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Aaron Pena

Pena steps down

Bye-bye, Aaron.

State Rep. Aaron Peña will retire at the end of this term rather than seek re-election under interim political maps for the Texas House of Representatives that stripped him of a district offering the best opportunity for a Republican candidate to win office in Hidalgo County.

Peña, R-Edinburg, said he will not seek a sixth term in office in a court-drawn district he deemed unwinnable for any Republican candidate, nor will he move to a conservative-friendly district to vie for votes from the constituents of state Rep. Veronica Gonzales, D-McAllen.

That “conservative-friendly” district – I presume they mean Rep. Gonzales’ HD41 – voted 57% for Barack Obama in 2008. That’s essentially the same as the current HD41, and in fact the court-drawn HD41 comprises 96.7% of the current HD41. So yeah, good luck with that. Pena’s a me-first opportunist who’d rather run than fight, so none of this should be a surprise. I will simply note, as others have done already, that for all Pena claims to be bothered by the one-party hegemony of South Texas, the one-party hegemony of the state is apparently just fine. The fact that the district his new buddies drew for him was one of the reasons the State House map was thrown out is a nice bit of justice. Stace has more.

DOJ pushes back on State House and Congressional maps

Good.

The Justice Department said Monday that Texas’ state House and congressional redistricting plans didn’t comply with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), indicating they thought the maps approved by Gov. Rick Perry (R) gave too little voting power to the growing Latino population in the state.

Officials with DOJ’s Civil Rights Division said the proposed redistricting plan for the State Board of Education (SBOE) and the state Senate complied with the Voting Rights Act, but indicated they had concerns with the state House plan and the plan for congressional redistricting.

The federal government “[denied] that the proposed Congressional plan, as compared with the benchmark, maintains or increases the ability of minority voters to elect their candidate of choice in each district protected by Section 5,” DOJ lawyers write in a filing. “Defendants deny that the proposed Congressional plan complies with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.”

The Justice Department was responding as the defendant in a lawsuit filed by the state of Texas in the DC Circuit Court arguing that it had met all of the legal requirements under Section 5, and thus the maps should be precleared. Here’s the complaint that was filed by the state, to which the DOJ responded yesterday. You should read them in that order, because the DOJ’s response is point by point; if you want to know what they mean when they refer to “paragraph whatever”, it’s the corresponding section in the state’s complaint.

What happens next, as Texas Redistricting points out, is that “DOJ says it will submit proposed stipulations on the districts that remain at issue on or to the parties on or before September 20, 2011.” In other words, today. The court will then take it all under advisement and issue its ruling, which may or may not leave enough time for anything to be fixed before the primary filing season begins. If that happens, then the map-drawing duties may ultimately fall to the court in San Antonio, which has its problematic districts to consider. There’s a lot riding on these cases, to say the least. After these courts rule, everything will eventually go to the Supreme Court, which may get around to making its own rulings in time for the 2016 elections. Consider everything, at least in the State House and the Congressional maps, to be drawn with pencil until then. A statement from Rep. Carol Alvarado is here; BOR, the Lone Star Project, the Trib, Texas Redistricting, and the National Journal have more.

On a related note, the Texas Democratic Party took the turncoat Aaron Pena to task for fibbing about his role in drawing the objectionable maps.

The party noted that Peña claimed to have nothing to do with the creation of the proposed House District 41, a strangely drawn district that is sometimes referred to as the “running man” because its shape is reminiscent of a runner.

The oddly shaped district was created to allow Peña to be re-elected by packing the district with white and Republican precincts, Democrats have said.

The Democrats point to a page in the House Journal in which Peña said in April: “I said I will not draw this map because one, I did not want to be involved. And two, that I didn’t want to be involved in pairing or being involved in effecting (sic) my neighbors districts.”

But the party said Peña’s words in April don’t reflect what really happened. As an attempt to prove their allegation, Democrats point to testimony from the federal redistricting trial that ended last week in San Antonio. There, Ryan Downton, the House Redistricting Committee counsel, testified that Peña was involved, they said.

Peña said the Democrats are quibbling over the word “draw,” and that he has always said he’s been open about his conversations with redistricting committee staffers and lawyers.

“What it is is a personal attack on me,” he said.

He added that he never submitted a map that he drew, and he doesn’t even know how to use the map-drawing software. ” I don’t know how to draw a map.”

I’m sure there’s plenty of things Pena is not capable of doing, but that’s a pretty thin excuse. Just because he didn’t draw one doesn’t mean he didn’t offer input or feedback on one. Why would anyone believe a word he says anyway? You can see the full TDP statement here.

The districts in dispute

The redistricting lawsuit in San Antonio wrapped up on Friday, so at this point all we can do is wait for the three-judge panel to issue its opinion, and for the DC Circuit Court to have it say on preclearance. You never know what judges will do, but there may be some tea leaves to be read from the way final arguments went.

The state’s lead attorney, David Schenck, said the redistricting lawsuits are an “effort to fix the results of an election,” comparing it to what happened in Chicago in the 1920s and claiming that the plaintiffs were attempting to turn the Voting Rights Act into a “quota program for redistricting.”

Unlike the plaintiffs, who used their closing statements Thursday to reiterate their objections to the state’s redistricting maps, the state’s attorneys came under aggressive questioning from the panel of three federal judges presiding over the trial.

Judge Xavier Rodriguez, a former judge on the Texas Supreme Court who was appointed to the federal bench by President George W. Bush, repeatedly questioned Schenck, asking if the state felt compelled to apportion the four new congressional districts to reflect the fact that most of the state’s population increase came from minority populations.

Schenck denied that the state had any such obligation. Ninety percent of Texas’ massive population growth in the past decade came from minority groups, with Hispanics accounting for 60 percent of the state’s overall gain.

Rodriguez also questioned state lawyer David Mattax about how far the state could go to protect incumbents, pointing out that the redistricting plan created a new district for Rep. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg, that was significantly different than the district he initially won as a Democrat.

Mattax argued that the state was exercising its prerogative to use “traditional redistricting principles,” including incumbent protection, and that Peña’s seat wasn’t an abuse of the privilege because his new district was in the same county as his old district.

Trial observers have speculated that Rodriguez could be the swing judge on the panel.

Maybe it means something and maybe it doesn’t. I know I’d rather have the judges ask their guys the hard questions and not ours.

The story notes that the state’s own expert witness had said he thought CD23 was wrong, but that wasn’t the only district in dispute. The Statesman gets into that.

Plaintiffs’ lawyer Gerald Hebert has his eye on Congressional District 26 in North Texas. He said the proposed boundaries take a mostly Republican district in Denton County and rope in a strip of largely Democratic Latino precincts of Tarrant County.

The district, which looks like a leaky bucket, would silence the high-turnout Latino precincts in Tarrant County by putting them in an overwhelmingly Republican district in Denton County, Hebert said.

The story sidebar had images of the districts in question. Here’s what CD26 looks like:

CD26

You may wonder why there’s what weird, not remotely “compact” extrusion into Tarrant County. The answer can be found in the population analysis for CD26:

County Total White Black Hisp B+H Other ==================================================== Denton 549,832 368,776 45,862 99,341 143,092 37,964 Tarrant 147,815 37,253 9,681 96,331 105,085 5,477

Remember, the state has argued that it could not draw a Latino opportunity Congressional district in the D/FW area because the population was too dispersed to draw a compact district for them. But taking a meandering slice of Tarrant County to stack as many Latinos into CD26 as there are in all of Denton County, with more than three times the population? No problemo.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers also are targeting state House District 41 in Hidalgo County, which is sometimes called the “running man” district because of its shape. The district, which is in a largely Democratic county, was designed to protect Rep. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg, who switched parties before the 2011 legislative session.

“It was done for political purposes, pure and simple,” said Rick Gray, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers. “There has been no effort by the state whatsoever to comply with traditional redistricting practices.”

And here’s HD41, which I showed in a previous post:

HD41

This is what the GOP had to do to try to save Pena’s worthless ass. I get the “running man” description, but I find it reminiscent of something from an old school video game, perhaps the version of Tetris they play in the ninth circle of hell. Again, don’t draw crap like this and then try to argue non-compactness as a reason to stiff Latino voters.

Like I said, we’ll see what the judges have to say. The longer they take, the more likely they’ll be the ones drawing the replacement maps if there are any. On a related note, since we’re also waiting for the DC Court to render its opinion, here’s what Texas Redistricting says about the issues it will rule on.

Pena to run for re-election

To borrow from Greg, we’ll still have Aaron Pena to kick around, at least for a little while longer.

The political ambitions of state Rep. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg, have been the subject of speculation since he switched parties prior to the recent legislative session. But he’s announcing today that, for now at least, he doesn’t intend to go anywhere.

“I’ve said from the beginning that my intention is to run for re-election, and I guess I’m announcing that today,” Peña told the Tribune. “For months, I’ve been hearing that I’m running for Congress and even though I’ve publicly stated many times that I’m not running for Congress, nobody seems to believe me.”

Can’t imagine why he might have credibility issues. I guess that job with the law firm didn’t work out. Be that as it may, as I said before, this is a seat the Democrats need to win next year, and it’s one I’m sure they will want very much to win. I know I plan to make a contribution to whoever gets the pleasure of running against Pena.

The reason why some anti-immigration legislation didn’t pass this session

According to teabagger Rebecca Frost, the problem was too many Hispanic legislators. This is what she had to say at a rally in Austin yesterday:

There’s a lot of wind noise that makes it hard to hear exactly what she’s saying, but here’s a transcript, provided by the Texas Democratic Party, which presumably had someone at this event:

“If you want to know why we can’t pass legislation in Texas it’s because we have 37, no 36, Hispanics in the Legislature. All of the states that have passed legislation have a handful and I mean literally, some of them have no Hispanic legislators, well, maybe 3 or 5 or something. So that’s, umm, part of our problem and we need to change those numbers.

“Umm, we need to do something about that in fact, during the debate on ‘sanctuary cities,’ several Hispanic legislators testified that their grandparents and their parents were migrant workers who came over here to work and that they even worked in the fields. And some of them even admitted that they had been here illegally and that they came illegally. So the problem is these Hispanic legislators…is that it’s too close to them and they, umm… simply cannot vote their conscience correctly. So that’s about all I have to say to you, please come to the hearing, and help us spread this message. Thank you.”

The irony is that not two weeks ago, one of those Hispanic legislators was more or less saying the same thing, though his meaning was different.

State Rep. Aaron Peña has spoken with the Guardian about his role in halting ‘English-only’ bills, why this session is like a cheap vacation, and why his district should vote Republican at the next election.

Peña made his biggest headlines before the session even began. After winning back his seat as a Democrat last November, the Edinburg lawmaker switched parties, becoming the 101st Republican in the Texas House.

Saying he switched parties in part for more influence on key issues, Peña says that his stroke as a Republican paid off as regards anti-immigration legislation. Reform Immigration For Texas (RITA) has pointed out that of the ‘anti-immigrant’ bills filed, none passed in the regular session. Peña says that it’s no coincidence that there were Hispanics in the Republican leadership and such bills being thwarted.

Peña co-founded the Hispanic Republican Conference at the start of the 82nd Legislature. In his interview with the Guardian he declined to say exactly how this caucus blocked legislation such as state Rep. Leo Berman’s bill to print state notices in English only. But though some members of the conference offered competing accounts, Peña was insistent that his group had contributed to the bills’ failure.

“Those [anti-immigrant bills] didn’t pass,” said Peña. “There’s a reason for that. Now, I don’t want to articulate them, but our involvement in the process matters. We were effective in what we were doing.”

So there you have it. What Pena fails to mention, of course, is that having fewer Republicans in the Lege would be an even better hedge against this kind of legislation, since nobody on the Democratic side is pushing it. We know that the Republican factions that claim to be queasy about anti-immigrant legislation are completely ineffective at doing anything about it, after all. News Taco has more.

UPDATE: And today the so-called “sanctuary cities” bill passed out of the Senate committee. It’s just a matter of time now.

New map, new opportunities: Outside the urban areas, part 1

Here’s the first post in my series of analyses of the new districts. I’m using 2008 electoral data, since the next election is a Presidential year, and I feel confident that the districts were drawn with an eye strongly towards protecting Republican gains in such a year. Without further ado, here we go.

HD12

District: 12

Incumbent: None

Counties: McLennan (part), Limestone, Falls, Robertson, Brazos (part)

Best 2008 Dem performance: Sam Houston, 46.67%

This district contains parts of Jim Dunnam’s old district, with the eastern part of the old HD57 being chopped off and reconstituted to accommodate Marva Beck. Lack of an incumbent is a big part of the draw here. A big downside is the eight point spread from the top of the ticket – neither Obama nor Noriega cracked 40% – to the Sam Houston number, which suggests that any Democratic candidate may have to swim against the tide. Lack of an incumbent also means you can’t accuse the other guy of voting to gut public education. Not a top priority, and may never be on the radar, but deserves a decent candidate for the first go-round at least.

HD17

District: 17

Incumbent: Tim Kleinschmidt (first elected in 2008)

Counties: Lee, Bastrop, Caldwell, Gonzales, Karnes

Best 2008 Dem performance: Susan Strawn, 48.27% (plurality)

Big change in this district, which used to contain Burleson, Colorado, Fayette, and parts of Brazos. Basically, it shifted south. Bastrop is the population center, and it was a purple county in 2008, with Strawn and Sam Houston scoring pluralities there. The more it becomes an Austin suburb a la Hays and Williamson, the better the prospects for a win. This district was on the radar for Dems in 2008 as an open D seat and in 2010, and I expect it will continue to be.

HDs 32 and 34

District: 32
District: 34

Incumbent: Todd Hunter (HD32, first elected in 2008); Raul Torres and Connie Scott (HD34, first elected in 2010)

Counties: Nueces

Best Dem performance in 2008: For HD32, Sam Houston, 46.20%. For HD34, Sam Houston, 58.83%

HD32 can charitably be described as a reach if Hunter runs for re-election. Nueces County has been trending away from the Democrats, the three counties that were removed from HD32 (Aransas, Calhoun, and San Patricio) were a net winner for Juan Garcia, whom Hunter defeated in 2008, and Hunter has done very well both in terms of fundraising and moving up the ladder in his two terms. However, it’s the worst kept secret in the state that Hunter wants to run for Congress, and if that map is at all favorable to him this seat may be open in 2012. So keep that in the back of your mind.

I’ll be honest, I’m not really sure why Torres and Scott were paired, unless they were considered to be hopeless cases for salvation. This is the more Democratic part of Nueces, with all Dems in 2008 winning a majority, up to 20 points in their favor downballot. This has got to be one of the easiest pickup opportunities for the Dems in 2012.

HD35

District: 35

Incumbent: Jose Aliseda (first elected in 2010)

Counties: Atascosa, LaSalle, McMullen, Live Oak, Bee, San Patricio, Duval

Best 2008 Dem performance: Sam Houston, 50.77%

Republicans have been trying to carve out a South Texas district for themselves for awhile, and this one may be their best shot going forward. The good news for them is that McCain and Cornyn scored solid wins in 2008, with McCain getting nearly 55% and Cornyn 51%. The bad news is that Dems carried the rest of the races, with Houston, Strawn, and Linda Yanez all getting majorities. Aliseda got into one of the more entertaining kerfuffles during the House debate over HB150; I don’t know if he got what he wanted or not, but what he got is a very swingy district that may be a battleground through the decade.

HD41

District: HD41

Incumbent: Aaron Pena (first elected as a Democrat in 2002, switched parties after the 2010 election)

Counties: Hidalgo (part)

Best Dem performance in 2008: Sam Houston, 60.15%

I can’t think of a single seat the Democrats would like to win more than this one. Technically, Pena is the incumbent in HD40, and Veronica Gonzales is the incumbent in HD41, but as the Legislative Study Group noted:

CSHB150 also radically changes Hidalgo County districts in an effort to squeeze a partisan performing district out of the existing population. The incumbent in HD 40 would only represent 1.5 % of his current district, and the incumbent in HD 41 would only represent 1.1 % of her district. The gerrymandered map in Hidalgo County takes great pains to draw the incumbents in HD 40 and 41 into almost entirely new districts, narrowing down to one city block at times.

For this reason, the district numbers were swapped, thus giving Pena and Gonzales most of their previous constituents back. Despite being on the Redistricting Committee and drawing what one presumes was the best map he could for himself, Pena isn’t exactly sitting pretty. The low score among Democrats was Obama’s 54.83%, with everyone but Jim Jordan getting at least 56%. Do his constituents love him enough to overcome the party label or not? Assuming he does run for re-election, that is.

Peña said he is in employment negotiations with a law firm that would require him to move out of the Valley. If he does take the job, he said, he won’t seek office in 2012.

In other words, he’s got a graceful way out if he decides that he can’t win his custom-designed district. We’ll find out soon enough. More non-urban areas coming up next.

Republican legislators to support Republican legislation

That’s the takeaway from this story.

The Hispanic Republican Conference has thrown its weight behind the controversial voter ID legislation slated to hit the House floor next week. In a statement released today, the caucus said the issue is essential to integrity at the ballot box and that its overwhelming support by the public indicates change is necessary.

The legislation would require voters to present a form of approved identification, like a state-issued driver’s license or concealed handgun license, in order to cast a ballot.

“To ensure the integrity of our election process, I am supporting the Voter ID bill along with other bills to ensure that candidates reside in their districts, to strengthen our voter registration system, [and] to protect military voter access to Texas elections,” state Rep. John V. Garza, R-San Antonio, said in a statement. Garza and Reps. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg; Raul Torres, R-Corpus Christi; Dee Margo, R-El Paso; Jose Aliseda, R-Beeville; and Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock, are the conference’s charter members.

What did you expect? They’re Republicans, and this is a top Republican priority. It would be news if any of them had called voter ID legislation the crock of bull that it is. It’s also no coincidence that all of them will stand to benefit from the suppressed turnout among Hispanic voters that this legislation will lead to.

The announcement comes just a week after the original members, minus Gonzales, issued a fiery statement calling on Washington to overhaul the country’s immigration policies, alleging the current system promotes discrimination and produces “a class of vulnerable persons.”

Members also said last week they would not support state legislation some Republican members have proposed that would strip children of undocumented immigrants of certain entitlements.

Good for them, but this is a meaningless gesture. They still support the “sanctuary cities” bill and they have had nothing to say about the hateful legislation that the likes of Debbie Riddle and Leo Berman have been putting forth. But again, as long as they think of people like Berman as being “earnest and sincere” instead of dangerous and deranged, what do you expect? What I expect is that they’ll be about as effective as Bill Hammond and the Texas Association of Business have been at moderating or stopping anti-immigrant bills they don’t like, which is to say not effective at all.

You know that old story about the frog and the scorpion?

From Speak South Texas, possibly the most ludicrous bemoaning of the Pitts budget of them all:

South Texas Republicans are voicing their opposition and concern to the proposed cuts. Valley Republican Aaron Peña was among the first, telling KURV Radio’s Daily Report with Colonel Ray “I don’t agree with it. I said that from the moment I read the budget. We are still dissecting it and it’s getting worse and worse.” In the words of the famous John McClane: Welcome to the Party pal.

You knew what they were when you hopped into bed with them, Aaron. If you didn’t, it’s no one’s fault but your own.

Almost as ridiculous:

Del Mar College President Mark Escamilla said the funding cuts seem to contradict the increases in student growth many community colleges are seeing across the state. The state can’t pay colleges what they are due.

“It’s a sad day in Texas when we have to start thinking about these kinds of cuts,” he said.

[…]

Rep. Raul Torres, whose district includes Del Mar College, said he has met with Escamilla.

“But I stress the budget is preliminary,” Torres said. “These Austin bureaucrats don’t take into consideration Del Mar’s growth, and I think together we will minimize the impact.”

Let me introduce you to Talmadge Heflin and Michael Quinn Sullivan, Raul. You know, the guys who have been saying that we don’t really have a budget shortfall at all, we just need to learn to live within the lessened means that we now have. I’m sure they’ll be open to hearing about Del Mar’s growth.

Rep. Connie Scott, R-Robstown, is hopeful state revenues from sales taxes will improve by the time the House votes on the budget later this year.

“I have met with our school boards and several school board members,” Scott said Wednesday. “We know cuts will come but we hope by May that the budget scenario improves. Regardless, as I have promised, a quality education system is one of my top priorities and it also is a constitutional duty for us to provide public education.”

First, any improvement in sales tax revenues will be used to pay off the $4.3 billion shortfall in the 2010-11 biennium’s budget. Second, how exactly did you intend to pay for that “quality education system” you promised? None of your Republican colleagues seem to share that interest.

All I can say is that if cognitive dissonance is something that can be detected externally, the levels of it in Texas must be off the charts by now.

If you thought voter ID was bad…

Wait till you see what comes next.

State Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, has made national headlines for his “birther” bill that would require a candidate for president or vice president of the U.S. to show proof of natural-born citizenship to be placed on the ballot in Texas. He has also filed proposed legislation designed to provoke a legal challenge to the 14th Amendment, which bestows citizenship on anyone born in the U.S., regardless of the status of the child’s parents. House Bill 292, if passed, would prevent a county’s local registrar from issuing a birth certificate to a child born to undocumented immigrants in Texas.

“Instead, they will be given a notice of birth, with instructions to take it to their own consulate or embassy to get citizenship papers or a birth certificate from the country of their parents,” Berman said, explaining his bill. “If it passes, we expect to be sued immediately, and that’s exactly what we’re looking for — we want to be sued in federal court so that federal judges will finally read the 14th Amendment.” After that, he said, it’ll only be a matter of time before the federal government realizes the amendment was ratified in 1868 only for those children born in the U.S. to black slaves.

Berman has also authored a bill — HB 294 — that would ban undocumented immigrants from suing legal Texans. They could not seek “equitable relief as a counter claimant or a cross claimant,” according to the legislation.

“If you have an accident with a car driven by an illegal alien, you are going to pay for your own car. But if you hit them, they are going to get an attorney, an abogado, and they are going to try and sue you for everything you’re worth,” he said. “I have asked several lawyers, and they said it is constitutional.”

[…]

State Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, has drawn the ire of Hispanic Democrats, educators and others for her proposed legislation — HB 22 — that would mandate that public schools keep track of the immigration status of students by requiring that they submit a copy of their birth certificates or other documents indicating their residency status “for inspection” by school officials at the time of enrollment. The bill also requires school districts and open-enrollment charter schools to submit information on the number of students enrolled in bilingual education or special language programs, and to “identify and analyze any impact on the standard or quality of education provided to students who are citizens that may occur as a result.”

Critics have argued the requirement would be an unfunded mandate — the bête noire of conservative lawmakers opposed to many federal mandates — and that preventing the education of any child in Texas is inherently unconstitutional.

[…]

HB 21, also filed by Riddle, would require that state agencies report the costs of providing benefits to undocumented immigrants. Local governmental entities that receive state grants would also be required to submit that information to the grant provider.

State Rep. Van Taylor, R-Plano, has filed legislation that targets legal aliens who are requesting indigent care. HB 655, if passed, would offer counties the option of adopting a policy that would consider the income of a legal alien’s sponsor if that alien applied for indigent care. A sponsored alien is one who is admitted into the country legally after an affidavit of support. The sponsor’s spouse’s income could also be included in the determination of an alien’s eligibility for indigent care.

Boy, sure is a good thing Aaron Pena became a Republican so he could be a “moderating influence” on these guys. I just know they can’t wait to be persuaded by his unassailable logic.

Killing the DREAM in Texas

Something else to look forward to.

State Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt (R-Lexington) has filed legislation that would abolish Texas law granting in-state tuition to certain undocumented college students. The 2001 law, written by then-state Rep. Rick Noriega (D-Houston), was a precursor to the federal DREAM Act recently defeated by GOP members of the U.S. Senate.

State Rep. Leo Berman (R-Tyler) said he would file legislation to abolish the law if it survives an ongoing legal challenge in Houston, according to a November story in theTexas Independent. At the time, Noriega said that if the law was repealed, “Essentially, we’d be stamping out hope. Frankly, as a Texan, I just don’t think that’s who we are.”

Gov. Rick Perry signed House Bill 1403 into law in June 2001. The Texas Senate passed the bill with a final vote of 27-3 (with GOP Sens. Mike Jackson, Jane Nelson and Jeff Wentworth voting ‘nay’), and the Texas House passed the bill with a final vote of 130-2 (with GOP Reps. Will Hartnett and Jerry Madden voting ‘nay’).

Kleinschmidt’s HB 464 would tie a dependent student’s residency status to his/her parents’ domicile. According to the bill, “A person who is not authorized by law to be present in the United States may not be considered a resident of this state” to qualify for reduced in-state tuition.

A few points…

1. It cannot be said often enough: This is the team Aaron Pena decided to join. You own this now, Aaron.

2. One wonders if Rick Perry, who has generally not joined up with the Berman/Riddle xenophobia group, will have the cojones to veto this bill if it comes before him. I for one would not count on it.

3. Having said that, if the Senate maintains some form of the 2/3 rule, in whole or (more likely) in part by simply excluding voter ID legislation from it as they did in 2009, then perhaps Perry will be spared the decision. I suspect that would be his preferred option.

Don’t fall for it, Mr. President

I have two things to say about this.

Congressional Republicans are pronouncing President Obama’s proposal that the next Congress overhaul the country’s immigration laws as dead before arrival.

In his year-end news conference Wednesday, Obama said his biggest regret about the recent lame-duck session of Congress was the defeat of the DREAM Act, a measure that offered a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children.

“It is heartbreaking,” Obama said, as he talked about how such immigrants often realize they are without legal status only when they try to go to college or join the military. “That can’t be who we are. To have our kids, classmates of our children, who are suddenly under this shadow of fear through no fault of their own. They didn’t break the law – they were kids.”

Congressional Republicans said in interviews Thursday that their concerns about the measure remain strong, and both House and Senate GOP leaders said they would fight any attempt to legalize any of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country before the administration secured the nation’s southern border with Mexico.

“It is pointless to talk about any new immigration bills that grant amnesty until we secure the border, since such bills will only encourage more illegal immigration,” incoming House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) said in a statement.

1. This is a trap. There is no amount of “border security” that will appease the likes of Lamar Smith. If you try to give him what you think he wants, he’ll just move the goalposts. Going along with this will generate far more ill will among the President’s supporters than good will among his detractors. Don’t fall for it. Keep pushing for a sane and compassionate comprehensive immigration reform bill and the DREAM Act instead, which will put pressure on the Republicans and cause fractures in their coalition. It’s the right thing to do, and will be a political winner.

2. I’m saying it again because it just can’t be said enough: This is the team Aaron Pena chose to play for. Lamar Smith, Ted Poe, Louie Gohmert – they’re all his peeps now.

Redistricting and party-switching, South Texas-style

Some good discussion about the future prospects of South Texas turncoat Aaron Pena, from Greg, Rachel, the Trib, the DMN, and Greg again. Couple points to add:

1. If Greg says a Republican-leaning district can be drawn for Pena, I for one believe it. Having said that, there’s no guarantee I can see that Pena gets to be the chair of the Redistricting Committee – surely someone who’s been a Republican for more than five minutes might put in a claim ahead of him – and even if he does, there’s no guarantee that the House’s map gets adopted. The Senate has a say in this as well, and that’s before we consider any preclearance issues. Pena may know what he wants, but there’s no guarantee that he’ll get it.

2. Even if everything goes Pena’s way, it’s still a little weird to see the guy trade a 70% Democratic district for a 55% GOP one. Yeah, it’s almost certainly true that the Republicans would have tried to carve out that Republican-leaning district in Hidalgo regardless, and maybe he didn’t like his odds in a primary fight against Veronica Gonzalez. He’d be right about that, too. So we may as well be clear about what his motivations were.

3. To my mind, the best thing we Democrats can do about this is to point out at every opportunity that Pena made the choice to team up with Debbie Riddle and Leo Berman and the rest of the bring-Arizona-to-Texas squad. We can’t control what kind of district he gets, but we can sure work to make sure that it isn’t destiny. Pena chose a side. Make him full owner of that choice.

Ritter switches

The Republicans get their 100th member.

State Rep. Allan Ritter of Nederland said Saturday that he will leave the Democratic Party and become a Republican, probably giving the GOP a two-thirds majority in the Texas House.

He may not be the last one. Democratic Rep. Aaron Peña of Edinburg hinted Saturday about making the switch to the GOP.

Ritter would be the 99th Republican in the 150-member House. The seat last held by Republican Edmund Kuempel of Seguin, who died last month, is likely to stay in GOP hands, which means two-thirds of the members of the House would be Republicans. The party would be able to pass a constitutional amendment and take money out of the state’s rainy day fund without any Democratic votes.

Ritter, whose district is in the Beaumont area, did not have a Republican challenger this year. Others who fit his profile — moderate to conservative, white Democrats from rural areas and mid-size towns — got swept away in the November elections, and Ritter could well have lost if the GOP had challenged him.

Functionally, this doesn’t make that much difference. Ritter was no one’s idea of a liberal, so his voting profile won’t change much. The constitutional amendment stuff is basically irrelevant since it also takes a two-thirds vote in the Senate to pass a joint resolution, and the Republicans don’t have that. And the Republicans are talking about not using the Rainy Day fund at all, so that doesn’t mean anything, either. Other than Ritter’s re-election chances in 2012, very little has really changed.

Arguably, the Republicans might prefer to downplay all this “supermajority” stuff, since it will reinforce in the public’s mind the fact that they will own everything that happens in the Lege next year. If you don’t even need the other guys to show up to conduct your business, then it’s a little hard to claim they’ve obstructed you if you don’t manage to get everything you want. Maybe they won’t want to do away with the 2/3 rule in the Senate after all – it helps to have a nemesis sometimes.

As for Pena, who knows what he’s going to do. I see it as being more of an attention-grab than anything else, but we’ll see. KT, Harold, Coby, PDiddie, Greg and Greg again, Rachel, and Daniel Lucio have more.

UPDATE: Neil has more as well.

Redistricting hearing in San Antonio

It’s that time of the decade again.

Monday’s joint hearing of the House Committees on Redistricting and Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence — on the University of Texas at San Antonio’s downtown campus — marked the unofficial kickoff for that process. The first Texas redistricting meeting held this year outside of Austin, it attracted some of San Antonio’s heaviest political hitters: Smith, fellow Congressman Charlie Gonzalez, state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, Texas House Speaker Joe Straus and state Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, not to mention committee members Mike Villarreal and David Leibowitz.

[…]

Luis Figueroa, staff attorney for Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, cited Hispanic population growth as the primary reason Texas will gain those seats, arguing that otherwise the state would be looking at only one additional congressional seat. He urged legislators to create new districts that would enhance Hispanic voting power in the state.

Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, decried what he called the “fajita strip” approach to map drawing, which he said resulted in long, unwieldy districts.

Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville, made the strongest push for the GOP cause, saying at least 45 percent of Bexar County voters are Republicans, “but only 20 percent of its (state) representatives are Republicans.”

The simple answer to Hilderbran’s complaint can be seen in the Spanish surname voter registration (SSVR) numbers for Bexar County. In 2002, for example, seven of the ten State Rep districts (SRDs) had SSVR’s between 56 and 59. In other words, the districts were drawn with Hispanic voters spread out more or less evenly in these districts. (You can see the 2006 and 2008 SSVR numbers here; it’s basically the same as it was then.) That worked as intended – six of those seven districts have Latinos representing them, with Democrat David Leibowitz in SRD 117 being the seventh. The three other districts are SRDs 120, 121, and 122. The former is over 30% African-American, with an SSVR of 33.5%, and is held by Democrat Ruth Jones McClendon; the other two have SSVRs of less than 20% and are the two Republican seats.

Point being, to make any changes in Bexar County, you’d have to pack some more Latino voters into one or more SRDs, thus making one or two others less Latino. The almost inevitable result of that would be the election of a white Republican, which I’d bet would be viewed as a retrogression of voting rights by the Justice Department. Alternately, the GOP could find some candidates that can actually appeal to Latino voters. Republicans are forever talking about how conservative Latinos are, though they never seem to be able to translate that into tangible results. It should be noted that Republican Ken Mercer was elected in SRD117 in 2002; Leibowitz knocked him off in 2004. Also, a strong Republican candidate named George Antuna came close to winning SRD118 in 2006 after Carlos Uresti opened it up by running for State Senate. Though it’s likely harder now than it was eight years ago, it could be done if the Republicans really tried.

Finally, if Hilderbran is going to play that game, someone ought to ask him why Dallas and Tarrant counties, which combined to give Barack Obama 52% of their vote in 2008, have all or part of eight Congressional districts within their borders, but only one Democrat representing them. For that matter, if anyone else wants to take a crack at it, give it your best shot.

Anyway. There will be more of these hearings around the state in the coming months, so look for announcements of one near you, and make your voice heard.

TPJ files complaint with Ethics Commission against Craddick

Texans for Public Justice has filed a complaint with the Texas Ethics Commission against former Speaker Tom Craddick, alleging that he obfuscated campaign donations made to several Democratic supporters of his prior to the 2008 primaries. From their press release (PDF):

Jobs PAC reported that it received $250,000 from Tom Craddick’s campaign committee on January 10, 2008. According to news reports, around that time Craddick campaign employee Christi Craddick also provided Texas Jobs with written instructions to distribute the funds to Democratic Reps. Kevin Bailey, Dawnna Dukes, Kino Flores and Aaron Pena.1 All four incumbents previously supported Republican Speaker Craddick and faced challengers in the 2008 Democratic primary.2 According to its own reports, Jobs PAC wrote three checks of $50,000 apiece to the campaigns of Reps. Bailey, Flores and Pena on January 11, 2008. By its own accounting, at the time Texas Jobs wrote these checks its sole source of funding was the $250,000 that it received the day before from the Craddick campaign. Rep. Dukes, the fourth lawmaker, told the Austin American-Statesman that she rejected an offer to receive $50,000 from Texas Jobs because her opponent already was making her Craddick ties a campaign issue.3

“Tom Craddick wanted to move tens of thousands of dollars to his favorite Democrats without letting voters know,” said Texans for Public Justice Director Craig McDonald. “Hiding the true source of campaign funds is illegal. Craddick could have contributed the money directly and openly. Instead, he used Texas Jobs to launder his money and keep Texans in dark.”

The TPJ filed a criminal complaint with the Travis County Attorney’s office last year when this information first came out. I am not aware of any updates to this case, but I suspect that it went nowhere, else there’d be little reason to take things up with the TEC. We’ll see what happens. More on this can be found here and here.

Happy Ardmore Day

Rep. Pena remembers the day six years ago when the House Democrats took a stand against the DeLay/Craddick/Perry re-redistricting scheme. Though they were only able to delay the inevitable, the effort marked the beginning of the resurgence of the Texas Democratic Party, which had fallen pretty far down after the 2002 election. And while there aren’t any covert bus trips on the agenda this year, the delegation is once again faced with a partisan power grab, this time voter ID, in the waning days of the session. Thanks to the larger Democratic caucus that resulted in part from the redistricting fight, and the fact that a couple of Republicans aren’t on board with it, that bill isn’t guaranteed to pass. We can all hope for a different outcome.

This Observer story from the June 6, 2003 issue, which I reread every now and then, is still the best take on what happened back then, and a nice dose of nostalgia to boot. It’s interesting and occasionally amusing to recall the projections of what might happen were the DeLay plan to pass. The line about how “the new map, if passed, would ensure Republican control of Congress for decades to come” used to make me wince but now makes me chuckle. That was sure how it felt at the time, for both sides, but boy, the future sure ain’t what it used to be. Good thing, too.

“Blogger bill” passes out of House committee

I’m pleased to note that HB4237, the “blogger bill” that I wrote about last week, passed out of the Civil Jurisprudence committee on an 8-1 vote. Now the race against time and the Calendars committee begins. Nevertheless, this is a nice step forward, and gives us something to build on in the event the clock strikes midnight on us. My thanks to Vince and KT for taking the point and testifying before the committee on this.

The Speaker speaks, and a Voter ID update

So how is Speaker Joe Straus doing?

Three months into his first term leading the 150-member chamber, Republican Speaker Joe Straus is emerging as a bipartisan compromise-seeker, rejecting much of the power that his predecessor so coveted.

Straus still faces some tough tests, but just four years after Craddick was anointed as the most powerful Texan by Texas Monthly magazine, observers say the young GOP leader has shifted power back to the House.

“Not some, probably all,” said Rep. Tommy Merritt, a Longview Republican when asked if the speaker has given up some of the office’s power. “He’s doing exactly what a good speaker should do. He’s wielding the gavel and trying to make fair rulings to make the will of the House work for Texas.”

Straus’ first big victory came last week when the normally raucous House unanimously approved the $178 billion budget. It was the first time in a decade that the usually thorny state budget came out with 149-0 approval.

In a rare sit-down, on-the-record interview with The Associated Press, Straus said the unanimous vote was the result of weeks of negotiations and compromise.

“No one, right or left, Republican or Democrat, urban or rural, is going to crush somebody by sheer force this session,” said Straus, the state’s first Jewish speaker.

I’d say that’s a fair interpretation. As I’ve said before, Straus hasn’t been exactly what I’d hoped for in a non-Tom Craddick Speaker, but he’s still a lot better than Tom Craddick. The House has been remarkably free of strife, and more importantly it’s been completely free of attempts by the Speaker to impose his will on everything in his path. That’s as much a function of the near-even split as anything else, but the point is that Craddick couldn’t have managed under those conditions; he would have been what he has always been. The House would have been a disaster area with him in charge.

Of course, there’s still a lot of time left, and at least one big stinking partisan blob of an “issue” that remains unresolved.

Lately, Straus has been working to forge a compromise on an effort to strengthen voter identification requirements, a measure so divisive it sparked partisan meltdown in the Senate and triggered threats of lawsuits.

The legislation is expected to be debated by the House within the next couple of weeks. But by many accounts, a House compromise is on the horizon. Unlike the Senate, Straus said, the House wasn’t going to “pull the pin on the grenade and be irresponsible, which I think they were.”

“They just didn’t care about the consequences of the emotional side of it,” he said. “And we’re trying to be deliberate and slow … we’re trying to find solutions, not just talking points for somebody’s political agenda.”

Rep. Aaron Pena writes that voter ID could be on the agenda for the Elections Committee as early as tomorrow, with some kind of compromise voter ID bill to be debated. That’s assuming that the whole thing doesn’t get blown up by the Republican hardcore, as documented by Gardner Selby:

I’m hearing from Capitol sources that Rep. Todd Smith, R-Euless, privately told GOP colleagues today he’d reached closure on his intended-to-be-a-compromise version of voter ID legislation and might even issue an afternoon press release saying so.

To which, some Republicans reportedly reacted: “Whoa, Nelly (or Toddy).”

Their beef: They’d prefer not to see Smith, chairman of the House Committee on Elections, running out a softened-up approach that they don’t think meets the intended ID mandate.

True, it’d be a painful political boomerang for Republicans to see House Democrats (on the short end of the 76-74 House split between the parties) wrest control of the GOP’s most-valued legislative proposal (though the flip side, perhaps fueling Smith’s hunt for common ground, is that if the Senate-approved version of voter ID isn’t tweaked, he could fall short of getting the proposal out of his committee or off the House floor; tough cookies).

Until Smith speaks out (yup, I’ve tried to reach him), I’m left with separate statements from Rep. Betty Brown, R-Terrell, who takes a hard line on the voter ID front, and from 51 House Republicans (including Brown) similarly saying they’re not interested in phasing in changes or making it easier for most anyone to vote without presenting proof of their identity.

GOP blow-up? I’m waiting to hear more.

For what it’s worth, Rep. Smith says it was all sweetness and light when he addressed the caucus about his bill. Sure it was. I can’t think of a better resolution to this mess than a GOP implosion as no bill gets passed because the hardliners refuse to accept a compromise, while their version fails to get enough votes. Nothing could illustrate the point that this is all just a naked partisan power grab than that. Form a circle, Republicans, and load up those AK-47s! We’ll start popping the popcorn now.

Stand Up To Help Bloggers Get Needed Protections Under Texas Law

Vince writes about a bill that is of great interest to all us bloggers.

On Monday, the House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee will hold a public hearing on a bill which will give Texas bloggers and citizen journalists some much-needed protections under Texas law.

The committee will take public testimony on House Bill 4237 by State Rep. Aaron Pena (D-Edinburg).

This bill gives bloggers and citizen journalists the same protections that the mainstream media has when it comes to covering matters of “public concern,” such as legislative proceedings, school board meetings, and the actions of state officials.

Under current law, commonly known as the “Privileged Matters Clause” of the Texas Civil Practices & Remedies Code (Sec. 73.002), coverage by the mainstream media of matters of “public concern” such as those listed above cannot be used as grounds for a libel action.

Texas bloggers and citizen journalists, however, do not have similar protections. In theory, if a politician or officeholder wanted to cause a blog a great deal of problems, he or she could file a libel or slander lawsuit over writings discussing a matter of “public concern.” It would then be up to the court system–after, no doubt, significant expense for the blogger or citizen journalist–to determine whether or not the “Privileged Matters Clause” applies to bloggers.

Texas bloggers have been fortunate in that no one has been forced to be a test case for this yet. Rep. Pena’s bill ensures that no Texas blogger or citizen journalist ever will. It gives us the same protections as the mainstream media in this regard.

I’m just a hobbyist. I don’t sell ads, I’m not trying to make a living from this. What Vince describes is a situation that would cause me a lot of hardship. I think in 2009, the definition of “journalism” and “journalist” are fluid enough to include people like me and what I do. I support the passages of HB4237, and I hope you will as well. Click over to Vince’s site for a lot more details about this, including how you can register your opinion at Monday’s hearing. Thanks very much.

Blaming the nuns

So as we know, today is expert testimony day for the voter ID hearings in the House. It’s still going on as I type this, and is expected to last till about midnight. Vince is liveblogging, Rep. Pena has a report, and the Lone Star Project takes a swipe at Elections Committee Chair Rep. Todd Smith for “bait and switch” tactics.

So remember the nuns in Indiana from last year who were turned away from the ballot box because they didn’t have drivers’ licenses? Well, among the witnesses testifying today was Indiana’s Secretary of State. According to Glenn Smith, that was their own damn fault:

Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita also blamed the nuns for the voting debacle that embarrassed Indiana backers of the new identification restrictions. “Those nuns weren’t disenfranchised, they just didn’t want to follow the law.”

Oh, I bet these guys wouldn’t say that to the faces of these spiritual leaders.Rulers, anyone? Back of the knuckles? Ring a bell?

Yeah, we all know what a bunch of miscreants those elderly nuns can be. Gotta show ’em who’s boss.

All I can say is if that’s how today has gone, tomorrow will be even more fun.