September 16, 2003
Back to business

Both chambers of the Texas Lege were back in business (however briefly) yesterday, though on the Senate side it was strictly show business. I'm not going to spend too much time on that aspect of it in this report, but you can get a flavor of it from these pictures.

On to the nuts and bolts. As I noted yesterday, there's a new map being proposed in the Senate.

As the opening-day drama played out, work went on toward drawing a new map. Sen. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, filed a plan far different than one he authored a month ago.

The new version, he said, more nearly reflects the districts that elected 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats to the Senate.

The proposal, set for a hearing Wednesday in the Senate Jurisprudence Committee, leaves Travis County largely as is, split into districts now represented by Democrat Lloyd Doggett of Austin and Republican Lamar Smith of San Antonio.

Williamson County would dominate an East Texas district that would include northern Bastrop County. The southern half of Bastrop would be in a Gulf Coast district. Hays County would remain in Smith's district.

On the House side, it's the same old, same old.

Across the rotunda, House Republicans ran over Democratic members on procedural votes as they suspended rules and railroaded a congressional redistricting bill to a full House debate today.

House Democrats complained that the Republicans are pushing for a vote on a redistricting plan that has never been the subject of a public hearing. House public hearings were held on the subject of redistricting but never on the map voted on by the chamber.

Speaker Tom Craddick said the Democrats are "grasping." He said there has been "adequate" time for input on a map that has been public for more than two months.

The House Republican majority passed the same bill in each of two previous special sessions.

Democrats currently hold a 17-15 majority in the Texas congressional delegation. But if the House measure becomes law, Republicans likely would hold a 21-11 majority after next year's elections.

I'm pretty sure Joe Crabb's former intern would disagree with Craddick's sentiment, but never mind. More on the House actions:

Rep. Robert Puente, D-San Antonio, said redistricting supporters are trying to "just ram it through, like they've been trying to do since May. There's absolutely no reason why they have to put this on the fast track. They have 30 days."

Eleven bills not related to redistricting also were approved by committees soon after the House recessed, including measures on transportation and government reorganization.

Also, the Redistricting Committee approved a resolution supported by both Republicans and Democrats to specify that previous testimony taken on redistricting will be made part of the record of this session's redistricting measure.

Opponents of redistricting already were looking ahead to a court challenge when lawmakers complete their work.

"At they end of the day, they'll have to get Department of Justice clearance, and even if they jump that hurdle, they'll have to explain themselves to a federal court," Puente said.

More on the promise of court challenges, from the Chron:

Meanwhile, League of United Latin American Citizens President Hector Flores and Texas NAACP President Gary Bledsoe announced they will sue to halt the implementation of any redistricting plan adopted by the Legislature.

"I don't think there is any question that what they will propose will violate the Voting Rights Act," Bledsoe said.

Before we get that far, the two chambers still need to agree on one particular map. More on that:

The House moved rapidly Monday, winning quick adoption by a House committee of its version of a new congressional map. The matter could be considered by the full House as early as Tuesday, but House Speaker Tom Craddick did not say when it would be taken up.

The desire by Republican House leaders to move swiftly resulted at one point in a logjam in which a key House panel scheduled its meeting to place a redistricting bill on the full House agenda before it even had a bill.

"These boys know how to rule. They just don't have a clue as how to govern," said Rep. Barry Telford, D-DeKalb.

Mr. Craddick rejected Democrats' complaints about the speed and order of the process, including the failure of the House committee to hold hearings on the map. Committee hearings were held on House versions of a remap during earlier sessions.

On the Senate side, a proposed new congressional map was set for committee hearings Wednesday.

Both the House and Senate proposed maps could give Republicans an extra four or five seats in next year's elections. But the maps are markedly different.

In particular, the House version would divide Midland from Lubbock, putting each city in different districts. The Senate would keep Midland and Lubbock in the same district.

In central Texas, the House version would split McLennan County into two districts. The Senate version keeps McLennan, Bell and Coryell counties in same district.

Both House and Senate proposals target four incumbents who are white Democrats, but they do it in different ways. Both leave the Dallas-area district of Mr. Frost largely unchanged.

Republican leaders say the disagreement between the House and Senate over the West Texas district could prove a problem because Mr. Craddick has served notice that he wants Midland to have its own district, and some Senate Republicans have said they are equally committed to keeping Midland and Lubbock on the same district.

"West Texas still needs a bit of work," said Mr. Staples.

Let's take a look at the still very murky future. We know that Sen. Robert Duncan has a problem with the House map, since it gives Midland its own district. We know Sen. Kip Averitt also has a problem with the House map, since it splits McLennan County into two districts. This is the same House map that was declared "dead on arrival" at the start of the first special session, and I'm sure it's no more likely to pass the Senate now than it was then.

The nightmare scenario for Duncan and Averitt is for the whole shebang to get sent to a joint House-Senate committee, from which a "consensus" map may emerge that screws one or both of them. If this happens, would they promise to protect each other's flank and vote against any map that screws at least one of them, even if it means the map fails to pass? Note that if Duncan and Averitt both oppose a map, we can probably count 15 No votes (those two plus the Texas Ten, Whitmire, Ratliff, and possibly Armbrister), one short of the total needed to sink a bill in the Senate. Would each one decide to abandon the other if a map that just screws the other guy is voted on? Or would they decide that there are at least 16 votes to pass no matter what and start working on an explanation to their voters why they had to go along with the party?

I think the majority of possibilities favors some map getting passed, but until I hear of a news conference at which Duncan and Craddick have announced a compromise (which is to say, at which one of them admits defeat to the other), I believe it will cause a lot of tension on the GOP side of things. Which is fine by me.

Anyway, there's a lot of coverage of the Democrats' reentry here (includes a useful timeline of events since May), here, and here, which sums up the atmosphere pretty well:

The display attracted plenty of onlookers. Republican staff members stood quietly and watched. The Democratic aides might have been there, but the Republicans voted not to let them on the floor of the Senate.

That left room for some House members to come over and see the pomp and unusual circumstances.

Rep. Gene Seaman, R-Corpus Christi, stood to the side and quietly marveled.

"I think it's great," he said, pausing before he added, "I love a circus."

Governor Goodhair, naturally, is exhibiting his usual level of self-awareness.

"My environment's just as clean as it can be," Perry said after a Houston appearance where he pushed for passage of Proposition 12 on Saturday's election ballot. "If it's poisoned, it's poisoned by someone else, not on my side."

Good thing we're in the Responsibility Era, I always say. Remember, if Perry had done his job in 2001 and called a special session then instead of punting responsibility to the federal court that he now disparages, we wouldn't be in this situation today. If it's so important for the Legislature to do redistricting, then their failure to do so two years ago rests squarely on Perry's shoulders. He abdicated his responsibility, and now he wants a do-over. Shame on him.

As for the poisoned atmosphere, the Quorum Report gives an update:

If Senate Democrats thought opposition to their ability to park their vehicles in their allotted spaces at the Capitol was easing off they can think again.

This morning, their parking spaces and those of their staff have been filled with heavy barrels with tires round them. The type of object TxDot uses to block traffic on highway construction projects, the barrels are too heavy for one person to move.

And so it goes.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on September 16, 2003 to Killer D's | TrackBack

Kuff, why do you think a special session in 2001 would have been successful in producing a map?

Posted by: Beldar on September 16, 2003 3:07 PM

Maybe it would have been and maybe it wouldn't. As I understand it, each chamber had passed its own map during the regular session, which makes it similar to what we've got now (not quite the same, since the full Senate has not yet passed a map). If they had been made to do their constitutional duty, as they are with the budget, I think they would have eventually come through, quite possibly in just one session.

My point is that if we're going to make a big deal out of the procedure, then shouldn't we make a big deal out of the fact that the procedure wasn't followed in 2001? I mean, Perry didn't even try. He stated it was not worth the time and the cost. Why now, if not then? There's an obvious political answer, but is there any objective justification? I don't believe there is.

At the very least, I do think there would have been no walkouts and less overt political posturing. No one could argue that redistricting was an inappropriate thing to do in 2001, so I feel that there would have been a greater sense of urgency to find a solution. Perry chose the easy way out instead, and I have a problem with his attempt to ask for a mulligan and call it his solemn duty.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on September 16, 2003 3:48 PM

I simply disagree. From Perry's standpoint in 2001, the best thing to do was to go back to the people via the 2002 elections. The people responded by putting both chambers into the hands of a single party, along with both of the chief executive seats — thereby undoing the prescription for deadlock via divided government.

I'll grant you that the Republicans look pretty disorganized and should have spent the no-quorum time hammering out a map. But there's still grounds to think they can do that. There were no realistic grounds to think any map could have been agreed upon in 2001.

Posted by: Beldar on September 17, 2003 8:05 PM

That's fine, but I hope you can see why arguments about the sanctity of redistricting by the Lege alone don't impress me much right now. If Perry had at least made the attempt to force the issue in 2001, I'd have no grounds to complain. I reject the notion that he's entitled to a second bite at the apple.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on September 17, 2003 9:41 PM