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January 27th, 2012:

Could there be a settlement in the redistricting lawsuit?

Maybe.

A leading player in the state’s redistricting turmoil said this morning he’s hopeful that both sides are closing in on a settlement that will salvage Texas’ April 3 primary.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has been meeting with representatives of minority groups that sued the state last year to stop new political boundaries from taking effect on grounds the decade-long maps ignore profound population growth of minority Texans – mostly Hispanics.

“I am confident that the parties are working in good faith and have enough time to craft a compromise that will assure that the April primaries go on as scheduled,” said state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, chairman of the House Mexican American Legislative Caucus, which is one of the parties suing the state.

Caught off guard as he was preparing for a 1 p.m. court hearing in San Antonio before three federal judges refereering the redistricting fight, Martinez Fischer acknowledged that lawyers for his organization have been talking with Abbott and others in the case about a settlement. Martinez Fischer said he could not share details.

A spokesman for Abbott said the attorney general will hold off commenting until the court hearing.

A settlement here means a set of interim maps that everyone agrees on that would be used for this year. I presume this means the other litigation, both in San Antonio and DC, would then continue – this would basically put us back to where we were with the original interim map in that the 2012 elections could go forward as currently scheduled (or possibly with the primary moved back to April 17) and the “permanent” maps would be determined later by the courts. Here’s a full statement from Rep. Martinez-Fischer:

“Since the early days of the legislative session, the Mexican American Legislative Caucus had been asking for Republican law-makers to negotiate fair maps that reflect the growing diversity of the State of Texas. I am encouraged by the Attorney General’s efforts to now strive towards that goal, but I must say that the evidence presented at trial in San Antonio and in Washington, D.C. are compelling. Given that evidence, any hope to arrive at a consensus will require that proposed compromise maps reflect the diversity of Texas and ensure that 3.7 million minority Texans are not be swept under the rug for the sake of partisan politics. I have asked MALC Legal Counsel Jose Garza to work within these parameters and I am confident in his ability to be the voice of Texas’ Latino voters.”

Looks like the parties will be working on this over the weekend. Final arguments are set for Tuesday – testimony concluded yesterday – but it’s the need to get lines in place so all the county clerks can do their job that really matters. Having a settlement means not having to wait for the DC court’s ruling on preclearance and not having to wait for the San Antonio court to do its re-draw. See Michael Li’s Twitter feed for the blow-by-blow.

UPDATE: If this is true, it’s amazing.

The Texas state attorneys defending the state’s GOP-drawn redistricting plans from court challenges have reached out to settle litigation, according to sources in the state. The settlement would give minority groups and Democrats what they’ve been demanding from the start: more heavily minority, Democratic-leaning House seats.

The result would likely mean at least four more Texas Democrats in Congress as of next year, a good start on the 25 or so seats Democrats need to win to retake control of the House.

“They’re backed up against the wall and have to come to some agreement and it’ll be awfully favorable on our end,” said one of the plaintiffs in the case.
Another plaintiff agreed. “It’s clear they know they’re in a vulnerable position and that’s why they want to settle,” he said.

Any settlement would need to get the multiple minority group plaintiffs on board, and would create more majority-Hispanic and majority-African American congressional districts. Two of the plaintiffs predicted that an agreement will be reached early next week.

[…]

Any agreement would lead to a minimum of 13 Democratic-leaning seats, and possibly a fourteenth seat depending on how the districts in Fort Worth are drawn.

With conservative former Rep. Nick Lampson (D-Texas) running for a Galveston-area seat, Democrats could win as many as 14 or 15 seats in the state, up from the nine seats they currently hold. Republicans would hold 21 or 22 seats, down from the 23 they currently have.

Those 23 seats include two Democratic-leaning seats won by Republican Reps. Quico Canseco and Blake Farenthold in the 2010 Republican wave election. Farenthold would have a chance to run in the same Galveston district Lampson is likely to run in, while Canseco would have an uphill fight for reelection.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) is also likely to be spared a tough race — initial plans would have forced him to run in a Hispanic-majority seat, something Latino groups are looking to avoid.

If true, wow. Just, wow. Via Texas Redistricting.

Friday random ten: It’s a nice year for nine weddings

So I guess I’ve sort of settled on a theme for now, which is to do ten actually random songs, then ramble on about one or more of them. With that in mind:

1. White Wedding – Billy Idol
2. Me And Baby Brother – War
3. The Recruited Collier – Paisley Close
4. Dirty Life & Times – Warren Zevon
5. Timmy Clifford’s – Solas
6. Wild Mountain Thyme – Enter The Haggis
7. Wheels – CAKE
8. The Rose of Sharon – The Rogues
9. The Other Me – Joe Jackson
10. Big Rock Candy Mountain – Harry McClintock

One of the ways in which I know I’m getting old is that I don’t get invited to many weddings any more. This is because most of my peers, in particular school friends, are either already married or unlikely to ever get married at this point. In fact, last year Tiffany and I each separately attended what we figure will be the last weddings – well, the last first weddings, anyway – of our college friends. (As neither wedding was particularly kid-friendly, I went to one and she went to the other.) In addition, while we have a bunch of first cousins between us, all but a handful are currently hitched. So there may be a few more here and there, but the next wave won’t arrive till it’s time for our peers’ kids to get married. Now THAT will really make me feel old.

Here’s the list of US states to which I have traveled to attend at least wedding: Oregon, California, Montana, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, Arkansas, Iowa, Illinois, Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Maryland, New York, Massachusetts, and Texas of course – I’ve been to weddings in Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, and Galveston. In the year 1996, I attended nine weddings. It occurred to me last year that I was still in close contact with eight of those nine couples, and all of them were still together. I thought that was pretty cool.

I should note that technically, I didn’t travel to Nevada for a wedding. I was in Nevada for a different purpose (the old Comdex convention, if you remember that) when a wedding happened that I attended. No, not mine. Yes, there’s a story. I’ll tell it some other time.

Anyway. Paisley Close was a band that featured former Houston City Council candidate Amy Price on fiddle and vocals. “Big Rock Candy Mountain” is from the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. And that’s all I’ve got for this week.

Perry’s (lack of) popularity

I have four things to say about this.

Gov. Rick Perry’s ill-fated presidential campaign left a sour taste with many Texans and damaged his standing with Republican voters, according to a new poll commissioned by the American-Statesman and other state newspapers.

Almost 1 in 3 Texas Republicans said Perry’s performance on the national stage dimmed their view of the governor, and 40 percent said he should not seek re-election in 2014, the survey found.

Across party lines, many blamed Perry’s fast-starting, fast-collapsing campaign — punctuated by misstatements and debate gaffes that became fodder for late-night comedians — for tarnishing the state’s image nationally.

“He clearly hurt himself with this run,” pollster Mickey Blum said. “He didn’t do himself any favors at home.”

The phone survey of 806 Texans, conducted from Saturday to Tuesday, found only 40 percent approved of Perry’s performance as governor — down 10 points from last year, and Perry’s lowest approval rating in 10 years of polling.

The drop left Perry with a lower approval rating than President Barack Obama’s 43 percent — in a state Obama lost by 11 percentage points in 2008 — though Perry did have a slim lead among registered voters, with 42 percent to Obama’s 41.

Perry’s failed presidential bid was at the heart of the decline, with 37 percent of Texas adults viewing the governor less favorably because of the campaign and 53 percent saying he should not seek another term, Blum said.

My thoughts:

– Though this story refers to some demographic subgroups within the sample, I have not been able to find crosstabs for the poll. This is the best I’ve found, which isn’t enough. I’d love to know what the partisan and ethnic/racial/gender breakdown of the numbers are, and how the registered voters voted (if they voted) in 2008 and 2010, but alas, I can’t tell. A question about how people would vote in 2012, including a hypothetical matchup between Perry and Obama like what PPP gave us, would have been nice, too. Oh, well. But let’s be honest, all that really matters, at least to him, is how Republican primary voters feel about him, and so far they still like him. He just doesn’t care about the rest.

– Perry’s popularity level doesn’t really matter right now. He’s not on the ballot and the Lege isn’t in session. There’s plenty of time for people to be distracted by other shiny objects before the next Lege is sworn in. If he’s still in the dumps in 2013, then we may have something. Anyone who is saying now what effect this will have in a year is pulling it from his or her nether regions.

– Even if Perry’s popularity levels are still low in 2013, I’ll believe that the Republicans in the Lege will be less deferential to him when I see it. It’s true that the Lege has thumbed its nose at Perry in the past, for a variety of reasons. It’s also true that they rolled over for him in 2011, and that they have never even tried to override a veto. It would be nice if the Lege asserted itself a bit against Perry, nicer still if they did so in the service of some piece of positive policy, but I for one don’t plan to hold my breath waiting for it.

– You still can’t beat something with nothing. Is Greg Abbott and his eleventy gazillion dollar campaign account going to primary him if Perry actually does run again? Will some other Republican try to move up if Abbott decides to stay put? Who will the Dems find to run against him? For all the carping some folks did about Bill White, he ran seven to ten points better than every other Dem on the ballot in 2010. If that race had been in 2008, White would be gearing up for re-election right now. Perry can be beaten in the general if he’s the nominee. Whether he can be taken in another GOP primary I couldn’t say. Until there’s a race between two people, who knows who can beat whom?

What do you think? The DMN, Texas on the Potomac, TM Daily Post, Jason Stanford, the Trib, and Burka have more.

Tough times for Texas parks

Between the drought and the budget cuts, Texas parks are hurting.

Image source: TPWD

Dry weather and depleted lakes and rivers from the prolonged drought mean fewer folks are visiting parks or buying hunting and fishing licenses, the head of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department told a legislative committee Tuesday.

If the drought persists, the department may have to temporarily shut down two of the state’s eight fish hatcheries. And some parks could close if the agency’s budget doesn’t improve, Parks and Wildlife Executive Director Carter Smith warned.

“State parks are in a particularly dire situation,” Smith told the House Culture, Recreation and Tourism Committee.

Revenue from park visits last year dropped $1.2 million from about $39 million the previous year, he said. The decline has continued during the first three months of the new budget year with $928,000 in lower revenue – or down 8.4 percent. Revenue from fishing licenses dropped about 30 percent, or $1.1 million and hunting license revenue declined 5 percent, or $976,000.

The TPWD gets a percentage of the revenues from the sale of sporting goods as well. As the story notes, State Rep. Lyle Larson (R, San Antonio) introduced a bill last session, which he says he will introduce again next year, that would direct all of that revenue to TPWD. That’s all fine and dandy, but as long as revenues dedicated to the TPWD can be hijacked for budget “balancing” purposes, the effect will be limited.

The state still lacks adequate funding to maintain state parks and has virtually no money to buy new park land. Texas ranks last in the country in both state park land and per-person funding for state parks.

“It’s distressing that we are at the bottom of the list. We ought to do better,” former Texas land commissioner and former assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior Bob Armstrong told the committee.

I’m a city boy. I don’t do outdoorsy stuff. What’s happening to the parks doesn’t affect me except to the extent that it reflects badly on all of us. I agree with former Commissioner Armstrong, we should do better than that. If you want to do something about that right now, the TPWD needs $4.6 million just to keep from having to close stuff down. Go make a donation online or when you renew your car’s registration. And don’t be like me: Go visit a park, they need all the visitors’ fees they can collect. At least the Lege lets them have that.

Tomball toll road

They want a toll road in Tomball, and they’re probably going to get it.

The Harris County Toll Road Authority is asking that it be allowed to look at State Highway 249, also known as Tomball Parkway, to see whether it would be make sense to build a toll road from Spring-Cypress Road about 10 miles north, to near Farm-to-Market 1774. Toll roads officials stress that the study is preliminary and no end point has been determined.

“You’ve got a populated area that’s growing that needs more mobility,” said Peter Key, executive director of the toll road authority. “We’re taking those first steps to try to find something that’s feasible.”

[…]

“The people out in Tomball really want that to occur,” said County Judge Ed Emmett, a former transportation consultant. “Everybody I talk to says it’s almost a no-brainer that it’s a financially good thing to do.”

John Fishero, a vice president at Lone Star College-Tomball and chairman of the 249 Coalition, a nascent group advocating for growth along the road from Beltway 8 to Navasota, agreed.

Morning radio traffic reports, Fishero said, often cite 45-minute drive times on 20-mile stretches of the North and Eastex freeways. The commute on 249, he said, often is pegged at 30 minutes for a stretch of road one fourth as long.

“They’re talking about Spring Cypress to Beltway 8, and that’s only about 6 miles,” Fishero said. “People are sitting there going nowhere. Getting the flow of traffic away from the stop lights and stop signs between Spring-Cypress and Magnolia will definitely help.”

I’m sure it will be better than it is now, but I wouldn’t bet on it being a long term solution. In fact, I’d bet it’s congested from the day it opens, whenever that is. Not really my concern, at least as long as it’s financed with revenues from the tolls on that road, but reading this story made me wonder about other options. There has been talk about commuter rail along the 249 corridor – see, for example this post by Tory Gattis from 2008 – but I haven’t heard much about it lately. Here’s a Chron story from 2009 in which the idea is floated to the local poobahs in Tomball.

John Fishero, the Greater Tomball Area Chamber’s mobility and transportation committee chairman, said the committee was formed to investigate the results of the Houston-Galveston Area Council’s “Regional Commuter Rail Connectivity Study,” which was released in summer 2008.

The study pinpointed five existing railroad corridors that could form the “baseline system” for a commuter rail network in the Houston-Galveston region: U.S. 290 (UPRR’s Eureka line), Texas 249 to Tomball (Burlington Northern Santa Fe’s Houston line), Texas 3 (UPRR’s Galveston line), South Fort Bend/FM 521 (BNSF’s Galveston/Popp corridor line), and the Texas 35 Tollway corridor to Pearland (near UPRR’s Mykawa line).

Fishero said several groups on the U.S. 290 corridor formed a coalition several years ago to lobby for commuter rail service from downtown to College Station. That group has the attention of Harris County and several other agencies that could help fund, implement and manage commuter rail projects, Fishero said.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said he would like to see commuter rail projects on the U.S. 290 and Texas 3 rail corridors in the next three years.

“Our concern is that we need to get our hat in the ring one way or another,” Fishero said. “If we want to get something done, we need to start working on funding for our own projects.”

Like I said, I haven’t heard much since. We’re still kicking around commuter rail on the corridors Judge Emmett mentioned, so like the toll road I presume this is still something for the future. My understanding from inquiring with Judge Emmett’s office about this is that it is still being actively considered, but there needs to be a way to tie it in with a transit center of some type on the northwest side so you are not just dumping off commuters with no way to get to wherever they’re going. This is the same basic concern that a commuter or passenger rail line along 290 would have, so when that issue gets resolved then there can be further progress made on a 249/Tomball line. And if we ever do get to that point, we could take it to the next step and extend the line out to College Station as a high speed rail link, as neoHouston documented. Just something else to think about as we go along. Houston Tomorrow has more.

Navy to join Big East

Another new playmate for UH.

Navy has accepted an invitation to play football in the Big East, starting in 2015.

“Stability in the Big East was a very important aspect in our discussions with the commissioner,” Vice Admiral Michael Miller, superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy, said during a teleconference. “What we see is a very bright future for the conference.”

Navy has been playing football as an independent since 1879, but academy officials said they believe that model will be too difficult to maintain as other powerful conferences grow. Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk said scheduling games late in the season, landing desirable television deals and securing bowl bids will become a problem in the near future.

“Opportunities to exist as independents into the future are clearly in jeopardy,” he said.

[…]

The Big East, hit by the departures of Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the ACC, and TCU and West Virginia to the Big 12, will add Boise State and San Diego State for football and SMU, Central Florida and Houston for all sports, starting in 2013.

[Big East Commissioner John] Marinatto would like to get the conference to 12 football-playing schools, which would allow it to play a conference championship game.

When West Virginia departs and the new members begin play, the conference will have 11 members with football programs.

It’s going to be an eventful couple of years in the Big East as schools come and go, perhaps sooner or later than expected. Former Big East member Temple seems like a likely fit for the 12th member they’re seeking, though you never know. As Big East blogger Andrea Adelson says, there are no guarantees.