December 16, 2003
Switching sides

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.

It will be interesting to see how the state counters this claim. Their contention has been that only partisan interests drove the map, and any effects to minorities (which they also say were beneficial anyway) were merely collateral. Both Alford, as quoted in the Chron and State Rep. Richard Raymond, as quoted in the Quorum Report, address the issue of intent in different ways. Alford:

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."

More from Alford in the Star Telegram:

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.

As Greg has remarked on more than one occasion, Charlie Stenholm's district votes more heavily Republican overall than Tom DeLay's.

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.

And from the Express News:

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?"

If some of these arguments sound familiar, it's because they were repeated over and over during the endless legislative summer. It's just that now they're being repeated in front of the referees. Stay tuned.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 16, 2003 to Killer D's | TrackBack

Great wrap-up of the news coverage of some very interesting testimony. Thanks for putting it together.

Posted by: Jeff N. on December 16, 2003 11:11 AM

Amazing. It's all horrible because the Republicans are doing it.

But I notice not a word being said about the fact that the Democrats did it every chance they got from the Civil War onward.

Posted by: Chuck on December 16, 2003 4:20 PM

Hi Charles. I've been trying to follow all this from MA. Do you do questions?

Texas is subject to Voting Rights Act review, isn't it? Doesn't Martin Frost's district have some sort of protected status? I'd think the Democrats' best single bet would be for minority voters of Frost's district to challenge the new map on the basis that they're being thrown to the four winds, where they'll have really no power, instead of having at least substantial influence where they are. I don't understand how a quote new minority district unquote in Houston or southTexas makes the DFW minority voters whole. I mean, you don't tell them don't worry, there's a new minority district in Chicago. What relevance is Houston districts to a quote disenfranchised unquote minority voter in DFW?

Posted by: john young on December 16, 2003 11:16 PM

Hi, John. Yes, I do questions. :-)

Texas is subject to Voting Rights Act review, isn't it?

Yes. The Justice Department is currently reviewing the new map. Their decision is due by December 22.

Doesn't Martin Frost's district have some sort of protected status?

Yes. I forget if it's considered "minority opportunity" or "minority influence", but yes.

I'd think the Democrats' best single bet would be for minority voters of Frost's district to challenge the new map on the basis that they're being thrown to the four winds, where they'll have really no power, instead of having at least substantial influence where they are.

Much of the testimony so far has been about Martin Frost's district and the effect its loss will have on his constituents.

What relevance is Houston districts to a quote disenfranchised unquote minority voter in DFW?

That is exactly one of the plaintiffs' arguments.

Thanks for reading! I hope this answers your questions.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on December 17, 2003 6:44 AM

Well, Chuck, I guess you missed all the words back in 2000-2001, or in 1990-91, etc. I'm surprised that a Republican would bring up the past wrongs, given the near universal Republican response to affirmative action.

But the facts are that redistricting has long been a political football but that what the Republicans are doing now is much different than the past. The politicizing is not new. Republicans took the 1990 maps to court, getting judgments in the mid 1990s. If you don't like it as a party, you fight it. They fought the 2000 map, but afterwards, Cornyn among other Republicans felt that the maps were what 90% of what they wanted. It wasn't until the elections didn't turn out the way they expected that they got into a huff.

Finally, you won't find me (or I suspect many other Democrats in the blogs) who support what the Dems did in 1990. I hold the Democrats in contempt for not even allowing redistricting for nearly 25 years at one point.

But the thing is that your point is irrelevant to the argument and issue at hand, in addition to not being true.

Posted by: Tx Bubba on December 17, 2003 9:38 AM