Still pondering Abbott’s redistricting motives

The Trib’s Ross Ramsey wonders what Greg Abbott is up to.

Still not Greg Abbott

Greg Abbott is selling a redistricting nostrum, telling Texas legislators they could cut their legal risks by adopting new political maps right away.

It is a hard sell. Lawmakers are getting along so well they practically break out into song every day. Abbott, the state’s attorney general, is offering them one of the most reliably divisive issues in existence, saying they could get themselves — and him, too, by the way — out of a lot of gnarly legal fights by endorsing maps drawn by federal judges instead of defending their own. They’re balking.


Lawmakers can always come back and draw new maps again, after the courts are through. They have been advised to leave their school finance system alone while that works its way through the courts, to avoid trying to second-guess the judges. So why second-guess the courts on redistricting?

Abbott has more at risk.

The political incentives are meager: It would be hard to come out of this a hero. Just try to find a well-balanced Texas voter who is keeping score on redistricting machinations. Most voters are looking at other things.

The risk? If, a year from now, one party or the other has lost ground because of a lousy showing in court, its advocates — not the lawmakers themselves — would take the heat.

Nobody, especially the attorney general, wants to be a goat.

As we know, bills to affirm the interim 2012 maps as the official maps for the rest of the decade were introduced just before the filing deadline. We learned later that this was what Abbott wanted. I still don’t quite get why he wants this, and I don’t fully buy Ramsey’s thesis. The Republicans, led in part by Abbott, have been employing a maximalist strategy all along. They drew super-aggressive maps, they put essentially no remediation in the voter ID bill, and they’re petitioning the Supreme Court to throw out Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act so that they can implement these things. Why hedge their bets now? Even if SCOTUS upholds Section 5 and the San Antonio court forces Dem-friendlier maps to be drawn, I don’t believe Abbott will be the fall guy for that. He’d have a very straightforward case to make to the seething masses of GOP primary voters that he was out there fighting for truth and justice and he would have gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for those godless activist judges. Maybe some GOP insiders will grumble that he gave them bad legal advice, but who cares? Facts don’t have anything to do with it. I don’t see the downside of going full gonzo Don Quixote, or the upside of getting timid inside the red zone. Am I missing something here?

One more thing, from Trail Blazers:

The 83rd Texas legislative session could go into overtime.

Attorney General Greg Abbott has urged the Legislature to make permanent the interim legislative boundaries developed last year by a federal panel in San Antonio.

But such action is unlikely to occur before the current session ends in May. That’s because the U.S. Supreme Court is considering whether to strike down a provision in the Voting Rights Act that requires states like Texas to have legislative boundaries and changes in election law approved by the federal government. The high court is expected to rule on the Sec. 5 provision in the Voting Rights Act near the end of its term, perhaps in June.

Most legislators don’t want to consider redistricting until the Supreme Court has finished its business. This week several lawmakers told me they expected to be called back by Gov. Rick Perry for a short special session to approve final legislative boundaries.

I’m not sure if the implication here is that they’re expecting a special session to be called in the event of Section 5 being struck down, or if one will be called regardless. I’m not going to worry about it until we get the ruling from SCOTUS. But if the implication of all this is that Perry is on board with Abbott’s idea to make the interim maps the officially sanctioned maps, then again I wonder what caused the retreat from the damn-the-torpedoes attitude of before.

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2 Responses to Still pondering Abbott’s redistricting motives

  1. Mainstream says:

    I don’t understand why there will be any need for a special legislative session at all, in the event the US Supreme Court declares the coverage formula related to Section 5 invalid. By law, the plans adopted by the legislature will then take automatic effect, without the need for any further votes. They are still valid law, just not yet precleared in order to take effect. Once preclearance is no longer needed, they immediately become valid law and enforceable.

    While those maps could be attacked with Section 2 claims in the San Antonio court, and while the legislature might avoid the San Antonio court proceedings by making some compromise with advocates for more minority districts, it is not obvious to me that the Section 2 claims have merit.

  2. Pingback: Senate committee to take up interim maps bill – Off the Kuff

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