January 07, 2009
The Speakership and redistricting

Professor Murray takes a look at the legislative redistricting of 2001, which was directed by Tom DeLay with the express purpose of electing Tom Craddick Speaker and ultimately drawing Congressional lines as he saw fit, and why that same map ultimately helped lead to Craddick's downfall.

Craddick lost his job and power, in my opinion, because the 2001 DeLay redistricting plan, which he signed off on, turned out to be badly flawed over the next seven years. While the original plan delivered in the 2002 General Election, it worked less and less well in every succeeding cycle so that by November 4, 2008 the Republicans had been whittled down to a 76 - 74 majority, and that 76th GOP member prevailed by just 19 votes out of about 40,000 total votes in Dallas County district. In my view, it was the steady erosion of the Republican majority that gave enough members the gumption to stand up against a powerful speaker known for his vindictiveness.

Where did the 2001 House Republican plan fail? The answer is: in the big urban counties of Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Bexar, and Travis. In the 2002 General Election, Republicans won 38 of the 67 House districts in these five counties. In November 2008 the GOP held on to just 25 of these seats while the Democrats won 42 - a 13 seat swing that accounts for all Democratic gains since 2002. The table below shows the county-by-county changes.

        Partisan Makeup After 2002    Partisan Makeup After 2008

County Republicans Democrats Republicans Democrats
Harris 14 11 11 14
Dallas 10 6 6 10
Bexar 3 7 2 8
Tarrant 8 2 6 4
Travis 3 3 0 6

Total 38 29 25 42

Why did the House gerrymander fail? For two reasons. First, the DeLay map-drawers overestimated Republican strength in these urban counties by relying on recent statewide election results from 1998 and 2000 that had been unusually favorable to their party's nominees because of weak Democratic opponents like gubernatorial candidate Gary Mauro, matched up against popular Governor George W. Bush. But more importantly, the map-drawers did not foresee how quickly the demographics in urban districts could change to the detriment of Republican representatives.

This analysis makes me think that the Dems start out in better shape for the 2011 redistricting than I'd originally thought. One thing to note is that with the exception of last year, when there was generally very little variation between candidates on the ballot in Harris County, our countywide candidates have generally outperformed statewides. In 2006, for example, the average statewide Democratic candidate did about three points worse than the average countywide Democratic candidate. The effect is exaggerated by the fact that in the four top non-gubernatorial races - Senate, Lt. Governor, Attorney General, and Comptroller - the gap was even wider. My impression is that the same is true elsewhere - it was certainly so in 2004 and 2006 in the places I looked - and it won't surprise me if the same is true in 2010, especially if the Dems have an uninspiring top of the ticket. (Gotta find your silver linings where you can, I guess.) In other words, the possibility for some similar overreach in 2011 is there, though my guess is that the underlying philosophy will be more "incumbent protection" and less "partisan maximization". The point is simply that any legislative boundaries that are drawn based on partisan performances in races like those will overestimate Republican strength.

The other thing to note is that the Dems have added two more seats to these, one in El Paso (Joe Moody in HD78) and one in Williamson County (Diana Maldonado in HD52). They've lost three, all in rural areas, to bring the net total to +12 for them - HDs 18 (John Otto over Dan Ellis, mostly Liberty and Polk counties) and 56 (Doc Anderson over John Mabry in McLennan County) in 2004, and HD17 (Tim Kleinschmidt over Donnie Dippel for Robbie Cook's open seat) last year. The thing is, there's still a number of Republicans in urban and inner-suburban areas who are going to be imperiled in the short to medium term, and only a handful of Dems remaining in rural areas. I'll take those odds.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 07, 2009 to That's our Lege

Two things:
1. The only way DeLay and Craddick could make redistricting work they way they wanted was to base it on voters not residents. Both the legislative and congressional plans sacrificed long-term district security for immediate and maximum victories.
2. Redistricting in 2011 is still a mess not matter the outcome of the 2010 legislative races. No legislative bill can pass the Senate, so the LRB and the courts will do the House and Senate. And its doubtful that either party can get a congressional bill out of the Senate unless one party or the other reaches 21 seats. So the courts will do congressional redistricting.
If the GOP continues to control the LRB, then you might see a legislative map that again favors the Republicans and results in another round of mid-cycle congressional redistricting. If the Democrats can take those LRB seats, then the opposite might be true. Redistrict likely will be determined by the outcome of the races for lt. gov., speaker, attorney general, comptroller and land commissioner.

Posted by: R.G. Ratcliffe on January 7, 2009 1:08 PM
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