In a move that surprised his colleagues, Rep. Phil King (R, Weatherford) withdrew his latest redistricting map, citing Voting Rights Act concerns.
"I'm not saying this puppy is dead. It's just sick," said Rep. Phil King, R-Houston. He said he hoped to present a revised plan as early as today.
The House Redistricting Committee had planned to vote on King's bill Wednesday to set the stage for a full House debate on the measure this Monday.
But King surprised the panel by withdrawing his plan less than 24 hours after he submitted it.
King said he had discovered potential Voting Rights Act violations in his maps for the 18th and 25th districts in Houston and the 24th in Dallas.
The federal Voting Rights Act protects minority citizens from being disenfranchised. Any changes in congressional district boundaries must be cleared by the U.S. Department of Justice.
"Even though I think they are very small problems in the eyes of the DOJ, I understand that is a very unforgiving statute," King said.
The problem is complicated by the fact that congressional districts in the state must have roughly equal population. "I don't know a quick fix," King said.
King's announcement caught Redistricting Committee Chairman Joe Crabb, R-Atascocita, by surprise.
"I need to talk to Mr. King to find out what's going on," Crabb said, calling a brief recess.
King told the committee Tuesday that the reconfigured 25th District in Harris County likely would elect a black representative, but "it appears now its numbers will not reach that level."
King's proposal would have increased the district's black voting age population from 22 percent to 36 percent and would have kept the Hispanic population at 31 percent.
The residence of incumbent U.S. Rep. Chris Bell, D-Houston, would have been in the heavily Republican 7th District held by Culberson. That would not stop Bell, who is white, from seeking re-election in the 25th, but the increased minority population might create a competitive Democratic primary.
In May, King's map had cut Travis County into four congressional districts, threatening Doggett's re-election chances.
On Wednesday, King said he would like to see Doggett defeated, but it was easier to keep Doggett's district intact to make the rest of the map work.
King said he took into account trying to win over senators, including Democrats necessary to bring up any plan for debate in that chamber.
He said keeping Sen. Ken Armbrister's Victoria area intact, for example, made it simpler to leave alone Doggett's Austin district.
Redistricting can be like squeezing a balloon: Squeeze too hard in one spot, and the balloon expands elsewhere or bursts.
In this case, King's map endangers U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, by splitting McLennan County into two congressional districts.
Splitting that community for the first time puts pressure on Sen. Kip Averitt, a Waco Republican expected to support redistricting.
Averitt declined to comment on King's map but added: "I will say, as I've said before, that I am fiercely committed to keeping McLennan County whole and protecting Central Texas."
Sen. Kip Averitt, R-McGregor, said he opposes any redistricting plan that splits McLennan County. Averitt sits on the Senate committee that is likely to produce a congressional redistricting map that looks different from the plan King laid out.
"I just can't imagine that we're going to adopt a House plan that we've not had any input on," Averitt said.
The Waco City Council voted Tuesday to hold a special meeting at 4 p.m. Friday to vote on a resolution regarding congressional redistricting. The meeting will be on the fourth floor of City Hall and will include time for public comment.
Mayor Linda Ethridge said she and Councilwoman Robin McDurham are drafting a resolution calling on lawmakers to keep McLennan, Bell and Coryell counties in a single district. Splitting McLennan County would be "extremely bad news for the city and the county," Ethridge said.
Averitt has said he supports the overall goal of sending more Republicans to Washington. Still, he said he is concerned that a House-Senate conference committee might have to work out a redistricting map using a House-backed plan that splits McLennan County and a Senate plan that keeps it together. He said he has a good chance of winning a seat on that committee, but he does not yet know whether Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst will appoint him.
[Rep. Diane] Delisi [R, Temple] said it would have been ideal to have all of Williamson, Bell and McLennan counties in one seat, but the combined populations of those areas are too large to allow that. [Rep. Susanna Gratia] Hupp [R, Killeen] said she did not think it was possible to draw a redistricting plan that would have kept all of McLennan and Bell counties together without disrupting the plans that other House members had for their areas.
M.A. Taylor, chairman of the McLennan County Republican Party, said he does not like the idea of splitting the county into two districts. But he said Waco officials and lawmakers should have focused on keeping the county in one district instead of trying to keep all of it in the same district as Bell.
Democratic lawmakers and Ethridge criticized earlier plans that put all of McLennan County in a congressional district with areas near Fort Worth. Taylor said such a plan would not hurt McLennan County because it would have more voters in the seat than any other county.
"I can't help but believe that even if we had a Fort Worth suburb in there, we'd rather be intact and be the biggest block of voters in the district," he said.
It's unlikely that McLennan County will get to stay together and continue to be paired with all of Bell County, Taylor said.
Would anyone in Austin consider nonpartisan boundaries drawn by a computer program? Hope has some info on that, plus a pointer to the March 2001 Texas Legislative Council report State and Federal Law Governing Redistricting in Texas.
The Dallas Morning News has some good coverage today:
Democrats amplified their concerns Wednesday that redrawing the map in the middle of a decade could ignite a long-running partisan war in Austin and elsewhere in the country. They said Mr. King's proposed map also would hurt the interests of rural and minority Texans.
"If this moves forward, it will hold in it the seeds of vindictiveness and retribution and vengeance that will carry forward for generations," said Rep. Barry Telford, D-DeKalb.
They also have some quotes from Ron Wilson, who is still living in fantasyland:
But Rep. Ron Wilson, D-Houston, said he liked the GOP plan because it allowed for a "minority opportunity" district in the Houston area. "I don't know how it can be a racist exercise when it creates a minority district," he said.
Mr. Wilson, one of Mr. Craddick's top lieutenants, would live in the proposed minority opportunity district, but he said Wednesday that he was not interested in running for Congress.
He scoffed at suggestions that the loss of several white senior Democrats would hurt minority causes in Congress.
"That's speculation," he said. "There are a number of Republicans up North that vote better than the Democrats they are trying to save up here. I'd much rather have one Barbara Jordan or one Mickey Leland than four of anybody else's."
One Democrat targeted for extinction is none too worried about what the future may bring:
U.S. Rep. Charlie Stenholm, D-Abilene, said he remains optimistic that the plan will die in the state Senate. But even if it doesn't, he'll try for a 14th term, he said. The map filed Tuesday night pitted him against a freshman Republican, Randy Neugebauer of Lubbock, in a district where the GOP statewide slate drew nearly seven in 10 votes, though Mr. Stenholm has long managed to cling to political life in Republican territory.
"That's what you have elections for," he said. "I've made it as clear as I could make it that whatever the district, we intend to run and we intend to give it the best effort to win. That district would be a rural agricultural district, and we think we would have a 50-50 chance."
The last time a three-judge court redrew Texas congressional districts was in 1996. The three judges then — all appointed by Republican presidents — found three of Texas' 30 congressional districts at the time paid too much attention to race.
They gave then-Gov. George W. Bush a chance to call a special session to draw the districts. He refused. So the judges drew new lines for those three districts.
They did so over the objections of then-Speaker Laney and then-Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, the Democrat who presided over the Texas Senate.
The ripple from the three districts affected 10 others. The judges decreed that in those 13 districts, filing would reopen for special elections to be held with the Nov. 5 general election.
Bush later said he thought the court had done as good a job as was possible. But Laney thought they should have waited and let the Legislature do it.
"I still maintain redistricting is a legislative duty," said Laney — almost seven years before he joined 50 other Democrats on the lam, in what may turn out to have been a futile effort to keep the Legislature from redrawing the court's map.