If there's a more beautiful sound right now than Republicans sniping and griping at each other over a new Congressional map, I don't know what it is. Governor Perry's self-imposed deadline of Wednesday has come and gone, and the joint committee is no closer to approving a new map than they were when they started. Here's a taste, from the Statesman:
For now, however, Senate and House negotiators seem focused on West Texas.
Sen. Todd Staples complained that the narrow focus is detrimental to the rest of the map.
That's why Staples, R-Palestine, and Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, jumped on what they considered a compromise on West Texas. They claimed the West Texas portion of a map by Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth, R-Burleson, as a "promising advance."
"We trust this is a serious plan and not another ploy to divert attention from real progress," Staples said. "How could a top Republican leader, part of the leadership team, author a compromise for West Texas that the speaker had rejected?"
The House wasn't biting.
"I'd like to remind Senators Staples and Duncan, however, that Representative Wohlgemuth is not a member of the House Redistricting Committee, has not participated to date in the House-Senate negotiations on redistricting and did not speak to me or for me — or the House — in drawing her map," Craddick said.
Wohlgemuth, through a spokeswoman, said Staples and Duncan had changed her version of West Texas. She said her map was an attempt to help the counties in her district near Fort Worth and did not represent the speaker's position.
[H]ardly had Sens. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, and Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, told reporters they were reluctantly accepting a House compromise map, when House Speaker Tom Craddick and the author of the House-passed measure said they hadn't offered any such thing.
"It is not a map that the speaker would support," said Bob Richter, Craddick's press secretary.
The "compromise," it turned out, was a combination of the Senate-drawn map and a map suggested by state Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth, R-Burleson, one of Craddick's top lieutenants.
The senators argued that Wohlgemuth's map was identical to one favored by the Texas Republican congressional delegation, which could change the delegation to 21 Republicans and 11 Democrats. Currently, there are 17 Democrats and 15 Republicans.
"That being the case, and (Wohlgemuth) being a top member of the House leadership team, how could a top Republican leader offer a compromise on West Texas that the speaker has rejected?" Staples questioned.
But a Wohlgemuth aide countered that the legislator had no idea the senators were going to take just the West Texas part of her proposed map. It's not even the part she wanted changed.
"She had no indication they were going to take her map and graft it like they did, and she is a little surprised, needless to say," said Erica Phillips, Wohlgemuth's legislative director.
Told that Craddick had rejected their plan, the normally soft-spoken Duncan sounded exasperated.
"It would be nice to be able to negotiate, instead of this take-it-or-leave-it stance," Duncan said. "We have not been able to negotiate with the speaker, and no one else seems to have the authority to make any decision about West Texas except him."
House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, swatted aside the Senate's version of an olive branch, a proposed plan his spokesman said "would not do any of the things that the speaker would want."
"They're absolutely apart" on the specifics of a plan to boost the number of Republicans in Congress, said Bob Richter, Mr. Craddick's press secretary.
Senate mapmakers, in announcing their offer of a compromise over West Texas districts, accused their House counterparts of stubbornness.
Sen. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, the author of the Senate's map, said Mr. Craddick appears ready to block passage of any redistricting plan if he doesn't get his way on every detail of a Midland-dominated congressional district the Senate's already agreed to create.
"We believe that position is unreasonable," Mr. Staples said.
Another Senate negotiator was more harsh about the bickering between House and Senate Republicans over a final plan to boost GOP representation in Congress.
"The House has been negotiating in bad faith," said Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa of McAllen, the lone Democratic senator on the House-Senate conference.
Likewise, Mr. Staples accused the speaker's office of "insensitivity" to the need for quick approval of a map.
Last week, Mr. Perry called next Monday a "drop-dead" date for passing a bill. As his timetable appeared in jeopardy Wednesday, the governor downplayed his opposition to shifting the primary date.
"If that is what's required, then that is what's required," he said. "When we have that election is not as important as having the election" using a map drawn by elected legislators instead of the current map, which was drawn by judges, Mr. Perry said.
"Now with that said, I would rather them not have to be changing primary dates," he added.
Perry alluded to deadlines that would affect the primary date. Here's the scoop from the Chron.
If a compromise is not reached among Republicans in the next several days, they likely will have to move the Texas 2004 primaries from March 2 to March 9 to be able to use a new redistricting plan.
If the debate goes beyond next week, the primaries likely would have to be moved to March 30, according to a letter by Secretary of State Geoff Connor.
While President Bush is unlikely to face a major challenge for renomination in the Republican primaries, the battle for the Democratic nomination could be held as late as March 9. But some candidate likely will have sewn the nomination up before March 30.
Hinojosa said moving the election date would have the effect of suppressing minority turnout in the Democratic primaries.
Staples said Republicans are aware that could cause problems implementing a new redistricting map under the federal Voting Rights Act.
"We know that moving election dates could possibly involve a pre-clearance issue with the Department of Justice," Staples said. "We know there would be an additional expense to moving the election date."
"I don't think the public cares whether the primary is in early March, late March, April or September," King said. "I'd rather we take our time and not rush it here in the last hour, even if it means we have to keep going for a couple of more weeks in another special session."
Finally, some muddled thinking from Karen Hughes in the Chron:
Meanwhile, presidential adviser Karen Hughes weighed in on the Texas redistricting battle. She said it would be good for Bush to erase the 17-15 majority Democrats currently hold in the state's congressional delegation.
"Our congressional delegation frequently votes in a way that is opposed to what the president supports and to what the people of Texas, polls show, support," Hughes said.
"This is not as a White House official. This is not as an adviser to President Bush. This is as Karen Hughes, who lives in Texas and would like my congressional delegation to represent my views," she said.
Hughes is represented by U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio.
UPDATE: That last bit about Hughes and her Congressman is even funnier than I originally thought. I was emailed the following article from the Statesman, but I can't find the URL right now (I'm still looking). Apparently, when Hughes made this complaint, she didn't realize who her Congressman was:
She's worked at the White House, traveled the world with the president and
played politics at the highest level.
But, like many rank-and-file Americans, Karen Hughes of Austin discovered
Wednesday that she didn't know who represents her in the U.S. House.
At a news conference with Gov. Rick Perry, Hughes, an adviser to President
Bush, complained that local Democratic congressman Lloyd Doggett doesn't
adequately represent her in the House.
Hughes later determined that Doggett doesn't represent her at all.
Republican Lamar Smith of San Antonio does.
Hughes' comments about Doggett had come as she discussed the congressional
redistricting effort under way at the Texas Capitol. She sided with
Republicans trying to draw a new map that will give them a majority of the
state's 32 U.S. House seats.
"I don't believe he frequently represents my point of view, but individually
that happens," Hughes said of Doggett, who is as ideologically anti-Bush as
anyone in the House.
When Hughes got home, she pulled out her voter registration card and found
she lives in Smith's district. Doggett did represent Hughes until the
congressional maps were redrawn in 2001.
Hughes dutifully called around to correct her error.
"This is terribly embarrassing but I believe I told y'all my wrong
congressman today," she said. "I think I may be in Lamar Smith's district,
which I'm sure is a big relief because I'm sure (Doggett) didn't want to try
to represent me anyway," she said.