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Is now the time for the Wentworth redistricting bill?

Postcards says “Maybe”, but I remain skeptical.

In both 2005 and 2007, the state Senate approved a bill to establish a Texas Congressional Redistricting Commission, in part to remove the contentious and partisan process from the plate of the state Legislature.

“I think the votes are here to get this bill on the floor,” said state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, the author of Senate Bill 22.
Committee Chairman Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, agreed. He said the committee could vote as soon as tomorrow afternoon to put the measure up for a vote by the full Senate.

Under the bill, eight citizens would be selected to redraw congressional boundary maps — including two appointed by each party caucus in the Senate and the House, plus a ninth non-voting member selected by the commission, according to Wentworth.

No lobbyists, elected officials or officials of any political party — above precinct chairs — could be members. “It would take five (votes) to pass a map,” Wentworth said.

Katy Kappel, with the Texas Silver-Haired Legislature, urged the committee to approve the bill as a way to correct problems in Texas’ redistricting method. She called the proposed new maps “not fair, a product of self-interest and party interest,” and said a citizens commission could do better.

Wentworth said while the Legislature is required by the state Constitution to redraw its own boundaries, congressional maps are not so required. He agreed that congressional redistricting could better handled by a citizens panel.

Even so, Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, who blocked passage of a similar bill in the Senate two years ago, questioned why a citizens committee should be expected to be less partisan than legislative committees whose members are beholden to voters.

“You can’t separate redistricting from partisanship,” Wentworth acknowledged,” but in this state we’ve seen that the majority party draws districts that are very much to its advantage.”

The problem for the bill is that the party in power always thinks it will continue to be in power and thus keep drawing those advantageous districts. The right time for this bill was probably the mid-90s, when the Democrats still controlled the Legislature but anyone could see what was coming. Arguably, the Republicans are in that position today, but it’s harder to see from here than it was (or at least, that it should have been) for the Dems in 1993 or so. My recollection is that the powers that be within the state GOP are not in favor of this bill, and as such I have a hard time imagining it passing the House. If it does come to a vote in the House, I’ll be very interested to see who does and does not support it.

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