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February 10th, 2003:

Racial sensitivity update

Great. Just what we need.

AUSTIN – Students at the University of Texas are accusing several fraternities of hosting parties in which participants wore racially insensitive costumes.

A formal complaint was planned today against at least one of the fraternities.

Dean of Students Teresa Graham Brett told The Daily Texan in today’s edition she was informed of the Kappa Alpha Order party as well as Halloween parties thrown by Kappa Alpha and Phi Gamma Delta. She said students approached her with photographs of the parties taken by a local party photographer.

One photograph taken at a Phi Gamma Delta Party on Oct. 31 shows a white man wearing black paint on his face and body, an “afro” wig on his head and a chain with a lock around his neck.

Another photo taken at a Kappa Alpha party on Jan. 31 shows a white man wearing a T-shirt commemorating a Juneteenth event in 2000 while another is shown wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with a large watermelon.

UT economics senior Onaje Barnes said he and other students plan to file a complaint with the Office of Greek Life and Education regarding the “Gin and Juice Party” held by the Kappa Alpha Order fraternity on Jan. 31.

But Kappa Alpha president Tim Weaver said the party’s theme was meant to idolize rap music and popular culture icons and he did not realize people were going to be offended.

“It seems there were some people that showed up with extremely offensive T-shirts,” Weaver, an undeclared junior, told the newspaper. “I do apologize for that part of it. We do not think it should have been that big of a deal. It came at a bad time, I think.”

Barnes said the problem is that people think this behavior is acceptable.

Phil Gamma Delta historian Chris Knox said he did not see anyone wearing such costumes at the fraternity’s event.

But Brett said she found the photographed costumes highly offensive, and is reviewing actions that can be taken against the fraternity.

Jesus H. Christ. What century are we in again? Is there anyone over the age of three in the United States of freaking America who can honestly say that they don’t think such imagery is offensive? Is there anyone who’s led such a sheltered and privileged life that they have no damn clue why people find such things offensive? How many more times does this sort of thing have to happen before people get it?

Gah. I need a beer.

Redistricting on hold

Tom DeLay has been putting pressure on the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature to redraw the congressional district boundaries to make give more seats to the GOP, but given the work that will have to be done balancing the budget this session, state leaders have been resisting his efforts.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst called congressional redistricting as welcome as a “contagious flu” and did not even bother to appoint a Senate redistricting committee.

House Speaker Tom Craddick last year said he did not want to take up congressional redistricting if the issue was dead in the Senate. But when he appointed committees Jan. 30, he named a redistricting committee at the urging of DeLay, Capitol sources told the Houston Chronicle.

Rep. Joe Crabb, R-Houston, appointed to chair the committee, said then that it was “very likely” the Legislature would write a new redistricting bill. He said he hadn’t spoken with DeLay.

Crabb said last week, however, that he is unaware of any contemplated legislation on congressional redistricting. He said he believes the committee will be dealing with minor changes in state House lines and a request by Texas Chief Justice Tom Phillips to redraw judicial districts.

The key argument that Democrats and some Republicans make against DeLay’s push is that lawmakers do not need a partisan fight over redistricting while they also have to solve a $10 billion state budget shortfall.

“Redistricting is the most partisan matter the Legislature ever takes up,” said Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, the Senate redistricting chairman in 2001.

“We’ve got the toughest session this year in the last 50 years. We don’t need the added and unnecessary element of redistricting thrown into the mix,” he said.

Getting a new redistricting plan through the House would be easy, but the state Senate requires a two-thirds affirmative vote to bring a bill up for debate. Nineteen of the 31 state Senators are Republican, so at least two Democrats would have to go along with this idea. One of them, Sen. Eddie Lucio, has said he’d consider it if one of the newly drawn districts were conveniently centered in his turf, thus allowing him a shot at ousting fellow Democrat Solomon Ortiz (District 27). I have a feeling that if and when DeLay’s call is heeded in the Lege, Senator Lucio will come under some pressure of his own from the national Democratic Party. As such, I’d take his support with a grain of salt.

While no Republican target list is available, political insiders say that the GOP wants to change district lines to cause the defeat of Democratic incumbents Ralph Hall of Rockwall, Charles Stenholm of Abilene, Chet Edwards of Waco and Chris Bell of Houston.

They also want to change boundary lines for U.S. Rep. Martin Frost, D-Dallas, the state’s Democratic congressional leader, hoping to make him more vulnerable to a Republican or even to a primary challenge from a Hispanic Democrat.

Ralph Hall is one of the most conservative Democrats in the House. He’s also retiring after this term, and his seat is considered a lock to be won by a Republican in 2004 anyway. Stenholm and Edwards were reelected by their smallest margins ever in 2002 – Stenholm with 51.33% and Edwards with 51.53% – so you’d think they’d be vulnerable anyway. Freshman Rep. Chris Bell got 55.31%, which is actually the lowest percentage a Democrat has gotten in District 25 in several election cycles. Ken Bentsen, who abandoned the seat to run for Senate last year, won with just over 60% in 2000.

This article also suggests Max Sandlin and Jim Turner as possible targets. They got 56.19% and 60.85%, respectively, in 2002, but are in rural districts and are thus considered susceptible. It also suggests redrawing Gene Green’s safe 29th District as well as Martin Frost’s to encourage a minority primary opponent. Given that Hispanics have had their eye on the 29th District since it was first created, that could get ugly. The fact that it’s considered insufficiently Hispanic due to a Republican lawsuit in 1994 that advocated “colorblind” district lines is an irony that’s probably lost on the DeLay crowd.

One last thing to address is Jim Ellis, director of DeLay’s Americans for a Republican Majority, who argues that state voting numbers are a good reason for redistricting:

“I went back and added up the votes, and 56.04 percent of Texans voted for a Republican for Congress, and Republicans have 47 percent of the seats. So they’re out of line,” Ellis said.

One reason for this difference is the fact that four districts had no Democrats running, while only two had no Republican candidate. If you look at the vote totals in this PDF file from the Secretary of State’s webpage, you’ll see the following:

District 7
John Culberson - Incumbent REP*  93,180 88.96%

District 8
Kevin Brady    - Incumbent REP* 139,574 93.12%

District 10
Lloyd Doggett  - Incumbent DEM* 112,612 84.49%

District 12
Kay Granger    - Incumbent REP* 122,493 91.82%

District 19
Larry Combest  - Incumbent REP* 117,085 91.64%

District 29
Gene Green     - Incumbent DEM*  54,619 95.13%

Rep total = 472,332
Dem total = 167,231

That 300,000 vote differential makes up a lot of the margin Ellis cites.

There’s one final bit of irony in this whole thing, which is that the plan DeLay favored, a plan that would have given the GOP 20 seats, supposedly would have made DeLay’s own district less favorable to him. If his pressure ever bears fruit – and there’s no reason to believe this issue couldn’t be brought up again in 2005 – there would at least be a small amount of poetic justice for Democrats if one result is DeLay’s downfall.

UPDATE: When I first posted this, I somehow managed to overlook two other unopposed Democratic Congressmen, a fact I’ve just discovered. Thie votes totals:

District 15 Ruben Hinojosa(I) DEM 66,311 100.00% District 16 Silvestre Reyes(I) DEM 72,383 100.00%

That reduces the GOP lead on votes from unopposed Congressmen from about 300,000 to about 170,000 and weakens but does not overturn my point.

Great moments in tech support

I spent several years doing help desk work, first for a small software company, and then here for the large multinational where I now work. I’ve always been suspicious of supposedly true help desk war stories involving users who asked where the “any” key is or who used their CD-ROM drive as a cup holder because I never encountered anything remotely like that.

This guy, however, apparently did, and he’s got some pictures to prove it. I am duly impressed. If you recognize yourself in any of these pictures, do us all a favor and hire a ten-year-old to do all of your computing for you.

Thanks to Matt for the tip.