A little perspective about redistricting

So now we wait for the full Supreme Court’s ruling on AG Abbott’s requests to stay the 2012 elections, which by the way would only apply to the elections affected by the disputed redistricting maps. Other primary elections for things like the SBOE, statewide and county offices, would proceed as usual in March while the Lege, the State Senate, and Congress would be pushed back till May if Abbott gets his wish. Yes, we’d have two separate primaries next year under this scenario. How big an unfunded mandate to the counties do you think that would be? Talk about “irreparable harm”.

Anyway. For all of the piteous wailing and gnashing of teeth that Republicans are doing about those big bad activist judges, let’s keep something in perspective: The court-drawn State House map, under a set of reasonably optimistic assumptions, produces a 2013 Lege with 90 Rs and 60 Ds. That’s a 60% Republican chamber, with two more Rs than what they had in 2003 under what was at the time the map of their dreams. Can anyone seriously say that this is unfair to the Republicans? Go back through all of the elections this past decade, and outside of the 2010 anomaly, only three Rs won statewide with 60% of the vote or more: Carole Keeton Rylander in 2002 against the hapless Marty Akin; George W. Bush in 2004; and Kay Bailey Hutchison in 2006, back when she was still popular among her fellow Republicans. And remember, 60 is far from guaranteed for the Dems. It requires them to recruit well, to defend the increasingly vulnerable Craig Eiland while retaining Pete Gallego’s open seat, and to defeat several R incumbents in favorable but not overwhelming turf. It assumes conditions are at least comparable to 2008, which initial polling says is likely to be true but which can change at any time. It assumes that there’s no great effect from the voter ID law, if it ever gets precleared, and that the usual suppressive efforts like what we see from the Harris County Tax Assessor’s office and the like are no more successful than usual. That’s a lot of assumptions, and if one or more of them turns out to be untrue we could be looking at 95-55, or a 63% Republican House. This isn’t enough for them?

Now let’s consider what I would consider a wildly optimistic outcome for the Dems, in which they capture 65 seats total. That’s still a 57% Republican advantage. No Republican got as much as 57% in 2008 – John McCain’s 55.45% was the best showing – and under these conditions, clearly none would get that much in 2012. Indeed, for the Dems to win 65 seats next year I’d expect some statwide Republicans to fail to get 50% of the vote. My point is that this map still tilts pretty heavily in the Republicans’ favor. Whereas the map drawn by the Republicans in 2001 came close to having a Democratic majority with Republicans still winning everything statewide, I can imagine Democrats sweeping all statewide offices but not getting a legislative majority under this oh-so-unfair judge-drawn map.

And that’s just the House we’re talking about. The best case scenario for the State Senate is for the Dems to maintain the 12 seats they have now, which requires Wendy Davis to hang on in a majority R district. That means Dems maintain 39% of that body, which is to say a lower percentage than in the House. If Davis loses, the Rs control 65% of the Senate. The wildly optimistic view has the Dems eventually winning SD09, giving them 13 out of 31, or 42% of the Senate. Tell me again how unfair this is to the Republicans?

And finally we have Congress, where the if-all-goes-about-as-well-as-we-hope scenario is 13 Dems out of 36, or 64% Republican. The low end for Dems is 12, or 67% Republican, while the high end for now is probably 16 – the 13 we’re all pointing to, plus CDs 06, 10, and 14. That’s still 56% Republican. Say it with me now – How is this unfair to the Republicans?

Now I’m not so naive as to think there’s anything “fair” about redistricting. Even under a system that everyone could agree was “fair”, for some value of that word, the end result of any given election is likely to favor one side or the other for any number of reasons. Fairness is not a legal requirement, either. The Republicans probably could have drawn a slightly less egregious map that pegged the Democratic ceiling in the House at 55-57 for this election and maybe 65 for the foreseeable future that would have had a chance at preclearance. They got greedy, they got caught, and now they’re screaming like stuck pigs even though the maps that were imposed on them will likely leave them in the majority for the rest of the decade without having to increase their appeal to Latino voters and even as their statewide hegemony crumbles. We should all have problems like that.

Be all that as it may, candidate filings began yesterday, under the assumption that the elections calendar will proceed as originally planned. Various entities are keeping track of who has filed for what so far. Houston Politics has Harris County information, of which the most interesting tidbit is that former State Rep. Robert Talton has filed for County Attorney against Vince Ryan; PoliTex has Tarrant County filings – Fort Worth City Council Member Kathleen Hicks was first out of the gate for the new CD33; Greg’s Texas Political Almanac has a running tally; and the TDP is tweeting filings from its Austin headquarters – follow @TxDemParty or search the hashtag #TXD2012 for more. Finally, one candidate I want to highlight even though I doubt he has a chance to win is Jack Ternan, running for the open SD08 that had been Sen. Florence Shapiro’s seat. My reason for noting and approving of his candidacy comes from his bio:

After completing school, I joined the law firm of Bickel & Brewer where I practice complex commercial litigation. The firm has provided me an opportunity to seek justice for those affected by the City of Farmers Branch’s anti-immigrant ordinances, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and an anti-competitive deal between Southwest and American airlines.

Anyone who’s been working to bring justice to Farmers Branch is all right in my book.

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12 Responses to A little perspective about redistricting

  1. Mainstream says:

    Your analysis seems to be essentially an argument for replacing a district-based system with a system of proportional representation. I don’t see the logic in equating 60% GOP victories statewide with a “fairness” quotient of seats in a legislature. If every single district voted the same way that statewide voters did, we would have a legislature with 150 Rs and 0 Ds. There is a magnifying effect, a premium which goes to the victors in even proportional representation systems, and even more so for first-past-the-post or single district systems.

  2. If it is an argument for anything, I took it to be an analysis and opinion piece, it is an argument for non partisan redistricting. We certainly don’t have anything that approaches that now. Currently communities of interest, counties and even neighborhoods are divided to give one party political advantage over the other. The state representative district I ran in previously is now 18 to 20 miles wide or less at the North West end of my county and is around two hundred miles long or more if you stay in the district while driving through it. I live less than three miles from another district going West, seven miles from another going South and 27 miles from Louisiana by highway going East.

  3. I’m not making any policy recommendations here. I’m simply observing that in the worst case scenario for Republicans – the court maps are used, and Democrats perform about as well as can be reasonably expected – we will still have a Republican-dominated House, a Republican-dominated Senate, and a Republican-dominated Congressional caucus. I point this out to observe that 1) GOP complaints about how they’ve been jobbed are awfully whiny, in the same way that the complaints by some highly-paid athletes or entertainers about the unfairness of their contracts are usually perceived as whiny, and 2) for all the celebrating Democrats have done about this legal victory, we’re no better off than we were ten years ago, and that’s assuming nothing gets reversed or unfavorably altered at trial or on appeal. In other words, Republicans should get over it, and Democrats should get to work.

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