecessarily. State Rep. Robby Cook, D-Eagle Lake, said the House-approved map leaves rural folks like his constituents "at the mercy of big cities and suburbs."
Rural lawmakers fear things like thirsty suburbs using political clout to get at rural water supplies.
Rep. John Mabry Jr., D-Waco, whose district includes rural parts of McLennan County, despises what the House map does to rural Texas. He has some hope senators will draw a more rural-friendly version.
"What you're seeing here is a classic game of good cop, bad cop," Mabry said. "And rural Texas is the innocent suspect who is in the back room getting beaten up."
King said it's tough to draw East Texas districts that don't include suburbanites, a fact reflected in several proposed East Texas districts included in the House-approved map. King notes that some current districts mix suburban and rural Texans.
The proposed District 1, for example, would include all or parts of 13 East Texas counties that most people probably would consider nonmetropolitan. The plan would force Democratic U.S. Reps. Max Sandlin of Marshall and Jim Turner of Crockett to run against each other unless one of them shifted to another district.
The district would be dominated by residents of Gregg (containing Longview and Kilgore), Harrison (containing Marshall) and Smith counties, which would have 53.4 percent of the population and are officially classified as metropolitan counties.
Smith County (county seat, Tyler) would have 27 percent of the population.
"I don't consider any of them rural," Telford said of the East Texas districts in the proposed map.
Finally, from the Waco Tribune, economic issues were cited in the arguments against redistricting at the final Senate hearing:
Jerry Iverson, who manages the L-3 Communications plant in Waco, said during a Texas Senate hearing at Baylor University Wednesday that L-3 "is not here to tell the Texas Legislature what to do" about redistricting.
But he also said the 11th Congressional District that includes Waco and is represented by U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards "benefits the local community and benefits us."
Most of those speaking Wednesday opposed redistricting in general and blasted the proposed House map that splits McLennan County in half, putting West Waco, Woodway, Hewitt and McGregor into District 17, which would be based in Bell and Coryell counties.
South, Central and East Waco would become part of the new District 31 under the plan.
Iverson told the committee he does not favor the House plan which, besides splitting McLennan County into two congressional districts, would place the home of Edwards into a district based in North Austin.
The Waco area would suffer if it did not have a "focused congressional district that helps us focus on economic development," Iverson said.
L-3 modifies military and commercial airplanes and employs nearly 1,600 at its plant on the Texas State Technical College airport. This week the plant learned it would get an additional $30.3 million for aircraft modifications next year under the defense appropriation bill the U.S. House passed Tuesday.
Edwards pushed for the funding amendment.
McLennan County Commissioner Joe Mashek said the county would lose its identity and clout under the controversial Texas House proposal.
"Our largest employer, L-3, has received $800 million in government contracts the last eight years, and I think that's because we have a congressman (Edwards) who lives in McLennan County," Mashek said. "He sees to it that McLennan and surrounding counties get what they need."