October 05, 2003
Still no map

There's still no deal on a new Congressional map as the joint committee keeps lobbing maps back and forth with no progress being made.

Despite working around the clock the past couple of days, House and Senate Republicans late Saturday had not agreed on a map that would increase the number of Republicans from Texas in Congress. Democrats currently hold a 17 to 15 advantage under a map drawn by three federal judges in 2001. Republicans believe they can increase their clout in Congress by four to six seats with new districts.

Gov. Rick Perry has said the Legislature must give him a map sometime Monday to avoid postponing the state's primaries. But state lawmakers were bumping up against internal legislative deadlines for producing a compromise over the weekend.

Senate and House negotiators swapped maps Saturday and blamed one another for their failure to agree to a deal.

Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, the House's chief negotiator, said the House made a "great offer" at 3 a.m. Saturday. The Senate countered with another offer later Saturday.

"I'm willing to keep negotiating, but this map couldn't get a majority in the House," King said of the Senate counter-proposal.

He then went home to nap.

Sen. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, King's counterpart, said House negotiators are "obviously sleep deprived" because of their criticism of the Senate map.

Staples and Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, planned to dine with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst Saturday night, then return to the Capitol in case negotiations resumed.

If not, Staples and Duncan said they planned to watch the Texas Tech-Texas A&M game on TV. Staples is an Aggie; Duncan is from Tech. On the redistricting field, however, they are allies.

We'll have to see if that last statement is still true after Tech's 59-28 mauling of A&M, a result that will also put our Governor in a bad mood. Regardless, the two sides still don't agree which map is better for the GOP.

Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, the House's lead negotiator in the redistricting effort, said Saturday that his side could not accept a Senate-backed plan because it would be too generous to Democrats.

King's counterpart in the Senate, Palestine Republican Todd Staples, said later that the House negotiators must be "suffering from sleep deprivation," because they were rejecting a map that, in many respects, was identical to one he said they had offered a day earlier.

Both sides have been working into the wee hours of the morning trying to reach an agreement on a redistricting plan that would give Republicans as many as six additional seats and end the Democrats' 17-15 advantage in the state's congressional delegation.

"I'm willing to keep negotiating, but this map couldn't get a majority in the House," King said of the Senate version.

The problem, he said, is that the Senate plan would have only 17 solid Republican seats with the possibility of the party winning two more. The most recent House offer, King said, contains 19 solid Republican seats and gives the GOP a chance at two others.

Staples disputed King's assessment, saying that the Senate's plan would produce 20 or more Republican seats.

"The Senate map is eminently fair and should elect more Republicans than the House map," Staples said.

One thing that has changed since the bicameral process started is that both sides are now targeting Rep. Martin Frost's district for destruction, despite prior concerns that his district was untouchable due to Voting Rights Act concerns. The GOP now thinks it can split the difference by reconfiguring Chris Bell's district as one that a black could more easily win.

The Republicans want to eliminate the district of Frost and make up for it under the Voting Rights Act by increasing the black population in U.S. Rep. Chris Bell's Houston district.

Both districts currently are districts in which minority voters influence the outcome of elections and thus are protected under federal law.

Republicans have contended that by cutting Bell's home out of his district and increasing its black population, they are creating a new black district that offsets the loss of Frost's district in Dallas. The Republicans would change the number of Bell's district from the 25th to the 9th.

King said he was caught by surprise when one of his lawyers raised questions about the proposed District 9, which has been in every House map passed in three special sessions.

"Obviously, when you have one of the attorneys say, `This is a problem,' and you're 24 hours away from voting something out, that's a concern," King said.

"They're concerned the (black population) enhancement in 9, or Chris Bell's district, is not sufficient to offset the loss of Martin Frost's district."

Meanwhile, [State Sen. Rodney] Ellis said he has no doubt that the Republican proposals for Bell's district would doom the GOP redistricting effort in a federal court trial.

"They will come perilously close to having their effort to do mid-decade redistricting struck down in the courts, if they tinker with the 25th," Ellis said.

"The 25th already is a minority opportunity district. If a strong African-American challenger got into that race now, they probably would win."

Ellis disputed remarks by state Rep. Ron Wilson, D-Houston, who said increasing the black population of the district would guarantee the election of a black politician.

Ellis said a black candidate could win there now but that most black leaders would rather save Democratic districts in general than gain a single black representative.

"Most of the African-American leaders are able to count. To pick up one African-American seat sooner and lose six to nine, that's just bad math," Ellis said.

Ellis said blacks know they can count on Democrats to vote to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act when it comes up for renewal in 2006.

Bell spokesman Eric Burns said the congressman won the Democratic runoff in 2002 with 32 percent of the black vote. Burns said that since that time, Bell has worked with the black community and believes he could win re-election even under the Republican plan.

U.S. Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston, another Anglo, is cut out of his heavily Hispanic district in the Republican plans. But most of the new district would be what he represents now. Green likely could win re-election, though he might face a tougher Democratic primary involving a Hispanic challenger.

In the meantime, there's plenty of name calling and backbiting going on to keep us all amused. Summing it all up:

Republican infighting had Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo, longing for a fresh exodus.

"We're just praying the Democrats will leave again, to take the heat off of us," Smithee said.

Maybe John Whitmire had a point about having an exit strategy, even if he couldn't have foreseen all this. Just something to keep in mind.

Finally, the editorialists have gotten back into the game. The Statesman again calls for a nonpartisan redistricting committee for the future; the Star-Telegram chastises Rep. Phil King for his remarks that the public doesn't care when the primaries are; the Corpus Christi Caller-Times notes that the GOP has no one but themselves to blame for the current impasse; and the Chron rebukes Speaker Craddick for scheduling a House session on Yom Kippur.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on October 05, 2003 to Killer D's | TrackBack

Well, at least they'll be desecrating the holiest day of the Jewish year tomorrow. Perhaps some West Texas Republicans can do some atonement by hitting each other on the head with sacks of doorknobs.

Posted by: Norbizness on October 5, 2003 7:57 PM