July 17, 2003
Theater of the absurd

It's probably taken a lot longer than it should have, but I'm finding it hard to describe what's happening in the redistricting wars with a straight face. Let's recap the highlights from this week:

- Eleven Senators - ten Democrats plus Republican Bill Ratliff - hand Lt. Governor David Dewhurst a signed letter announcing their "unalterable opposition" to redistricting. This means there are now enough votes to prevent floor debate of a bill.

- Dewhurst and Governor Rick Perry drop hints of varying subtlety that they will try to find a way around the 2/3 rule, including calling another special session at which that rule will not apply.

- Ratliff warns that this would be a huge mistake and would destroy the normally collegial atmosphere of the Senate. Some Republican Senators agree with Dewhurst, others do not. Democrat Ken Armbrister, who was not one of the ten to sign the letter and who has been willing to play ball on redistricting all along, announces that he would lead a Senate walkout if Dewhurst tried to circumvent the 2/3 rule. The other Democrat, Sen. Frank Madla, finally announces that he, too, is now opposed to redistricting after realizing that nearly everyone in his district hates it. He eventually signs the letter.

- Meanwhile, Sen. Chris Harris, who had been working on maps all weekend, announces that he has two maps ready, then says the Attorney General's office found glitches in them, at which point he resigns as map-drawer and walks out of the Senate hearing. The Attorney General's office denies Harris' claim that they drew any maps. Sens. Royce West and Mario Gallegos continue their criticism of the AG's office for hiring lawyer Andy Taylor, who is defending Texans for a Republican Majority in a civil case and the Texas Association of Business in a criminal case, and suggest that the Democrats need an attorney looking out for their interests to go along with him. The AG insists that Taylor is not involved in mapmaking.

- Sen. Florence Shapiro comes out of nowhere with a map that she and 11 other Republicans drew up. No members of the redistricting committee were involved, though they did have committee member Sen. Todd Staples present it. This map was then withdrawn, with Staples announcing that he needed to rework it.

- Sen. Jeff Wentworth, who has stated that he would support suspending the rules for this specific issue, presented his bill to create a non-partisan citizen committee to handle redistricting in the future, a bill he's presented at every session since 1993. No one paid him any attention.

That's about it. In retrospect, it's hard to believe that the bill that was killed by the Democratic walkout in May would have been passed by the Senate, though something may have emerged from the eventual joint committee. It's also hard to believe that any such bill could have passed legal muster, given that no public hearings had been scheduled before the original bill made it out of the House committee. You could probably have a field day playing with alternate scenarios here.

Links and sources:

Fort Worth Star Telegram
Dallas Morning News
Austin American-Statesman
Houston Chronicle
Sen. Harris's maps

Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 17, 2003 to Killer D's | TrackBack

A real circus, ain't it?

I love it.

Posted by: hope on July 17, 2003 8:38 AM

I expect any day now that Graham Chapin will step into the Legislature chamber dressed as an army general and announce "This is too silly. Stop it now!".

Posted by: William Hughes on July 17, 2003 9:13 AM

Texas doesn't have one of those nifty referendum systems, does it?

Because, frankly, I'm sick of redistricting. If collecting 100,000 signatures to amend the Constitution to limit redistricting to a once-a-decade, nonpartisan panel.....well, hand me a clipboard.

Posted by: Morat on July 17, 2003 11:25 AM

This is just bizarre.

Posted by: ByronUT on July 17, 2003 12:17 PM

This is just so bizarre.

Posted by: ByronUT on July 17, 2003 12:17 PM