There's not much redistricting news to report on right now. Sen. Todd Staples has submitted two new maps that will get voted on in committee tomorrow, then die without debate on the floor thanks to the "unalterable opposition" of 11 Democrats plus Bill Ratliff. Even if there is a second special session with no blocker bill, Staples' maps would run into problems:
Sen. Chris Harris, R-Arlington, the original Senate sponsor of redistricting, gave up his efforts last week. Harris has opposed measures that cut his hometown into more than two congressional districts.
Sen. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, took over the map drawing from Harris. He has problems with supporters in his district over various maps designed to knock off U.S. Reps. Max Sandlin, D-Marshall, and Jim Turner, D-Crockett.
Staples said developing maps agreeable to a Senate majority is difficult.
"Any time you change one area, it seems to have a rippling effect on other areas," Staples said.
"What I'm trying to do at this point is incorporate the various concerns that I've heard and get a greater level of consensus among the members."
Sen. Kip Averitt, R-Waco, has faced local opposition from Republicans and Democrats who want his home county of McLennan kept in one district with Bell and Coryell counties.
Local officials also oppose plans that eliminate U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, because he is the ranking Democrat on a House committee key to military base funding. Edwards has been an advocate for Fort Hood.
Edwards, whose district also includes the Crawford ranch of President Bush, is a target of the Republican push for congressional redistricting. Almost every effort to redraw his district either splits McLennan County or separates it from Bell and Coryell counties.
Constituents of Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, also want him to protect Edwards.
Fraser and Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, face similar pressure to protect U.S. Rep. Charles Stenholm, D-Abilene, the ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee. If he loses his seat, the post goes to a representative from Minnesota.
Fraser and Duncan have another problem in West Texas.
Abilene and Lubbock are in two congressional districts now, but Texas Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, won House approval of a plan that gives Midland its own congressional district. That means Abilene would be dominated by Lubbock in a new district.
About 30 West Texas mayors recently met with Fraser, Duncan and Dewhurst to oppose redrawing West Texas. The latest Senate maps reflect the wishes of Duncan and Fraser, not Craddick.
"I've learned in the legislative process there are no guarantees," Duncan said, "but, hopefully, Senator Fraser and I can work with Speaker Craddick and resolve those differences and reflect the needs and wills of our constituents."
Under the current map, drawn by federal judges, Williamson County is split between U.S. Reps. John Carter, R-Round Rock, and Chet Edwards, D-Waco. Even though Staples' latest version again splits Williamson County between those two representatives, it upsets the state lawmakers who represent that county.
Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, said he cannot support a map that splits Williamson County, but he is working on amendments. Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, also objects to putting a portion of Williamson County in a district that could be dominated by Travis County.
"My goal is for Williamson County to remain the political center of its congressional district," Krusee said.
Twelve senators — 11 Democrats and one Republican — have banded together to block the redistricting effort. Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, is leading the group and has said they will not be moved.
Asked if there was room for compromise, Van de Putte said: "I don't believe there is one at this point."
Sen. Ken Armbrister (D, Victoria), the lone Democrat to not sign the opposition letter, and Sen. Jeff Wentworth (R, San Antonio), who also has a bill to create a nonpartisan commission for future redistricting chores, have also submitted maps, but neither are likely to pass out of committee.
The current special session ends on July 29. Assuming that no map is approved by then, another session will likely be called to start that weekend, probably on August 1. The neverending stint in Austin is starting to wear on people, especially since almost all legislators do other work for a living:
Most lawmakers have jobs away from the House and Senate chambers. The majority work in the business field: are lawyers or consultants. Among the exceptions are a retired a firefighter, a car dealer, a horse breeder and a flight instructor.
"I'm in the consulting business, and if I'm not working, I'm not earning," said Rep. David Swinford, R-Dumas.
State lawmakers earn $7,200 a year for their service, about $600 a month. In addition, on days they are in session, they are granted $125 per diem.
Swinford said he is living off his savings during this special session.
He would rather be home with his wife, who suffered a ruptured disk in her back. But the trip to Austin from the Panhandle makes it difficult to visit often.
Such sacrifices, he said, are part of the job.
"I'm going to be here any time I'm needed," he said. "That's what I ran for."
On Dec. 24, 1991, three Republican-appointed federal judges threw out the plan that 19 Democratic senators had agreed to in settling a court challenge by minorities. The judges ruled the plan illegal because it had not cleared the full Legislature. They drew their own map, just for 1992.
Gov. Ann Richards had already called a special session on redistricting, to begin Jan. 2. A majority of the senators — all Democrats — revived the settlement plan and hoped to use it for primaries on March 10.
Bullock, a Democrat, did not have the traditional "blocker" bill atop the calendar, which usually means other bills need a two-thirds vote to come up out of their regular order.
Although there were 22 Democratic senators and just nine Republicans at the time, three Democrats opposed the Senate map, and one Democrat was absent.
Without a blocker bill, when the bill came out of the Committee of the Whole on Redistricting — comprising the entire Senate — it went straight to the Senate floor, where it required just a majority vote. It passed the full Senate 18-12. But Senate Dean John Whitmire, D-Houston, said there was unofficial agreement at the time that a two-thirds vote wouldn't be required.
Indeed, Republican senators who had planned to filibuster decided not to.
"I am going to oppose this bill," explained then-Sen. Buster Brown, R-Lake Jackson. "But I hope that it gets out of here quickly and into the courts. . . . The best chance of having a March 10 primary is to get this bill out of here."
Pollster Jeff Montgomery has released some surprising poll numbers showing tepid support for redistricting -- including among Republicans -- and generally weak numbers for Governor Rick Perry.
It is about here that your erstwhile reporter eats a little crow. Although Montgomery typically represents Democrats, his polling has not always been kind to them.
In fact, we questioned Montgomery's polling nearly two years ago when he consistently showed Perry beating Democratic challenger Tony Sanchez by 20% or more.
When the votes were counted, Perry beat Sanchez by 19%.
Like his polling eighteen months ago, this poll was independently financed by Montgomery & Associates so it is beholding to no clients.
According to Montgomery, 45.5% of Texans oppose redistricting and 30% support it.
Even a majority of Republicans were ambivalent on the issue with 47.9% supporting the effort whereas 24.8% opposed.
But the bigger news is Governor Perry's soft approval numbers.
I can't say I'm surprised at Perry's soft numbers, whatever they may be. The redistricting issue has dragged out for weeks, is costing the taxpayers money in the wake of a $10 billion budget shortfall, and has given him a regular beating on the editorial pages for over two months. No one could survive that intact, whatever the eventual outcome. Perry should be very glad that he doesn't need to run for office again until 2006. If he's lucky, this will all be a distant memory by then.
UPDATE: Forgot to mention that some state Dems are in DC using their newfound fame to raise some money:
Money collected from the two back-to-back receptions -- to be held at The Hotel George, a trendy Capitol Hill establishment -- will go to MPACT, a political action committee of the state Democratic Party.
Bringing their fund-raising needs to Washington shows Texas Democrats are willing to deploy tactics originated by their political nemesis, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land.
Ted Royer, Texas GOP spokesman, said Democrats are hypocrites for raising national money to influence the state redistricting process, particularly "while they are hypercritical of D.C. Republicans taking an interest in the process."
But Democrats say today's fund-raisers are different because they seek to protect Democrats in office, not unseat Republicans.
"The Killer Ds are heroes who stood up to Tom DeLay, and a lot of people want to support them," said U.S. Rep. Martin Frost, D-Dallas.
He and other congressional Democrats from Texas are listed on the invitations as honorary co-chairs. Texas House Democrats in Washington for the event include [Rep. Garnet] Coleman, Reps. Trey Martinez Fischer of San Antonio and Pete Gallego of Alpine.