Final map passes; legal battles on the way
Senate's approval sends controversial redistricting issue toward review by Justice Department, court challenges

By Laylan Copelin
Published October 10th 2003 in Austin American-Statesman

The Senate quickly and quietly ended the Legislature's part in the political saga of congressional redistricting on Sunday.

After six months, two out-of-state boycotts and three special sessions, the Senate voted 17-14 for new district boundaries that Republicans hope will allow them to win 21 or 22 of the state's 32 seats in Congress. The House approved the map Friday night, but the Senate postponed its vote until the House returned Sunday to pass an unrelated government reorganization bill.

Sens. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, and Bill Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, joined all 12 Senate Democrats in opposing the map.

In adjourning Sunday, both chambers ended the third special session a couple of days before its deadline.

After Sunday night's subdued vote in the Senate, the fight over congressional boundaries now moves to the legal arena. The U.S. Justice Department must review the map to determine whether it dilutes minority voting rights, and Democrats are expected to challenge the map in court. They first hope a court will stop the 2004 election from occurring under the Republican-drawn map.

"The fight is not over, and it will not be over until the court of last resort has its say," said Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas. "I think, because of its aggressive nature, someone should stop it. If the Department of Justice is doing its job, it will."

The saga of congressional redistricting had more plot twists than a mystery novel.

Republicans first offered a new map in the waning weeks of the regular legislative session. Then House Democrats boycotted a vote on the issue by fleeing to Ardmore, Okla., for several days in May. Speaker Tom Craddick dispatched his Learjet and the Department of Public Safety to coax the 51 Democrats home.

They wouldn't return until an internal House deadline passed and the issue was killed for the regular session.

Gov. Rick Perry then called the first of three special sessions.

During that 30-day session, Ratliff joined 11 Democrats to block the Senate from considering a new map. Under rules and tradition, 11 senators can prevent a bill from being debated.

In the second special session, 11 Senate Democrats boycotted for 45 days from Albuquerque, N.M., after Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst dropped the tradition.

At every pivotal turn, U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, was here to be sure state Republican leaders pressed ahead.

For three days last week, DeLay shuttled maps between the offices of Craddick, Dewhurst and Perry in an attempt to end Republican infighting over the map.

Dewhurst had closed debate on the redistricting bill Friday night, so there was no debate Sunday and no chance for a filibuster.

"We ran out of options," said Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso.

Sen. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, was the author of the Senate map.

"It's been a long journey," he said. "The refreshing aspect, whether you are opposed or for redistricting, is that the process our forefathers designed worked."

The Democrats would not agree.

In the House and Senate, Democrats complained that Dewhurst and Craddick ran over them by changing the rules in the middle of the game.

"I had an empty feeling coming over here tonight," said Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville. "You could hardly say we are seeing democracy today."

He repeated the Democrats' contention that a majority of Texans did not want a new congressional map. (The Legislature failed to draw a new one after the 2000 census, so three federal judges did it.)

Republicans had argued that new districts were needed to elect more Republicans to support President Bush and to reflect the recent voting trends in the state.

"They had to decide between their constituents or their party," Lucio said of Republicans in the Capitol. "They chose their party."

Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, said he was satisfied with the sessions' results.

"It's been quite an ordeal," he said. "I don't think we can say it was worth it because the process isn't over."

Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, said he voted for the map because it's important to elect more Republicans to Congress to help Bush. But he questioned the final map, which would give Republicans as many as 22 seats in Congress, saying, "It's too greedy."

Dewhurst said more minorities will be elected to Congress under the Republican map, but West, an African American, said it would come at the expense of several white Democratic members who support minority issues.

"I'd rather have four or five votes at the table that will work with me on issues than just to have someone who looks like me," West said.