June 10, 2003
Redistricting roundup and other news

Boy, everyone's talking about the blocker bill now. The Chron had a chat with Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, who reiterated his intentions to follow Senate traditions in any special session, including any session which may revisit redistricting. The upshot of that is that 12 votes in the Senate would be enough to prevent a redistricting bill from reaching the floor for a vote.

Dewhurst told the Houston Chronicle editorial board Monday that he is "inclined" to use a procedure that would allow debate on redistricting only if two-thirds of the state's 31 senators agreed to consider the issue. Such a rule was in effect during the regular session that concluded last week.

It would mean 11 of the state's 12 Democratic senators could kill GOP efforts to add Republicans to the state's U.S. House delegation.

Dewhurst is unenthusiastic about taking up redistricting because he considers it politically divisive. A Democratic senator from Houston said the lieutenant governor's inclination to use the two-thirds rule probably is intended to preserve a cooperative spirit rather than to help Democrats.


Each session, the Senate puts a bill atop the schedule that is called a "blocker bill." The bill usually has little consequence, but it is deliberately kept from floor debate. Under Senate rules, that means that all other bills must get two-thirds approval to be considered out of sequence.

The blocker bill in the regular session was SB 220, which would have encouraged counties to beautify their parks. It never passed the Senate.

Dewhurst indicated he also would use a blocker bill if there is a special session.

Having the two-thirds rule in effect would not necessarily jeopardize a redistricting plan because at least two Democratic senators -- Ken Armbrister of Victoria and Eddie Lucio of Brownsville -- have indicated they are on the fence about allowing debate.

On the other hand, Republican Sens. Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio and Bill Ratliff of Mount Pleasant have expressed reservations about redistricting.

And for the first time, Sen. Wentworth's name is singled out as a potential Republican with cold feet over redistricting. I daresay this is no more a surprise than Sen. Ratliff, but it's good to see it out in public.

Elsewhere in the article, Speaker Craddick says that redistricting should be debated first in the Senate, since they know they can cram throughpass a measure in the House. Also, Sen. John Whitmire opines that Dewhurst is allowing the blocker bill not because he dislikes redistricting - he's already on record saying he thinks the Congressional districts are not representative of Texas' voting patterns - but because he respects Senate traditions. That's important to remember, and it casts a remark in this editorial in an interesting light:

Dewhurst agreed before the regular session began last winter that redistricting would be a divisive fight that would distract from the other important work legislators had before them. He indicates that, with the school finance issue still unresolved, his feelings haven't changed on that point.

One way to parse that paragraph is that Dewhurst would wholeheartedly support a redistricting effort if he were satisfied that "the other important work legislators had before them" were completed. In other words, he'd jump on board with Perry and Craddick if they dealt with school finance first. Something to keep in mind, I think.

Taking a look now at the investigations into DPS and its call for help to Homeland Security, Josh Marshall noticed something that snuck past me in this WaPo overview story that ran on Saturday:

In a brief statement, the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement -- an arm of Homeland Security -- said the air interdiction center was motivated by safety concerns. "From all indications, this request . . . [from Texas was related to] a missing, lost or possibly crashed aircraft," the statement said. But at least three officials involved in the May 12 search said safety issues were not raised by the air interdiction center, which has no safety-related responsibilities.

"There was never any inference that the plane might be down, or something like that," said Marvin Miller, an airport official in Plainview, Tex. -- near Laney's home -- who said he was contacted by an "air interdiction" official on the evening of May 12. "There was never any safety concern, or indication that it was missing or overdue," Miller said. "The guy said at the end, 'This is just somebody looking for politicians they can't find.' "

So does this mean that Homeland Security wasn't duped by DPS after all? The New York Times makes a point well known to lefty bloggers about this:

This page was a consistent critic of the Clintons' ethics problems, but the former president's defenders should feel free to point out what kind of national outcry we would be hearing from talk show hosts and Congressional Republicans if anyone had tried to misuse the government's antiterrorism machinery this way during the last administration.

Perhaps we'll know more when Homeland Security gets around to releasing its internal investigation.

Finally, on a different but not completely unrelated note, the grand jury investigation into allegations that the Texas Association of Business illegally used secret corporate donations in the last election has caused two more people, including the TAB president, to be cited for contempt.

State District Judge Mike Lynch found [TAB President Bill] Hammond and Don Shelton, the group's information resources director, in contempt for failing to surrender documents to the grand jury. Hammond is the fourth but most prominent employee of the state's largest business organization to refuse either to testify or provide documents about the group's $1.9 million advertising campaign during last year's elections.

All four made bail and are out of jail pending appeals to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state's highest criminal court.

Despite losing every round so far, Houston lawyer Andy Taylor insisted the association ultimately will be cleared and blamed Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle for conducting a political witch hunt against his clients.

The man's got faith, that's for sure. It will be interesting to see if these guys choose to spend some quality time as a guest of Travis County should the Court of Criminal Appeals rule against them, or if they submit to the inevitable and let the indictments fall where they may. Stay tuned.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 10, 2003 to Killer D's | TrackBack

Invoking "tradition" to avoid a re-districting fight sounds practically -- conservative. I'm gonna remember that for the next time you lambast a Reep for standing on tradition.

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on June 10, 2003 2:33 PM