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Legislative Redistricting Board

What a Democratic House means for redistricting

Rick Casey makes a point about what a Democratic-majority State House will and won’t be able to do in 2021, in particular with redistricting.

I would put the Democrats’ chances of taking back the State House of Representatives as better than the fulfillment of either of their two other dreams — beating President Donald Trump and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn — though recent polls show Trump and Democrat Joe Biden running even and a large “undecided” cohort in the Senate race.

But what if the Democrats win the Texas House? How much difference would it make?

One of the points I’ve seen made in the national media is that it would prevent the Republicans from gerrymandering legislative and congressional districts in the wake of the 2020 census. But that is wrong.

The Texas Constitution includes a provision, passed in 1951, for what happens if the Senate and House of Representatives can’t agree on lines for legislative seats. The lines are then drawn by the Legislative Redistricting Board which includes the lieutenant governor, the speaker of the House, the attorney general, the comptroller, and the commissioner of the General Land Office. Since the only office in play this November is the speaker, he or she would have little impact on the likes of Republicans Dan Patrick, Ken Paxton, Glenn Hegar, and George P. Bush.

[State Rep. Trey] Martinez Fischer, however, thinks it may be possible for the Legislature to agree on lines.

“Lawmakers are probably not as trusting for a third party to draw their districts,” he said, suggesting that a Democratic House and a Republican Senate might compromise by agreeing to the plans each came up for their own members.

I’m skeptical. I think there would be a strong temptation for Republican leaders to try to take back the House through creative redistricting.

And no matter what plan the Legislature or the redistricting board come up with it will almost certainly end up in federal court. There, the U.S. Supreme Court has made clear, severe gerrymandering for political (as distinct from racial) purposes is perfectly acceptable. Martinez Fischer suggests, however, that a Democratic House could, through witnesses at hearings and floor debate, build a record that would make lawsuits more feasible.

The Constitutional provision Casey references is here. Note, though, that it only applies to the legislature itself, the House and the Senate. It does not apply to the apportionment of Congressional districts. That job, if the 2021 Lege is unable to draw a map that passes both chambers, will fall to the federal courts. That’s exactly what happened in 2001. The fact that a court had drawn the Congressional map in 2001 was cited by Tom DeLay as a justification for his 2003 re-redistricting effort – he insisted that the Congressional map needed to be drawn by the Lege, and if that couldn’t happen in 2001 it could happen in 2003. (The fact that both chambers were now Republican-controlled was a happy coincidence, of course.)

My point here is that while Republicans would have a backstop for legislative redistricting, they would have much less control over Congressional redistricting in this scenario. I don’t know what court would get this assignment – maybe they’ll get a panel with a majority of Trump-appointed judges, who knows – but it’s a roll of the dice. The members themselves would likely prefer to avoid that outcome,. In addition, if Democrats do pick up a boatload of Congressional seats – or, you know, if Joe Biden carries Texas – the argument that the Congressional map should strongly favor Republicans kind of falls apart. Doesn’t mean Republicans couldn’t take a crack at it again in 2023 if they take back the State House in 2022, but that’s a lot of uncertainty. It’s not crazy to think that some kind of compromise, in which each side gets a few concessions in all of the maps, could be reached. No guarantee, of course, and again the Republicans would very much want to maximize their chances of having full control in 2023 to clean up anything they don’t like, but having that lever of control is worth something. Not as much as the national media might portray, I agree, but not nothing. Just having a seat at the table means something.

(Also, too, Democratic control of the House means things like the budget can’t get passed without Democratic input and assent. Redistricting would be done in a special session thanks to the later completion date for the Census, but this is still influence for the Dems. Even if it’s not directly influential on redistricting, it’s a pretty big deal in its own right, especially in a session where revenue is scarce and cuts will be on the table. Anyone who remembers the bloodbath of 2011 knows what that would mean.)

So yes, while taking the State House isn’t the be-all and end-all, it’s a mighty fine goal with lots of ways to pay off. Twitter user Kafka provides an intro to the Democratic candidates in most of the districts of interest, and you can learn more at FLIP The Texas House. If you’re wondering how best to spend your campaign donation dollars this cycle, find a State House candidate or three and toss a few bucks in their direction. This is a great opportunity, and we need to maximize it.

More on the potential delay of redistricting

Some further details from the Statesman.

On Monday, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced that, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, all Census Bureau field operations would be canceled until June 1, and the agency would not be able to complete the count until Oct. 31.

Ross wants Congress to enact legislation delaying the deadline for delivering apportionment counts to President Donald Trump from Dec. 31 to April 30, 2021, and for delivering redistricting data to the states from March 31, 2021, to July 31, 2021. Ross said he couldn’t rule out further delays.

That would mean that Texas lawmakers would not have the numbers they need to redraw political districts in the upcoming 140-day regular session, which ends on May 31, 2021.

The Texas Constitution requires that the Legislature redraw state Senate and House maps “at its first regular session after the publication of each United States decennial census.”

But, with the delay, that would not be until 2023, too late for the 2022 elections.

“Texas will have to have a special session to do redistricting,” said Michael Li, the former Dallas attorney who is now senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, where his work focuses on redistricting, voting rights and elections.

Depending on the census count, Texas is expected to add three seats to the 36 it already has in the U.S. House. Li said that, under federal election law, if new maps have not been drawn in time for the 2022 election, any new seats would be elected at-large.

“Or alternatively, a court might draw maps,” Li said.

The same likely would be true if the Legislature fails to draw state House and Senate districts in time for the 2022 election.

[…]

[If] the Legislature were able to take up redistricting in the 2021 session, Republicans would be well situated even if the House and Senate were unable to pass a state legislative redistricting plan that was signed by the governor, because responsibility for devising a plan would then fall on the Legislative Redistricting Board made up of the lieutenant governor, the speaker of the House, the Texas attorney general, the state comptroller and the land commissioner. Unless Democrats take control of the Texas House in 2020 and elect a Democratic speaker, all those officials are Republicans.

That Legislative Redistricting Board provision does not apply in a special session.

The provision in the Texas Constitution means that even if the Legislature, meeting in special session, drew new state legislative lines in 2021, it would have to repeat the process when it convenes in regular session in 2023, said Eric Opiela, an election lawyer and former executive director and associate general counsel to the Texas Republican Party, with long experience in redistricting.

That means that Democrats, who have made flipping the Texas House the centerpiece of their 2020 campaign, “might have two bites at the apple” — the 2020 and 2022 elections — to gain control of the House in time for the last word on redistricting, he said.

The 120-day delay makes redistricting in time for the March 2022 primary, “tough but still manageable, but if there are further delays, then you start bumping into the filing period for candidates and potentially the primary,” Li said.

“The extension is in everyone’s interest, however,” Li said. “Texas is behind in census responses, and it’s important from the standpoint of Texans that the bureau have the time to get the census as right as possible.”

See here for the background. The relevant Constitutional amendment is this one. The 2013 Legislature did indeed revisit the House and Senate maps following the 2011 special session that drew them, but that was also for the purpose of amending the maps to conform with the interim districts the federal court had already drawn for the 2012 election. There are two scenarios where Dems have real leverage. One is in 2021 with a Dem majority in the House. The Legislative Redistricting Board can draw most maps if there’s no agreement between the House and the Senate, but it can’t draw a new Congressional map. That would go to a three-judge panel if all else failed, and it’s not hard to imagine the Republicans not wanting to roll the dice on that. In that situation, there would be lots of room for some horse trading, with legislative maps and a Congressional map that all cater to incumbent protection over maximal partisan gain. I’m not saying this would happen, but it could.

Alternately, Democrats could win or maintain the House in 2022 and win enough statewide offices, including Governor, to force a redraw in 2023 or direct it if a redraw is mandated because the previous exercise had been done in a special session. It should be noted that the same opportunity exists for Republicans, who start out in a much stronger position to make it happen – they would just need to take back the House (this situation only applies if they didn’t have control of the House in 2021) and re-elect Greg Abbott. I definitely have some fear of this scenario playing out, as it is not at all far-fetched, and the 2003 experience shows that they have no shyness when it comes to a bit of mid-decade map-drawing.

All this is getting way ahead of ourselves. For now, the main point is that any delay in the Census has a big ripple effect in Texas, thanks to the legislative calendar and our early-in-the-year primaries. Such a delay is almost certainly necessary to get an accurate count, but it doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and we need to be aware of what would happen as a result. This is a subject we will come back to again and again between now and January.

Coronavirus and redistricting

Big surprise.

A delay in census counting because of the coronavirus pandemic could push Texas redistricting into legislative overtime next summer.

Trump administration officials on Monday proposed delaying reapportionment counts and the distribution of redistricting data by four months, which would kick the delivery of data Texas lawmakers need to redraw political districts from March 2021 to July. That puts it past the end of the next scheduled legislative session.

The proposal must be approved by Congress. Under that plan, census counting would extend to October 31.

[…]

The Texas Legislature meets once every two years from January to late May. Under the bureau’s proposal, the redistricting data would come “no later than July 31,” meaning Gov. Greg Abbott may have to call lawmakers back for a special legislative session to redraw congressional and legislative maps.

It was not immediately clear what this would mean for the involvement of the Legislative Redistricting Board, a five-member board that steps in to redraw state Senate and House maps if lawmakers fail to redraw them during the regular legislative session following “the publication of the decennial census.”

No one could have seen this coming. In truth, I’m kind of glad to see it. I’d much rather have a delayed redistricting process than one based on a rushed and surely inaccurate Census. We all know the Census cannot proceed normally now. By far the best thing to do is give it some extra time (and money) so we can get the best count we can. Delaying the redistricting process by a couple of months, which in turn may force the 2022 primaries to be later in the year as they were in 2012, is a small price to pay for it.

That said, there must be heavy oversight of any changes to the process.

The bureau’s plans were first made public Monday by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), who chairs the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

In a press release describing a phone call Ross held with some members of Congress about the plans, Maloney says the committee “will carefully examine” the request to change the census deadlines, while also criticizing the administration for not providing more information and not allowing Dillingham, the bureau’s director, to brief the committee about its plans in response to the pandemic.

“If the Administration is trying to avoid the perception of politicizing the Census, preventing the Census Director from briefing the Committee and then excluding him from a call organized by the White House are not encouraging moves,” Maloney said in the written statement. “The Constitution charges Congress with determining how the Census is conducted, so we need the Administration to cooperate with our requests so we can make informed decisions on behalf of the American people.”

According to the House oversight committee’s press release, Ross “acknowledged that the Administration had not sought input from Congress about this request in advance of this call because of concerns about leaks to the press.”

Asked by NPR why no Census Bureau officials participated in the call, Cook responded in an email that Dillingham now plans to speak with members of Congress “as soon as possible,” noting: “The Secretary of Commerce is statutorily delegated responsibility to conduct the decennial census and took the role of calling key congressional leaders to continue the consultation process.”

The bureau’s changes for the 2020 census were supported by Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, one of the main groups advocating for participation in the count.

“If it’s not safe to have census takers visiting people’s homes by June, then Congress has an obligation to consider other options to protect census workers and the communities they serve, and to ensure an equitable count,” Gupta said in a statement. “We cannot afford to compromise the health of our communities or the fairness and accuracy of the census.”

I agree with Vanita Gupta that this is the right thing to do. But I also agree with Stacey Abrams that we cannot trust the Trump administration to have good intentions, and we need to watch them like a hawk to make sure they are doing what they are legally obligated to do. Anything else would be just as bad an outcome.

We’re not going to get an independent redistricting commission

Nice to think about, but the set of circumstances that might lead to it are exceedingly narrow.

Most of the seven states that have independent commissions adopted them by a citizens’ initiative. Since Texas doesn’t have that option, the only way it would happen would be if lawmakers voluntarily gave up their redistricting power.

Kathay Feng, national redistricting director of the progressive government watchdog group Common Cause, said that’s unlikely to happen in Texas, but not impossible.

“The reality is that when a legislature is looking at potentially split control or the changeover of control from one party to another, they’re the most likely to entertain the possibility of redistricting reform,” Feng said.

Rice University political science professor Mark Jones said it would take a unique set of circumstances.

“It would take us reaching a tipping point where Republicans are pessimistic about their prospects for retaining a majority, but Democrats are also pessimistic about their prospects for taking a majority as well,” Jones said.

I think Jones’ assessment is basically accurate, but it’s important to understand what Republican pessimism about retaining a majority means. We’re talking about them being afraid that they might face unified Democratic government in 2031, the next time redistricting will come around. And not only must they fear this thing that might happen ten years and three statewide elections from now, they must conclude that their best option now would be to curb that future theoretical Democratic hegemony via the creation of an independent redistricting commission. All this happens following a Democratic takeover of the State House, because otherwise Republicans can do what they’ve done before, which is draw whatever districts they want without fear. You see what I mean by exceedingly narrow?

Let’s keep one other thing in mind here. If we do get a Democratic State House, Republicans can still push for whatever maps they want for the SBOE, the State Senate, and the State House. That’s because if the two chambers can’t agree on maps for those three entities, the job gets thrown to the Legislative Redistricting Board, which is the Lite Governor, the Speaker, the AG, the Comptroller, and the Land Commissioner. In other words, a Board on which Republicans would have a 4-1 majority, and thus no trouble passing those Republican maps. The one map that would still be up in the air would be the Congressional map. If there is no map passed legislatively, it gets thrown to a federal court, over which neither side would have any control.

There is room in this scenario for some compromise. Republicans would prefer not to let a court do this work. Democrats would of course like to have some influence in the mapmaking process. You can imagine an agreement to draw maps for all four entities – Congress, SBOE, Senate, House – that leans towards incumbent protection rather than greatly advantaging or disadvantaging one party over the other. If that happens, you could also imagine them including an independent commission as a bonus Grand Bargain, but that seems a bridge too far. But compromise maps that mostly don’t make any incumbents’ lives too difficult, that I can see maybe getting done.

Maybe. The situation I’ve just described here is like what happened in 2001, which was the last time Dems controlled the House. The LRB drew the state maps, which led to the massive GOP takeover in the 2002 election, and a court drew the Congressional map. And then, once Republicans had control of the House, they went back and redid the Congressional map. That was the original, stated motivation when Tom DeLay pushed for re-redistricting in 2003: The Congressional map should be drawn by the legislators, not by a court. Obviously, they wanted a map that was much more favorable to Republicans, but that was the original reason they gave. It seems to me that this is a very plausible outcome in 2021 as well – the Republicans decide to let a court draw the map, which in all likelihood would be quite deferential to incumbents anyway, then take their chances on retaking the House in 2022 and doing a new Congressional map again. Hey, it worked once before, and now they have a more favorable Supreme Court to back them up.

Honestly, this may be the single most likely scenario – the LRB draws the state maps, a court draws the Congressional map, and everything hinges on the 2022 election. Maybe Dems keep the State House. Maybe we manage to elect a Democratic Governor, who could then veto any new Congressional map. Maybe Republicans win and do their thing. Heck, even in the Great Map Compromise scenario, who’s to say that Republicans wouldn’t tear it all up and start over in the event they retake the House and retain the Governor’s Mansion? I’d put money on that before I placed a bet on a redistricting commission. 2031 is a long, long way away. It’s not at all irrational to prioritize the now over what maybe could possibly happen if everything goes wrong.

No bail in

No surprise, I’m afraid.

Texas won’t have to seek federal approval when state lawmakers draw new election maps in two years, a three-judge panel in San Antonio decided Wednesday. The judges, however, cautioned Texas that its next process will “undoubtedly” be subject to judicial scrutiny.

“Texas would be well advised to conduct its redistricting process openly,” U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez wrote in the 27-page opinion.

The decision is a blow to civil rights groups that had asked for Texas to again face federal oversight, known as preclearance, following a years-long legal battle over Texas political maps drawn after the 2010 census, which federal courts have found intentionally discriminated against minority voters.

The plaintiffs have yet to decide what they will do next, said Jose Garza, lead counsel for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus. Garza noted the decision’s “strong language.”

“If you read the opinion in its entirety, the state doesn’t come up smelling very well,” he said.

See here, here, and here for the background, and here for a copy of the ruling. This doesn’t foreclose future litigation against the sure-to-be rigged maps the 2021 Lege will come up with – and if not them thanks to Democratic control of the House, the Legislative Redistricting Board – but it’s one less tool in the bag. The simple fact remains that Dems are going to have to win some elections while fighting uphill, and then once they have sufficient control of state government taking whatever steps are necessary to fix this. And if some time during the next decade we wake up in a world where Dems do have control of both chambers and the Governor’s office, redrawing all the maps a la 2003 would be a high priority in the subsequent session. Rick Hasen, the DMN, the Trib, and ThinkProgress have more.

Does the partisan redistricting ruling change anything in Texas?

Maybe, but if so it will be indirect.

Robert Henneke, general counsel for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank, said the ruling was a clear sign that the high court wanted to discourage federal judges from micromanaging the redistricting process.

“I think it de-escalates the use of litigation as a way of seeking results that aren’t supported on election day,” Henneke said.

Chad Dunn, a lawyer who sued on behalf of the Democratic Party in Texas to block redistricting maps drawn earlier this decade, said he did not believe Thursday’s ruling would have a dramatic impact in the state.

Courts have cracked down on Texas-drawn maps every decade since the 1960s for violating the Voting Rights Act’s restrictions on diluting minority voting strength and gerrymandering along racial grounds, and those restrictions remain in place, Dunn said.

“I don’t think, really, anything changes,” he said. “Partisan gerrymandering (complaints) would have been another tool for voters to use in the courthouse.”

Renea Hicks, another lawyer who challenged the current set of Texas maps, wasn’t so sure.

Republicans who drew the most recent maps claimed they were using voters’ political affiliations to draw districts that helped one party succeed or benefited an incumbent, but Hicks said the reason could be used to mask a racial purpose, particularly because Latino and African American voters tend to favor Democrats.

“They can use partisanship to locate minorities, then draw lines,” he said. “Now they have even more to hide behind.”

I think Hicks has it right. Let’s not forget the previous ruling that found essentially no fault with the Texas legislative and Congressional maps despite the lower court rulings that they were racially discriminatory. SCOTUS accepted the fig leaf that the slightly tweaked 2013 maps, which were still 98% based on the discriminatory 2011 maps, absolved the state of all its sins. I don’t think the Republicans will have much to fear in 2021 if they have full control of the process. Heck, even if they have to defer to the Legislative Redistricting Board for the non-Congressional maps, I don’t think they’ll hold back. And remember, even if they do draw maps that somehow wind up being tossed, they’ll get multiple elections out of the bad maps before any consequences are enforced. The incentives point one hundred percent in the direction of maximal partisan advantage. The real questions are 1) How much more maximally can they draw districts now versus 2011, and 2) How much do the state’s changing demographics hold them back? There’s only one way to find out.

Republicans have no incentive to worry about redistricting being used against them

I appreciate the thrust of this story, but it omits a key fact.

Rep. Donna Howard

One way to determine if Texas is truly gerrymandered is to compare the total vote share that Republican and Democratic candidates for the U.S. Congress received in the 2018 midterm election.

Republicans received 53 percent of those votes. Democrats got 47 percent.

If the 36 seats in the Texas congressional delegation were divided with that proportion then there would be 19 Republican members of congress from Texas and 17 Democrats.

Instead what Texas has is 23 Republican congressmen and 13 Democrats.

The Republicans appear to get four additional seats because of the way the maps are drawn. And to see how they do that look no further than Austin.

“If you look at the city of Austin and Travis County as a whole, we have six congressional reps,” said State Representative Donna Howard, an Austin Democrat. “There is not a single district that has more than 25% of the Austin population. So six different congressional representatives, five of whom are Republican, one Democrat representing the city of Austin and Travis County.”

Howard is working to end gerrymandering in Texas with the establishment of an independent redistricting commission. She says it’s not just Republicans who gerrymander. When the Democrats had control in the state they did it too.

Howard added that “whichever party’s been in power basically has used this situation to draw lines that protected incumbents that ensure that a certain people can be elected that pack districts with a part, the party in power.”

[…]

Michael Li, an expert on redistricting at the Brennan Center for Justice, said this is a pivotal time for Texas.

“It’s really a great time for people to be statesmen,” Li said.

Li said because of where the political pendulum is in its swing, this is a rare time when both political parties could be motivated to actually pass meaningful redistricting reform.

“Republicans had better provide themselves with some insurance and at the same time Democrats don’t know when that’s going to arrive so they have that incentive to continue to want to be fair,” he said.

So will this legislature be able to move forward on redistricting reform? Don’t bet on it.

Howard’s bills and similar ones were left pending. Essentially they are left in legislative limbo, stuck there until there’s another committee meeting to vote them out. Howard said it’s her impression that the House Redistricting Committee will not meet again this legislative session. So unless something changes, the issue is dead.

Rep. Howard’s bill is HB312, which would establish a nonpartisan redistricting commission. It’s a fine idea, and the logic that Republicans ought to help set something up that won’t be hostile to them when they lose power makes sense. The reality is that in 2021, when redistricting will happen, Greg Abbott will still be Governor and Republicans will have a majority in the Senate. The best case scenario for Dems is winning the nine seats they need to take the majority in the House. But even then, if no maps can be agreed on, the task ultimately falls to the Legislative Redistricting Board, which is “composed of the lieutenant governor, speaker of the house, attorney general, comptroller, and commissioner of the general land office” and thus four to one Republican in the scenario I’m laying out. In other words, Republicans have this covered in 2021. There’s no incentive for them to ease up on the gas pedal, especially with a Supreme Court that will have their backs.

Now, in a truly blue-sky world, Dems sweep into statewide control in 2023, and following the Tom DeLay precedent redraw all the lines in that session. Let’s just say this is a longshot scenario, and not risky enough for the GOP to consider mitigation. Realistically, the next chance Dems will have to extract payback will be in 2031, and I think it’s fair to say that that’s far enough off to not be worth anyone’s time to worry about. If the statewide offices were up next year, then this might be a different story. But as things stand today, the Republicans have no reason to veer off the path they’re on now. They control the process now, and they will control it again in two years when it counts.

The next round of redistricting is going to be even more fun

Close races do complicate things.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Texas Republicans collected half of the votes statewide in congressional races this month. ­But even after Democrats flipped two districts, toppling GOP veterans in Dallas and Houston, Republicans will control 23 of the state’s 36 seats.

It’s the definition of gerrymandering.

“You wouldn’t expect perfect proportionality, but when something is really skewed, that’s probably a sign that something’s amiss,” said redistricting expert Michael Li.

Demographically and politically, the state is evolving — faster in some places than in others. Many Texas Republicans in Congress faced surprisingly close calls in the 2018 midterms.

Boundaries drawn early this decade to maximize GOP power blunted the damage. But the bulwarks built after the last census have begun to weaken. The midterms exposed unexpected shortcomings as college-educated white women — traditionally a major source of votes for the Texas GOP — abandoned the party.

Some were repelled by President Donald Trump and, at the same time, intrigued by Rep. Beto O’Rourke, the El Paso Democrat who offered a vision of less confrontational leadership, albeit with a liberal bent.

In Dallas, lawyer and former pro football player Colin Allred ousted Rep. Pete Sessions, a member of the GOP leadership. In Houston, lawyer Lizzie Pannill Fletcher unseated Rep. John Culberson, who led a subcommittee that controls billions in federal spending.

Both districts have seen some of the fastest demographic shifts in the state, with the nonwhite share of the electorate rapidly shrinking. They were stocked with high-income, highly-educated white voters long presumed to be Republican; many turned out to be swing voters under the right circumstances.

“These districts … weren’t built to elect Republicans in the age of Donald Trump,” said Li. “The Republican Party of today is almost unrecognizable to people of 2011.”

Independents in Texas have been in the habit of backing Republicans.

“But they can be re-educated to see Democrats as an option,” said Steve Bickerstaff, a retired University of Texas adjunct law professor whose books include Lines in the Sand, about the 2003 redistricting fight in Texas.

[…]

In two GOP-held districts that Trump carried, O’Rourke topped Cruz. That helped fellow Democrats come much closer than expected.

In the Dallas-area 24th District, Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell, survived with a margin of just 3 percentage points over a little-known challenger he outspent 11-1.

In suburban Houston’s 2nd District, Rep. Ted Poe notched 2-1 blowouts for years. He retired this year. Dan Crenshaw, a retired Navy SEAL who lost an eye in Afghanistan, won by 7 points. National Democrats might have paid attention to the race had they recognized the opportunity.

O’Rourke fought Cruz nearly to a draw in the 6th District, where Arlington Rep. Joe Barton’s retirement paved the way for his former chief of staff Ron Wright, the Tarrant County tax assessor-collector.

There, the map enacted by the Legislature after the 2010 census operated as intended: Democratic nominee Jana Lynne Sanchez ran up the score in Tarrant County precincts, but conservative voters in Ellis County put Wright over the top.

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, outspent his challenger 4-1 in a district that runs from the west side of Houston to the east side of Austin. The rural midsection kept the outgoing House Homeland Security chairman in his seat with a narrow, 4-point win.

Just north of Austin, Rep. John Carter, another senior Republican, beat M.J. Hegar by 3 points in a district that Trump carried by 13 points.

“Those districts were gerrymandered to absorb Democrats,” said Matt Angle, a veteran Democratic strategist who has been involved in Texas redistricting fights for two decades. “There are some of these congressional districts that Beto defined as more in play than any of us thought. … Those exurban areas are getting away from them.”

Turns out it’s a lot easier to draw yourself a bunch of “safe” districts when you’ve got a 15-20 point cushion in statewide voting. Also turns out an uncomfortable number of those districts aren’t so safe when the state as a whole becomes competitive. As Dave Wasserman notes, the GOP will probably have to draw another safe Dem Congressional district in Central Texas just to soak up Democratic votes that are now imperiling multiple incumbents. The 2020 election may complicate things further, especially if the Dems can demonstrate that this year was not a fluke but a step towards even higher ground. Regardless, the strategic question is going to be the main driver of the action. Do the Republicans aim for the maximum again, and risk a future wipeout should the tide rise again, or do they hunker down and shore up what they have at the expense of adding to it? I have a hard time seeing them be pragmatic, but you never know. In the meantime, let’s make that decision as hard as we can for them.

(Yes, I’m assuming the Republicans will have full control over the redistricting process. It’s possible the Dems could take over the State House in 2020, but the Senate is out of reach, as there aren’t enough competitive seats on the ballot then, and of course the statewides are in place through 2022. Whether via the Lege or the Legislative Redistricting Board, one way or another they’ll be drawing the maps.)

(Also, too: What are the two GOP-held districts that Trump carried but Beto won? Seems likely from context that one is CD24, but what’s the other? CD23 was carried by Hillary, so it’s not that. We’ll know once the statewide numbers are published, but I’m more than a little annoyed the story didn’t provide that tidbit.)

A place to start

At least one elected Republican is feeling a bit angsty about the Republican war on women’s health.

For some GOP lawmakers, the issue gets deeply personal, and the line between party loyalty, allegiance to anti-abortion politics and public health is a tough balancing act. State Rep. Sarah Davis, a first-term Republican lawmaker from Houston, said she survived breast cancer because it was detected early.

“It pains me to think that there’d be another 32-year-old diagnosed with breast cancer and not be able to get screened or treated until stage 4, whereas I was treated at stage 1 and had a much better outcome,” she said.

Though she supported the Women’s Health Program during the session, Davis was visibly reluctant to discuss whether she would prefer to keep Planned Parenthood and its preventive services in the program in order to keep it going. The state estimates 44 percent of Women’s Health Program clients go to Planned Parenthood clinics for their well woman exams, birth control and STD screenings.

“It’s a very tough one,” she said. “I think it’s a shame. We’re losing $40 million, and that’s our tax money we paid that we’re not getting back. And it’s going somewhere else outside of Texas.”

Sorry, Sarah. I’m afraid you own this. I don’t remember you speaking out on this issue back when it mattered, during the session. I admit, you probably couldn’t derail the crazy train, but you could have showed a little leadership. Hand-wringing after the fact doesn’t do squat.

Ann Johnson

If there’s a Republican-favored district where an issue like the Women’s Health Program can and should have traction, it’s HD134. Whether you think the court-ordered maps are good for Republicans or Democrats, Dems aren’t going to gain any real ground in the Lege until they can be competitive in places like that. Between the demise of the WHP and the House budget that would have cut $10 billion from public education instead of “just” $5.4 billion, there’s plenty of material to work with in HD134. The new map moved me out of HD134 and back into HD145 again, but I’m still going to do whatever I can to get Ann Johnson elected. This and HD144 are the two legislative races to watch in Harris County. How Dems do in those races will go a long way to determining how much less awful the next legislative session could be.

By the way, I can’t let this pass without noting that HHSC Commissioner Tom Suehs appears to have completely freaked out.

In an uncharacteristically angry letter sent to Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus, Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Tom Suehs argues that if the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) won’t let Texas exclude Planned Parenthood from the Women’s Health Program, “then no state can ever confidently apply policies and requirements that advance important and legitimate state interests to regulate providers’ participation in Medicaid.”

What that means, Suehs wrote, is that “the state must allow tax cheats, deadbeat parents, and even people suspected of serious abuse to participate in the Medicaid program. This is a risk I am unwilling to expose our clients to.”

Seriously, Tom? You could probably sneeze at the Capitol any day of the week and give your cold to at least half a dozen tax cheats, deadbeat parents, and spouse abusers. Are you saying these people should be denied health insurance? Because it serves such an awesome purpose to force people to use the emergency rooms. Clearly, Commissioner Suehs is from the school of thought that only good people deserve to be helped. How much glass is there in your house, Tom? I continue to be amazed at the ability Planned Parenthood apparently has to turn seemingly normal adults into raving lunatics. I mean, I expect this kind of thing from idiots like Rick Perry, but I thought Suehs was a grownup. Silly me.

UPDATE: Did I mention that Tom Suehs was cracking up? Dude, take a vacation or something before you hurt yourself.

Where we stand on redistricting

With final passage of SB31 and HB150, the Senate and House redistricting bills, the Lege has done three of its four redistricting-related tasks. There’s still a pretty big one not yet done, however, and it’s not looking like they’ll get to it at all.

With the legislative session winding down toward its final week, the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Redistricting said late this week that lawmakers probably will not get congressional redistricting finished.

“Can we get it out of the Legislature? Probably not,” said Sen. Kel Seliger, the Amarillo Republican who chairs the committee. “But it’s important that we get a credible instrument for the court to consider.”

If they do not finish, lawmakers can allow a panel of federal judges to draw the map or add it to the call for a special session in July.

[…]

U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Houston, and other congressmen have been hovering around the Capitol all week, seeking to influence the process. “We’re hoping for a buzzer beater,” Brady said Thursday.

More likely is a committee hearing next week and then overtime. The hearing would allow all interested parties to get their maps and their concerns into the record, to be considered by a court.
No impact on courts

Ed Martin, a redistricting consultant who represents Democrats, predicted the courts will pay little attention to a committee report, based on a similar situation in 2001.

“If the congressional redistricting committee passes a plan, that will have no serious import on what the courts ultimately do,” he said.

Redistricting insiders say that one of the reasons for not having a map yet is because of disagreement among Republicans about where to draw the four new congressional districts.

Frankly, I would be perfectly happy to have the courts draw a map. They could hardly do any worse than the Lege has done, and unlike the Lege they might actually try to accommodate Latino population growth. Of course, the fact that the 2001 map was drawn by the courts and not the Lege was the rationale given for the 2003 re-redistricting, but unlike then the Republicans control all aspects of redistricting (the House was still majority Democratic in 2001) and the courts got the job because the House and Senate could not reach an agreement. Here, the stalemate is all on the Republicans. Plus, there’s no Tom DeLay to drive the bus. So this may be how it plays out. For what it’s worth, Robet Miller says that “Gov. Perry’s aides are telling legislators that a special session on congressional redistricting alone will not be called” because that might interfere with his delusions of being elected President. Greg remains skeptical that the committee will not pass a map, but agrees there’s damn little time to do it. There’s always time for a lawsuit, however.

So at the state level, the only thing left to do is Congressional redistricting. I was curious about redistricting of state district and appeals courts, but that’s not a requirement for the Lege.

Texas law states that the purpose of reapportionment of the judicial districts for the district courts is to promote “prompt and efficient” administration of government by equalizing the “judicial burdens” of the district courts. This differs from the purpose of redistricting representative districts, which is to equalize the populations of the districts. Caseloads and a number of other variables, some of which are difficult to quantify, may be factored into the measurement of “judicial burden.” Judicial districts are not covered by the one-person, one-vote requirement and may have whatever populations the legislature considers appropriate.

The Texas Legislature may revise the judicial districts at any regular or special session. The Texas Constitution requires the Judicial Districts Board (JDB) to make a statewide reapportionment of judicial districts if the legislature does not do so by June of the third year following the federal decennial census. If the JDB fails to do so by August of that third year, the responsibility falls to the Legislative Redistricting Board.

The boundaries of the state’s courts of appeals districts are determined solely by the legislature and are not required to be redrawn at any particular time.

Locally, we’re two for four. Houston City Council and HISD are done; HCCS and Harris County are not. At this point, I have no idea when either of them have it on their schedule, when or if there will be any public meetings to discuss them, or what if any VRA requirements they must meet.

UPDATE: Apparently, HCC did discuss draft redistricting plans in their May 19 meeting. You can see the agenda item here – it’s the fourth entry under the Consent Agenda. I will have a post with more information later.

Senate approves modified Senate map

From the Trib:

The Texas Senate approved new political districts that protect all of the Republican and all but one of the Democratic incumbents in that body, but stalled on a House redistricting map already approved in the House.

[…]

After knocking down two amendments from Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, and approving one by Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, the Senate approved a map very similar to one passed last week by its Redistricting Committee.

Davis is still in a district that will be difficult for a Democrat to win. Travis County’s lines were altered a bit, but it would have four senators where it now has two, with one of them residing in the county. Taylor County remains split between two senators; it was whole before. And Bexar County would have parts of four Senate districts, three of which are anchored by San Antonio incumbents.

The bill is SB31, and the amended plan is Plan S125. I can’t tell where exactly the differences are between this and the original map. The Senate still has to vote on the House plan, and vice versa, which they will do more or less simultaneously as usual. Still to come is Congressional redistricting, about which Greg has more. A statement from Sen. Jose Rodriguez about the map is here, and a letter signed by all 12 Senate Dems that puts their concerns about the map and its retrogression of minority voting strength is here. Trail Blazers and Postcards have more.

Who will ultimately draw the map?

Via Juanita, I came across this TylerPaper.com story about how redistricting will affect East Texas. It’s a good read, which can be mostly summed up as “they’re gonna lose seats, which will present a challenge to Republicans since they hold all of those seats”, but it was this bit at the end that caught my eye, in which Harvey Kronbeg of the Quorum Report discusses a matter of process:

Redistricting will be handled by legislators in the Senate and House, Kronberg believes.

Kronberg said most House and Senate members do not want the Legislative Redistricting Board, composed of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, House Speaker Joe Straus, state Attorney General Greg Abbott, comptroller Susan Combs, and Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, to redraw districts. The board would redraw district lines if legislators fail to act or the new plans are found invalid.

There are political incentives for board members aiming for higher office, including Dewhurst, who is eyeing the U.S. Senate and Abbott, whose name has been linked to runs at lieutenant governor and governor, to avoid the responsibility of drawing lines, he said. Dewhurst, as land commissioner, drew criticism after redistricting in 2000 and “spent the next year asking for forgiveness from the senators,” Kronberg said.

“He would much rather not go through that mess again because it’s a no win situation for him if he runs for lieutenant governor or the senate,” Kronberg said. “There’s no upside for him.”

The reason I find that interesting is that it’s the exact opposite of what insider/lobbyist Robert Miller predicts:

I believe that the Senate will be able to pass a Senate redistricting plan. The Republicans intend to draw a 20R – 11D map with Sen. Wendy Davis’ seat becoming more Republican. Sen. Huffman’s seat will be shored up. The Republican leadership will need to find 2 Democrats to vote to suspend the rules to bring up the map for Senate debate. Finding the votes to suspend appears achievable, given that if a map does not pass the all-Republican LRB will then draw it.

The real question is can the House pass a redistricting plan. In my judgment, the House has a far greater challenge than the Senate. There are currently 101 House Republicans. I believe that you can only draw 86 to 88 Republican seats if you want those seats to remain Republican for 10 years. If you draw too many Republican seats, the Republican majorities will be too thin and the Democrats will flip the seats in succeeding elections given the changing demographics in the state.

Let’s say I am right and you can only draw 86 – 88 Republican seats. That means the Democrats will pick up 13 – 15 seats in the 2012 election; and you could have to pair up to 26 to 30 Republican members. Pairings will probably be less because of retirements: e.g. Rep. Warren Chisum has already indicated that he is running for the Railroad Commission.

It will be very difficult for the House Republican majority to pass a map for two reasons. One, they will have to pair numerous Republicans. Secondly, they will have to go back to their primary voters and say we had 101 seats, and I just voted for a map that will give us 86 to 88.

Finally, we have history as a guide. In 1971, 1981, 1991, and 2001, a legislative plan did not pass in regular session and the LRB drew the seats. The odds are that it will end up at the LRB again this year.

Either one could be right – they both make good points. I just wanted to note this because it’s fascinating to me how two smart people can reasonably arrive at opposite conclusions. On a related point, Miller and Kronberg are much closer to the other’s opinion:

Impressions are that Straus wants a “rock-solid Republican majority” durable through the end of the decade, Kronberg said. It means 83 to 85 GOP districts with 60 percent to 65 percent Republican support could emerge, he said.

It’s harder to draw rock-solid districts because populations are much more integrated now, with minorities, such as African-Americans and Hispanics moving to the suburbs at or beyond the pace of whites, Kronberg said. But it can be done, he said.

“I am told you could draw 100 Republican districts in the House, but I think Straus is suspicious of that,” he said.

I think with the obliteration of the rural Democrats, the Republican ceiling is more like 90 seats, but achieving that in a Presidential year might not be possible. If they actually try to draw a map that aims to keep 100 seats, I’d put money on them losing their majority by the end of the decade, possibly as soon as 2016. As I said before. just trying to decide what a “typical” election year might look like is enough to drive you batty. No wonder it’s easy to make a case for one group wanting the other guys to do it.

The opening bars of the redistricting overture

Now that we have Census data, you know what comes next. Here’s an Express News story that discusses how redistricting will be different this time around.

Democrats still are smarting from the redistricting plan engineered in 2003 by then-U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land. The plan was adopted, for the first time, without the benefit of a new census or the threat of a court order. Although DeLay had no official role in the process, he and his allies in the Texas House went to work drawing a congressional map that targeted every Democrat in Congress. They were spectacularly successful.

Two things are different this time.

“DeLay had the muscle to make it happen, but there’s no DeLay around this time, and Dewhurst, because he’s running for the Senate, doesn’t want to make any enemies,” said political scientist Richard Murray of the University of Houston.

The second difference is a Justice Department run by a Democratic administration. Any redistricting plan the legislature draws must adhere to federal rules, most importantly voting rights rules. Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act says minority areas can’t be diluted. Democrats complain that political appointees in the Bush Justice Department ignored those rules when they approved the DeLay-driven redistricting plan.

“We don’t need them (the Justice Department) to put the thumb on the scale to our advantage,” Democratic consultant Matt Angle said. “We just need them to be fair.”

Henry Flores, professor of political science and dean of the graduate school at St. Mary’s University, pointed out the strength of the GOP.

“The Republicans now have supermajority, so they don’t really have to negotiate with anybody on any plans. The Democrats are in the bleachers. They can leave the state if they want to, but that’s OK, nobody’s going to miss them.”

“Because a lot of the growth was driven by Hispanic areas, the way they rearrange the district lines is going to be very difficult. The new hybrid’s going to be the Hispanic-Republican district. Then what you have to worry about is: Will those new district pass muster in the U.S. Department of Justice?”

Actually, I’d argue there’s a third difference, which the Austin Chronicle pointed out last month:

Texas is one of several (mostly Southern) states with a history of racial discrimination that are required under the Voting Rights Act to have their plans precleared by either the Justice Department or the D.C. federal district courts. “For the first time since the 1960s, we have a Democratic Justice Department to review the lines through the Voting Rights Act,” said Karl-Thomas Musselman, publisher of Dem blog the Burnt Orange Report, at a gathering of the party faithful back in November 2010. This “will make a big difference.”

Other knowledgeable observers disagree and believe the Republicans won’t even bother with the Justice Department and will go directly to the courts. “I think what will happen is Republicans will say [the review process] is unfair,” [UT law professor] Steve Bickerstaff told the same gathering. “If [the GOP redistricting] is aggressive, you go to the court.”

[State Sen. Jeff] Wentworth, whose district includes part of South Austin, told the Chronicle the same thing. “I don’t believe it would be in Texas’ interest to even go the route of trying to get precleared by the Department of Justice,” Wentworth said. “We’ve always had the option of going to a three-judge federal court in the District of Columbia. We’ve never taken that route; we’ve always gone the preclearance route through the Voting Rights division of the DOJ. But I think that would be a waste of time in 2011, and I don’t believe we’re planning on doing that.”

Wentworth advises avoiding the DOJ because “they’re not only Democrats, they’re partisan Democrats. Before, you had a professional, career Voting Rights division [staff] at the Department of Justice. Now, you have a partisan Democratic Voting Rights division. Many of us, including me, are convinced that there’s not a map that we can draw that they would approve, so it’s a waste of time and money.” He says the Voting Rights division became more partisan “with this administration.” (In 2003, Democrats leveled similar charges at the Bush DOJ, noting that the career professionals in the Voting Rights division balked at the map but were overruled by Bush political appointees and then-Attorney General John Ashcroft. As Bickerstaff noted, in 2005 The Washington Post uncovered a memo by the head of the division that supported these allegations. The Supreme Court indeed overruled one district in 2006 on VRA grounds, forcing the current map.)

Wentworth is clearly projecting about the Justice Department, but he’s right that it makes no sense for the Republicans to go to them for preclearance. Frankly, their ultimate goal is to overturn the Voting Rights Act on the grounds that it’s no longer needed. I don’t know how they can make that argument with a straight face, given the way they’ve operated before and will undoubtedly do again, but that won’t stop them from trying, and the DC district court is likely to be a sympathetic ear.

On a related matter, both Greg and PDiddie discuss this article by Rice U poli sci prof Mark Jones, entitled “Why Houston won’t send a Hispanic to Congress”. I don’t have anything to add to their analyses, which you should read, but I do have two things to add to the pile of things to think about. One is that for all the talk about how West Texas will surely lose one seat, maybe two, in the State House – Burka has suggested a likely target, though Warren Chisum’s RRC dreams may change that equation – but I’m not really sure West Texas gets to keep all of the Congressional districts it has now. Two West Texas districts, CDs 13 and 19 are below the target in population now, before four new seats get drawn; CD11 is just barely above, thanks to its inclusion of some Hill Country counties. I don’t think any of them are going to disappear, but as with the State Rep districts they’re likely to be much more closely anchored to the suburbs of Fort Worth, Austin, and San Antonio, which seems to me to present future problems for the Midland, Panhandle, and Lubbock-based incumbents.

And two, you have to wonder what electoral data the mapmakers are going to use to draw their lines. The 2012 electorate is going to look a lot like the 2008 electorate, maybe more so. Look at that last link above, and you can see that the GOP has three or four incumbents who are skating close to the edges of vulnerability in a year like that – Sessions, Marchant, and McCaul at the least, with Johnson, Carter, and Culberson not that far behind, and that’s before you try to shore up freshlings Canseco and Farenthold. Basing maps on 2010 returns will surely lead to overexposure, but basing them on 2008 returns will as surely be seen as insufficiently ambitious. Sessions, who won three straight close races before getting a breather last year, is an advocate of maxing the number of possible seats via 55-45 districts rather than making fewer incumbents feel more safe in 60-40 ones. But what’s the optimal strategy for a starting point when the long-term trends are going against you? That’s the question.

I should note that it’s hard to say what a “normal” electorate might look like based on what we saw last decade. 2002 was a moderate turnout election that was mostly good for Republicans. 2004 was a moderately high turnout election that was mostly good for Republicans but in which Democrats gained a seat in the Lege for the first time in over a decade. 2006 was a low turnout election that was good for Democrats. 2008 was a high turnout election that was very good for Democrats. 2010 was an off-the-charts high turnout year that was spectacular for Republicans. Barring anything unusual, I’d bet on 2012 being like 2008, but beyond that, who knows?

Redistrict-a-palooza

Greg attends the Houston redistricting hearing so you don’t have to, and liveblogs it till the bitter end, then follows it up with a summary report. The Chron has a bunch of related Tweets from the hearing here. And Michael Hurta had a report from the earlier hearing in Austin. So now you know.

Greg and KT also have overviews of what Congressional redistricting may look like, with Greg commenting on this post in The Fix about how it’s all about playing defense for the Republicans now, which will make the dynamic very different than what we’ve seen before. While there still are a couple of Democrats for them to target, the sheer amount of turf they now have to defend changes the calculus entirely. It’ll be fun to watch, that’s for sure.

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.

DNC to help fund state races?

Interesting.

Texas Democratic Chairman Boyd Richie said today the Democratic National Committee next year may put money into Texas House races because of their importance in drawing new congressional maps in 2011.

Texas is expected to gain three to four seats in the U.S. House in the reapportionment that follows the 2010 census. Those seats are expected to come from Rust Belt Democratic states.

“With three or four new congressional seats that will be created here in Texas, the national party has the idea that they’re going to need to focus some resources here and some help here. Obviously, those seats have to come from somewhere. And if the demographics are true, those seats are Democratic seats now,” Richie said.

The Democratic National Committee is meeting Thursday, Friday and Saturday in Austin. The first time the group has met in Texas since a San Antonio meeting sometime in the late 1970s, Richie said. This is a sign, he said, that national Democrats see Texas as emerging from more than a decade of Republican rule.

Okay, first it’s nice to see the national folks see Texas as an opportunity rather than simply as a fundraising source. It’s about time – way past it, really – for some resources to flow back here. Democrats will never be able to truly compete without being on a more even financial footing.

That said, we do all realize that any gains we may make in the Lege can and will be wiped out if there isn’t enough Democratic representation on the Legislative Redistricting Board to prevent another GOP-friendly map from being drawn, right? Yes, the Speaker sits on the LRB, but so do the Lite Guv, Attorney General, Comptroller, and Land Commissioner. One Democratic voice out of five can only do so much. What if anything are we going to do about this?

I realize that’s not the DNC’s concern so much, as it’s the 2011 Lege that will draw the next Congressional map. But if they’re that concerned about it, perhaps they might consider getting involved in the Governor’s race as well. It sure would be nice to have two of the three players in that process be Democratic, wouldn’t it? Not to mention having a fallback position in the event the takeover of the House falls short. Think big, and give yourself more chances for a good outcome.

The state of the Governor’s race

So we know that Tom Schieffer is in. So are Mark Thompson and Felix Alvarado. Ronnie Earle may or may not be in. Hank Gilbert now says that he’s in. Kinky (sigh) is fixing to be in. Some people think that one or the other of Bill White and John Sharp ought to be in. Here’s what I think.

I think we’ll have a pretty good idea soon if the fundraising will exists to make one of these people a serious challenger for the Governor’s mansion. I was on a conference call with Gilbert and a number of my blogging colleagues yesterday morning, and one of the things he said was that he’s set a goal of raising $100K online between now and his official launch on September 21. I don’t know if he can do this, but I do agree that if he does, he’ll establish himself as a viable contender, and that it will make it easier for him to attract support from the conventional donors. (Though it must be noted that this doesn’t necessarily follow. Just ask Rick Noriega about that.) Schieffer’s recent announcement about receiving endorsements from House Democratic leaders may be an indication that the establishment has decided to coalesce around him; if so, expect him to post better fundraising numbers for the third and fourth quarters. And despite adamant denials about changing races from White and Sharp, I believe that one of them, most likely the one who has had the least success in raising money for the Senate race, could be cajoled into switching if a promise of an open money spigot came with it.

Basically, my thesis is that the Democratic donor class has finally started to wake up to the realization that there’s an excellent chance Rick Perry will be on the ballot for another term in November, and that unless they get in the game, there’s an even better chance he’ll get it. Six months ago, they could have rationalized that Kay Bailey Hutchison was inevitable, but as she has morphed into Strayhorn 2.0, such thinking is increasingly wishful. Barring any Tuesday morning surprises, the options are to actually support the Democratic ticket (I know, what a radical concept) or brace yourself for four more years. And if you’re going to choose the former, you may as well get started now and have a say in who will be at the top of that ticket. Oh, and if you’re going to do that, you may as well go ahead and fill out the rest of the ticket as well, lest all the resources Democrats put in to retaking the State House get wiped out by an all-Republican (or four-fifths Republican if there’s a Democratic Speaker) Legislative Redisctricting Board. Why make 2012 a repeat of 2002 if you don’t have to?

So keep an eye on the fundraising, and see if any more Democratic elected officials start giving endorsements. If there’s a frontrunner for the nomination, we’ll know it soon enough. Hopefully, along with all that will come candidates for the remaining offices, with each of them having decent fundraising potential. Honestly, it’s not too much to ask, is it?

Burka on the Census and redistricting

Paul Burka takes a look at Census figures and projections for 2010 and considers the implication for the 2011 Legislative Redistricting Board redraw of State House and State Senate lines.

There is going to be carnage in rural Texas, especially from Wichita Falls to Lubbock to Amarillo, an area currently represented by six House Republicans: Hardcastle, Jones, Isett, Chisum, Swinford, and Smithee, and only two Democratic districts (Farabee and Heflin). In East Texas, the Eltife and Nichols Senate seats are in rural areas that have not kept up with the growth rate.

On the other hand, Republicans won’t even have to gerrymander to gain seats in suburban Texas. Huge growth rates in Collin, Denton, and Montgomery counties will result in more Republican seats. The other two big suburban counties, Fort Bend and Williamson, also have high growth rates, but the growth in these counties includes Democrats as well as Republicans. Growth in urban Texas was right around the statewide average, so the Democrats will have to win seats by defeating Republicans.

I suppose that’s true. It’s a good thing that the Democrats have gotten better at that. And in Harris County, at least, a lot of the high-growth areas got a lot less red last year. The result is that what was drawn to be a 15-10 Republican advantage in the delegation became a 14-11 Democratic lead in four cycles’ time, thanks in part to Republican overreach in 2001. Don’t take anything for granted, that’s all I’m saying.

On a side note, one thought that struck me in thinking about this was that perhaps we ought to consider increasing the number of members in the House and the Senate. Assuming Burka’s population projection is accurate, each of the 150 State Rep districts will have about 168,000 people in it after the 2011 redraw. Now take a look at the 1990 Census figures. Just 20 years ago, each district had roughly 113,000 constituents. To keep that same ratio for the 2010 population you’d need 223 members. Maybe this is one reason why the cost of running for State Rep keeps going up – you have to reach more and more voters just to maintain position. And with four Congressional seats being added to bring the total to 36, the 31 Senate districts are going to become a lot more populous than Congressional ones soon. I say it’s worth considering the possibility of increasing the size of each chamber in order to keep a certain level of closeness to each elected official. What do you think?

UPDATE: Greg brings some maps.

More on the AG and the LRB

As we know, in the aftermath of the Senate pajama party on voter ID last week, State Rep. Mark Homer touted HJR 53, which he had filed earlier in the session, which would replace the Attorney General on the Legislative Redistricting Board with the Ag Commissioner. The reason behind it was simple enough – since the Attorney General might be called upon to defend a redistricting scheme in court, he shouldn’t be party to its creation. Since then, Homer has gained some support for his measure in the upper chamber.

Sen. Bob Duncan, who had the unenviable job of keeping order during the Committee of the Whole, said he agreed with Abbott’s position (though he denied published reports — based on statements from the AG’s office — that he instructed Abbott to stay away). On Friday, he took that position a step further, and filed SJR 41, which would replace the attorney general with the agriculture commissioner on the Legislative Redistricting Board.

Duncan said he has always though the AG’s role on the LRB is “unusual” as it puts the state’s attorney in the position of defending a plan in which he or she is also a decision-maker. “What if the Attorney General voted against a particular redistricting plan and then had to defend it in court?” he asked. “It is an inherent conflict.”

Shortly after the Committee of the Whole debate, Duncan learned that Rep. Mark Homer had filed HJR 53 giving the AG’s spot on the LRB to the ag commissioner. “When I heard about that bill over there, I said I’ll carry it on the Senate side,” Duncan said.

It’s a tough slog getting a constitutional amendment through, especially in a session like this that’s wasted a ton of time on trivialities and distractions, but Sen. Duncan’s support ought to help.

If he can’t testify, he shouldn’t redistrict

One of the questions that was raised during the Voter ID All-Nighter in the Senate was why Attorney General Greg Abbott took a pass, even though the Democrats wanted him to be there, since he was a leading crusader of “voter fraud” accusations. Abbott’s office claimed his presence would lead to a conflict of interest:

Abbott spokesman Jerry Strickland said Abbott would not testify. He attributed the decision to Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, who as the Senate’s president pro tempore is set to preside over today’s hearing before the 31-member Senate sitting as a committee of the whole.

Strickland said: “Because the Office of the Attorney General would represent the state of Texas in legal matters that could arise from this legislation, the chair (Duncan) decided it would be inappropriate for the attorney general to be present as a witness in a legislative debate.”

OK, that seems reasonable. It’s a partisan political process, and since the AG would have to take one side over the other in any ensuing litigation, it makes sense for him to recuse himself from the process that led to that litigation. If that reminds you of something else, you’re not alone. This is from an email that was sent out this evening from State Rep. Mark Homer:

Earlier this session, Representative Homer filed House Joint Resolution 53 which proposes a constitutional amendment to replace the Attorney General on the Legislative Redistricting Board (LRB) with the Commissioner of Agriculture. “Senator Duncan and General Abbott have made a clear and compelling argument for HJR 53,” Homer said. “If General Abbott can not offer the Senate testimony regarding the results of a multi-million dollar investigation conducted by his office without a conflict of interest, he can not possibly vote on the LRB. His participation in the redistricting process would create an even more apparent conflict with even more imminent litigation coming out of it.” As currently structured, the Legislative Redistricting Board is composed of five members: The Lieutenant Governor, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Attorney General, the Comptroller of Public Accounts and the Commissioner of the General Land Office.

“If the LRB is called upon to act, there is a 100% certainty that litigation will follow. Through his actions today, General Abbott has certainly clouded the AG’s participation in LRB proceedings.” Homer continued by saying, “If the Attorney General is not replaced on the LRB and follows the precedent that he and Senator Duncan set today, he would be required to recuse himself. Because of this, I hope I can count on Senator Duncan and General Abbott to support this apparently much needed correction.”

Homer quoted spokesman Strickland’s statement in his email as part of his case. Gotta say, that seems eminently reasonable to me. Anyone think Senator Duncan or AG Abbott will agree? I look forward to their responses.