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June 29th, 2006:

Four hours left to vote for Mapchangers

OK, this is officially the last time I’ll pester you about the Straight Ticket Texan vote for Mapchangers. Voting closes in four hours, at 2 AM CDT. The standings as I write this:

1. MT-Sen Jon Tester

2. CO-06 Bill Winter

3. TX-Gov Chris Bell

4. CA-11 Jerry McNerney

5. TX-Sen Barbara Radnofsky

John Courage has been in the top five and can get there again with a late push. He’s already a winner, as he’s about to be named a national netroots candidate, but that doesn’t mean you can’t sweeten the pot a bit. If you haven’t voted yet, put Courage first, Bell and Radnofsky in the #2 and 3 slots, and don’t forget Mary Beth Harrell and Ted Ankrum. Four hours to go, and that’s all there is.

We have a schedule

Some breaking news from the Lone Star Project:

The three-judge Federal District Court has issued an order and provided a schedule for determining a remedy in response to the recently released opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court on Texas redistricting.

You can view the Court’s order here (PDF)

The Schedule is below

July 14, 2006 – All parties (plaintiffs and defendants) required to file remedial proposals including briefs and proposed maps.

July 21, 2006 – responses to remedial proposals must be filed.

August 3, 2006 – 9:00 a.m. – Oral arguments on proposals before the three-judge panel in Austin, Texas

Assuming it doesn’t take more than a couple of weeks for the court to render a decision, I believe there would be sufficient time to declare an open primary for November and set a filing deadline for some time in September. Needless to say, this would be a ridiculously short campaign, and would heavily favor incumbents. As all other options include allowing the illegal CD23 to remain intact for this election, it’s the best of a bad lot. At least a November open primary would have a normal level of turnout. We’ll see how it goes.

Meanwhile, in that other case…

Capitol Inside offers its perspective on the Democratic lawsuit over the GOP’s attempt to replace Tom DeLay on the ballot in CD22 and how both sides’ arguments played for Judge Sam Sparks.

Democrats suggested in a hearing in Sparks’ court on their request for a permanent injunction that they’d prefer to beat DeLay at the polls in a full-fledged race than have him take an easier way out that allows him to keep his winning record intact and minimizes the GOP’s odds of losing the seat. The last thing the Democrats want is for CD 22 nominee Nick Lampson to have to switch gears to run against a replacement Republican candidate who isn’t out on bail with the burden of a radioactive reputation and other baggage like DeLay would have to lug down the campaign trail. Democrats who had roles as lawyers and witnesses in Sparks’ court hearing agreed that fundraising, volunteer efforts and turnout for the CD 22 battle will suffer without a lightening rod like DeLay in the race for motivational value. Despite the tough talk about ousting their chief nemesis from a Republican House he helped build, the Democrats should be hoping that the GOP can’t replace DeLay and that he officially withdraws from the race or refuses to campaign even if he’s listed as a candidate on the ballot this fall.

While the two sides highly disagree on whether DeLay withdrew from the congressional race or simply became ineligible to run as a result of his move to George Washington’s home state, the Republicans seem to want to replace DeLay as the CD 22 nominee as badly as Democrats want to prevent them from doing so. A lawyer for the Democrats called DeLay’s dropping out of the race “a constructive withdrawal,” but Republicans in the courtroom seemed to be saying that such a scenario had never really entered their minds. After being told by DeLay that he wouldn’t be eligible to run in the general election because he planned to give up his House seat after moving to Virginia, Republican officials left the impression that they’d been following a technical instructions manual on election procedures when initiating the replacement process.

Sparks, who was appointed to the bench 15 years ago by the original President George Bush, didn’t seem to have much sympathy for the Democrats. But the judge indicated during the hearing that he found State GOP Chairwoman Tina Benkiser’s testimony “somewhat amazing” when she suggested that there’d been no discussion about the conflicting consequences of a candidate withdrawing from a race as opposed to being deemed ineligible to run. Sparks seemed to be able to find the Democrats more believable because they made no bones about admitting that their motivations for being there were purely self-serving while Republicans were suggesting that were simply trying to abide by election law without any agenda at hand. Sparks didn’t appear to buy that. While the judge seemed to be hinting that he wouldn’t be blessing the GOP’s move to replace DeLay on the ballot, he indicated that an official ruling would not be issued before next week.

[…]

The Democrats appear to have a fair chance at prevailing in Sparks’ court after agreeing with the state GOP’s request to move it there from a state district court that issued a temporary restraining order that put the replacement process on hold this month. Republicans may have helped the Democrats’ case when they seemed to have no problem with DeLay remaining in Congress, casting votes and sponsoring legislation for almost two months between the time he moved to Virginia and resigned from the House. But winning the ballot battle doesn’t assure Democrats that they will win the election in CD 22 if DeLay stays on the ballot. It’s a calculated risk at best that could backfire. On the other hand, DeLay could return to Texas and make a gallant effort to win back the seat that he gave up this month because he’s too proud, too mad or too determined to keep his old seat from being turned over to Democrats on a silver platter.

Couple of points here:

– I still think it was an error for Democrats to mention fundraising and turnout in any context in this case. It’s irrelevant, it’s self-serving (even if the Dems’ nakedness on that score was less offensive than the Republicans’ we’re-just-following-procedure malarkey was to Judge Sparks), and frankly it looks bad. This case is about the circumstances under which a candidate who has already won his or her party’s primary can withdraw, which Sparks said is what DeLay did, and be replaced on the ballot. As Rick Casey noted, you’ve got your choice of death, “a catastrophic illness that was diagnosed after the 62nd day before general primary election day” that would “permanently and continuously incapacitate the candidate and prevent the candidate from performing the duties of the office sought”, and being appointed to or nominated for another office. DeLay meets none of these criteria, and the “ineligibility” fig leaf is laughable. Pound those points until your fists hurt.

– On the issue of Republicans not having any problems with DeLay’s continued activities as a Congressman, I wonder if they have any problem with this?

Not even retirement can keep former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) from the game he loves so much.

Since his resignation from the House this month, DeLay has held at least two meetings with his old friend and political ally House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).

The two met yesterday afternoon in Hastert’s office, and last week DeLay attended a regular gathering of former House leaders in the Speaker’s Capitol suite.

Hastert and his former majority leader held weekly lunch meetings when DeLay was in the leadership and kept them up after the Texan was forced to resign his post.

The Speaker declined to say what the two old colleagues discussed during their afternoon chat but later joked, “It was a nonpolitical, non-legislative discussion, as much as that can be with DeLay.”

When is a Congressman not a Congressman? Link via MyDD.

– Remember, the Republicans wanted this case moved to federal court. They crowed about getting the case moved there. If Judge Sparks rules against them, what will their excuse be?

– Having said all of this, I’m still not convinced that I want the Dems to prevail here. Forcing the GOP to put DeLay back on the ballot may work brilliantly, but it may also be the clearest example of “be careful what you wish for” you’ll ever see. You know how sometimes when you’re undecided on something it’s best to flip a coin, because you find yourself rooting for one side or the other to come up? I’m rooting for the coin to roll under the couch and get lost.

One more thing:

If DeLay resurrected his campaign three things could happen. He could win. He could lose. Or he could lose badly enough to hurt the entire Republican ticket because he’s been villainized more than any candidate ever. DeLay would have to juggle a campaign with the distraction of a criminal case that came about as part an investigation into the 2002 state House elections that made possible the redistricting effort that he masterminded. There’s also the potential problem of probes on the federal level into lobbyists and other former DeLay staffers and associates.

Despite DeLay’s predictions when he first announced his resignation, Ronnie Earle has not dropped the charges against him. I’ve lost track of where we are in the process, but for sure the trial will be in the news between now and November. Just another thing to keep in mind.

After the ruling – Now what?

Time to go through the news and see what we’ve learned since yesterday’s SCOTUS ruling on Texas redistricting. Before I get into that, let me start by endorsing what Matt wrote about the Voting Rights Act. It was important in 2003, it’s important now, and renewing it needs to be a top priority. Where do you think we’d be now if the staffers in the Justice Department who understood and respected the VRA had not been overruled by the appointed hacks when this Congressional map was up for preclearance? I don’t believe there would have been time to redo CD23 for the 2004 elections.

I should note that Rick Hasen and Amy Howe note a shift in the interpretation of the VRA by Justice Kennedy in his majority opinion. Expect to read a lot more about that in the coming weeks. (Links via Political Wire and Tom Kirkendall, respectively.)

One last thing before I hit the news stories: The one place where mid-decade redistricting is not likely to occur any time soon is Colorado. That’s because in their Legislature’s attempt to redo the lines in 2003, their State Supreme Court ruled that once-a-decade redistricting was a part of their state constitution. The US Supreme Court refused to grant cert on an appeal of that ruling in 2004. It’s possible other attempts at mid-decade do-overs will run into the same sort of roadblock, though at this time I have no idea where or even if other such restrictions may be in place.

OK then. Let’s start with the Chron, which dives right into the question of what happens to CD23 and Rep. Henry Bonilla.

Bonilla’s district cannot be redrawn without making changes to District 28, held by U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, and District 25, held by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin.

The reconfiguration of Doggett’s district also may result in a three-way trade of Travis County voters between Doggett and 10th District U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, and 21st District U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio.

McCaul also represents western Harris County. Such a trade of voters would put the Republican district’s power base in Travis County and make it unlikely that a Harris County politician would win the district in a future election.

For the record, in 2004 the Travis County portion of CD10 went Democratic by an average 58-42 margin in countywide races and 55-45 at the statewide level, despite the lack of a Democratic nominee for CD10 on the ballot. It’s the Harris County portion of this district that makes it Republican. I’m skeptical that this district would change much, but I suppose you never know.

The Supreme Court sent the congressional district maps back to a three-judge panel made up of 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Patrick Higginbotham of Dallas and U.S. District Judges Lee Rosenthal of Houston and John T. Ward of Marshall.

That court likely will redraw the maps before the November election and set special elections in any districts where changes occur. However, it is possible that Gov. Rick Perry could call a special session of the Legislature to redraw the maps, but he indicated in a statement that he will be willing to let the court take the lead.

“We expect the panel to hold a hearing in the near future to address the timeline for the process,” Perry said. “I will work with Attorney General (Greg) Abbott in our state’s efforts to resolve this legal issue.”

While the Legislature could be asked to redraw the maps, that’s unlikely because of legal hurdles that would have to be cleared before the November elections, several redistricting experts said.

“It would be very difficult for the Legislature to do it in the time available,” said State Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, who sponsored the redistricting plan in 2003.

They can always redo it later if they don’t like what the court does. That’s what this all boils down to, doesn’t it? And just so we’re all clear on that, I refer you to this statement in the Star Telegram:

Gov. Rick Perry, declaring the decision a victory for the state, said the next step will probably be a hearing by the three-judge panel that had upheld the plan. A spokeswoman, Rachael Novier, left open the possibility that the Republican governor would summon lawmakers back to Austin to remedy the court’s concerns.

Asked whether Perry adheres to past statements that redistricting should be left to the Legislature and not the courts, Novier said, “Absolutely.”

Except of course when he thinks it suits his purposes, as was the case in 2001. Those were the days, huh?

Back to the Chron:

Bonilla said the Supreme Court’s decision about his district is “more of a nuisance than anything else” because instead of concentrating on re-election he will have to worry about what the three-judge court will do. He said the Legislature should be in charge of redrawing the map.

“People aren’t clamoring in neighborhoods to count how many brown faces are in this polling area or how many black faces or whatever,” Bonilla said. “This is a cause driven more by what I call the professional minorities.”

Bonilla said he also thought Cuellar would want to avoid going head-to-head with him in a special election.

“He has a scot-free election,” Bonilla said. “I don’t know that he would be interested in getting involved in a titanic battle.”

Cuellar said he was talking to lawyers to determine the impact of the court’s decision.

“I’ve always been able to land on my feet. I think we are going to be fine,” he said.

I’m sure Bonilla feels confident that his homeboys will protect him again as they did in 2003 after his little scare against Cuellar. The Statesman picks up on that.

The crucial decision for Republicans will be how to redraw Bonilla’s district.

If they suggest putting Laredo wholly in his district, then a senior member of the GOP delegation will face a tough battle against Cuellar in a majority Latino district. But GOP advisers said Bonilla might be saved by pinching off Latinos from the edges of other districts so he would not be pitted against Cuellar.

Neither Bonilla or Cuellar would welcome a showdown.

“I think you can fashion a remedy without necessarily pairing Bonilla and myself together,” Cuellar said. “The knee-jerk reaction is to get them from Webb County. . . . Laredo is not the only magical place to get Hispanics. The court didn’t say, ‘Get Hispanics from Laredo.’ The court said, ‘Get Hispanics.’ ”

I took a look at the Teaxs redistricting page to see what happened in the old 23rd District in 2004. The Republican index went from 47.5% in 2002 to 56.4% in 2004 there. That almost undoubtedly reflects the difference between having Tony Sanchez on the ballot, and having George Bush on it. Nonetheless, it reinforces what I said yesterday about Cuellar’s choice. Even if Laredo/Webb County is moved wholesale back into CD23, Cuellar would need a huge performance there, and he’d still need to overcome Bonilla’s advantages elsewhere. And he’d have to do it without a local turnout enhancer like Sanchez at the top of the ticket. Cuellar proved that he’s a pretty good draw by himself in the 2004 and 2006 primaries, but this is a tall order.

Bonilla, whose support among Latinos has dropped over the years, said he would prefer that state lawmakers, not judges, make the fix. He added that he saw no need to hurry toward a solution.

“Logistically it would be so difficult now to make a huge change before the November elections, that it would probably be wise to wait for the Legislature to do it when they convene next year,” Bonilla said. “The clock’s ticking between now and November – why not just let this election go?”

Doggett disagreed, saying that to wait would mean holding an election under an illegal map: “I don’t know if that has ever happened before.”

The judicial panel has not announced a timeline for reacting to the Supreme Court’s decision, but most Capitol observers don’t expect the judges to allow the issue drag out beyond the November elections.

If either the judicial panel or the Legislature acted quickly, another round of primaries could be required this fall for districts that are changed.

Or, as happened in a similar redistricting scenario in 1996, there might be an open ballot for congressional candidates. Under that plan, the number of candidates would not be limited by political affiliation, and the winner would have to get a majority.

The reality, however, is that there are few opponents who would have the money or name identification to challenge incumbents, including Doggett, on such short notice.

I still don’t see anything definitive as to timing, but I agree with Doggett in that I think there will be a new plan in place for November. And I agree with Nathan Persily when he says that if it’s the three-judge panel doing the dirty work, they’ll aim for as narrow a fix as they can. It’s not out of the question at all that Bonilla and Cuellar could be back in CDs 23 and 28 without much more than token opposition this time. Next time, though, who knows?

Once more on Bonilla from the Express News:

Redistricting experts said the districts most likely affected by the ruling, in addition to Bonilla’s, include those now represented by Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo; Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio; Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin; Ruben Hinojosa, D-Mercedes; and Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi.

Perales and others want new boundaries drawn before the fall election.

“There’s ample precedent for it to be done in a timely manner,” said Ed Martin, a Democrat consultant and redistricting expert. “The people whose rights have been trampled from one election cycle shouldn’t be denied those rights again. They should not be asked to wait and have their rights denied for two more years.”

Redrawing Bonilla’s district could mean changes in Cuellar’s neighboring District 28, which includes half of Laredo and Webb County that once was part of District 23.

“That’s going to be the question: How do we fix Henry Bonilla’s unconstitutional district?” said Webb County Democratic Chairman Javier Montemayor, who favors leaving District 28 alone. “One of the attempts probably will be to take Hispanic voters out of Webb County and give them to Bonilla. I don’t think that’s a solution.”

What about CD25? The Laredo Morning Times looks at it from the local perspective.

District 23’s proximity to the Rio Grande Valleys District 25, and possibly Rep. Ruben Hinojosa’s District 15 to the east, means remapped congressional lines inevitably will have an effect on the Valley.

Several Democrats praised the Supreme Courts recognition of what they perceive as partisan mischief and envisioned the growing Valley as its own congressional district.

“We have nothing in common with the people of Travis County,” said state Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores, D-Mission, who serves on the House redistricting committee. He was referring to the 300-mile-long, north-south stretch of land from the Rio Grande to Austin that [Rep. Lloyd] Doggett now represents.

“I think everything south of Falfurrias and as far as Zapata (County) and the Hidalgo County line would be District 25,” he said.

The ruling could affect all of Texas and align similar communities within a district, said state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, a McAllen Democrat and one of the leaders of the Democratic challenge to the Republican map.

“Its going to have a domino effect, and you will see more compact districts and not the fajita strips we have from McAllen to Austin,” he said.

“It is a sweet victory, especially after all the criticism we received fighting (former U.S. House Majority Leader) Tom DeLay.”

[…]

“Latinos were dealt a bad hand,” said Juan Maldonado, chairman of the Hidalgo County Democratic Party. “(Rep. Henry) Bonilla is not our congressman, not our party and doesnt represent our interests.”

Doggett said he is waiting for the three-judge panel to determine the remapping procedure.

“LULAC and I would be ready to go (on redistricting) next week,” he said.

LULAC is the League of United Latin American Citizens, an advocacy organization that had filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court stating that the Republican redistricting plan eroded minority voting power in Texas and thus was illegal and unconstitutional.

“The sooner these lines can be drawn legally, the better off everyone will be,” Doggett said.

As far as that goes, the LMT observed elsewhere:

A clerk for the federal judges in Marshall said Wednesday that the judges had not yet received the official mandate from the Supreme Court.

The time it takes to get the formal paperwork, coupled with the fact that the judges dont have a set meeting schedule, means it could take a few weeks before things start rolling.

Finally, two other matters to discuss. One, in the Express News, is the idea of nonpartisan redistricting, which inevitably pops up whenever this subject arises:

Rep. Robert Puente, D-San Antonio said he favors a plan long advocated by Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, that would take redistricting out of the hands of self-interested politicians and empower the public to redraw political lines.

Wentworth has been pushing the idea since 1993 and plans to do so again next year.

And from the Morning News, what about mid-decade redistricting as a concept?

Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, one of the few targets of redistricting to survive, said Wednesday he will introduce legislation barring states from redrawing congressional lines more than once each decade.

I have more faith in the Wentworth bill finally passing than I do in Edwards’ bill, and I have very little faith in Wentworth’s bill. Not that I don’t think either effort isn’t worthwhile – I do – I just don’t believe that enough legislators share that sentiment.

On the opinion side, both the Statesman and the Chron have their say. Larry Stallings has the State House Democrats’ response, while Vince reminds us all of the phone number for the Ardmore Holiday Inn. (He’s kidding, I hope.) I have some longer statements from the Lone Star Project beneath the fold. And last but not least, Strange Bedfellows takes a fond look at the street in Austin where three Congressional districts meet.

UPDATE: Rick Bolanos, the current candidate against Bonilla, weighs in:

In spite of the furtive attempts by Mr. Bonilla and his cohorts to violate the constitutional rights of our nation, I will continue my campaign to give all the voters of the 23rd congressional district the type of ethical, fervent and passionate representation that they have so long been denied and that they so dearly deserve. I want to personally thank LULAC for their relentless pursuit of justice for those Hispanics who were oppressed by the misguided, avaricious actions of the present administration.

Full statement at Dos Centavos.

(more…)

Where are they now – Ryan Pitylak

UPDATE: As this post is no longer accurate, and is apparently causing Ryan some harm, I have removed it.

Probably my last post for now on selling toll roads

Two more wonky economics analyses of toll road selloffs from PGL at Angry Bear:

1. In which a local columnist takes Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels to task for being condescending towards the voters over their opposition to this deal.

2. In which noted economists Richard Posner and Gary Becker make the case for privatization.

North Corridor Metro meetings

From the I-45 Coalition mailing list:

METRO has just announced 2 meetings:

Saturday, July 22nd; from 10 am – 12 pm (noon); Jeff Davis High School, 1101 Quitman

METRO will conduct an open house to provide members of the community an opportunity prior to its public meeting to ask questions regarding information in it’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the proposed North Corridor.

Then 2 weeks later…

Saturday, August 5th; an open house from 1 pm to 2 pm; then a Public Hearing starting at 2 pm; Jeff Davis High School, 1101 Quitman

METRO will conduct an open house to provide members of the community an opportunity to ask questions. Then at 2 pm the PUBLIC HEARING will begin regarding the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the proposed North Corridor. The FTA (Federal Transit Administration) will solicit comments relating to environmental issues addressed in the DEIS. They say comments will be accepted through August 14th.

What is this?

METRO has been working on the alignment of how they are going to extend the existing rail line North of the current termination/start point at University of Houston-Downtown. This rail is for the LRT (Light Rail Transit) which has since changed to BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) and will be changing to GRT (Guided Rapid Transit) soon. This line will be going up Fulton (more or less) from the University of Houston to past Crosstimbers.

This is the Public Hearing that is mandated by the federal government in order to receive federal funding. The “environmental issues” deal with how the line placement will affect homes and neighborhoods. As I understand it, the “environmental issues” DO NOT address air pollution, noise pollution, etc. Why not? Good question! Ask that at the meeting.

You can get more information at www.ridemetro.org and go to Metro Solutions and North Corridor. Here are some more links.

http://metrosolutions.org/go/doc/1068/119672/

http://metrosolutions.org/go/doc/1068/112135/

Please remember, this is NOT TxDOT’s (Texas Department of Transportation) meeting and does not directly affect I-45.

TxDOT is still working on their Environmental Studies and Schematic Drawings for I-45. They will be having a similar type meeting in probably 3 to 6 months.

I’m sure I’ll have reminders of these meetings as the dates draw nearer.