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June 7th, 2010:

The alternate Congressional universe

Since I brought up redistricting yesterday, here’s an interesting thought experiment for you: What might the state’s Congressional delegation look like today if the 2003 DeLay-orchestrated re-redistricting had never happened? I’ll leave it to you to peruse the maps and data in that post, but my thoughts are approximately as follows:

1. Clearly, Martin Frost and Chris Bell would still be in Congress, while Ciro Rodriguez would still be representing CD28, his original district. You think if Frost were still around that BAE Systems would have been caught off guard like they were?

2. Along similar lines, I feel reasonably confident that Nick Lampson would still be in Congress as well, and would therefore still be representing NASA/Clear Lake. Think things might be a little different for them if that were the case?

3. It’s harder to predict what might have happened with Max Sandlin, Jim Turner, and Charlie Stenholm. Their districts got progressively more hostile, but they were never all that friendly to begin with. Maybe they’d have continued to stick it out, maybe they’d have retired or gotten beat. Would the Republicans have found strong, well-funded candidates to try to take them out? Stenholm would likely be a very influential member if he were still serving, which might have been enough to keep him in. I can imagine any of them being in, and I can imagine any of them not being in. Choose your own adventure here.

4. Do I need to mention that Chet Edwards would still be in? He’s got a tough race this year, but the man is a survivor. If the Republicans couldn’t take him out in 2004 after cutting him off from his power base, they weren’t taking him out with him still attached to it.

5. And then there’s Ralph Hall, the ultimate Democrat-in-name-only as of 2003, when he finally switched parties. Given what the national landscape looked like back then, I see no reason why he wouldn’t have switched regardless, but if he hadn’t then surely he’d have become a prime netroots target, and may well have gotten primaried out in 2006 or 2008. In which case, of course, his seat would be held by a Republican, as it is now. One way or the other, I don’t see a D, even the DINO-est D of them all, still being there.

6. Finally, there’s Henry Bonilla, who came close to losing to Henry Cuellar in 2002, got a huge chunk of electoral security from Tom DeLay in 2003, had it taken away by the Supreme Court in 2006, then lost later that year to Ciro Rodriguez. I think a Bonilla-Cuellar rematch in 2006 or especially 2008 might have gone Cuellar’s way, but not in 2004. The Republicans had a reason to be worried about that seat.

Note also that John Culberson’s district got a lot more purple between 2000 and 2008, but I don’t think it would have been friendly enough to elect a Democrat in 2008. In either universe, Culberson is going to need some assistance from the mapmakers next year.

The bottom line, then, is that by any reckoning DeLay’s gerrymandering was successful at its core goal, which was booting a bunch of Democratic Congressmen out. It’s possible, had there been no re-redistricting, that the Dems could still have the 17-15 advantage in delegation size, assuming Hall switched or lost, and Bonilla fell to Cuellar. It’s more likely that the Rs would have had a net gain over the past three cycles of between one and three seats, depending on what happened with Sandlin, Turner, and Stenholm; Lampson losing is also a possibility, though a less likely one in my view. A three-seat gain would make for an 18-14 delegation in favor of the GOP. That would be 56% Republican, which actually overstates Republican strength from the last election, in which John McCain’s 55.45% was the high score. The Republican average among the eight statewide races was a shade under 53%, which would correspond to 17-15. (I mention these things because one of the earliest justifications given for redoing the Congressional boundaries in 2003 was that the state was approximately 56% Republican, based on the total Congressional vote from 2002. Which would have led to an 18-14 GOP delegation had that logic been followed to its conclusion, not the 21-11 – intended to be 22-10, now 20-12 – delegation we wound up with.) DeLay tilted the scales in the other direction, just in time for the Democrats to regain the majority in the House, which cost the state a ton in seniority. Not that he cared about such trivia, of course.

It’s fun to play what-if, isn’t it? You wonder as well, if DeLay hand’t meddled so much in state affairs – which necessarily means staying out of, or at least playing a much smaller role in, the 2002 legislative elections – would he still be in office today? His district would still be a Republican one, though it would be beginning to trend away from that. A non-indicted DeLay would probably have had no reason to fear for his re-election. I can imagine a lot of electoral scenarios, but I have a hard time picturing a world in which Tom DeLay’s corruption didn’t catch up with him. Some things are just too hard to swallow.

Baylor versus Colorado

Like Justin, I find this a little hard to believe.

Political forces in the state of Texas are preparing to demand that Baylor — not Colorado — should be one of the schools in the mix should the Pac-10 extend an invitation to six Big 12 schools to join its ranks, according to Orangebloods.com.

[…]

“If you’re going to have an exported commodity involved in this, do you think we’re going to allow a school from outside the state of Texas to replace one of our schools in the Big 12 South? I don’t think so. We’re already at work on this,” the site quoted a a high-ranking member of the Texas Legislature as saying.

The source said that there is a block of 15 legislators working to make sure that Baylor, not Colorado, is invited to join the Pac-10. The source pointed to the political and economic importance of keeping the Big 12’s Texas schools together as well as Colorado’s recent athletic struggles and lack of sports such as baseball, softball and men’s tennis.

Hard to imagine there are 15 legislators who care that much about what happens to Baylor, but I suppose anything is possible. Let’s just say I will remain skeptical about this until such time as I see some names attached to these reports. More on that from a PAC 10 perspective is here.

Meanwhile, what the PAC 10 decides to do is dependent in part on what the Big 10 decides to do.

UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero, who chairs the men’s basketball committee, compared the conference’s discussions here to his committee’s shortly before it expanded March Madness to 68 teams. At one point, the idea of a 96-team field was floated before the more modest change was adopted. That could be what happens in the Pac-10 — with the latest whopper just a bombshell that spurs talks.

“We went through an exercise of due diligence and really decided to look at all the possible scenarios and all the options to see what might be in the best interest of the association long term,” Guerrero said. “We’re doing the exact same thing here. We’re in a due-diligence process.”

USC athletic director Mike Garrett, whose football and basketball programs are under investigation for NCAA rules violations, declined comment.

The future look of the Pac-10 could depend on what happens with the Big Ten. If Notre Dame elects to join that conference, the likelihood is that any Pac-10 expansion would be modest. But if the Big Ten pulls in Nebraska and Missouri instead, the Big 12 could be in danger of crumbling. The Pac-10 wants to be position to scoop up some of those schools, particularly Texas, which brings with it a large, lucrative TV audience.

The NCAA Tournament analogy is instructive. In the end, we could get Notre Dame to the Big 10 (which, as it currently has 11 members, would make it another Big 12, albeit not in name) and little else. Until Nebraska and Missouri make up their minds, for which they reportedly has two weeks to do, we’ll see a lot of speculation. And a multidimensional Prisoner’s Dilemma:

In the middle, the Big 12 presses against these encroaching walls with increasing uncertainty, much of it rooted in distrust across the North and South divisions. A unified membership committed to the future of the conference would likely be safe from the poachers, and on some level, it’s possible no individual member is actually anxious to leave the conference as it’s existed since 1995; as Texas Tech athletic director Gerald Myers said last week, he prefers remaining in the Big 12 if “the conference stays intact, completely intact, with all 12 members.” That depends on the conference’s anchors, Nebraska and Texas, neither of which is interested in remaining without the other, but neither of which can guarantee it isn’t ready to ship out for (literally) greener pastures.

The PAC 10 Commissioner has been given the authority to pursue expansion, so the dominoes are lined up and awaiting a catalyst. And once again, let me just say as a Rice fan, my heart breaks for these guys. May they all get indigestion while they make up their minds just how obscenely rich they want to be.

KBH in 2012

I keep telling you, it’s going to happen.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison hasn’t decided whether to retire at the end of 2012, and the possibility that she’ll run again leaves a major question mark over the already competitive field of candidates lined up to replace her.

After earlier declining to discuss her plans, saying she is focused solely on her job, the Republican said this week she has set no deadline on deciding whether to seek another six-year term.

“There is no timetable,” she said. “I don’t want to be hounded for the next whatever time period it is. I’m not thinking about it right now.”

Is there anyone better then KBH at changing her tune while giving a non-answer? Here’s what she said last time, which was all of three weeks ago:

“It never really crossed my mind to stay,” Hutchison said. “But it has been rewarding to stay because I’ve been able to do some important things already.”

Notice the subtle shift from “I don’t want to think about it” to “I don’t want to think about it right now”. It’s such a pleasure to watch a master at work. I predict the next time she speaks of it, it will be to vaguely allude to a time frame in which she will want to think about it, and then to set a deadline for making a decision that she’ll feel free to ignore. The anticipation is making me all goose-bumpy.

You know what’s coming next, right?

Thank goodness I don’t have to pay a royalty for that.

Booster seats

The nine-month grace period for complying with the new booster seat law is officially over.

While the law took effect in September, a nine-month grace period has given families time to prepare. Authorities have been issuing warnings, but now citations come with fines starting at $25 for first-time offenders and increasing to $250 for subsequent infractions. Fees collected from violations will be used to provide booster seats to low-income families, [bill author State Sen. Judith] Zaffirini said.

Previously, Texas was among only six states without a booster seat law. The state only required safety seats for children younger than 5 and less than 3 feet tall.

“There was a big gap in the previous law because there were a lot of kids who were too tall to require the booster seat … and many kids weren’t in any kind of seat belt,” said Dr. David Wesson, a pediatric surgeon who directs the trauma program at Texas Children’s Hospital. “This law is designed to fill that gap and make sure kids are in a restraint that’s appropriate for their size.”

[…]

Motor vehicle injuries are the leading cause of death of children in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Belt-positioning booster seats reduce the risk of injury for children ages 4 to 7 by 59 percent compared with youngsters restrained by only seat belts, according to CDC-cited research.

In the Houston area, most admitted trauma patients ages 4 to 7 involved in vehicle crashes were either unrestrained or inadequately restrained, according to 2007 hospital data. Only 12.5 percent of those children were secured by either a car seat or booster seat.

Olivia is still in the same booster seat she’s been in since she graduated from a car seat. I figure it’s just a matter of time before she asks for one of the backless seats, so that it’s not obvious from the outside that she’s in a booster seat at all. Audrey will be moving from the car seat to the booster soon, as she’s almost big enough. That will be great news for her, because it will mean she can sit in the way-back of the minivan along with Olivia when we need it for extra passengers. The car seat is way too much of a pain in the butt to relocate, but booster seats can be picked up and moved easily.