September 18, 2003
It's getting (more) confusing

I'm starting to have a hard time figuring out all the implications and corollaries of the different redistricting plans. You'll see why in a minute.

The Chron paints a potentially bleak picture for the Democrats:

[T]he Senate Jurisprudence Committee began hearings on a new congressional redistricting proposal that would give the GOP a gain of at least five seats in next year's elections.

The Senate proposal is one of the toughest maps to face the Democrats so far because it makes almost no changes to minority and minority-influenced districts that are now protected under the federal Voting Rights Act.

If the Senate proposal became law, the Democrats would be left trying to defeat it on vague minority voting protections outlined by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year.


The new Senate proposal by [Sen. Todd] Staples would achieve at least a 20-12 majority mostly by redrawing the boundaries of rural districts held by Democrats.

The map would all but guarantee election losses for Democratic U.S. Reps. Max Sandlin of Marshall, Jim Turner of Crockett, Nick Lampson of Beaumont, Chet Edwards of Waco and Charles Stenholm of Abilene.

It also would increase the chances that U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall, D-Rockwall, could not win re-election. A Hall defeat would give the Republicans a 21-11 majority.

In the Harris County area, the districts of U.S. Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee, Gene Green and Chris Bell, all D-Houston, would remain almost unchanged. But Lampson's district would be split into two Republican districts.

A key to the map is that by leaving existing minority and minority-influenced districts intact, the Staples plans would make it difficult for Democrats to challenge in court under the federal Voting Rights Act that protects minority voters.

The map makes no changes in the seven Hispanic districts or in the black 18th District in Houston. The black 30th District in Dallas would retain 74 percent of its population, but its black population would be almost exactly the same as now.

Democratic lawyer Gerald Hebert called the map "tough." Texas Legislative Council lawyer Jeffery Archer told the committee he saw no "obvious legal problems" with the map.

Instead, the Democrats would have to focus on vague standards set by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year in George v. Ashcroft. It said that districts are protected if minority voters make a difference in the outcome of elections. But it did not set a firm standard for how to measure that.

"Ashcroft doesn't answer the hard questions," Archer told the committee.

In questions to Archer, Gallegos focused on how minority voters are split in Lampson's district to create the two new Republican districts. He also asked whether Edwards would have won election to Congress without the support of black voters in Waco.

"If you took minority voters out of that district, he would not win the election," Archer said.

Point one: This is a shrewd move by the Republicans, as it would improve the odds of the map withstanding a court challenge. It would also be a fulcrum for resolving the Craddick/Duncan feud, on the grounds that the Craddick plan would be denied by the courts. Finally, it officially means we'll never again hear the fiction that this year's redistricting effort was somehow intended to increase minority Congressional representation. (Quick! Alert Ron Wilson!)

Point two: The reason why Sen. Robert Duncan's constituents oppose the House redistricting plan is that they don't want Charlie Stenholm to be unseated and thus lose his senior voice in the House Agriculture Committee. It therefore makes no sense for Duncan to go along with a Senate plan that accomplishes the same thing. Duncan is the chairman of the committee in charge of redistricting, and I can't imagine him voting down a plan in his own committee, especially since that would kill it before it reached the Senate floor. Something here doesn't add up.

Point three: If this plan does wind up getting signed into law and surviving a court challenge, then John Whitmire should accept the blame for allowing it to happen and resign from his Senate seat. If, on the other hand, no plan gets adopted, which would be a major embarrassment for Rick Perry and the GOP leadership, then the Texas Ten owe Whitmire a public apology for the nasty things they said about him.

As it happens, the Dallas Morning News paints a very different picture.

Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick, who lives in Midland, says he's committed to a new district based there. But Republican senators, led by Robert Duncan of Lubbock, are firmly opposed.

"Somebody's got to blink," said Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay.


"I'm not going to surrender, and I can't," said Mr. Duncan, who heads the Senate's redistricting panel. Mr. Craddick says neither will he.

The article outlines the other obstacles the GOP faces: Waco, East Texas, public squabbling, and the clock. This is one of those times when I'm going to say "read the whole thing", because its viewpoint is very different from the Chron's.

Most of th rest of the coverage (here, here, here, and here) is about how the sanctions issue still isn't settled and how some Democratic Senators are getting angry about it. Must be loads of fun to be David Dewhurst right about now. One point of interest that was mentioned only in the Express News:

[T]he Senate Jurisprudence Committee began taking public comment on a proposed map of Texas' congressional districts that its author said would have minimal to no impact on the districts where Hispanics or African Americans constitute a majority.


Throughout the day, witnesses gathered to give their opinion on the redrawing of congressional lines, which has become a Republican priority during the regular session and the three subsequent special sessions.

The current Texas delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives comprises 17 Democrats and 15 Republicans. The GOP says four to six new Republican seats from Texas should be added to more accurately reflect state voting trends.

But of the more than 28 people who attended the hearing to express their opinions on redistricting before the Senate Jurisprudence Committee, only one said she favored a plan that will reconfigure the state's 32 congressional districts.

Seems like old times, doesn't it? Stay tuned.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on September 18, 2003 to Killer D's | TrackBack

I wonder if we can get an actual expert in here to determine whether a map drawn [i]specifically[/i] to reduce Democratic representation (as several prominent GOP politicians claim) can actually pass court muster?

I know you put up a link to a guy arguing this, and according to what I recall, politics can be "a" consideration but not "the" consideration....and it's pretty clear this entire attempt is the latter.

But I'd like an actual expert's thoughts.

Posted by: Morat on September 18, 2003 11:31 AM

"If this plan does wind up getting signed into law and surviving a court challenge, then John Whitmire should accept the blame for allowing it to happen and resign from his Senate seat. If, on the other hand, no plan gets adopted, which would be a major embarrassment for Rick Perry and the GOP leadership, then the Texas Ten owe Whitmire a public apology for the nasty things they said about him."

I agree entirely on the first point (though he could just change parties). But for me to agree on the second, I'd have to accept that Whitmire new in advance that Republican infighting would kill the bill--and I doubt that. To clarify, that a battle over the spoils of war could kill a new map before the '04 election does seem possible. What I doubt is that Whitmire (D-Yellow Belly) knew it when he returned to Texas.


Posted by: Angry Bear on September 18, 2003 4:59 PM

I'm not giving that much credit to Whitmire, though I'm sure he knew that the GOP did not have a map in hand. He argued that the place to fight this battle was back in Austin, and that the Democrats were straying from their original focus by taking their message nationwide. If the GOP fails to pass a map, then I think it's fair to say that Whitmire was right about coming back to Austin, even if it wasn't for the right reasons.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on September 18, 2003 5:04 PM