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October 1st, 2003:

Compromise in the Senate?

Senators Staples and Duncan have announced that they have a map that solves the West Texas issue. Here’s the AP report:

AUSTIN – Senate negotiators hammering out a congressional redistricting plan today presented what they called a good solution to solve a dispute with the House over how to draw West Texas on the new map.

It was not immediately clear how the House viewed the proposal.

The plan by Sens. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, and Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, would create a district that includes the cities of Midland and Abilene. Another district would include San Angelo and Lubbock.

Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick of Midland has been pushing for a district that would make his hometown the base for a congressional seat. The existing map has Lubbock and Midland together in a district represented by U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer, a rookie Republican from Lubbock.

“This is a reasonable solution to this problem,” Duncan said.

The senators unveiled the map shortly after noon, saying they wanted to meet Gov. Rick Perry’s deadline of today for a compromise between the House and Senate plans.

It ain’t solved until Craddick signs off on it, so don’t celebrate/mourn just yet. The Quorum Report has a few more details:

In an impromptu press conference at noon today,Senate conferee’s Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock) and Todd Staples said they will accept Arlene Wohlgemuth’s (R-Burleson)west Texas solution with the exception of the Henry Bonilla (R-San Antonio)district.

That leaves South Texas intact and at least temporarily removes Martin Frost’s (D-Dallas)vulnerability.

The two chairmen believe that the west Texas portion of the map is acceptable to the Republican congressmen from that neck of the woods.

[next post]

Contacted after the Staples-Duncan press conference, Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth (R-Burleson) said, “While I’m very honored that the Senate accepted by West Texas solution, it’s not my West Texas solution. It leaves Taylor county whole.”

If Taylor county remains whole, Charlie Stenholm (D-Stamford) could still win re-election.

Stay tuned.

UPDATE: More from the Quorum Report.

Sen. Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock), said he can accept a compromise on Congressional map that maintains a solid agriculture seat in the Texas delegation for the future. In a news conference today with conference committee chairman Sen. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, and Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, Duncan said the West Texas portion of a map offered by state Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth, R-Burleson, is acceptable.

Speaker Tom Craddick issued a statement distancing himself from the Wohlgemuth map. He said, “While the House leadership always welcomes input on any bill from any House member, I have not seen the redistricting map offered by Rep. Wohlgemuth. I’d like to remind Sens. Staples and Duncan, however, that Rep. Wohlgemuth is not a member of the House Redistricting Committee, has not participated to date in the House-Senate negotiations on redistricting and did not speak to me or for me — or the House — in drawing her map.”

Senator Leticia Van de Putte, (D-San Antonio) Chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus raised serious concerns today about the potential impact of plans such as that proposed by Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth. She pointed out that such plans threaten Hispanic representation in South Texas and Dallas-Ft. Worth, reducing the statewide number of effective minority opportunity districts from eleven to ten. She also included a fact sheet.

(Note: Both embedded URLs point to Word docs.) Sounds like there’s still no agreement between the chambers. We’ll see what tomorrow’s papers say.

Party hearty with Bacardi

Tom DeLay is coming to the aid of another corporate benefactor with a law designed just for them. The details are in this Roll Call article, which requires an account. Here’s the key bits, with thanks to AJ Garcia for emailing the article to me.

With help from House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), Bacardi-Martini Inc., the U.S. subsidiary of the Bermuda-based rum maker, is on the verge of scoring a big victory in the long-running battle over who owns the rights to the legendary “Havana Club” rum label, a victory that could prove very lucrative in a post-Fidel Castro world.

DeLay is lobbying to include language in the 2004 Defense authorization conference report to amend U.S. trademark law to make it comply with a ruling by the World Trade Organization last year that threatened Bacardi’s claim to the Havana Club brand.

Opponents of DeLay’s proposal point out that his measure was never vetted by any committee in either the House or the Senate, and benefits Bacardi alone, and they claim it could potentially harm U.S. companies that have intellectual or property claims in Cuba.

[…]

DeLay aides strongly dispute any link between his proposal and Bacardi’s donations and say the Texas Republican’s interest in the issue is purely ideological. They point out that DeLay wants to continue the U.S. embargo of Cuba as long as Castro is in power and argue the WTO ruling could give Cuban companies a chance to sell products in this country unless they are specifically blocked from doing so. Jonathan Grella, DeLay’s spokesman, said his boss is “working in conjunction with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick” to bring American trademark law into compliance with the WTO ruling. USTR officials said they are now looking to Congress for help.

[…]

Bacardi has been locked in a bitter struggle for years with Pernod Ricard of France and CubaExport, a Cuban government-controlled company, over control of the Havana Club trademark. In 1993, the French-Cuban alliance formed a joint venture to market Havana Club, which the Cuban government registered with the U.S. Patent Office in 1976. Bacardi was later able to convince American officials to back off from their recognition of the Cuban government’s claims.

Bacardi, which has opposed lifting the U.S. embargo of Cuba, fearing a flood of Cuban rum into the U.S. market, purchased the rights for Havana Club from the original owner, Jose Arechabala S.A., in the mid-1990s. The two sides have since waged a protracted contest on both the political and legal fronts.

The provision DeLay is proposing would alter a 1999 law known as Section 211, pushed through Congress at Bacardi’s request by then-Sen. Connie Mack (R-Fla.), to ensure that U.S. and foreign companies are prevented from registering or defending in court trademarks associated with property expropriated by foreign governments. After a challenge by the European Union on behalf of France, the WTO ruled last year that U.S. law as it is written applies only to foreign companies and thus needs to be changed. The United States has until Dec. 31 to comply.

Grella said DeLay is “seeking to protect American companies from predatory French companies that are conspiring with a murderous dictator.”

It’s a twofer! DeLay gets to suck up to a big money donor AND he gets to screw the French! I’d better sit down, I’m hyperventilating over here.

DeLay’s activity on Bacardi’s behalf has brought loud complaints from at least one liberal watchdog group.

“It’s like Westar all over again,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Sloan was referring to allegations that Westar Energy gave $25,000 to a DeLay-affiliated political action committee in 2002 to win his support for a legislative measure potentially worth billions to the firm, a charge that DeLay has denied repeatedly. Westar officials were later indicted for fraud and the proposal was withdrawn.

Here’s a free hint to Melanie Sloan and the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington: If you’re going to go to the bother of being quoted in an article like this, the least you can do is to ensure that your website contains some links and info about the story you’re in, so that when an enterprising young blogger goes and looks you up he or she can do some Further Reading on the topic. Just FYI.

Bacardi has spent heavily during the past several years to build a relationship with DeLay and other leaders in both parties, relationships that have repeatedly paid off when the company flexes its political muscle.

Bacardi gave $20,000 in soft money to Americans for a Republican Majority PAC in 2001, with another $20,000 going to Texans for a Republican Majority PAC in July 2002. DeLay cut his ties to the two organizations, which he controlled, after last year’s campaign finance legislation banned soft-money fundraising by Members.

Bacardi also donated $3,000 to DeLay’s legal defense fund following a civil racketeering lawsuit against the Texas Republican by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2000. That case was later dropped, although it cost DeLay hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal bills.

And Bacardi helped DeLay pay the bills for events he hosted at the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, as well as supplying the liquor and gifts for DeLay-run golf tournaments.

Bacardi officials declined to comment for this article.

In fairness, the article notes that Bacardi has spread its largesse around both parties, with the GOP a slight winner. It’s just that DeLay is always willing to go that extra mile.

We’re #13!

In traffic congestion.

A Houstonian with a 25-minute commute spent 55 hours extra in 2001 — a full work week plus two days — creeping along in traffic instead of sleeping late, earning money or reading the newspaper, according to an annual study by Texas A&M University.

Those whose commutes took longer than 25 minutes, the national average, wasted even more time locked in their wheeled cubicles.

There is some good news in these all-too-familiar statistics. The amount of time needed for a typical commute increased just 1 percent from 2000 — a blip compared to increases in other major cities such as Denver, which recorded a 3.5 percent jump.

And Austin is doing its best to catch up with us, while San Antonio had mixed news.

Perry’s deadline approaches with no resolution in sight

Today is Governor Perry’s preferred deadline for getting a redistricting map approved by the bicameral committee, but they’re still bogged down in the same West Texas dispute, and now they’ve got a new dispute over how to apportion seats for minorities.

The dispute is about whether to approve a map that would eliminate the seats of Mr. Frost, D-Arlington, and U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, in exchange for districts that minorities are sure to win. The new disagreement pushed to the back burner a feud among Republicans over the creation of a West Texas district and imperiled the GOP’s self-imposed Wednesday deadline for reaching a deal.

“We’re still days away, I think,” state Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, author of the House map, said late Tuesday.

The House has demanded a plan that not only would bolster GOP strength in Congress, but also eliminate a number of incumbents who are white Democrats, even if some are replaced by minority Democrats and not Republicans.

The new disagreement among Republicans over minority seats is mainly about how many white Democrats to try to take down.

[…]

Republicans in the Texas congressional delegation support the House’s late-hour quest for an “8-3 plan,” or one that would have eight safe Hispanic seats and three safe seats for African Americans.

But the Senate and its presiding officer, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, prefer keeping the state’s 11 minority districts the way they are now – with seven likely to elect a Hispanic; two likely to elect a black; and two where blacks and Hispanics together form a majority. (Mr. Frost and Mr. Bell now hold the latter two seats.)

Retaining that configuration is the surest way to win quick approval for a new map from the federal Justice Department, Mr. Dewhurst said last week.

“We’re willing to take a look at an 8-3 map,” Dave Beckwith, Mr. Dewhurst’s spokesman, said Tuesday. “We haven’t seen a map yet that was better than the Senate map, but we’re going to give the latest [House] maps a hard look.”

The House’s latest push slowed Republicans’ internal deliberations and obscured progress they had made toward a West Texas solution. On Monday, Mr. Dewhurst and the Senate signaled they would find a way to accommodate Mr. Craddick’s call for a Midland-dominated congressional district, although no deal has been reached as to exactly how.

Chris Bell would also at least potentially be affected by this new direction if the mapmakers choose to take it.

A different approach to this issue comes from another new map, this one proposed by State Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth. Her map would also remove Martin Frost’s seat by splitting Fort Worth into two districts.

“My primary concerns were making sure that my county, Johnson County, was contained wholly in [one district], and that we don’t split up cities in Tarrant County,” Wohlgemuth said. “My plan accomplishes those goals, with the exception that Fort Worth has to be split because it’s so large.”

A spokesman for Frost said the map would not withstand a legal challenge, chiefly because inner-city minority neighborhoods that are currently represented by the 24-year congressional veteran would be appended to a district dominated by affluent Anglo suburbs.

“It’s clearly illegal,” said Jess Fassler of Frost’s Washington office.

With not much else to report on, most of the rest of the coverage today is profile-oriented. The Chron story is about Michael Conaway, a Midland oil guy and Friend of the Bushes (I know, what are the odds?) who would be the beneficiary of a newly-created Midland district. In the midst of the soft-focus piece on Conaway, the Chron discusses the West Texas problem.

“We really haven’t been able to make much progress on the remainder of the state, because the House’s concept is to work on West Texas and then the rest of the state,” said Sen. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, leader of the Senate conferees.

Staples said the Senate is committed not only to drawing a map that creates the Midland district Craddick wants, but also to preserving a district for freshman U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Lubbock, without creating an election contest with veteran U.S. Rep. Charles Stenholm, D-Abilene.

Lubbock and Abilene have economies based on farming, while Midland and its sister city of Odessa are based in oil production. Midland leaders want the district to be linked to San Angelo, which also has oil production and ranching interests.

The basic problem is that West Texas’ population growth has lagged behind the rest of the state, making it almost impossible to add a district there. So to create a Midland district, either Neugebauer or Stenholm’s existing district has to disappear.

That was the reason why Perry’s “compromise” never got any traction – adding a district to West Texas means robbing one from elsewhere, and that’s the wrong way to go from a demographic viewpoint.

The Statesman looks at the main marked man, Charlie Stenholm, who is feeling good about his prospects no matter what happens.

“It’s kind of ironic. A lot of Democrats have criticized me because they perceive that I vote Republican,” he said Tuesday, reclining behind his Washington desk and its stunning view of the U.S. Capitol — one tangible perk of being ranked 29th in seniority among 435 House members.

An ardent social and fiscal conservative, the straight-shooting Stenholm is blunt in his criticism of the Democratic Party. “We got into the minority the old-fashioned way. We earned it,” he said. “We went too far to the left.”

But his sharpest punches are aimed at Republicans.

“I consider myself to the right of center, and the Republican Party has now been captured by the radical right,” Stenholm said, predicting that the GOP will pay the price in the 2004 elections. “If they want to brag about their economic game plan, be my guest. They gave us the largest deficits in the history of our country. A net job loss of what, 3 million? Trade deficits as far as the eye can see and growing. Continuing not to address the Social Security ticking time bomb.”

As for redistricting, Stenholm doesn’t flinch when predicting that he’ll win any district Republicans want to craft for him.

“I never felt better about our political fortunes,” he said. “Our friends have seen what they’re trying to do. There be a whole lot more people out there working for Charlie Stenholm than working against him.”

[…]

“Basically, I’m a Republican and I’m for Charlie Stenholm. This area is probably 65 percent Republican,” said Abilene Mayor Grady Barr. “He has been so successful for this area, not only in health care, but he has done us some good in oil. He is particularly strong in agriculture. And he is a strong voice in the Pentagon for our Dyess Air Force Base.

“History has shown him to be hard to beat. He’s very conservative, like this part of the country,” Barr said. “He’s just a straightforward person that looks after his constituents.”

Still, last November’s closer-than-expected vote fuels GOP hopes of defeating the 13-term incumbent. Stenholm outspent Rob Beckham, a two-term member of the Abilene City Council, by more than $1 million, yet won by only 6,514 votes.

“I think if (legislators) are agonizing over what to do about Charlie Stenholm, just give us 12 months because we’re going to beat him next year,” said Paul Washburn, Taylor County GOP chairman. “Even though he is, among Democratic congressmen, an apparent conservative, he is not in step with the people in his district. This is why he keeps having close races.”

Stenholm, who won 51 percent of the vote in 2002 and 59 percent in 2000, scoffs at the notion, saying he expects his fiscal restraint to carry him to future victories. As an example, he points to a recent vote against a bill supporting faith-based charities.

“I’m in favor of the bill, but it added on another $12 billion to the deficit,” he said. “The message we’re trying to send all our colleagues is you can’t keep ignoring the deficit and digging the hole deeper.”

Still, Stenholm acknowledged that the vote will likely cause him trouble in next year’s election.

” ‘He said he was for this, but he voted this way’ — that makes a great 20-second commercial,” Stenholm said. “(So) we’ll run our own ads saying, ‘you bet,’ and then try to slap them upside the face, with a two-by-four, saying this is the kind of half-truth that causes people to be turned off in a political sense.

“We hit back as hard as we can hit back, but with a smile on our face and a good Christian attitude. That’s West Texas.”

Finally, here’s a profile of State Sen. Robert Duncan, who has been resisting Queen Craddick all along.

While Democrats fight a Republican-led effort to pass a redistricting bill aimed at strengthening the GOP in the state’s congressional delegation, Duncan is going up against House Speaker Tom Craddick. Despite being outranked by the fellow Republican, Duncan has shown no willingness to concede.

“I am here to represent my constituents, and that is where I am headed with this,” Duncan said last week after the Senate approved the redistricting bill he backed.

[…]

Duncan was elected to the Legislature in 1992 and served in the House. His colleagues voted him Freshman of the Year in 1993 and he has picked up other awards for his service. He was elected to the Senate and served his first term there in 1997. Duncan now chairs the Senate Jurisprudence Committee, which handled the congressional redistricting bill.

We’ll see who wins. Stay tuned.