September 17, 2003
Duncan v. Craddick

Two main themes in the news today: The Senate returned to its usual level of collegiality, as everyone played nice with each other and sentiment turned towards dropping the fines that were levied against the boycotting Democrats, and the dispute between House Speaker Tom Craddick and Sen. Robert Duncan went public, with Lt. Gov. Daiv Dewhurst catching a little collateral damage.

Let's lead off with the Chron, which has the best overview of the feud.

House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, and Dewhurst blamed each other for the lack of agreement on a plan.

One of the biggest sticking points is how to draw West Texas districts. Residents in Lubbock and Abilene want to keep the districts as they are currently drawn, with representation by U.S. Reps. Randy Neugebauer, R-Lubbock, and Charles Stenholm,D-Abilene. Craddick wants a new district created for Midland.

Dewhurst said Craddick has been unwilling to negotiate on a redistricting map. He said he has offered to send several senators over to negotiate with state Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, sponsor of the House plan.

"As of last week, the speaker didn't want that to occur until we'd reached an agreement. Be that as it may, I'm hoping we can reach a consensus here in the Senate on a map that's fair," Dewhurst said.

Craddick said Dewhurst didn't show up for a meeting last week that he had with state Sens. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, and Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, as well as U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land. The meeting was designed to work out differences over West Texas, but no agreement was reached.

Craddick also accused Duncan of reneging on a May deal to accept the House version of West Texas. Duncan said there never was a final agreement.

"We drew a plan out that we called the pancake plan that we agreed to," Craddick said. "He said things had changed and he didn't want to do that now."

Craddick said the deal was made before House Democrats staged a walkout in May that killed redistricting in the regular session. Public attention increased after that walkout, and delegations of public leaders from Lubbock and Abilene came to Austin to oppose the House redistricting plan.

Craddick said Duncan may have been under pressure from his constituents. "Maybe so. But to me, if you make a deal, you stick with it," Craddick said.

Duncan said he told Craddick in May he liked the map, but he said he then learned his constituents opposed it. Duncan said he delivered the news to Craddick before the first special session met in June.

"I'm surprised he misunderstood that as a deal," Duncan said.

Duncan said Craddick's proposed map would have pitted Neugebauer, who won in special election this year by about 500 votes, against Stenholm, whom Duncan described as a 25-year incumbent popular in West Texas.

Duncan confirmed that he talked to Stenholm last week about retiring to take an endowed chair in agriculture at Texas Tech University.

"I did talk to Charlie about some sort of concept like that, but Charlie is not interested in retiring," Duncan said.

When asked whether the dispute could kill the passage of a Republican redistricting plan, Duncan said, "It depends on the speaker."

Dewhurst spokesman David Beckwith said the lieutenant governor was never supposed to attend the meeting with DeLay. Beckwith said DeLay was supposed to act as a mediator at the meeting.

The Star Telegram also focuses on this.

House Speaker Tom Craddick of Midland accused fellow Republican Sen. Robert Duncan of Lubbock of reneging on a deal cut in mid-May that would establish a congressional district anchored in the speaker's hometown.

Craddick also accused Duncan, who heads the Senate's redistricting committee, of trying to protect a longtime Democratic congressman, Charles Stenholm of Abilene.

"Duncan has now changed his mind and doesn't want to do that plan," Craddick said. "He said things have changed. I don't know what has changed. ... I think he's concerned about Stenholm. I think he's protecting Stenholm, yes."

Duncan, who did not dispute that he has no desire to derail Stenholm's 24-year career in Congress, spent much of Tuesday meeting with constituents back home in Lubbock. But he disputed Craddick's assertion that the two had reached an agreement on how West Texas would be reapportioned.

"I regret that he thinks we had an agreement ... in blood," said Duncan, who will preside over a hearing on a Senate redistricting plan today. "The last time I checked, my job is to represent my constituents."


Craddick said he intends to remain firm in his desire for a district anchored in Midland, saying the region is dominated by the oil and gas interests while its congressional representatives tend to be more familiar with the farming industry that dominates much of the rest of West Texas.

"Midland and Odessa have been given the short end of the stick for years," Craddick said.

West Texas has been a major bone of contention throughout this year's redistricting effort. The Craddick and Duncan camps have said they intend to protect their constituents' interests, but their previous public exchanges have always been cordial.

The signs of strain showed through Tuesday.

"To me, you make a deal -- you stick by it," Craddick said.

Asked if the standoff could scuttle the high-profile task of redistricting, Craddick hedged.

"I don't know," he said. "Obviously, we have to see what the Senate passes."

Duncan said the success of the redistricting effort depends on Craddick's willingness to seek common ground. The senator said he understands the desire for a Midland-Odessa district, but not at the expense of the remainder of West Texas.

"So far, he has not been willing to negotiate," Duncan said. "I am willing to work the issue out. The speaker is not."

Rep. Phil King, the House map's author, expressed hope that the two would work it all out.

"[T]here is room to negotiate, but definitely the West Texas issue has to be resolved, and it has to be resolved first. If we can reach an accord, the rest of (the differences) between the Senate and the House will fall into place pretty quickly."

Until they do, the Democrats are enjoying the spectacle.

"How can you go nine months and spend $5 million and not have a (GOP) map?" said Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, of the state's GOP leadership.

Dewhurst spokesman David Beckwith said the Democrats should not celebrate too soon.

"There's going to be a resolution within a few days to a week," he predicted. "Nobody will get everything they want, but almost everyone will be satisfied."

My thoughts exactly, Jim. As for Dewhurst's optimism, here's why I think this problem is more intractable than he wants to admit: There is no middle ground. Either Midland gets a Congressional district separate from Lubbock, or it doesn't. Either the oil interests in Midland get what they want, or the farm interests in Lubbock get what they want. In short, either Craddick or Duncan has to admit defeat and roll over.

Duncan can least afford to do this. He knows fully well that his constituents are opposed to any redistricting effort that splits up their area. All of the state reps from his Senate district have voted against it. From Abilene:

Residents of Taylor and Nolan counties overwhelmingly oppose redistricting, said state Rep. Bob Hunter, R-Abilene. Hunter is one of the few Republicans who voted against redistricting plans passed in the regular session and previous special sessions.

"Democrats, independents and Republicans are very happy with the districts we have," Hunter said. "People in our area are against congressional redistricting of any kind."

From Lubbock:

The map passed by the Republican-controlled Texas House drastically alters Congressional District 19, which is represented by [Lubbock Republican Randy] Neugebauer.

The plan pairs Neugebauer with U.S. Rep. Charles Stenholm, D-Abilene, meaning the two would square off in an election.

Both now serve on the U.S. House Agriculture Committee, and Stenholm is the panel's ranking Democrat. Under the Texas House redistricting plan, a West Texas voice on the House Agriculture Committee would be lost.

Duncan would have to answer to his constituents if he gives in, and what's more he may face a credible Democratic opponent if he loses - Stenholm himself, who is one of three current endangered Democratic Congressmen who have been rumored to run for the Texas Senate if they lose their House seats. (Chet Edwards and Jim Turner are the others, at least according to a blurb in the Quorum Report awhile back.)

Craddick, on the other hand, has no electoral fears, and if he gives in he's not actually losing anything that he didn't already have. However, his first term as Speaker has been very rocky, and especially if he thought he had a deal in place he may not feel that he can afford to back down.

This is not to say that a deal can't or won't be reached. There's plenty of pressure that can be brought on either or both of them, and there's always other incentives that can be dangled in front of them in order to add a spoonful of sugar to the medicine. There just isn't an outcome that gives both of them what they want.

On the issue of sanctions, the Morning News has the best overview.

In a move to ease tensions in the upper chamber, a leading Republican senator on Tuesday called for canceling the monetary fines and assorted penalties that the GOP majority levied against the Democrats for breaking the Senate quorum in the last special session in August.

Each Democrat was assessed $57,000 in fines and lost parking and other privileges although the Democrats challenged the legality of those sanctions.

"It is my belief that since we are back working together, and with there not having been a previous rule [on breaking a quorum], the important thing is to do away with them and get back to work," said Sen. Chris Harris, R-Arlington, chairman of the Senate Administration Committee.

That stance was supported earlier in the day by Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who said of the fines: "It's my personal preference that we have this matter behind us."

This is not a unanimous opinion as yet - Sen. Jeff Wentworth was quoted in the Statesman saying that while he may be willing to reduce the fines, he's "not in a no-money mood". I'm about ready to predict that the issue goes away, though. As for future sanctions, there has been some discussion but no firm decision yet.

Mr. Harris' committee on Tuesday endorsed proposed Senate rules that would allow the body to take action in future legislative sessions against senators who are absent from the chamber without good cause. The main punishment would be loss of seniority and its privileges, such as first choice of Capitol offices.


Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio, Senate Democratic Caucus chairwoman, did not speak directly against the proposed rules during the committee meeting but voiced her belief that they will have little effect on senators who strongly believe in their position.

"There is no penalty that will deter any senator who is committed strongly about any particular issue," she said, adding that even with the rules in place, the Democrats still would have left the state over redistricting this summer.

Finally, MoveOn has started airing ads with some of the million bucks it raised.

According to spokesman Glenn Smith, spent $100,000 to air a 30-second spot on cable TV systems in Dallas, Houston and Austin.

It accuses Mr. Perry of calling "frivolous special sessions" and doing the bidding of Mr. DeLay at a time when the economy is flat, jobs are scarce and property taxes too high.

Gene Acuna, a spokesman for the governor, said "congressional redistricting could've been taken care of during the regular session had Democrats not bolted in May." He was referring to the regular session, when Republican House members fled to Oklahoma to prevent a quorum and block a redistricting bill.

Only if you believe that the Senate, whose members practically lined up to publicly piss on the House map during the first special session, would have passed that very same map during the last few days of the regular session. If someone has a time machine handy and wants to test this hypothesis out, I'll be happy to take bets on the outcome.

UPDATE: Glenn Smith of MoveOn has an op-ed today about the "good ol' bully system in Texas".

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

Sounds to me like Craddick is trying to carve out a district he can run from as much as he's trying to carry Tom's water.

Posted by: Charles M on September 17, 2003 9:49 AM

I call it progress that MoveOn thinks taxes are too high. I'm glad they've seen the light. :)

Posted by: kevin whited on September 17, 2003 9:50 AM

Kudos to Sen. Duncan for actually doing what his constituents want rather than sticking to a backroom deal that was made prior to anyone knowing what was going on.

It is not surprising that the community leaders in West Texas don't want to see Charlie Stenholm forced out of office. If the Democrats ever regain control of the Congress, Stenholm is in line to be the chairman of the House Agriculture committee. Why would they want to give that up for another freshman Republican with no influence and no seniority?

Posted by: Mike Thomas on September 17, 2003 11:23 AM

The Charles have it right. Duncan's afraid of losing his seat if he backs down (probably to Stenholm). Craddick wants to head to DC from a district where he can win (the spoils of redistricting victory--aah, it's all coming together now). The only thing I'm confused on is what Perry stands to gain from all this. He's going to be mowed over in the next gubernatorial election (maybe by kay bailey h.). He's hated throughout the state. What is his motivation?

Posted by: omit on September 17, 2003 11:56 AM