July 14, 2003
A brief history of redistricting

Going through the Chron's archives in the wake of the sudden announcement that 11 Senators - enough to block a vote to suspend the rules - are "unalterably opposed" to redistricting, one can't help but be struck by the fact that it didn't have to be this way. Go to the 78th Lege index page and look through the stories post from each month. No redistricting headlines in January, a couple in February when Tom DeLay first brought it up, then nothing at all until mid-April when DeLay's first map surfaced. Even after that, and after Attorney General Greg Abbott ruled that the Lege was not required to take up the matter, it really wasn't until the week before the Democratic walkout that this issue came to dominate the headlines. A search of the stories that have moved off the main site and into the archives reveals more of the same.

No one outside of DeLay's office was particularly geared up for this fight at first, either. David Dewhurst said it was as welcome as a "contagious flu". Speaker Tom Craddick agreed to create a redistricting committee at DeLay's urging, and though its chair, Rep. Joe Crabb (R, Houston) said it was "very likely" they'd write a bill, Craddick said he was "unaware" of that, saying instead the committee would deal with "minor changes in state House lines and a request by Texas Chief Justice Tom Phillips to redraw judicial districts". I've reproduced the now-archived article from Feb. 10 which contains these quotes below the More link.

It's my belief that had there been more flexibility on the budget, and had the issue been discussed openly from the beginning, some kind of map would have passed. It might not have satisfied everyone, especially DeLay, but it would probably have led to at least an 18-seat GOP majority in the delegation. I believe the combination of GOP discipline in rejecting Democratic budget amendments, plus the late and rushed nature of the DeLay bill, put the steel in the Democrats' resolve.

If this is in fact the death knell for a new Congressional map, I think it's clear that Governor Perry made a huge tactical mistake in calling the special session. He'll get excoriated in the press for its ultimate wastefulness and for the poisoned atmosphere in both chambers. I believe that he and the state GOP would have been better served if at the end of the regular session they had simply heaped blame for the failure on the Democrats, then gone to work to knock off the likes of Chet Edwards, Charlie Stenholm (both of whom were elected with less than 52% in 2002) and maybe Chris Bell (who got just over 55%). It's not like we were going to schedule an election immediately following the passage of a redistricting bill, so why not wait and get your revenge the old-fashioned way? With a Presidential election in 2004 to drive GOP turnout and a sure-fire campaign issue, I don't understand the gotta-have-it-now thinking.

Instead, events have galvanized Democrats and antagonized Hispanic groups. I believe that the odds of any sitting Democratic Congressman being ousted are considerably lower now than they were before the special session was called, and lower than they would have been if this whole fiasco had never occurred. The only mitigating factor for Perry is that he himself is not up for reelection (or election to another office) until 2006. As such, other than Rep. Henry Bonilla and maybe a couple of state reps (I haven't studied the 2002 returns closely enough to give specifics yet), there's precious few targets for any Democratic retaliation. For now, anyway.

It's too early to write any obituaries yet - Dewhurst may still try to ram this through by subverting the 2/3 vote tradition - but at this point I think it's safe to say that the Republicans have done themselves no favors. How much damage they'll take is the question to ponder.

AUSTIN - U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's behind-the-scenes pressure on Texas legislators to redraw the state's congressional districts to favor more Republicans is not gaining support in the Capitol.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst called congressional redistricting as welcome as a "contagious flu" and did not even bother to appoint a Senate redistricting committee.

House Speaker Tom Craddick last year said he did not want to take up congressional redistricting if the issue was dead in the Senate. But when he appointed committees Jan. 30, he named a redistricting committee at the urging of DeLay, Capitol sources told the Houston Chronicle.

Rep. Joe Crabb, R-Houston, appointed to chair the committee, said then that it was "very likely" the Legislature would write a new redistricting bill. He said he hadn't spoken with DeLay.

Crabb said last week, however, that he is unaware of any contemplated legislation on congressional redistricting . He said he believes the committee will be dealing with minor changes in state House lines and a request by Texas Chief Justice Tom Phillips to redraw judicial districts.

The key argument that Democrats and some Republicans make against DeLay's push is that lawmakers do not need a partisan fight over redistricting while they also have to solve a $10 billion state budget shortfall.

"Redistricting is the most partisan matter the Legislature ever takes up," said Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, the Senate redistricting chairman in 2001.

"We've got the toughest session this year in the last 50 years. We don't need the added and unnecessary element of redistricting thrown into the mix," he said.

But some in DeLay's camp argue that the issue is one of basic fairness and that the current districts were drawn by a federal court to protect incumbents by robbing Republicans of seats they deserve in Congress.

DeLay was not available to comment, and his office referred calls to Jim Ellis, director of DeLay's Americans for a Republican Majority, who rebutted the claim that the Legislature should focus on the budget and related issues.

"I'm not sure that is a valid argument," Ellis said. "Those incumbents who are propped up by a court map sure don't want to see those lines changed."

A three-judge federal court drew the current boundaries in 2001 when state lawmakers failed to do so. The map protected both parties' congressional incumbents while drawing two new districts to favor the election of Republicans.

Democrats now hold a 17-15 edge in the state's congressional delegation.

A congressional redistricting bill likely would have fairly easy sailing in the Texas House, where the majority shifted dramatically from the Democrats to the Republicans in last year's elections.

But such legislation would have difficulty passing in the Senate, where an affirmative vote by two-thirds of the members is required to bring a bill up for debate. That means that if all 31 senators are present, 21 must vote favorably on a bill for it to be debated.

There are 12 Democrats in the Senate, and so far, only one has indicated he might give Republicans the procedural vote they need to debate redistricting . But there also are several Republicans who might oppose any renewed redistricting debate.

That means DeLay's forces probably are two to three votes short of debating a redistricting bill in the Senate.

While no Republican target list is available, political insiders say that the GOP wants to change district lines to cause the defeat of Democratic incumbents Ralph Hall of Rockwall, Charles Stenholm of Abilene, Chet Edwards of Waco and Chris Bell of Houston.

They also want to change boundary lines for U.S. Rep. Martin Frost, D-Dallas, the state's Democratic congressional leader, hoping to make him more vulnerable to a Republican or even to a primary challenge from a Hispanic Democrat.

Ellis said the map drawn by the federal court was intended for use only in the 2002 elections.

"I went back and added up the votes, and 56.04 percent of Texans voted for a Republican for Congress, and Republicans have 47 percent of the seats. So they're out of line," Ellis said.

Democrats say Ellis' argument takes advantage of dramatic differences in turnout between Democratic areas and Republican areas. Each congressional district has the same population, about 650,000, but not all voters cast ballots.

For instance, U.S. Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston, who faced slight opposition last year, received 55,760 votes for re-election. Neighboring congressman Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, also was re-elected without a serious challenge, but Brady received 140,575 votes.

Democrats also note that some districts re-elected Democratic congressmen while voting Republican for Texas statewide offices. They argue that voters are knowingly splitting ballots for specific candidates.

Wentworth said the existing districts are fair.

"The people who are trying to change these lines are trying to void a selection the voters made last year," Wentworth said.

Wentworth said Republicans likely will win the districts of Democratic Reps. Hall, Stenholm and Edwards whenever those incumbents retire.

Conversely, a Democrat likely will win the South Texas seat now held by U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio, if he retires.

. . .


Texas districts that elected U.S. House members from one party while favoring the other party in statewide races.

2002 vote in House race

2002 average vote in statewide races*

D-Democratic votes ..... R-Republican votes

District 17

Charles Stenholm D- Abilene

D-51 % R...67%

. . .

District 23

Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio

R...52% D...53%

. . .

District 11

Chet Edwards, D-Waco

D...52% R...63%

. . .

District 4

Ralph Hall, D-Rockwall

D...58% R...68%

. . .

District 2

Jim Turner, D-Crockett

D...61% R...56%

District 1

Max Sandlin, D-Marshall

D...56% R...58%

. . .

District 9

Nick Lampson, D-Beaumont

D...58% R...52%

*Weighted average of general election results for all statewide contested races in the district.

. . .

Pros and cons

Texas' congressional districts were redrawn in 2001, adding two new districts to reflect population changes recorded in the 2000 U.S. census. The 32-member delegation now includes 17 Democrats and 15 Republicans. U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay is pushing the Legislature to draw new districts that would favor more Republicans.

Arguments for:

The state votes Republican so the congressional delegation should have a GOP majority. Republicans won all statewide offices in the 2002 election, and 56 percent of voters favored Republican congressional candidates.

Arguments against:

Voters chose candidates they liked, including veteran Democratic incumbents. Furthermore, the Legislature faces budget challenges that should take precedence over a partisan redistricting fight.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 14, 2003 to Killer D's | TrackBack

I think you will find Dick Morris' chapter on Congressional redistricting very interesting. He has nothing but brickbats to throw at both parties for such intense incumbant protection through gerrymandering and ends on a note of hope in Iowa's sensible system of non-partison, contiguous, community-based compact districting commission. It is in his book Off With Their Heads.

Posted by: B. K. Oxley (binkley) on July 14, 2003 7:47 PM

Very nice summation. I really suspect Tom has other fish to keep in line in Washington right now so maybe it really is terminally ill.

56 percent of voters favored Republican congressional candidates.

What are the numbers if you exclude those districts (TX 7 - Culbertson, for example) in which there was no Democratic opposition? I think there may have been one Democrat which ran unopposed but I'm not sure.

Posted by: Charles M on July 14, 2003 8:14 PM

Charles - I post about that here, in response to that Chron story. Basically, the Rs got about 170,000 extra votes from unopposed Congressional elections.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on July 14, 2003 8:42 PM

Charles, his name is Culberson, by the way, no "t."

At one time I was an anal-retentive editor. Now I'm just anal-retentive.

Posted by: Rob Booth (Slightly Rough) on July 15, 2003 12:15 PM

Rob, I'm not seeing the typo you've mentioned. I'm happy to fix it, but I have to find it first.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on July 15, 2003 12:30 PM