July 15, 2003
Ratliff reaction

The reaction to Sen. Bill Ratliff's announcement that he will join 10 Democratic Senators in opposing any redistricting bill has been pretty much what you'd expect: joy from Democrats and insistence from Republicans that they ain't dead yet.

Democrats hailed Mr. Ratliff. "Once again, Senator Ratliff has demonstrated tremendous courage and character as a public servant," said Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio, chairwoman of the Senate Democratic Caucus.

The state Republican Party was quick to point out that the [two-thirds] rule has been abandoned on occasion – such as when the Senate took up a state senatorial redistricting plan in 1992.

Mr. Perry and House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, meanwhile, kept pressuring Mr. Dewhurst for Senate approval of a new congressional map.

"I believe we must give the lieutenant governor the time to sort out his options on the issue for which the session was called," Mr. Perry said.

Bob Richter, a spokesman for Mr. Craddick, said the speaker "still feels like it [redistricting] can be done. He doesn't feel like it's finished."

Mr. Dewhurst said Mr. Ratliff previously told him he'd wait until the Senate Jurisprudence Committee produced a map before deciding whether to support a floor debate on redistricting.

"I think even Senator Ratliff had said several times to you all in the press that he would withhold judgment until a plan came out," Mr. Dewhurst said. "Well, no plan has come out yet. ... He's always assured me that he would wait and withhold judgment until he saw a map and that he would be flexible."

Mr. Ratliff said he had not reneged on a pledge to wait.

"I said I would consider. I did consider," Mr. Ratliff said.

Getting around the two-thirds rule can be accomplished by asking the sponsor of the blocker bill, usually the chair of the Senate Administration Committee, to withdraw that bill from the calendar. In doing so, subsequent bills can be debated without having to move ahead of the blocker bill. It's the requirement to suspend the rules and let other bills bypass the blocker bill for consideration that calls for a two-thirds vote.

As it happens, the Senate Administration Committee chair is Sen. Chris Harris, and he's on the committee that handles redistricting, the Jurisprudence Committee. He's been working on a map since Friday. However, as the Chron points out, it's now more complicated than just getting Harris to withdraw
his blocker bill:

[I]n other action Monday, a government reorganization bill sponsored by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, received approval from the Government Organization Committee and joined the other bills on the regular order of business. Ellis is among those Democrats who signed the letter.

If Ellis refused to withdraw his bill, it would become a blocker and force the two-thirds rule.

There's no way Rodney Ellis will withdraw his bill, since he's one of the signees of the "unalterably opposed" document. The Chron suggests that Dewhurst's other option is to request another special session, at which a blocker bill will not get passed. I live to regret it every time I say these words, but I just can't believe that would happen.

There's a further complication for Dewhurst. Ratliff has suggested that his stance is providing cover for other Republicans who have received strong opposition to redistricting from their constituents, and some of those Senators are balking at changing the rules to keep this horse alive:

Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, chairman of the Senate Jurisprudence Committee, which is hearing the redistricting legislation, said he is concerned about losing the two-thirds rule.

"That's been a strong tradition in the Senate, and it certainly would be significant if we did something that did not follow that," Duncan said.

Ratliff said he believes any redistricting plan that increases Republican representation in Congress will harm rural voters.

Ratliff also said there are other Republican senators who are being pressured to vote for a redistricting bill that their constituents oppose.

"There are many members of the Senate who feel they are going to have to fall on a sword to do this, and they are going to suffer for it from their own constituents."

Duncan as well as Sens. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, Kip Averitt, R-Waco, and Todd Staples, R-Palestine, have received constituent opposition to a redistricting plan passed by the Texas House last week. All have indicated they would like to vote for a Republican redistricting plan if their local problems can be solved.

The House redistricting map dilutes the power of the congressional districts that coincide with their state senate districts. In each case, the congressional district is held by a Democrat.

Fraser said it will be difficult to pass a Republican statewide redistricting plan that would be well received in his district. He said that is likely in the other districts as well. "There are numerous members that have concerns that would have to be resolved before a plan can get passed out of the Senate," Fraser said.

However, signals are still mixed on this point, so it's still unclear which direction things will go:

Meanwhile, Republican activists were digging up 11-year-old copies of the Senate Journal showing that the chamber dispensed with the 21-vote rule during a special session on redistricting under Democratic Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock. Democrats then outnumbered Republicans 23-8, but the 1992 redistricting map passed with only 18 votes.

And some Republican senators were saying that the tradition is far from sacrosanct.

"I think it's an important tradition," said Sen. Jon Lindsay, R-Houston. "But this is an important issue, too. ... This is a very emotional issue. It's a different ballgame, a different ballgame altogether."

Senators have protected the 21-vote rule over the years, not so much because it helps them pass bills, but because it makes it easier to scuttle unwelcome legislation because any senator needs to find only 10 allies to derail a measure.

And the rule forces members to reach across partisan and philosophical lines to move their agendas through the chamber.

"That rule is the reason that the Texas Legislature has been known for decades as being a place where the two parties can work together," Ratliff said.

The issue remained somewhat moot late Monday because the Senate Jurisprudence Committee, which has been conducting hearings on the issue on and off for two weeks, had yet to consider any map.

"I am committed to hearing testimony and voting on a fair plan," said state Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, chairman of the panel. "We're going to listen."

Sen. Chris Harris, the Arlington Republican charged with drafting any plan that will be taken up by the panel, said his still-unfinished map is being scrutinized by lawyers and legislative experts to make sure it complies with federal law.

"In all candor, we don't know where we are at this point," Harris said.

And finally, in the Better Late Than Never department, Sen. Frank Madla has announced that he now opposes redistricting:

Madla, who for months has said he was undecided on the issue and was praying daily for guidance, said late Monday that he now opposes redistricting.

"Anybody with input from the district that is running 99 percent opposed, there is only one way you can vote," Madla noted.

Way to stick your neck out, big guy.

UPDATE: It's somehow fitting that the first signature on the "unalterably opposed" letter belongs to Fast Eddie Lucio:

McALLEN — While South Texans slept in Monday morning, the threat of Tropical Storm Claudette now just a memory, an important document that affects life as they know it made its way through their small towns, on the passenger seat of State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa’s Chevrolet truck.

The document was a letter, drafted by Hinojosa, D-McAllen, in his law office Saturday, that informs Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst the 11 votes needed in the State Senate to block Republican-backed congressional redistricting efforts had been obtained.

The letter had already visited Brownsville on Saturday afternoon, where Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, and Hinojosa shared a glass of wine and a conversation about congressional redistricting.

Hinojosa gave Lucio the honor of being the first to sign, indicating to the lieutenant governor that he is voting against congressional redistricting.

Then Hinojosa picked up Lucio’s pen and added his signature.

Hinojosa thinks there are enough up-or-down votes to defeat redistricting right now:

Hinojosa said at least five other Republican senators are against redistricting, with a total of about 16 senators that may end up voting against the matter.

“We are solid — hunkered down,” Hinojosa said. “Lucio is just as solid as can be. There’s no public support for it, over 95 percent of the public testified against it and we need to show them the Senate does listen to the people.”

Stay tuned.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 15, 2003 to Killer D's | TrackBack

Ratliff is such a nice, practical guy. I hate it that he decided not to go for Lt Gov permanently. He gives Rs a good name, so to speak - the leadership ought to follow his lead more often, it would help their image.

Posted by: hope on July 15, 2003 11:58 AM

The Monitor in McAllen is nuts:

While South Texans slept in Monday morning, the threat of Tropical Storm Claudette now just a memory [...]
Just a memory for whom? The storm hit Matagorda and is waltzing its way to Victoria. Although it seems more likely than not to head towards San Antonio, that doesn't mean it can't swing south instead and devastate the valley.

Posted by: B. K. Oxley (binkley) on July 15, 2003 3:21 PM

I thought the valley was hoping for a visit from Mlle Claudette so she my bring some rain.

Posted by: Patrick on July 15, 2003 4:58 PM