The more I read about the latest version of the Staples map that was passed out of the Senate Jurisprudence Committee yesterday, the more I think that it's the Republicans' best chance to get a map that increases their delegation and withstands judicial scrutiny. How does the map affect current incumbents?
The map approved Friday by the Senate Jurisprudence Committee chaired by [Sen. Robert] Duncan would only guarantee the Republicans a gain of three seats in next year's elections. Defeat would be certain for Democratic U.S. Reps. Max Sandlin of Marshall, Jim Turner of Crockett and Nick Lampson of Beaumont.
[Rep. Charlie] Stenholm and Democratic U.S. Reps. Chet Edwards of Waco and Ralph Hall of Rockwall might have difficulty winning re-election. But the map the committee approved made Stenholm's district safer than it was in any previous plan considered by the panel.
Mr. Staples said his map would make no change in the percentages of black and Hispanic voters in seven of the districts now represented by Democrats.
It would increase or decrease the minority-voter percentages by less than 3 percent in eight others, Mr. Staples said. And his plan would increase the minority vote by 3.6 percent, to 71.3 percent, in the district of U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas; and by 5.6 percent in the new home district of Mr. Lampson.
[Sen. Royce] West especially objected to its placement of about 5,000 blacks and Hispanics from Galveston County and southern Harris County into the district of U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, a principal architect of the GOP redistricting effort.
"That renders them politically ineffective" and could violate a U.S. Supreme Court ruling this summer that encouraged states to draw political maps that support multiracial political coalitions, Mr. West said.
Of course, before we get that far, there's still the little matter of the Craddick/Duncan tiff to be worked out. How's that going?
A key sticking point is that Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, chairman of the Senate panel, is at odds with House Speaker Tom Craddick of Midland on how to reapportion West Texas. The Senate plan, backed by Duncan, protects Democratic Congressman Charles Stenholm of Abilene.
The House plan includes a district based in Midland, which works to Stenholm's disadvantage. Duncan said he cannot support the Craddick-backed configuration.
"He's got to decide whether he wants to have redistricting," Duncan said, referring to Craddick, who embarked on the unusual middecade redistricting effort with far more enthusiasm than anyone in the Senate. "Are we going to have redistricting [or] are we going to have Midland? Is this about Texas or is this about Midland?"
An aide to the speaker said Craddick will stand firm.
"We're not going to get drawn into a battle negotiating in the press," said Craddick spokesman Bob Richter. "As far as we're concerned, the House has passed its map three times, and that's what we're sticking by. Once the Senate has acted, we'll go to conference and work on a compromise, but we're not compromising on Midland."
A poll by the Taylor County Republican Party found its supporters overwhelmingly prefer a congressional district that pairs Abilene and San Angelo.
According to an unscientific poll of party contributors, activists and business leaders, 1,276 preferred the district stay as is, 12 supported a district that pairs Abilene with Midland-Odessa and nine favored a district that contained Abilene and Lubbock.
"This is the only poll we have ever conducted that was nearly unanimous," party Chairman Paul Washburn said. "Republicans in Taylor County do not want the 17th Congressional District to change, and I am sure this feeling is even stronger in the smaller counties of our area."
Washburn praised state Rep. Bob Hunter and state Sen. Troy Fraser, both of whom represent Abilene, for opposing changes to the district pushed by House Speaker Tom Craddick of Midland.
To get what he wants, Craddick has even linked military base closures with congressional redistricting. Craddick’s spokesman suggested that breaking up the West Texas districts could keep San Angelo’s Goodfellow Air Force Base off the closure list in 2005. He claims that having two military bases in same congressional district — Goodfellow and Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene — makes one of them vulnerable to closure.
But anyone familiar with the base closure process knows that isn’t true. If that were the case, bases in the Corpus Christi area, San Antonio, Virginia, California and Georgia would be in jeopardy. The base closure process looks at military value, not the number of installations in a congressional district.
Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, said it would be a mistake "for us to be passing a bill out of the Senate that has West Texas in concrete keeping Midland and Lubbock together, when the House has sent a bill over that is in concrete that has Midland in a separate congressional district."
"To have gone through all this trial and tribulation, resulting in hard feelings and a loss in the bipartisan spirit of the Senate and not pass a map? That is just nearly unthinkable in my opinion," he said.
After adjournment, Dewhurst said the Democrats seem intent on delay, but he said it's "mechanically" impossible for Democrats to stall redistricting to death.
Dewhurst said he will recognize Democrats for personal privilege speeches, but only if they remain in line with Senate tradition.
"We're not aware of any speech that's gone longer than 20 minutes, 30 minutes," he said.
Democrats declined to discuss strategy.