On Day Two of Hammer Time, the newspapers are all reporting that this time, the Republicans really truly are thisclose to finalizing a map.
No compromise maps were released, but both sides agreed that Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, the speaker of the Texas House, had beaten back Senate opposition and prevailed in his dogged pursuit of a district centered in his hometown -- where a former business partner of President Bush is waiting in the wings to run.
A House negotiator said some tweaking of districts in the Panhandle and Central Texas remains - and any haggling at this late hour could kill a fragile compromise.
Late Tuesday night, a deal appeared to be close but elusive. "The progress has slowed somewhat, but I am hopeful," said state Sen. Todd Staples, R-Palestine.
Staples said he hoped he would be able to announce a deal today.
"The primary haggling is not over District 11, the Midland district, but over 13 and 19, the Amarillo and Lubbock districts," said state Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, the chief House negotiator.
Another way to put it, as Craddick spokesman Bob Richter did, is that the House speaker "pretty much got what he wanted."
Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, had fought to keep the current lines intact, which made possible the election of Stenholm, a popular conservative Democrat who keeps getting re-elected in Republican territory.
In an interview with the Star-Telegram Tuesday in Washington, Stenholm called Duncan "solid as a rock" and expressed optimism that he would be able to run in whatever district is drawn for him.
But Dave Beckwith, a spokesman for Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the president of the Senate, said it had never been Duncan's goal to keep a winnable seat for Stenholm.
"Whoever put that out, that he was trying to protect Stenholm, was either wrong or maliciously wrong," Beckwith said. "In order to get these [new Republican] seats, we need Stenholm's."
Beckwith also agreed that Craddick had prevailed in his insistence on a Midland-centered district. K. Michael Conaway, a longtime friend and business partner of President Bush, is Craddick's favored candidate for the seat.
"Craddick won a brand new district for Midland. He won that. That's for sure," Beckwith said.
Stenholm, meanwhile, would face freshman U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Lubbock, in a GOP-dominated district.
The Republican leaders raced against the clock to get a deal Tuesday, fearing they would lose a GOP quorum in the House this weekend to the Texas-Oklahoma football game.
"They feel like to get into the Texas-OU weekend, you might lose members on Friday," said Richter. "If you have to go to next week, there's a good chance that a filibuster would throw it off in the Senate."
The University of Texas usually gives free football tickets to legislators, but it is unclear whether lawmakers are being given tickets to this weekend's game, Richter said.
If House and Senate negotiators can hammer out an agreement by early today, the chambers could vote on the final GOP redistricting plan by Thursday. Any further delay would push a floor vote off until at least Friday.
State Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, the lead House negotiator, said he did not think the Texas-OU game would interfere with a Friday House vote if needed.
"I think whenever we're going to have a vote, I think everybody will be here. We're pretty close. If we get a map worked out tonight or tomorrow, and it gets signed off on by everybody ... we could be on the floor Friday, easy."
While Democrats here (myself included) are spitting mad about the possibility that the primary date may be changed, the various Presidential campaigns weren't sure it would affect them.
"This will sacrifice Texas' voice in the presidential selection process," said Geronimo Rodriguez, an Austin lawyer and state adviser for the presidential campaign of Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, on the moving of the primary back to March 9. "We will know the nominee by the time Texas votes in the primary."
But Texas leaders in the presidential campaigns of Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt were not as certain of the potential influence.
"If they don't go much further than that, we are probably OK," said former Land Commissioner Garry Mauro, Gephardt's point man in Texas. "But March 2 makes Texas more of a player."
Former Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes, the Texas coordinator for Kerry, has projected for months that the nomination would be decided even before March 2.
"It's still hard for me to see a scenario that the presidential race is not over before the first week of March," Barnes said. "I still think the primary will be over before Texas votes, but that one week could make a big difference."
Former state Rep. Glen Maxey of Austin, director of the Howard Dean presidential campaign in Texas, said it's too early to tell what the key date will be.
"Just because we get moved back does not mean we are out of the game in this multicandidate field," he said.
State Rep. Dan Branch, a Dallas Republican and sponsor of the measure that moved the primaries to March 2, said Tuesday that there would be a cost to counties, but not the state, to moving it back to March 9.
Branch wanted to move the primaries to avoid the costs involved in opening the schools and other polling places that are closed for spring break on March 9.
"We were saving money because to hold a primary election in a darkened schoolhouse on spring break is 20 to 50 percent more expensive than when schools are opened," he said.
On a lighter note, Alec Baldwin has a gift for Governor Perry.
Actor Alec Baldwin came packing a box of Milk Bones at a Tuesday fund-raiser for Texas House Democrats embroiled in a nationally noticed fight with the GOP over congressional redistricting.
"I wanted to give this to Tom DeLay's lap dog, Rick Perry," Baldwin told reporters at the private fund-raiser downtown, noting that Gov. Perry has called three special legislative sessions to try to achieve GOP-friendlier congressional districts as sought by DeLay, U.S. House majority leader.
Perry's spokeswoman Kathy Walt, with the governor on a New York trip, returned the shot.
"Alec Baldwin is to acting what Democrats are to Texas — irrelevant," she said.
The fund-raiser was for the "Killer Ds," as supporters call the House Democrats who stalled redistricting in the regular session by fleeing to Oklahoma. More than $50,000 was raised, said Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio.
The money will be used to help re-elect Democratic House members, said Rep. Jim Dunnam of Waco, head of the House Democratic caucus.
On to the editorials. The Star-Telegram has a three part piece decrying various aspects of the whole redistricting process. The Morning News says keeping the primary date is more important that the GOP feud. The Statesman bemoans the whole thing. The Express News takes a similar tack while fretting about uncompetitive districts and plugging the Wentworth plan. The McAllen Monitor feels Craddick and Duncan's pain.
Republicans such as Craddick and Duncan have had a taste of what redistricting does — it separates us into haves and have-nots when it comes to congressional representation. While those politicians’ districts get a fair shake under the compromise map, Hidalgo County is once again gerrymandered into two congressional districts, one of which stretches all the way into Central Texas, far from the border with Mexico.
This unfairness in drawing the congressional districts won’t go away until the state Legislature has the courage — has the guts — to bring about a fair, impartial redistricting system. There are at least two ways this could come about. The Legislature could create a nonpartisan redistricting committee made up of demographers, geographers and other experts; or it could use a computer program that automatically draws district boundaries according to preset specifications. Either of these methods, or even some combination of the two, would be better than the political mess Texas must endure.
We don’t feel too sorry for Duncan and Craddick. But we’re very familiar with what they’re going through.