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Texas Conference of Urban Counties

SCOTUS redistricting briefs

Opening briefs for the SCOTUS hearing on Texas redistricting were filed yesterday – you can see them here. The State of Texas is going long – Michael Li explains.

The State of Texas asks the Supreme Court to let the state use the maps passed by the Texas Legislature for the 2012 election cycle, citing now tight election deadlines.

Texas’ 2012 elections have already been delayed by agreement of the two major political parties. Even the deadlines contained in that carefully crafted agreement, however, are rapidly approaching. Candidates for office need to know the borders of the districts in which they will be running. Voters need to know who their candidates will be. Election officials need to print and mail absentee and overseas ballots. And, in order for the primaries to go forward on April 6, 2012, as agreed to by the political parties, usable redistricting maps must be in place by February 1, 2012. Especially for the presidential primaries, any further delays will significantly diminish the role of the nation’s second-largest State in choosing the parties’ presidential candidates.

In light of these exigencies, there simply does not appear to be enough time to remand the case and allow the district court to craft yet another batch of interim maps for the upcoming elections. Accordingly, this Court should vacate the interim orders and remand to the district court with instructions to impose Texas’ legislatively enacted plan as the interim plan while preclearance is pending.

The state’s request is almost certain to draw sharp rebukes from plaintiff groups, contending that the relief sought by the state, if granted, would essentially gut section 5 preclearance and reward states for going slow.

SCOTUSblog goes into more detail. Of course, as Matt Angle pointed out, the reason we’re up against a tight schedule is because the Republicans who controlled the redistricting process took their sweet time, and chose the least swift option, at every step. One could argue, as the plaintiffs have, that keeping the San Antonio maps would also accomplish the goal of minimizing the work that needs to be done by elections administrators to get ready for the primaries, without incinerating the Voting Rights Act. That’s what the state is aiming for, to be sure, and there’s a non-trivial chance they’ll get it. I don’t know how to estimate the chances of it.

Speaking of the schedule and the election admins, they’re already sounding the alarm.

Texas counties say the April 3 primary election date won’t work.

In papers filed in federal court this afternoon, the officials who actually administer the state’s elections say that date — agreed to by the Democratic and Republican parties and ordered by a panel of federal judges in San Antonio — creates an impossible situation for them.

[…]

In their legal briefs, the Conference of Urban Counties, the County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas, and the Texas Association of Counties said they agree that all of the primaries should be held on the same day, but object to the date chosen by the political parties:

Despite agreement with the unified primaries, the County Organizations believe the Order issued in these consolidated cases on December 16, 2011 imposes on counties requirements that (1) are impossible to comply with, or that will be extremely difficult and expensive to comply with, if compliance is physically possible; and (2) may lead to voter confusion and disenfranchisement.

They said they’re basing that position on conferences with several counties of various sizes, from Harris, the state’s most populous county, all the way down to Shelby, with its 25,400 residents.

The court based the April 3 date on having a map in place by Feb. 1. But the counties say that wouldn’t leave them enough time. The court would give them only two weeks to prepare voter registration certificates that take six to seven weeks to prepare, the groups said.

“If voter registrars are required to mail inaccurate voter registration certificates in order to meet the deadline set by the Court, there is likely to be much confusion among voters. And voter confusion leads to voter disenfranchisement,” they wrote.

Isn’t this fun? I just have no idea what’s going to happen. Everything about this year is unprecedented. I don’t know what to expect.

And here are the vetoes

Here’s the full list, with links to statements about individual bills, here’s his press release, and here’s his budget statement. A few points of interest:

– Perry wimped out and allowed HB770, the Wayne Christian Homestead Bill, to become law without his signature. Way to lead, big guy. I can’t wait to get Jerry Patterson’s press release about this.

– As already noted, he axed SB488, the Safe Passing Bill. Bicyclists are pissed off.

“We are stunned because he’s our guy, and we feel disappointed, even betrayed by our guy,” said Robin Stallings, executive director of BikeTexas, the educational arm of the Texas Bicycle Coalition. “The bicycling community will never forgive Governor Perry.”

Perry had signed previous bills important for the cycling community, Stallings said.

Stallings said surveys show that 55 percent of the 30,000 active Texas cyclists who belong to a cyclist organization participate in GOP primaries. He said surveys also indicate an estimated 4 million Texans are, at least, casual bike riders.

[…]

The governor’s office never expressed any concern, much less opposition, Stallings said.

“The bill was well vetted and had support across the political spectrum. That he would do this and not talk to us (during the session), frankly, we are shocked.”

I’m not. Par for the course, if you ask me. I hope the bicyclists take out their frustrations about this in a big way.

– He vetoed HB3148, which would have allowed some minors who engaged in consensual sex to not have to register as sex offenders, which strikes me as petty and short-sighted. I’ll bet that will annoy Grits.

– Rep. Jerry Madden gets his wish, and SB1440 gets zapped.

– Two bills supported by environmentalists, HB821, which related to recycling TV sets; and SB2169, which would have established a smart growth policy work group and the development of a smart growth policy for Texas, got nixed.

– Perry signed HB4294, the electronic textbooks bill, over the objections of some social conservatives. Credit where it’s due – I thought this was a decent bill.

– He signed SB1410, thus negating West University Place’s ordinance requiring fire sprinklers in some new construction. Local control, schmocal control.

That’s all I’ve got for now. I’m sure there are other gems in there that are not immediately obvious to me, so leave a comment and let me know about them.

UPDATE: Naturally, after I hit publish, I get a couple of releases from Rep. Garnet Coleman about two of his bills that Perry rejected. Here they are, first about SB2468.

Statement by Rep. Garnet Coleman on Governor’s Veto of SB 2468, by Sen. Gallegos | Rep. Coleman

It shouldn’t be a surprise that Governor Perry would veto a bill that closed the revolving door of employees on the local level where individuals have rotated in and out of county government and the private sector. These actions send a bad message to Texans when it appears that their government works for the highest bidder instead of its own constituents.

It could be possible that Governor Perry does not want to draw attention to his own office’s revolving door. He calls the legislation a piecemeal approach to the issue of county lobbbying and claims he wants to avoid creating differing and confusing standards of ethical conduct. This leaves only the standard that his own office has set, which is that of a revolving door. Ethical behavior in one area of government shouldn’t have to wait for the rest of the state to catch up.

I think the Governor is well aware of these circumstances given the number of employees he has had that have rotated from the public sector, to the private sector and back again. He vetoed this bill on the same day he named a former lobbyist that was a former employee of his to his chief of staff position(1, 2).

At least 17 former Perry aides are now registered lobbyists according to a Dallas Morning News report (3). This includes a former state representative that formed a lobby firm, left to be Governor Perry’s chief of staff from 2002 – 2004, and then returned to his lobby practice (4). He was followed by another former state representative that had become a lobbyist and returned to serve as legislative director until returning to the private sector.(5)

Sources:
1. Press Release: Gov. Perry Names Sullivan Chief of Staff, http://governor.state.tx.us/news/press-release/12606/
2. Texas Ethics Commission Registration, Ray Sullivan, http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/tedd/lobcon2009d.htm
3. Dallas Morning News, Jan 6, 2009
4. http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/img/01-09/0104PRO_toomey.pdf
5. http://governor.state.tx.us/news/appointment/5098/

Here’s Perry’s statement about the veto. This was the “revolving door” bill aimed at restricting Harris County employees from doing county business after leaving government employ. So much for Ed Emmett’s ethics reform plan. Got anything to say about that, Judge?

Next, Coleman’s statement about HB3485:

Statement by Rep. Garnet Coleman on Governor’s Veto of HB 3485

“It is disappointing that Governor Perry vetoed this important piece of legislation. With the addition of the amendment allowing certain rural public hospitals to employ physicians, this bill would have ensured access to physician coverage across rural Texas. Rural public hospitals in Texas find it more and more difficult to attract physicians to their communities and retain them. Many physicians entering practice today prefer an employee relationship, rather than having the responsibility and burden of setting up and managing a small business. H.B. 3485 gave rural public hospitals and physicians who want to practice in rural Texas flexibility. Having the option to employ physicians would have helped rural hospitals improve and preserve access to physicians. Without physicians, these hospitals will not continue to exist.

The Governor alleges that an amendment was added in the final days of session that was neither debated nor discussed. However, prior to concurring with all of the Senate amendments I had multiple conversations with the Governor’s office, one of them with Sen. Ken Armbrister, the Governor’s Legislative Director, as well as another member of the Governor’s staff.

To be clear – I told the Governor’s staff that the amendment in question could be removed if it created any sort of problem or if it jeopardized the passage of this important legislation. Sen. Armbrister assured me that the Governor was fine with the amendment and therefore fine with the overall bill. Tort reform groups were also contacted to assuage any concerns, with their assurances that the groups were neutral on the bill. To Sen. Armbrister’s credit, he did call today to inform me of the governor reversing his position.

The worst part is, the only losers with this veto are the people of the state of Texas and the various counties, with no gain or loss to the tort reform movement.”

Here’s a letter from Rep. Coleman to Governor Perry thanking him for his assistance with the language of the bill; here’s a letter to Governor Perry from the Texas Conference of Urban Counties urging him to sign HB3485; and here’s Perry’s veto statement. How weaselly can you get?