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Crossroads time

Well, now that a map has finally passed out of the Jurisprudence Committee, we enter the next stage of the game. With a second session that will feature no blocker bill looming, what will the Democrats’ strategy be? The Republicans, who may have unity problems on their side, are making conciliatory noises.

Sen. Todd Staples of Palestine, who chairs the Senate Republican Caucus, sponsored the bill and encouraged his colleagues to work with him as the bill makes its way to the floor.

“My door is open,” Staples said. “I want to be completely unambiguous. Come join us.”

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who has already given the Democrats a now-or-never ultimatum, says they’re starting to see it his way.

“I see some movement by both Republicans and Democrats in coming together,” Dewhurst said. “Will it happen tomorrow? I doubt it. Do I see momentum? Yes. May it take us another week or two? Maybe.”

Democrats are not yet convinced.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, chairwoman of the Senate Democratic Caucus, warned again that abandoning the Senate’s two-thirds rule could destroy the chamber’s traditions of bipartisan cooperation.

But she said the 12 Democratic senators have not decided whether to boycott the proceedings – their last resort to try to kill redistricting, much as House Democrats blocked it during the regular session that ended June 2 by going to Oklahoma.

“Nobody relishes having to exercise that extreme option,” she said, referring to a possible walkout, which would require 11 senators to break a Senate quorum.

“But it’s there, and it’s there for a purpose,” Ms. Van de Putte said.

Ratcheting up the pressure on Mr. Dewhurst, she said, “This is a real test for our presiding officer.”

And more:

Sen. John Whitmire, the longest-serving Democrat, said he would not vote for redistricting and would not rule out the possibility that 11 senators would boycott so the Senate could not conduct business.

Yet the Houston Democrat said redistricting opponents are discussing whether it’s better to negotiate a better map from Republicans or hope the courts will strike down the maps the GOP have offered so far.

My best guess is that the Dems will not break quorum, for unlike the Ardmore adventure there’s no artificial deadline to hold out for. That seems to be the party line right now.

The perception that a Republican victory is inevitable seems to be a factor in any discussion of how to end the redistricting debate.

“If you break a quorum,” Whitmire said, “ultimately they get everyone back in.”

In May, House Democrats left the state for four days so the House could not conduct business. But a boycott during a series of 30-day special sessions is another matter.

“How do you win if everybody walks?” asked Sen. Ken Armbrister, D-Victoria. “You can’t be gone 60 days; you can’t be gone 180 days.”

Armbrister contends there are Republicans who don’t want to vote for the redistricting map as it stands now.

“If the D’s run off, then it lets other members off the hook who don’t want to vote on this, either,” he said.

Armbrister had threatened to lead a boycott if Dewhurst changed a Senate rule requiring a two-thirds vote to debate the redistricting bill.

We all know by now how hard it is for the GOP to draw a map that enough of them like. Maybe it’s time to make them play the hand they’ve dealt themselves.

Whatever happens, a lawsuit will surely follow. Scenarios like this one will lend credence to the Democratic case.

In addition, Houston Democratic Reps. Chris Bell and Gene Green and Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas might be vulnerable to primary challenges because of the ethnic breakdown in their redrawn districts. But their districts likely would continue to elect Democrats in the general election.


Johnson, who is black, is elected from Dallas’ predominantly black 30th District.

In Staples’ map, the black voting age population in her district would stay at about 40 percent, but Hispanic population would increase from 28 percent to 37 percent. That enhances the possibility that Johnson could face a primary challenge from a Hispanic.

I think the state will find it hard to argue that they’re enhancing minority representation if one reasonable end result is the replacement of a black legislator with a Hispanic one.

Another argument will be that minorities will not be as well served if the districts are changed to elect more Republicans. Along those lines, Dave McNeely examines the record of the current delegation.

For example, Democrat Charles Stenholm of Stamford has fewer minorities in his district — 23.8 percent are African American or Latino — than recently retired Republican Larry Combest in the adjoining West Texas district, which has 40.2 percent.

Yet Stenholm’s ranking on votes on issues important to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for the past two sessions of Congress was 60.5 percent — and it was 60 percent on the scorecard of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, which comprises a half dozen Hispanic groups, including the League of United Latin American Citizens and the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Lubbock-based Combest scored 21 percent with the NAACP and 7 percent with the Hispanic leaders.

The comparison is the same for almost all of the white Texas Democrats in Congress and their Republican colleagues, although only three of the Democrats represent districts in which blacks and Hispanics are the majority.

The rest have districts ranging from 21.5 percent to 44.8 percent minority. Only three districts held by Republicans have minority populations of less than 20 percent.

Except for conservative Democrat Ralph Hall of Rockwall, who often votes with the Republicans, Stenholm’s is the lowest score among the white Democrats.

Republican Ron Paul of Surfside, once the Libertarian Party’s presidential candidate, has the best ranking among the Republicans, scoring 33 percent with the NAACP and 44 percent with the Hispanic leaders.

I still don’t know where those numbers come from, but they at least are consistent with what Sheila Jackson Lee said back at the hearing I attended last month.

Back in 1981, then-state Rep. Craig Washington, an African American Democrat from Houston, said it made no sense for minority lawmakers to join Republicans in packing minority voters in one district.

Washington said that would simply mean the replacement of two white Democrats sympathetic to minorities with one black Congress member and a Republican one, whose vote might cancel out the black member’s votes.

Yo, Ron Wilson. Did you hear that?

Finally, the Austin Chronicle lays it all out:

Until then, the public game is chicken. Dewhurst is telling Senate Democrats that if they want to have any input on the map, they’d better seize their chance in this session, or Perry will call another, and the lite guv will then invoke “the Bullock precedent” and dispense with the two-thirds rule currently keeping a map from the floor. (In 1992, under a court order, the Senate drafted a map by simple majority — and neither Republicans nor Democrats objected to Bullock’s dropping of the two-thirds rule.) In response, the Senate minority says it will either refuse to appear again or break the quorum should Dewhurst try to force the issue. That’s one reason why Jurisprudence Committee member Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, told reporters this week the Republican plan “is dead. It’s dead, it’s dead, it’s dead.”

We don’t know yet if all that is false bravado. Meanwhile, the private game — among Senate Republicans — is where the real action is right now, as Todd Staples, R-Palestine (to whom the map-drawing task fell when Chris Harris, R-Arlington, abandoned it in a mysterious huff), attempts to come up with a map that can even win a 16-vote majority in the Senate. The public committee testimony has been all about racial minority retrogression — but the real, backroom struggle is for a Republican map that can please Harris, Staples, Lubbock’s Robert Duncan, Waco’s Kip Averitt, maybe even San Antonio’s Jeff Wentworth, who has proposed his own map to accompany his perennial proposal to turn the whole job over to an independent commission. (What? And give up show business?) The Republicans (except for Ratliff) are playing NIMBY — they all say, “Yes, I support redistricting 100% — but leave my congressman alone.”

The article also mentions the negative poll numbers for redistricting but doesn’t cite a source. I still can’t find anything in Google about the Montgomery poll, which I noted after it was mentioned on the Quorum Report. Perhaps this mention will be the first of several in the mainstream media.

Thanks to Rob Booth for the McNeely and AusChron links.

UPDATE: Here are the NAACP and National Hispanic Leadership Agenda scorecards for the Texas Congressional delegation.

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  1. ByronUT says:

    I spoke to a friend at the capitol who read the entire report, and said that the poll said that Perry had a 45% approval rating in the poll.

  2. ByronUT says:

    Oh nevermind, it’s on Rob’s link.

  3. Wow. Those numbers really don’t look good for Perry (only 64.4% positive among Republicans??). Thanks, Rob!

  4. precinct1233 says:

    This is like a parody of “Star Wars”, with Senate Democrats as Luke Skywalker, David Dewhurst as Darth Vader, and Tom DeLay as the Emperor (and Ron Wilson as the traitor Lando Calrisian).