More testimony yesterday in the federal lawsuit to stop implementation of the new Congressional map, with the highlight being that of Rice professor John Alford, who had testified for the state in 2001. Let's start with the Dallas Morning News:
"I'm a firm proponent of Republicans getting the majority of seats in Texas," said Dr. John Alford, a political science professor at Rice University. "This goes beyond that ... into a territory where the nature of the system itself determines the outcome, rather than the will of the voters."
He said that the old map still in use – under which Republicans hold 15 of 32 seats – actually favors the GOP. Republicans could grab a majority of the seats, he predicted, if the party would campaign effectively against Democratic incumbents elected in districts with large numbers of crossover Republicans.
Dr. Alford was the first witness to testify extensively on nonracial "partisan gerrymandering," which the U.S. Supreme Court has said can be illegal, under circumstances it has yet to define.
The professor said a tell-tale sign of remap politics gone too far lies in statistics that indicate the Republicans' map guarantees them a nearly bulletproof 70 percent share of the congressional delegation, even if the party's share of overall voter population drops below 50 percent. That is accomplished by packing high numbers of Democrats into a lesser number of districts, leaving them insufficient numbers to affect the outcome in the rest.
"It undermines faith in the actual elections themselves," he said.
On the subject of race, Dr. Alford said Republicans' contention that their lines were drawn politically, not racially, is belied by districts that jag awkwardly to capture minority areas, bypassing reliably Democratic, nonminority turf.
In particular, he criticized three narrow districts running north hundreds of miles from the Mexico border to grab minority dominated districts along the way. Dr. Alford said the three districts are over the top, according to two traditional gerrymandering measures: jaggedness of their perimeters and overall length relative to their area.
U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Patrick Higginbotham asked Alford how the court should tell the difference between minority communities that were cut for racially discriminatory purposes and those that are simply Democratic voters.
Alford said he would look at the result of splitting the community.
"Did someone intentionally murder someone?" Alford said. "Did they understand the consequences of what they were doing?"
Alford, who was the state's expert in 2001 redistricting lawsuits, said Republicans could have gained a partisan advantage as they did in legislative redistricting without going to the extremes that he said exist in the congressional plan.
State Rep. Richard Raymond (D-Laredo) said the redistricting process had resembled the case of the gunman who goes into a store to rob it. In order to get out he has to kill the guy standing at the door.
Raymond said Republicans started out wanting to take more congressional seats from Democrats but then found minorities standing in the way. "We are standing at the door," Raymond said. "They pulled the trigger, that is what they did."
Alford, who worked with Republican officials two years ago when the state first took up congressional redistricting to address demographic changes found in the 2000 Census, said the latest map contains several fatal flaws. Primarily, he said, it would undermine the voting rights of racial minorities because it shifts several African-American communities along the Rio Grande and in North Texas into districts dominated by Anglo Republicans or by other minority communities that have little in common with their needs.
In response to questions from Andy Taylor, a former assistant attorney general, Alford said the new map is more likely to elect a third African-American from Texas to Congress. But Alford said that an individual thus elected would represent a new district in Houston and that the new map would damage minority residents in Fort Worth who would no longer be represented by Democrat Martin Frost.
Although Frost is white, his District 24 under the existing map is heavily minority.
Alford, who has analyzed voting trends since 1992 that show Texas becoming increasingly dominated by Republican voters, said that the court-drawn map currently in use strikes a balance between minority voting rights and the continuing GOP tide. But Texas Republicans are far from satisfied with the existing map because several entrenched Democrats continue to win Republican-leaning districts, in part because credible GOP candidates are reluctant to take on incumbents.
"I'm a firm proponent of Republicans getting a majority of the seats in Texas. I want them to win a majority," Alford said. "There are plenty of districts that Republicans could win if they simply did it the old-fashioned way," he said, referring to the current map.
There was other testimony, mostly from officeholders, including retiring State Sen. Bill Ratliff and Sen. Rodney Ellis, who challenged the GOP's claims about enhancing minority representation by creating another district in Houston that could be won by a black candidate. From the Chron:
Lawyers for the state contend the Legislature enhanced political opportunities by taking Democratic U.S. Rep. Chris Bell's 25th District in Houston and redrawing it as an open 9th District with an increased black population. Both districts are geographically centered in southwest Houston.
The state claims that will increase the odds of a black politician winning the district and offset the loss of a district in the Dallas-Fort Worth area where minorities influence the outcome of elections.
The new congressional map increases the black voting-age population of the Houston district from 22 percent to 26 percent. Bell has said he will run for re-election in the new district if the map withstands legal challenges.
Ellis said a well-positioned and well-funded black politician could beat Bell in either his existing district or the one created by the Legislature. And he said Bell would have advantages that could help him win re-election in either district configuration.
"It's a wash. An African-American would have no greater opportunity of winning that district than the current district," Ellis said.
Even if a black won, he said, that would not be worth the political harm that would come under the proposed map from losing six Anglo incumbent Democrats who vote favorably on issues important to blacks.
Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said he didn't "understand this modern math."
"Republicans say minorities' voting strength is not diminished because African Americans or Hispanics get one new district," Ellis said.
"But in doing so, we lose six or seven (Anglo Democratic) congressmen who consistently vote for the interests of minorities, so how is that beneficial to us?"