December 17, 2003
Today's redistricting lawsuit update

The big news out of yesterday's testimony came from State Rep. Glenn Lewis (D, Fort Worth), who spoke about making deals and GOP concerns about the Voting Rights Act.

During his testimony, Mr. Lewis said that in May he pleaded with [Speaker Tom] Craddick not to split [Rep. Martin] Frost's 24th District because doing so would dilute minority-voting strength.

"He didn't feel like he could give me that commitment," Mr. Lewis said. "I asked him not to have my legislative district split. He did give me that commitment."

That and strong lobbying by U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, led to the placement of 115,000 minorities now represented by Mr. Frost into the district of U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, a Republican freshman from Denton County, Mr. Lewis said.

Under the current congressional lines, a black candidate would have a good chance of succeeding Mr. Frost when he retires, Mr. Lewis said.

But he said a black candidate would have almost no chance of winning in Dr. Burgess' heavily suburban 26th District, even though it would probably tilt less strongly to Republicans if the new map is approved.

"I guess if Clarence Thomas was to run, he might win," Mr. Lewis said, referring to the conservative U.S. Supreme Court justice, the court's only African-American member.

Mr. Craddick did not hesitate to divide minorities in the legislative district of Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, and place some in Ms. Granger's district and some in Dr. Burgess' district, Mr. Lewis said.

Last January, Mr. Burnam cast the only "nay" vote against Mr. Craddick's election as speaker.

But Mr. Craddick, who is from Midland, protected Mr. Lewis, a five-term lawmaker and an African-American who was one of the House's first minorities to endorse his candidacy for speaker.

Mr. Lewis, a lawyer, said that Mr. Craddick's chief map-maker, Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, expressed to him grave concerns about the legality of dismantling Mr. Frost's district, which is 60 percent minority.
Mr. King said an unnamed Republican lawyer had that opinion, Mr. Lewis said.

"I said, 'Phil, I've been telling you that for the last six months. I guess you had to get a lawyer that you paid to say it to believe it,' " Mr. Lewis said.

Democratic lawyer Gerald Hebert seized on Mr. Lewis' statement and asked him if Mr. King had admitted that GOP legislative leaders were being pressured by U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, to do in Mr. Frost.

"Not expressly," Mr. Lewis said, although he subsequently came to that conclusion "from the totality of the circumstances."

The Morning News also has a brief recap of other testimony given at the bottom of their story.

The Chron story, with the Claude-worthy headline "Democratic lawmaker decries redistricting plan", is about the testimony of State Rep. Joe Deshotel. He's from the Beaumont area, so he's talking about Rep. Nick Lampson's district:

Deshotel said the Republican map split a coalition of black and labor union voters in the 9th District now held by U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson, D-Beaumont.

Though blacks only make up 33 percent of the district's vote, Deshotel said a black politician such as he would have a chance of winning the district as it is now drawn.

Deshotel said the new map splits the black communities into three districts.

He said 20,000 Galveston County blacks are put into the 22nd District of U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, and another 60,000 into the district of U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Surfside. The remaining 111,000 in Jefferson County are put into a new 2nd District, which will be dominated by 350,000 mostly Anglo Republican voters from Harris County.

"If you want to reduce the African-American impact on an election, that is how you would do it," Deshotel said.

The Express News covers the next phase of the plaintiffs' case, which will be brought by the American GI Forum and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. They focused on the 23rd CD, currently held by Republican Henry Bonilla. Though Bonilla represents a mostly-Hispanic constituency, it's been Anglos in San Antonio who have kept him in office. The new map removes most of Webb County, which is 94% Hispanic, in order to bolster his future electability. Unfortunately, the E-N botched the coverage:

But although Bonilla is Hispanic the only Mexican American Republican in Congress he is not the favored candidate of Hispanics in the district, said Henry Flores, a St. Mary's University political science professor. Normally, he wins re-election because of heavy Anglo Republican turnout in northwest Bexar County.

If Bonilla's district were not changed and the Hispanic voters removed and replaced by Republican voting Anglos in Kerr and Kendall counties, "it is likely he would lose his next election," Flores said.

It took me two readings to realize that there's a missing "not" after "Hispanic voters". Bonilla nearly lost in 2002 to Democrat Henry Cuellar, while the proposed whitening of his district has led former San Antonio Mayor Nelson Wolff to speculate that Bonilla may wind up losing a GOP primary to an Anglo opponent.

Finally, the Star Telegram takes a break from the trial to look at one of the most controversial new districts.

The Star-Telegram analyzed two sections of District 25, roughly equal in size but similar only in their voters' allegiance to the Democratic Party.

On the north end is Austin's South Travis Heights neighborhood, where Mahoney lives. Its population is 63.5 percent Anglo, 5.1 percent black and 29.2 percent Hispanic.

Half are college graduates, and the median income is north of $37,000. Home to columnist Molly Ivins, the neighborhood might best be described as urban liberal.

Compared to conservative Katy, Ivins said the choice was clear. "I don't want to seem judgmental, but on the whole, I'm proud to be with Starr County," she quipped.

On the southern end of the district sits a collection of colonias off gritty U.S. 83 in Roma, defined as Census Tract 9502.01, Block Group 5. This is where Barrera, the bar owner, lives and works. It is 99.4 percent Hispanic and 0.6 percent Anglo. Not a single African-American calls it home.

Less than 3 percent are college graduates, and the median income is just below $15,000, making it one of the poorest census tracts in the nation.

The plaintiffs are expected to wrap up their case by tomorrow, and then it'll be the state's turn. I'm beginning to wonder if we'll have a ruling before Christmas. Stay tuned.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 17, 2003 to Killer D's | TrackBack