Texas' Redistricting News
Chronicle: "Redistricting Carves out a Tight Race."
August 29, 2004
A Houston-area congressional race with roots in last year's bitter redistricting battle is emerging as one of the state's most competitive, with a Democratic U.S. representative trying to win in a district drawn to defeat him.
U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson, D-Beaumont, one of the Democratic incumbents targeted in the Republican redistricting effort, faces a tough challenge from Republican Ted Poe, who became nationally known for creative sentencing during two decades as a Houston felony court judge.
"For the casual outside viewer, this is a Republican district. And it's a Republican year," said Rice University political scientist Bob Stein. "But this is a much closer race than people realize."
Amy Walters, editor of the Cook Political Report, which analyzes races, said Lampson is forcing this race toward local issues such as flood control and pressuring Poe to address those issues. "Lampson could win by detaching himself from the national party label and running as an independent moderate," she said.
Poe is campaigning partly on his record from his 22 years on the Houston bench.
He has several factors working in his favor ó name recognition, a reputation in Houston and a district created to elect him or someone like him ó but he can't rely on those alone to win, analysts said.
Lampson acknowledged he was initially apprehensive about running in the district, which extends from Beaumont to northwest Harris County. Fifty-six percent of that is territory in Harris County that he does not represent now.
"It was intended for me not to win. But I got my confidence back," Lampson said. "Fund-raising is a key indicator of whether people truly support you, whether they want to invest in you."
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which works to elect Democrats to Congress, is concentrating on Lampson and four other races in the state where Democratic incumbents are vulnerable because of the redistricting plan passed by the state's Republican-dominated Legislature last year.
Poe has received support from national GOP stars, including Vice President Dick Cheney, U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Sugar Land and House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois, who have headlined fund-raisers on his behalf. Lampson has raised $1.5 million to Poe's $725,000, according to the latest campaign finance reports compiled by the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics.
Advantage of incumbencyLampson also enjoys the advantage of incumbency, as well as its disadvantages.
Though he has a substantial track record on issues that are important to the district, including transportation and flood control, the time he spends in Washington takes away from the hand shaking he could be doing in Texas.
With Congress in summer recess, Lampson has spent all of August in Texas, and he plans to spend every weekend in his district until the Nov. 2 election.
On a recent trip to Barrett Station in northeast Harris County, Lampson happened upon people during their Saturday morning routines ó cutting grass, taking out garbage. It's a welcoming place where people wave to passers-by and come to the door with coffee in hand.
It also is a part of the new district where Lampson needs to introduce himself.
"This is truly cherry picking," Lampson said. "This particular neighborhood is clearly Democratic. I don't have to take a lot of time explaining my positions, once I tell them I'm a Democrat."
But the residents weren't all that way. At least a couple of conservatives challenged him.
On that same Saturday, Poe ventured into Beaumont, stopping by a weekend cleanup at Church in the Pines in Jefferson County ó Lampson's home and political stronghold.
But Poe spent little time trying to win undecided voters or convert Democrats, concentrating instead on the congregation that was almost entirely in his corner even before his visit. The members offered him a warm welcome but few new votes.
Candidates' strategiesCalvin Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said Poe may need to be more aggressive in pursuing independents, even in the Republican district. "Poe can't afford to phone in the race and go through the motions," Jillson said.
Lampson is touting his congressional record. He sits on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the House Science Committee. He is the ranking member of the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee. And he says he helped bring $100 million in transportation money back to the area in the past eight years.
Lampson also is a founder of the congressional caucus on missing and exploited children and sponsored legislation creating the national Amber Alert.
"If I've done a decent job, I believe the citizens ought to let me go back," Lampson said.
Poe dismisses the idea that Lampson is in a better position to push local issues or draw federal funding to Southeast Texas.
"If federal funds are available for the district, I'll make sure we get them," Poe said. "The people in the 2nd District need more than pure pork-barrel funding. They need a leader."
Poe says the nation should consider a flat income tax, under which all taxpayers would pay the same percentage of their income with fewer loopholes or deductions; and a consumption tax, which would replace some revenue lost to reduced income taxes with higher sales taxes on all products, except necessities such as food or medicine.
In line with the White House, Poe supports making the president's tax cuts permanent and is a supporter of the state of Israel and foreign policy. He opposes blanket amnesty for illegal immigrants and opposes abortion, except when necessary to save a mother's life.
Gay marriage stanceHe supports a constitutional amendment that would define marriage strictly as a union between a man and a woman, "if that's what was necessary to preserve the sanctity of this union."
Lampson supports civil unions for same-sex couples. He also backs the No Child Left Behind Act for public school accountability, although he says it needs to be fully funded. He voted for the war in Iraq but now questions that decision.
"I supported the president at the time," he said. "That's when we had a different opinion of what was going on."
Rather than emphasizing a particular set of issues, Poe spoke broadly in an interview about his character and values. His Web site emphasizes his judicial background.
"My sense of Ted Poe is that he needs to recognize the difference between being an idiosyncratic judge, attracting the limelight at little to no cost and presenting himself as a credible candidate," said SMU's Jillson.
Reason for confidencePoe has reason for confidence. He trounced five other candidates to take 61 percent of the Republican primary vote in March. But he dismisses suggestions that he is complacent.
"The day I resigned from the bench, this became my full-time occupation ó campaigning for this job, working seven days a week," he said. "We have a grass-roots campaign. We have been walking neighborhoods on both sides of the district each week and meeting people. We are taking no vote for granted. Our campaign is right on course."
An attorney for three East Texans suing the state over congressional redistricting was confident Monday the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case next year.
"I'm 110 percent positive they are going to accept the case for review," said Richard Gladden, who represents three Cherokee County Democrats hoping to nullify congressional districts the Legislature produced in fall after three contentious special sessions.
Gladden filed arguments Monday in response to a state motion Wednesday in which Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott's staff argued that states may redraw lines outside the once-a-decade format because the U.S. Constitution doesn't specifically forbid it.
The state's filing on Wednesday was in response to a June 3 request by the high court for Texas' side of the argument. Gladden said then that the court was indicating an interest in the case by asking Texas to file the optional response the state had declined to write.
Opponents of redistricting filed appeals to the Supreme Court in the spring after a federal court upheld the state's new lines. The lawsuit filed by the East Texans argues chiefly against mid-decade redistricting. The other four lawsuits initially relied on arguments of racial discrimination, but three of those now challenge mid-decade redistricting.
Gladden said he expects the court to announce in early October that it will hear the case early next year.
"I expect a decision by mid-May, and a special election to be ordered by ... early summer," Gladden said.
Abbott's office declined to comment on the case, but sent a copy of last week's motion asking the court to uphold the lower court's decision.
"Each set of appellants has a different theory as to why they believe 'mid-decade' redistricting should be judicially prohibited," the filing reads. "Although creative, none of these theories is persuasive."
The Cherokee County plaintiffs argue that the absence of a constitutional ban on mid-decade redistricting doesn't leave the states free to do so. Presidential and congressional elections are held by statute on the first Tuesday of even-numbered years, but there is no law or constitutional provision forbidding states from electing congress members more often.
"That's basically the argument they are making," Gladden said. "They can't do that."
Gladden and co-counsel John Ament III also quote congressional debates leading to the law requiring congress members be elected from single-member districts rather than at-large. That law forbids redistricting more than two years after a census unless a state census is undertaken, the filing says.
The U.S. Supreme Court today refused to consider if Texas
Republicans went too far last year in imposing GOP-friendly congressional
Tuesday's primaries were supposed to give Texas Democrats the opportunity to influence the nomination of their party's presidential candidate and give Republicans the chance to select the best candidates to help their party take over the state's congressional delegation.
But, as has been the case in the past several election cycles in Texas, only the Republicans will get their way.
The GOP primaries feature high-octane races for Congress in several newly configured districts. In many of those areas, the winners will go on in November to challenge Texas Democrats who are well-established in Washington.
The only primaries of note for statewide office are the Republican race for a seat on the Texas Railroad Commission -- with an appointed incumbent and three challengers -- and another GOP contest for a seat on the Texas Supreme Court, which features an incumbent without the backing of the party establishment against a better-financed challenger.
Runoffs will be scheduled next month in races in which no candidate receives a clear majority.
"We think there's going to be a lot of excitement in the Republican primary all across the state," said Ted Royer, spokesman for the Texas GOP, whose party holds all the statewide offices and controls both chambers of the Legislature.
Mike Lavigne, spokesman for the Texas Democratic Party, predicted that local races will spur turnout on his side.
"There are a lot of contested primaries for Congress, state rep and even constable," he said. "There are a lot of Democrats who want to serve."
Both parties will hold presidential primaries, but they will be largely symbolic. President Bush is unopposed in the Republican column and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry has all but cleared the field on the Democratic side.
The Texas primary had been scheduled for March 2 as part of Super Tuesday, which could have given Texas Democrats some clout in the nominating process.
According to a Texas Poll released Saturday, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina had amassed a substantial lead over Kerry. But Edwards withdrew last week after a dismal showing coast to coast.
Texas had to delay the primary by one week because of the protracted battle in the Legislature over congressional redistricting. The state's Republican leadership pushed redistricting through in an effort to break the Democrats' long-held control over the congressional delegation.
Redistricting helped fuel one heated battle in Fort Worth. Five-term Democratic state Rep. Glenn Lewis of District 95 is being challenged by Fort Worth resident Marc Veasey, a former aide to U.S. Rep. Martin Frost. Veasey has accused Lewis of being too cozy with GOP leaders and not doing enough to block redistricting.
Lewis calls himself a strong Democrat whose ability to work across party lines is "a plus" for his constituents.
In the newly drawn District 17 south of Tarrant County, state Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth of Burleson is battling former Waco school board President Dot Snyder and retired Army Col. Dave McIntyre in the Republican primary.
The winner will face incumbent Demo- crat Chet Edwards of Waco, but the district was drawn to the Republicans' advantage.
In the new GOP-dominated District 24 that straddles Tarrant and Dallas counties and bleeds into southeast Denton County, state Rep. Kenny Marchant of Coppell is considered the favorite in the race against Bill Dunn, a Tarrant County real estate developer and former Euless councilman; Cynthia Newman, a business consultant from Carrollton; and Terry Waldrum, an Irving councilman and small-business owner.
The winner will face Democrat Gary Page of Dallas in the general election on Nov. 2.
Several newly drawn congressional districts in East Texas, where Democrats have dominated for decades, are offering fresh opportunities for Republicans. And with opportunity comes competition.
Six Republicans are vying to take on Democratic incumbent Max Sandlin of Marshall in District 1. In District 2, Democratic Rep. Nick Lampson of Beaumont is also being chased by six GOP hopefuls.
The new congressional lines have also fostered rivalries in the Democrats' camp. U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Austin is being challenged by former state District Judge Leticia Hinojosa for the right to represent a newly drawn district that stretches from the state Capitol to the Rio Grande.
In the GOP primary for the railroad commission, incumbent Victor Carrillo faces three challengers: rancher and oilman Douglas Deffenbaugh of San Antonio, retired state employee Robert Butler of Palestine and retired engineer K. Dale Henry of Mullin.
Carrillo, who was appointed by Gov. Rick Perry to fill an unexpired term, has the backing of the GOP establishment. The winner of the primary faces Democrat Bob Scarborough of Fort Worth in November.
In the race for Place 5 on the Texas Supreme Court, Perry is backing challenger Paul Green, a justice on the state's 4th Court of Appeals in San Antonio, over incumbent Steven Wayne Smith of Austin.
Three Republicans on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals are facing primary challenges. Judge Larry Meyers of Fort Worth faces lawyer Guy James Gray of Jasper in Place 2; Judge Cheryl Johnson of Austin faces Dallas County Assistant District Attorney Patricia Noble; and Judge Michael Keasler of Austin faces Boerne lawyer Steven Porter.
The Democratic primary race for
state House District 95 first began to shape up during the early-morning
hours of May 12, 2003, when 51 Democratic lawmakers fled Texas for
Our View: The Supreme Court
should have blocked the Texas GOP redistricting plan.
San Antonio Express-News
A record number of Texas Republicans filed for Congress by Friday's deadline, which came hours after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an emergency appeal by Democrats seeking to prevent the state from using new district boundaries.
The ruling buoyed Republicans mindful of their goal of wresting control of the last Democratic power base in Texas. But six of the seven Democrats they had targeted for defeat filed for re-election in districts made risky by last year's GOP-led redrawing of their boundaries.
Four Republicans, including three from the San Antonio area, lined up in hopes of taking on incumbent U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, in District 28.
U.S. Rep. Charlie Gonzalez has a Republican challenger, Roger Allen Scott , 29, who works in marketing and business development. Gonzalez's ex-wife, Becky Whetstone, has announced her intention to run as an independent for the District 20 seat.
For the newly created District 25, which stretches from Austin to Hidalgo County, former Public Utility Commission Chairwoman Rebecca Armendariz Klein of Austin filed at the last minute against a fellow Republican and two Democrats already in the race.
A San Antonio native and Gulf War I veteran, she immediately drew a heavyweight backer: Gov. Rick Perry, who said, "I look forward to hitting the campaign trail on her behalf."
Friday's deadline had been extended by a week after a three-judge federal panel upheld the Republican redistricting effort. The GOP plan was designed to give the party a 2-to-1 advantage in the Texas delegation to the U.S. House.
Democrats still can appeal on the merits of their claim that the map is unconstitutional and violates the federal Voting Rights Act. The court rejected only the emergency request to block it from taking effect.
Gerry Hebert, an attorney representing Texas congressional Democrats, said an appeal would be filed, but that the court is unlikely to act on it before the November general election.
"I still remain confident that justice will prevail," Hebert said. "It just didn't today."
The reconfigured District 28 held by Rodriguez covers Eastern and Southern Bexar County and Guadalupe, Wilson and Atascosa counties. It also extends south to part of Webb and all of Zapata County.
Although considered a safe Democratic district where voting-age Hispanics and African Americans outnumber Anglos of voting age by more than 2-to-1, four Republicans filed to run.
They include Gabriel "Gabe" Perales, a retired federal administrative law judge who was the GOP nominee Rodriguez defeated in 2002.
He's joined by Chris Bellamy, a Helotes aerospace businessman; James Hopson, a CPA and tax attorney from Seguin; and Laredo attorney-banker Francisco "Quico" Canseco.
Rodriguez, seeking a fourth term, faces an opponent in the Democratic primary ó Henry Cuellar of Laredo, a former Texas secretary of state Rodriguez backed in 2002 when Cuellar narrowly lost to U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio.
Bonilla's sprawling District 23 extends from the Northwest Side southwest to Webb County and northwest to the outskirts of El Paso.
He had considerable help from GOP mapmakers last year who removed nearly 100,000 Hispanic Webb County voters, who generally support Democrats, and replaced them with predominantly Anglo Republican voters in Kerr, Kendall and Bandera counties.
Two Democrats filed for the right to challenge Bonilla anyway: San Antonio professor Joe Sullivan and Boerne attorney Virgil Yanta.
Of the seven Anglo Democratic incumbents Republicans targeted for elimination by redistricting, six are running in newly drawn districts: Martin Frost of Dallas, Chris Bell of Houston, Chet Edwards of Waco, Lloyd Doggett of Austin, Nick Lampson of Beaumont and Charlie Stenholm of Stamford.
U.S. Rep. Jim Turner, D-Crockett, declined to run for re-election.
Doggett decided to run in the new District 25, and he faces former State District Judge Leticia Hinojosa of McAllen in the Democratic primary.
Former PUC Chairwoman Klein will face Regner Capener of Mission in the GOP primary.
Frost, a 12-term Dallas Democrat, is unopposed in the Democratic primary and will face three-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, who also has no primary opponent in a heavily Republican district.
Waco's Edwards will face Arlene Wohlgemuth, R-Burleson, in November. She resigned her seat in the Texas House to run in District 17, which GOP mapmakers have acknowledged was tailored for her.
The districts were approved by the GOP-controlled Legislature after months of emotional, partisan politics highlighted by two out-of-state walkouts by Democrats and three special sessions.
The GOP says it hopes the redrawn state lines will yield at least six new Republican seats in Congress.
State Republican leaders were pushed by U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, to redraw the state's congressional districts so they could capture up to 22 of Texas' 32 congressional seats.
Before U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall of Rockwall switched to the Republican Party, Democrats held a 17-15 edge.
DeLay and others said the new boundary lines were needed to reflect the state's growing Republican tendencies.
The Supreme Court refused Friday to block a hard-fought Republican redistricting plan in Texas that could cost Democrats as many as six seats in Congress.
The justices will announce later this year whether they will consider an appeal from congressional Democrats and others who claim that the map dilutes minority voting strength. In the meantime, they rejected an emergency appeal that sought to stop the state from using the new boundaries in this year's elections.
The districts were approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature in a special session following months of partisan bickering, highlighted by two out-of-state walkouts by Democrats.
Republicans contend they could capture as many as 22 of Texas' 32 seats in Congress, up from the present 16, under the new map, which was upheld last week by a federal panel.
The three-judge panel said critics failed to prove the plan was unconstitutional or illegal, but noted they were not ruling on the "wisdom" of the plan.
"We know it is rough and tumble politics, and we are ever mindful that the judiciary must call the fouls without participating in the game," the judges said.
Critics asked the court for a stay of that decision, but Texas argued that it would unsettle the upcoming election and confuse voters because candidates are already campaigning in the new districts.
The Supreme Court action, done without comment, came as candidates were re-qualifying under the new districts for the March 9 primaries.
Candidates originally filed to run under court-drawn districts because the federal panel had not yet signed off on the GOP map.
The decision Tuesday by a special panel of three federal judges that the new Texas congressional redistricting plan complies with federal law and the Constitution probably ends this long political war. At least several of the Democratic plaintiffs will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but getting the high court to take a case is usually quite difficult.
This kind of fight over congressional redistricting, which included three special sessions of the Legislature and the spectacle of Democratic lawmakers fleeing first to Oklahoma and then to New Mexico, should not happen again. On that point the federal panel appeared to agree, even as it rejected claims that the new map discriminated against minority voters.
Though the federal panel decided that what the Republican legislative majority did with congressional redistricting was legal, it questioned its rightness. The judges took note of how the arrival of computers has made it far easier for legislators to redraw congressional lines to partisan advantage and, in doing so, to protect themselves from punishment by the voters.
"We know it is rough and tumble politics, and we are ever mindful that the judiciary must call the fouls without participating in the game," the federal court said. "We must nonetheless express concern that in the age of technology this is a very different game."
The court also said, "Congress can assist by banning mid-decade redistricting, which it has the clear constitutional authority to do, as many states have done."
The point is well-taken, and Congress -- and the Texas Legislature -- should consider it.
The state also should enact a change in the way we redistrict, not just when we redistrict. We have supported a change in how redistricting is carried out before, and one Republican state senator, Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio, has introduced such legislation repeatedly, unfortunately without result.
According to a National Conference of State Legislatures survey, 12 states have assigned redistricting -- not just congressional, but legislative as well -- to some panel other than their legislatures.
Perhaps the most intriguing is Iowa, where much of the grunt work of congressional redistricting is carried out by a nonpartisan staff under the general oversight of a temporary commission appointed by the Legislature's House and Senate party floor leaders.
Iowa law sets the standards for the staff to follow, including a ban on considering the desires of incumbents, challengers or parties; the addresses of incumbents; the political affiliation of registered voters; or prior election results. The resulting map is still subject to legislative approval, but there are limits on how much it can be amended. One result of this approach is that Iowans actually see election contests for their congressional seats.
The Iowa approach cuts against everything Texas redistricting has meant to both parties, both of which start with incumbent protection for the party in control and move on to the ambitions of state legislators in the majority party. Before the next redistricting in 2011, Texas should adopt a procedure that focuses on citizens, not parties.
A panel of three federal judges ruled Tuesday that the new map of congressional districts in Texas violates neither the Constitution nor the Voting Rights Act. Just because the redistricting is legal, however, does not make it right.
Even the judges felt moved to note in their opinion that they did not endorse the merit of the new district lines. The panel called on Congress to outlaw redistricting except after the U.S. Census, taken every 10 years. Congress should act on that recommendation so that state legislators are not doomed to continual and paralyzing strife and voters are not shunted to new districts before every general election.
Earlier, the U.S. Justice Department approved Texas' new district lines, saying they did not violate the federal Voting Rights Act. Democrats allege that career lawyers at the Justice Department found the new lines did violate the act, but were overruled by President Bush's appointees. If true, and if the career lawyers' analysis is correct, then the appointees betrayed the law, the public trust and their own integrity.
The redistricting map is designed to make the Texas congressional delegation, now 16 Democrats and 16 Republicans, reflect the state's Republican majority. Republicans say the map could give them 22 members in the Texas delegation, leaving 10 Democrats.
The swelling of Republican ranks, though resented by Democrats, is not among the plan's sins. Not only did this year's bitter redistricting battle delay action on pressing matters such as school finance reform, but the new lines split many communities of minority voters to keep them from electing Democratic representatives.
Lawyers for the state argued that the systematic dilution of minority voting strength is not illegal if its aim is partisan advantage rather than racial discrimination. The federal judges agreed, but that cynical assertion resembles the idea that it is OK to trample on people for personal gain as long as you don't look down to see what's happening. It might be legal, but it is not just.
The League of United Latin American Citizens says it will appeal the judge's decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. If the high court takes the Republican view, the Voting Rights Act will lose much of its meaning as it bows to the supreme imperative of partisan politics. As in Texas, black and Hispanic voters across the country could be split among grotesquely shaped districts as long as it helps the Republican Party.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott says the map "ensures minority voting rights across the state of Texas." Abbott must believe compact communities of minority residents, such as those in Galveston County, have no right to vote in the same congressional district. His view might be legally correct, but it is unworthy of a public-spirited official.
Whatever the outcome of the current battle, legislators also could and should put the public interest ahead of political interests in the future and create a nonpartisan commission to redraw district lines after the 2010 U.S. Census.
New York Times
A federal court in Texas unanimously approved today a redistricting plan that could put Republicans in a strong position to dominate the Lone Star State's Congressional delegation for years to come.
The special three-judge panel in Austin upheld the political map that Republican leaders pushed through the State Legislature in October after more than five months of bitter fighting with Democrats that reflected the high political stakes. Passions ran so high that a number of Democratic lawmakers left the state on two occasions to deny the Republicans a quorum for a vote on the plan and to elude law enforcement agents who might fetch them to the Statehouse to create a quorum.
Democrats and minority groups sued to block the Republican plan, contending that it was unfair to some minority voters in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and South Texas.
The plaintiffs contended, among other things, that the Republicans' map work violated the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which protects the rights of minority voters.
But the judicial panel, headed by Judge Patrick E. Higginbotham of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, rejected those arguments.
"We hold that plaintiffs have failed to prove that the state statute prescribing the lines for the 32 Congressional seats in Texas violates the United States Constitution or fails to comply with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act," the panel wrote.
The judges also found that the plaintiffs, who included various voters and groups representing minority interests, had failed to prove racial discrimination by the architects of the redistricting.
In language that recognized the rich history of the blood sport of gerrymandering, in Texas and elsewhere, the panel noted, "We decide only the legality" of the Republicans' plan, "not its wisdom."
Today's ruling is not the last word, however, since the plaintiffs in cases brought under the Voting Rights Act have the right to automatically appeal to the United States Supreme Court.
Representative Martin Frost, a Democrat whose district will be drastically changed under the new map, told The Associated Press that the ruling "turns back the clock on nearly 40 years of progress for minority Americans."
But the Texas State Republican chairwoman, Tina Benkiser, offered a contrasting view, telling The A.P. that the judges had "reaffirmed the will of the Texas Legislature."
"In 2004, the people of Texas will finally have a Congressional delegation that reflects their votes and their views," Ms. Benkiser said.
Democrats and Republicans are now split, 16 to 16, in the Texas delegation to Congress, thanks to the switch last week of Representative Ralph Hall from the Democratic to the Republican Party.
Some Republican analysts have predicted that, with the new district lines, their party could emerge from this fall's elections with a 23-to-9 advantage.
Democrats had contended that after the Legislature failed to devise a satisfactory redistricting plan after the 2000 Census, a plan imposed by the courts should have stood until after the next census, in 2010.
The judges rejected that position. "Although there are compelling arguments why it would be good policy for states to abstain from drawing district lines mid-decade, plaintiffs ultimately fail to provide any authority ó constitutional, statutory or judicial ó demonstrating that mid-decade redistricting is forbidden in Texas," the panel wrote.
The Texas redistricting was not the first to be fought out in court, and it will surely not be the last. The United States Supreme Court has taken a Pennsylvania redistricting case under review. And in December, the Colorado Supreme Court sided with Democrats against a Republican drive to redraw the state's lines to their advantage. The Colorado court ruled that that state's Constitution allowed only one round of redistricting after a census.
The Texas jurists did not conceal their unease with some aspects of redistricting in general and in the specific case before them. But if the people find abuses, the judges said, they should take their grievances to Congress, which has the authority to ban mid-decade redistricting. And they noted that many states had already done so. The Texas panel, headed by Judge Higginbotham, who was named a district judge by President Gerald R. Ford and an appeals judge by President Ronald Reagan, wrote: "We know it is rough and tumble politics, and we are ever mindful that the judiciary must call the fouls without participating in the game."
The other judges are Lee H. Rosenthal, a district judge who was appointed by President George Bush in 1992, and T. John Ward, also a district judge, who was appointed to the federal bench by President Bill Clinton in 1999.
A trial to hear challenges to a Republican-backed congressional redistricting map wrapped up Tuesday, with the case now in the hands of a three-judge federal panel.
One of the judges said a ruling could be made at the end of next week "at the earliest."
Democrats and minority groups sued the state over the map, saying minority voting strength was weakened in a handful of districts in violation of the Voting Rights Act.
The map could put as many as seven additional Republicans in Texas' congressional delegation, which is now ruled 17-15 by Democrats.
After closing arguments Tuesday, Judge Patrick Higginbotham questioned state attorneys as to how the court should proceed if a violation is found but cautioned them not to "read anything into this."
The court could tweak the map to rid it of violations while maintaining the new districts, but plaintiffs argued that the state should revert to the existing map if flaws are found.
Either way, the ruling is expected to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Candidates and counties are preparing for the March 9 primary election. Some congressional candidates who already have filed for candidacy under the current map will have to refile if the new one is accepted by the court.
The redistricting plan was passed by the Legislature after a year of partisan fighting. Democrats staged two out-of-state boycotts to thwart the effort.
The Justice Department cleared the map last week after reviewing it for violations to the Voting Rights Act.
The chief of staff to Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas)
spent an unusual amount of time in Texas as Frost led the fight to block
Republican congressional redistricting efforts.
Nevertheless, the rules drawn by the House Standards
of Official Conduct Committee leave a fair amount of wiggle room for
political activity by aides.
No matter how the trial over the Legislature's tortured congressional redistricting map turns out, Texas lawmakers and other Republican leaders look craven.
Memos released Wednesday by lawyers for Democrats challenging the redistricting plan show a legislative leadership hounded and bullied by U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, the Republican majority leader from Sugar Land. But more to the point, they show state leaders cowering before DeLay's onslaught and acquiescing in what looks like illegal partisan gerrymandering to gain political advantage.
Several better redistricting plans emerged from this year's chaotic legislative process. But they were savaged when they didn't meet DeLay's approval and his insistence that certain Democratic representatives -- especially Austin's Lloyd Doggett, Waco's Chet Edwards and Dallas' Martin Frost -- be drawn out of Congress.
DeLay's minion in this exercise in domination was his lobbyist, Jim Ellis. In one memo, Ellis said that any plan that didn't get those three Democrats out of Congress was not acceptable. Sadly, the Legislature's GOP leadership meekly capitulated.
"We need our map," an October memo from DeLay headquarters said.
DeLay eventually got his map, finalized in a shameful travesty of the redistricting process. It is a complete mess, of course, and a gross insult to Texans of any political persuasion. Districts run from Central Austin to the Rio Grande Valley, from the Oklahoma state line to south of Fort Worth.
DeLay's map does violence to much of Texas. It is a radical change that moves about half of the state's population into a different district. And while a little more than half the state votes Republican, DeLay's map gives the GOP nearly 70 percent of the congressional seats.
Democrats are arguing that the map is racially gerrymandered, that it disenfranchises minority voters to give Republicans a 22-10 majority in the state congressional delegation. The Justice Department will determine this month whether the map violates the Voting Rights Act that protects minority populations. Democrats also contend that the redistricting effort was illegal because the districts already had been redrawn after the 2000 Census, an argument recently upheld in Colorado's similar fight.
There are multiple reasons for the Justice Department and the courts to discard DeLay's map. The map itself is a travesty; the process that begot it was a mockery; and DeLay's heavy hand in its formulation crossed the line into partisan gerrymandering.
Whatever the courts decide, Texans have seen that their Republican leaders trembled before DeLay and gave him a congressional map that cheats them out of fair representation in Washington.
AUSTIN -- A three-judge federal panel Thursday declined to block a Republican-crafted congressional redistricting map and began a trial to determine the legality of the new districts.
Amid allegations of gerrymandering and minority voter discrimination, the trial could determine the partisan makeup of the Texas congressional delegation and influence control of the U.S. House.
Lawyers for Democrats and minority groups claim the congressional map passed by the Republican-dominated Legislature is an improper gerrymander that tramples on minority voting strength for GOP partisan gain.
State lawyers counter that the Legislature intended to enhance Republican elective opportunities by busting up pockets of Democratic votes, regardless of race.
But the judges ignored pleas from Democrats and minorities to immediately block the use of the new redistricting plan without first having a trial on the map's legality.
The groups argued that the court had no jurisdiction in the case because the U.S. Department of Justice has not finished its review of the map on whether it violates the federal Voting Rights Act protections for minority voters.
Democrats also challenged the map on a claim that the Legislature did not have the authority to redistrict unless there is a new census. They also said the map is a partisan gerrymander that might be at odds with a Pennsylvania case the U.S. Supreme Court considered Wednesday.
But U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Patrick Higginbotham said the court planned to try the case through next week and make a decision on legal arguments only when that is concluded.
"You're wasting your breath if you think we're going to send everybody home today," Higginbotham told one of the lawyers.
Attorney General Greg Abbott said the court's decision to move forward with a trial is a victory for the state.
"If the judges were going to decide in favor of the plaintiffs ... we wouldn't be going forward with this legal exercise," Abbott said.
Twenty-five lawyers representing the state and the various plaintiffs in the lawsuit packed the courtroom in the Homer Thornberry Judicial Building to argue the case before Higginbotham and U.S. District Judges John Ward of Marshall and Lee Rosenthal of Houston.
The audience included political operatives, reporters for state and national news organizations and Democratic U.S. Reps. Max Sandlin of Marshall, Chet Edwards of Waco and Charles Gonzalez of San Antonio. Sandlin and Edwards could lose their seats in the U.S. House if the judges uphold the map.
The map would erase a 17-15 Democratic majority in the state's congressional delegation and replace it with a possible 22-10 Republican majority after next year's election.
Because Republicans now control the House by a 12-seat margin, a gain of seven seats in Texas could offset losses in other parts of the nation.
Democrats say the case's outcome also might affect a Republican national game plan to consolidate its U.S. House majority through state-by-state redistricting to pick up seats.
The plaintiffs' core attack on the Republican plan is that it diminishes minority voting strength in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act.
"The drawers of this plan knowingly and intentionally undermined voting opportunities for minorities," American University professor Allan Lichtman told the court.
Gonzalez testified the districts Republicans drew for South Texas hurt Hispanic voters.
Gonzalez said Republican plans to solidify their hold on District 23 diminished the impact of Hispanic voters in Webb County by splitting them into two districts. He said Hispanic voting strength was not made whole by creating a new District 25 because it had a negative impact on other districts in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.
State lawyer Andy Taylor asked Gonzalez if the Legislature, by splitting Webb politically, was trying to shore up the re-election chances of District 23 U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio.
"If you split Webb County, you are taking reliably Democratic voters out of that district," Taylor said.
Before the trial began, Jose Garza, a lawyer representing the League of United Latin American Citizens, tried to short-circuit the process by telling the court that the trial should not proceed until after the Justice Department has reviewed its legality. Justice officials have until Dec. 22 to issue a ruling.
With a security aide blocking reporters, the congressman scurried down a narrow stairway and escaped in a waiting car.
Mr. DeLay was in Austin to collect campaign contributions at a noon luncheon hosted by lobbyists.
Reporters had wanted to ask the GOP leader about his role in the months-long legislative battle to redraw congressional boundaries to increase the number of Republican seats from Texas in Congress.
A new Texas Poll published Wednesday indicates that most voters believe that the protracted redistricting effort, in which lawmakers were called back for three special sessions, was a waste of time and money.
A three-judge panel will preside over a trial that begins Thursday in federal court on a lawsuit challenging the redistricting map.
Democrats assert that the new boundaries, drawn to add an additional seven Republican seats among the state's 32-member delegation, would diminish the voting rights of minorities.
Republicans maintain that the new map more fairly represents statewide GOP voting trends.
Texas Democrats released documents Wednesday, including portions of a deposition by a top DeLay aide, that they say show that the redistricting effort was orchestrated by high-ranking Republicans in Washington.
"Tom DeLay and national Republican interests were aware their plan could violate the Voting Rights Act, but they knowingly cast aside concerns about minority rights, along with concerns of legislators, to pursue their maximum partisan agenda," said Rep. Richard Raymond, D-Laredo.
Quoting from memo
Gerry Hebert, an attorney representing Democrats, said the documents suggest that Mr. Delay and national Republican Party interests effectively overruled Republican legislators and pressed for a map to defeat key Democrat incumbents ñ including Rep. Martin Frost of Dallas, Lloyd Doggett of Austin and Chet Edwards of Waco ñ even at the risk of being struck down as unfair to minority interests.
"We must stress that a map that returns Frost, Edwards and Doggett is unacceptable and now worth all of the time invested into this project," according to a memo to Mr. DeLay.
In a motion asking the court for permission to introduce into evidence the memos, e-mails and deposition of GOP aide Jim Ellis, the Democrats' lawyers contend that the documents "show that Tom DeLay, acting through Mr. Ellis, was clearly in control of and ultimately responsible for the plan passed by the Texas Legislature."
Andy Taylor, the lead lawyer defending the plan, declined to comment on the Democrats' new charges.
Faced with stalling tactics by Democrat lawmakers who fled the state to deny a quorum, Gov. Rick Perry repeatedly called the Legislature back into special sessions until it adopted a new congressional map.
According to a new poll, Texans are divided over Mr. Perry's decision to call back-to-back special sessions. Voters overwhelmingly consider the exercise a waste of time and money, the survey indicates.
Waste of time
The Texas Poll found that 48 percent of those surveyed supported the governor's decision to call three special sessions, and 42 percent opposed it.
Asked whether the resulting plan was merited, 26 percent said lawmakers needed to redraw the lines while 62 percent called the effort a waste of time and money.
The telephone survey of 1,000 Texans selected at random was conducted Nov. 14-Dec. 6. The margin of error was 3 percentage points, meaning the results of any answer could vary by that much in either direction.
Mr. Perry dismissed the poll results and defended his stewardship as governor.
"Are these tough situations, are these tough issues that you address? And do you make some people uncomfortable and unhappy?" asked Mr. Perry. "Probably so."
He added, "I have a very good idea that about a year from now, no one except political partisans are even going to remember redistricting
AUSTIN (AP)--A three-judge federal panel on Monday rejected attempts to force House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Rep. Joe Barton to testify in a lawsuit over Texas' new congressional districts.
The two Republicans had been issued subpoenas for deposition testimony, letters, e-mails and other materials in a lawsuit that seeks to block the new congressional maps.
The federal panel agreed with the lawmakers' attorney that only under exceptional circumstances, such as having unique information in a case, could they be subject to a subpoena.
The panel left open the possibility of reconsidering its decision during trial, which is to begin on Dec. 11.
``We had hoped we'd be able to take the testimony from both members,'' said Gerry Hebert, a lawyer for congressional Democrats who want to learn more about the role DeLay and Barton played in the redistricting process.
``The court at least recognized that it may be necessary to do so,'' he said.
DeLay's office was pleased with the ruling.
``The court recognized that allowing political operatives to question their opponents under oath about their political game plan is too ripe for abuse,'' said DeLay spokesman Stuart Roy.
Republicans redrew Texas congressional districts this year after a lengthy legislative battle. The changes could give Republicans seven more congressional seats. Democrats control the delegation now, 17-15.
Also Monday, the Colorado Supreme Court struck down that state's new congressional districts as unconstitutional. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott's office said that decision is particular to Colorado law.
In the Colorado case, the issue was whether the redistricting map pushed through by Republicans there this year was illegal. The General Assembly is required to redraw the maps only after each census and before the ensuing general election--not at any other time.
The Colorado Supreme Court's decision to toss out the
state's new congressional redistricting plan may not impact the Texas
remap fight headed for court next week because of a difference in their
"If the Republicans succeed in what they're trying to do, there will be only one Democratic Texas representative north of Houston and Austin," said state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas. "I repeat: one Democratic representative north of Houston and Austin." West was speaking of the proposed congressional re-redistricting map passed by the Legislature and now under preclearance Voting Rights Act review by the U.S. Department of Justice. The single Democratic representative for the northern two-thirds of Texas would be Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas.
West is among the many state Democrats currently making the trek to D.C. to continue their case against redistricting. Austin Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos visited the DOJ last week, and said that, like several of his colleagues, he received a mixed reception. "I was there with our lawyer [Gerald Hebert, the former DOJ attorney now representing the Texas Democratic congressional delegation], and there were eight or nine DOJ personnel -- a couple of political appointees, and the rest career attorneys. The attorneys asked most of the questions. I gave my personal background -- everything from segregated schools to migrant labor in the fields to VISTA work -- and told them that the effect [of the new map] on minorities is not just in Austin or El Paso, but across the whole state, because it's like dominoes. I also talked about the negative effect on rural representation" (not protected by the Voting Rights Act).
"And I added another factor: In order to do this, they had to postpone the primaries to March 9, which means that minority Texans, who vote overwhelmingly Democratic, will have no input on the presidential candidate next year." (Super Tuesday is March 2, when the Democratic nomination will presumably be decided.)
Barrientos said that the attorneys were asking good questions, although he couldn't say what that means in terms of eventual DOJ action. He said he did specifically ask the political appointees who would make the decision on preclearance -- would it be the career agency attorneys in the DOJ's Civil Rights Section, or the Bush administration's appointees? "Their response, for whatever it's worth," said Barrientos, "is that it would be the Civil Rights Section."
Texans in Congress and in the state House of Representatives also visited with the DOJ last week and gave likewise mixed reviews. Dallas state Rep. Roberto Alonzo told Quorum Report that he was encouraged by the questions from the DOJ attorneys, as well as by their request that the department be provided with responses to the seven boxes of material defending the map received from Texas Secretary of State Geoff Connor. On the other hand, U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, said the hostility of the political personnel to the Democrats' arguments seemed palpable. "You could almost tell who they were by who was rolling their eyes," he told The Dallas Morning News. Austin Rep. Lloyd Doggett said that the meeting itself was handled professionally, but "entering a building with a John Ashcroft portrait leering down at you is not reassuring, for all kinds of reasons." Doggett said that while he does not want to "relieve career employees of their obligations" by predicting how the DOJ might rule, "I wouldn't be making trips down to McAllen [to campaign in the new District 25] if I thought I could stake my career on it."
On the Republican side, Jonathan Grella, spokesman for U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, denounced the Democrats for presuming to meet with the DOJ at all to "lobby" for their seats. (Justice department personnel say it is standard practice for all "interested parties" in a VRA case to present their arguments to the DOJ.) The Texas Democrats in Congress submitted a detailed argument to the department, arguing that the new map is "retrogressive" on its face to minority voting rights, leaving African-American and Hispanic voters with less, if any, direct or indirect influence on the state's congressional representation.
Dems appear to have placed more hope in the federal courts than in the DOJ, and on Monday a three-judge panel in Marshall held a status hearing with the parties to the half-dozen lawsuits already filed against redistricting. The court consolidated the cases for a trial to be held in Austin on Dec. 11 (with motions for summary judgment, unlikely to be granted, being heard on Dec. 8). Democrats have welcomed this news, because it means the court will hear arguments prior to the close of the candidate filing period (Dec. 3 to Jan. 16) for the March primary. This opens up the possibility that the judges will order the 2004 elections to proceed under the current map, adopted in 2001, while the case is still pending.
West says he is trying to remain optimistic, but is skeptical of any effective division in opinion at the DOJ. "I keep hearing that," he says of the not-all-negative reports from the DOJ meetings. "But in light of how quickly they rejected our earlier claim [concerning the abandonment of the Senate's two-thirds rule] without even hearing us," he said, "I don't know that it means anything. ... I do know that if the Republicans accomplish what they are trying to do, Texas will no longer have senior leadership in Congress, one party will dominate rather than a balanced delegation working together, and ethnic minorities will not be fairly represented."
West pointed to the congressional staffs of GOP House members, and said that in his experience they are largely "homogeneous" and overwhelmingly Anglo. "That's only one indicator, but it's very hard to represent people or communities you do not know. And based on [the Republicans'] records, they cannot represent ethnic minorities."
The three-judge panel put off a decision on a critical early matter: Which congressional map should be used by local election officials and candidates while the case is pending? The current one, under which Democrats hold 17 of 32 U.S. House seats? Or the new map, designed to bolster Republican strength by as many as seven seats?
Various lawsuits brought against the GOP plan have been combined, with the central issue whether the new map illegally reduces minority voting strength. Several lawyers for Democrats said the court does not need to address the issue of minority voting rights, maintaining that the act of redistricting in a non-census year is unconstitutional. The court said it would consider that argument Dec. 8, three days before the trial is scheduled to start.
The Republican map has not been approved by the U.S. Justice Department, a requirement before it can be used, noted U.S. District Judge T. John Ward.
"The state's plan is not yet legal," Judge Ward said, addressing state lawyers backing the GOP map. "You're asking us to assume that y'all are pre-cleared."
Seeking a freeze
Attorneys for Democrats ñ more than a dozen lawyers involved in at least four lawsuits ñ argued in favor of using the current map, thereby preventing the Republicans from using their map until after 2004 elections.
"I think the court could freeze the current map as it is," said Paul M. Smith, a lawyer for Texas Democratic House members, who warned against allowing a legally questionable plan that might run incumbents out.
Besides promoting stability, he said, such a freeze would allow time to measure the effect of a Pennsylvania gerrymandering case expected to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court next year.
The period for filing for Congress in Texas runs from Dec. 3 to Jan. 2, with an extra period, from Jan. 11 to 15, if the new map is approved. Before that time, local officials must begin issuing voter registration cards and perform other functions that depend on their knowing where the congressional lines lie.
Guide for officials
A Republican lawyer was granted permission to submit a proposal that would guide local election officials in implementing the new plan, if approved by the Justice Department and the courts.
"My proposal is that we be allowed to submit a pragmatic plan ... a way to minimize the disruption," said Andy Taylor, a Houston attorney hired by the state to help the attorney general defend the new map.
Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Patrick E. Higginbotham said he would give the opposing lawyers until Friday to consult with one another, and after that the court would issue an order regarding which plan should be used.
With the agreement of all participants, the panel set a Dec. 11 trial, compressing into the next four weeks a pretrial litigation schedule that could take months or years in a less time-sensitive matter.
Also, the judges moved the proceedings from this logistically challenging, airline-deprived East Texas venue to Austin, closer to redistricting computers and experts expected to be heavily consulted in the trial.
WASHINGTON - Texas Democrats will meet with Justice Department officials over the next three days to make their case that the state's new congressional redistricting map diminishes minority representation and should not be approved under the Voting Rights Act.
All 17 Democratic congressmen and women from Texas will visit Justice Department officials today and Thursday to argue against clearing the map. State lawmakers and advocacy groups are expected to meet with Justice officials reviewing the map Thursday and Friday.
The federal officials have 60 days from Oct. 16, the day Attorney General Greg Abbott submitted the hard-fought plan, to approve it, reject it or ask for additional data.
For Democrats, the Justice Department forum is another opportunity to criticize the plan crafted by Republicans to defeat as many as seven Democratic incumbents.
"In this case, the Republicans don't care and can't count," said Democratic Rep. Martin Frost of Arlington, whose district is split five ways under the plan. "They destroy a minority district and lie about it. We have 11 minority opportunity districts now and their plan only has 10. It is really simple math that they can't get around."
Frost and other members from minority districts are scheduled to meet with Justice officials today.
Republicans maintain that the redistricting plan will increase minority voters' representation by creating districts that elect more African-Americans and Hispanics.
Angela Hale, Abbott's spokeswoman, said the attorney general is confident that the map satisfies the Voting Rights Act and that the courts will uphold it.
Legal scholars predicted that the Justice Department under Attorney General John Ashcroft will clear the plan.
"The Ashcroft Justice Department has pre-cleared every redistricting plan under the Voting Rights Act," said Nathaniel Persily, an election expert at the University of Pennsylvania law school. "There is no reason to think they're not going to pre-clear Texas' plan."
State Rep. Garnet Coleman, a Houston Democrat and an outspoken critic of the mid-decade redistricting effort, said he intends to bring his concerns to the Justice Department, probably Thursday.
"I want the Justice Department to understand that this map does not create any additional minority-impact districts," Coleman said. "In my area, Houston, Congressman [Chris] Bell's district is already majority-minority."
State Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, said: "I want to register my complaints about what they've done not only to Central Texas, where they put downtown Austin into a district that runs all the way down to Starr County on the Rio Grande, but to all of Texas.
"They've ripped up communities of interest harum-scarum just to benefit Republicans," said Barrientos, who nonetheless said he will run for Congress in the new district if it is upheld by the courts. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, has said he will run in the new district.
John Moritz of the Star-Telegram's Austin Bureau Contributed to This Report.
Redistricting, like term limits, can create candidates for other offices.
The map for the Texas Senate drawn by the GOP-dominated Legislative Redistricting Board in 2001 targeted Democratic Sens. David Bernsen of Beaumont and Mike Moncrief of Fort Worth. Rather than face unlikely re-election, Bernsen ran for land commissioner, and Moncrief sought the Fort Worth mayor's post.
Bernsen lost, but folks now call Moncrief "Your Honor."
It may happen again in 2004 if the U.S. Department of Justice and federal courts uphold the new congressional map drawn by Republican legislators.
The redistricters, led by U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, make it clear they want to replace white Texas Democrats with either Republicans or minority Democrats. So some Texas congressmen may run for something else ó such as the Texas Senate, where several previously served.
The most famous Texas candidate created by redistricting was Jim Mattox. He was a three-term Democratic congressman from Dallas in 1981 when then-Gov. Bill Clements said he'd veto any congressional redistricting that didn't create a black district in Dallas.
Like fellow Republicans are saying these days, Clements said he wanted to give minorities more representation. But the true goal was to kill off Mattox and another Democrat from an adjacent district, Martin Frost, by lumping their black populations in one district.
That most likely would have elected a black Democrat. But then-state Rep. Craig Washington, an African American from Houston, said he'd rather have two like-minded white Democrats than a black Democrat whose vote would be canceled by a Republican.
Clements ó whose advisers included Karl Rove ó stuck to his guns, and the Legislature went along. So Mattox ran for attorney general. (Ironically, Frost won re-election, and Republicans again have him targeted for political assassination.)
A federal court later undid the Dallas-area redistricting, restoring Mattox's seat. But Mattox felt he was too far along in the attorney general's race. He won and spent eight years in the job.
In 1981, then-state Rep. Dan Kubiak, D-Rockdale, and then-Sen. Mike Richards, R-Houston, lost their districts. Kubiak lost a 1982 bid for the Democratic nomination for land commissioner. Richards was the Republican nominee for comptroller but lost to incumbent Bob Bullock.
This year, two Republican senators who voted for the congressional redistricting plan, Todd Staples of Palestine and Kip Averitt of McGregor near Waco may have called in the guns on their own position.
It would be poetic justice if U.S. Rep. Jim Turner, D-Crockett, came back to run against Staples (Turner would have to move his residence) and U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards went home to Waco to take on Averitt.
And the biggest potential irony: Should Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle retire, Austin U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett could seek the job. The Travis County D.A. is the chief enforcer of many laws that govern Capitol officials ó including legislators.
Dave McNeely's column appears Thursdays. Contact him at (512) 445-3644 or [email protected].
"My taste is sweet in my mouth," he said during a visit to Houston for a meeting of the Republican Governors Association. "Yes, it was a contentious affair. It always is."
Perry signed the redistricting bill Monday after months of fighting, three special sessions and boycotts that prompted Democratic lawmakers to twice flee the state. House members spent several days in Ardmore, Okla., and senators stayed in Albuquerque, N.M., for more than a month in unsuccessful attempts to block the GOP redistricting effort.
Democrats are now challenging the plan in court. They filed a lawsuit in Tyler on Sunday night. The GI Forum and the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund on Wednesday filed another federal suit in Victoria, claiming the map violates the voting rights of Hispanics.
If the map survives the challenges, Republicans will have the chance to take control of the state's congressional delegation after next year's elections.
Some of the state's most senior Congress members -- Democrats who hold key minority party committee positions -- will lose their seats in the U.S. House.
Perry said Texas officials need to move past the conflict.
"It's time for governing," he said.
Perry also dismissed complaints that the new districts will be bad for rural areas, many of which are combined with urban areas under the new map.
"I live in a rather urban setting today, and I still represent rural issues," he said.
Asked whether he was concerned about a possible Republican primary challenge from state Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, Perry had little to say.
"Carole is my friend, and I hope that she will focus on her duties," he said.
Strayhorn hinted earlier this week that she might run for governor in 2006.
Perry held a news conference Wednesday at Houston's Westin Galleria, where the governors' group has been holding closed-door meetings to discuss energy, transportation and politics.
Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, said at the news conference that the group is focused on winning governor's races in Kentucky, Mississippi and Louisiana. There are currently 27 Republican governors in the United States.
Mexican-American rights group files redistricting suit
By Kelley Shannon
October 15, 2003
AUSTIN ó The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund has jumped into the court fight over the newly enacted Republican congressional redistricting map.
MALDEF filed a lawsuit Tuesday in federal court in Victoria on behalf of the American GI Forum of Texas, a group devoted to securing equal rights for Hispanics. The lawsuit contends the new redistricting plan does not create another Hispanic district.
"The newly-enacted congressional redistricting plan for Texas does not accurately reflect Latino voting strength in the year 2003," said Nina Perales, MALDEF regional counsel and lead attorney in the court case.
Although the Republican plan "purports to create an additional Latino majority district in South Texas, in fact it eliminates one district and adds another, with no net increase in electoral opportunity," Perales said.
If Texas is going to redistrict, Perales said, the result should be an increase in the number of Hispanic districts, particularly in South Texas and Dallas.
At least two other legal challenges have been filed since the Legislature gave final approval Sunday to the new congressional districts.
Democrats are asking a federal court in Tyler to stop the state from implementing the new plan for the 2004 election cycle. That court challenge ó a motion filed in a previous redistricting lawsuit ó alleges that using the new map would be disruptive because it moves more than 8.1 million Texans into new districts and that there are strong arguments that the map violates federal law.
Also, a group of Democrats has asked U.S. District Judge John T. Ward in Marshall to issue a temporary restraining order to prohibit changing the districts. Rusk City Councilman Walter Session, one of the plaintiffs, said he believes black representation would be lost under the Legislature's new plan.
Republicans wanted a new congressional map to reflect the state's conservative voting trends and to give the GOP the edge in the state's congressional delegation. Democrats, who control the state's congressional delegation 17-15, wanted to keep existing districts.
Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who called three special sessions to get redistricting accomplished, signed the redistricting bill into law Monday. It takes effect after 90 days.
Democrats sue over remap
Party claims that redistricting violates minority voting rights, complicates 2004 elections
By Natalie Gott
October 15, 2003
The battle over congressional redistricting has shifted from the Capitol to the courtroom.
Democrats filed a motion in federal court in Tyler seeking to prohibit the state from implementing the new Repub- lican-backed congressional redistricting map, lawyer Gerry Hebert said Tuesday.
The motion says the map violates the voting rights of minorities and would create unnecessary confusion in the 2004 elections.
The state "should be required to show some public benefit produced by use of the (new map) that outweighs the disruption," the Democrats wrote in their motion. They said the map "would be particularly disruptive, as it moves more than 8.1 million Texans into new districts."
Lawmakers approved the new map over the weekend, and Republican Gov. Rick Perry signed it Monday.
The motion was filed Sunday in Tyler because in 2001 that court drew the congressional redistricting map that is now in effect, Hebert said.
"We think that any proposal to change the court's map ought to be dealt with by that court," said Hebert, who represents Democrats in the Texas Legislature and Texas' congressional delegation.
Angela Hale, spokeswoman for Attorney General Greg Abbott, said the office had not seen the motion but said, "Nothing in the opinion or final judgment of (the 2001 case) asserts ongoing jurisdiction over future congressional redistricting in Texas."
Under the new redistricting plan, Republicans could win as many as seven additional seats in the state's congressional delegation. Democrats hold a 17-15 majority in the delegation.
Republicans pushed for new congressional districts this year although it was a noncensus year, saying that lawmakers, not judges, should be drawing the boundaries.
Democrats wanted to keep the existing map and fought the bill's passage, staging two boycotts of the Texas Legislature. Perry called three special sessions before the bill was approved.
It took several weeks, however, for Republicans to agree on a plan during the session that ended Sunday.
After the bill passed, the Democrats said there were at least three federal Voting Rights Act violations in the map.
Democrats said Republicans turned a previously Hispanic district into a nonminority district by splitting Webb County, home to Laredo, because it cuts from one district tens of thousands of South Texans living along the Mexico border.
Democrats also complained about the destruction of the minority district held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Martin Frost in the Dallas area and a district that starts in Travis County, home to Austin and the Capitol, and snakes its way to the Mexico border.
Senateís approval sends controversial redistricting issue toward review by Justice Department, court challenges
By Laylan Copelin
October 10, 2003
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.
GOP-drawn map aims to reshape national parties
New map targets conservative and moderate Democrats in Congress and jeopardizes the re-election of 2 vigorous GOP opponents
By Chuck Lindell
October 11, 2003
WASHINGTON ó The Republican-drawn congressional map approved Friday by the Texas House delivers a brisk one-two punch: It targets a number of conservative and moderate Democrats in Congress and jeopardizes the re-election of vigorous GOP opponents Lloyd Doggett and Martin Frost.
By placing at risk up to 10 sitting Democrats, the Republican mapmakers can accomplish far more than merely boost their party's majority in a closely divided Congress.
The GOP can move the entire Democratic Party toward the left, solidify Republican standing among rural voters and dismiss a number of Democrats they have tried for years to defeat, political observers said.
The new map increases the number of solidly Republican and solidly Democratic districts, continuing a national trend that took off in the 1980 round of redistricting. GOP candidates in these safe districts typically face challengers from the right ó or the left if they're Democrats ó so there is little incentive to seek out moderate, independent and opposition-party voters.
"There may very well be a day in the not-too-distant future where we have a Congress where all conservatives are Republicans and all liberals are Democrats," said Jim Riddlesperger Jr., political science department chairman at Texas Christian University.
"It's the case of the vanishing moderate," said Amy Walter, who analyzes the U.S. House for the Cook Political Report. "And when those voices go away, they are usually replaced by a very partisan member."
Four of the targeted Texas Democrats are members of the Blue Dog Coalition, party conservatives and moderates who focus on a balanced budget while attempting to steer Democrats on a more centrist policy course.
"They've got us targeted because we're an independent voice, and we're the very types of representatives that drive (House Republican leader and fellow Texan) Tom DeLay crazy. We don't blindly follow party policy on either side," said U.S. Rep. Max Sandlin, a Blue Dog from Northeast Texas. "They don't want districts that are competitive, or that they can win. They want districts that they absolutely can't lose."
All four Blue Dogs, including U.S. Reps. Ralph Hall of Rockwall, Charlie Stenholm of Abilene and Jim Turner of Crockett, represent districts that have grown increasingly Republican as the GOP has gained dominance in Texas. They have survived by reflecting their districts' conservative values.
Sandlin favors a constitutional amendment banning desecration of the U.S. flag. Hall voted for President Bush-backed bills 70 percent of the time in 2002. Stenholm opposes abortion.
Other targeted Democrats also contribute to their party's diversity of opinion. Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston, opposes gun control and favors the death penalty. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, follows a pro-military and pro-business agenda.
"That's part of the reason that they are being targeted," Riddlesperger said. "Republicans want to lay claim to conservatism in the United States. They would rather not have to rely on conservative Democrats in order to do that.
"It's something some observers of political parties have wanted for years ó to have what we would call responsible parties, where you can tell something about a congressman based on what party he belongs to," he said.
Republicans say they had two goals when redrawing congressional districts: to elect more Republicans and to improve opportunities for minority voters to elect candidates of their choice.
The 10 targeted Democrats, all white men, were included in districts that traditionally back Republican candidates or, as in Hall's case, were put into new districts where they lose the incumbent's advantage of name recognition and fund raising.
While the parties disagree ó strongly ó on whether minority voters are helped by the new map, the redrawn districts concentrate Democratic strength in districts dominated by black and Hispanic voters. "I would suspect that (any Democrat) who is not in a minority district would have a very competitive race," Republican state Rep. Phil King, the House's chief mapmaker, said recently.
Doggett, an Austin Democrat, complained that the strategy is an attempt to marginalize his party.
"The Republicans have traditionally had a subtle message in many campaigns that Democrats are only interested in minorities. Now they carry that to next level: Only minorities represent and speak for all Democrats," he said.
Most targeted Democrats won't have the flexibility of Green, the Houston Democrat who vowed to move from the heavily Republican district that was recently drawn for him. Green said he will relocate to a nearby district that contains many of his current voters, has no incumbent and a high concentration of Hispanic voters.
"I will probably be the only Anglo in the Democratic delegation," said Green, who has defeated Hispanic primary challengers in the past.
Walter, the congressional observer, said Democrats also stand to lose their few remaining members tied to rural communities, such as Stenholm, a cotton farmer, and Hall, who is 80 and who said he will study his new district before deciding whether to seek a 13th term.
"They are speaking up for a part of the country that, at one point, was dominated by Democrats but now is dominated by Republicans," Walter said. "Those other voices are helpful in bringing a sort of diversity to the party's legislative focus ó and to the understanding of how things look in other parts of the country. The way you talk about guns in suburban Philadelphia is not how you talk about guns in San Angelo."
The influence of rural Democrats was felt in the 2002 election, when the Democratic Party soft-pedaled the hot-button issues of gun control and abortion, she said.
"After the 2000 election, a lot of rural Democrats came to the Democratic leadership and said, 'You can't talk about guns; it's killing us,' " Walter said. "That's something they brought to the table."
Travis caught in remap crossfire
State shuffling led to 3-way split
By Laylan Copelin
October 9, 2003
Republicans are not shy in saying that the map they bring to the Legislature today targets white Democrats in Congress.
But Travis County, represented by white Democrat Lloyd Doggett, also was doomed to sweeping changes by attempts to improve the election odds of a Latino Republican, the creation of a new Latino-dominated district and a lack of defenders in the room.
In the end, Central Texas was a victim of geography, and Austinites might struggle to send one of their own to Congress next year.
"My goal was to defeat as many Democratic incumbents as possible in order to give us five or six additional seats," said state Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, the House's chief mapmaker. "I would suspect that (any Democrat) who is not in a minority district would have a very competitive race."
Doggett, D-Austin, is among those. He moves from a district representing Austin and eastern Travis County to a district that takes in northeastern Travis, northern Bastrop and all or parts of six counties that lead to Houston. The new district takes in many more Republicans, according to past elections.
The map unveiled Thursday allows Republicans to increase the GOP base for U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio, by moving Democratic-leaning Latinos out of his district. To protect against criticism that the move harms Latinos' voting rights, the mapmakers paired those voters with some Central Texas voters in a new, Latino-dominated district that runs from Central Texas to the Mexican border.
But helping Bonilla was only one factor that sealed Central Texas' fate.
Another was the creation of a new West Texas district that could be won by someone from Midland, Speaker Tom Craddick's hometown. To capture the 651,619 residents required for each district, mapmakers drew the district east from the New Mexico border to the Hill Country. Also, with three districts stemming from Travis, Republicans were determined that two of them would favor Republicans.
Already, western Travis County is represented by U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio. And Republicans representing Williamson County were opposed to attaching any part of Travis County to their congressional district. That meant mapmakers could only draw east to create another Republican district and splinter the Democratic stronghold of Travis County.
The decision to split the county was a reversal from previous maps that left Central Texas largely unchanged. At the time, the Republican mapmakers argued that keeping the region whole was the best bet against legal challenges.
But at the insistence of U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, the state's GOP leadership switched to support splitting Central Texas, except for the Republican stronghold of Williamson County.
Federal law prohibits diluting minority voting strength, but the final legal test will be statewide impact on minority voters. To offset criticism that they were hurting minorities in the Dallas-Fort Worth area or along the Mexico border, Republicans will point to the new Latino district and other minority districts around Houston.
"I think we helped focus on adding minority representation," said U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, who accompanied DeLay on his three days of steering state leaders' negotiations this week. "That's been our contribution."
Democrats dispute the GOP's contention that minorities will get more representation in Congress. They argue the GOP map actually reduces minority districts from 11 to 10 and isolates other minority voters in Republican districts.
Eventually, the U.S. Department of Justice and the federal courts will decide who's right.
Today, the Legislature is expected to debate the issue that has been stalled for six months, first by Democrats fleeing the state to avoid a vote, and later by the Republican impasse.
Republicans also are prepared to move the March 2 primaries to March 9, according to House Bill 1. The move will likely mean that the presidential matchup for the 2004 election will be determined before Texans cast their nominating votes.
Gov. Rick Perry said the new map is needed because the Democrats' 17 to 15 advantage in the state's congressional delegation is rooted in Democratic-drawn maps.
"For too long, millions of Texans have lived in gerry- mandered districts that were drawn to protect incumbents rather than the public interest," Perry said. "Starting today, the voters of Texas can know that their power to choose their congressman or congresswoman will not be hampered by an incumbent protection scheme."
Travis County Democrats don't see it that way.
Austin Rep. Dawnna Dukes and Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos said the capital has little in common with Houston suburbs or border towns.
"Under the Republican map, Austin may no longer be represented in Congress by an Austin resident," Barrientos said. "I say 'may.' I would bet money that we probably wouldn't."
On the other hand, Democratic lawmakers from South Texas express fear that Travis County may dominate the new, Latino district.
Rep. Jack Stick, R-Austin, defended the map as giving Democrats a voice in the South Texas district and Republicans a voice in the other districts.
"In the end, I think as much representation as we can get Travis County in Washington, the better," Stick said.
The change is a boon for Bonilla, who won re-election last year with less than 52 percent of the vote in a district that stretches from San Antonio to Laredo and west almost to El Paso. His strongest support came from Anglo voters in Bexar County, not from Hispanics along the border.
By removing part of Laredo and adding three Hill Country counties around Kerrville, the Republicans dropped the number of Hispanics and expanded Bonilla's Republican base.
Williamson County was a winner because it will be the population center of a Central Texas district. The county's Republican lawmakers fought to keep their county intact.
Travis County never had a strong advocate at the negotiating table. Travis County Democrats chose to fight redistricting altogether, so they were excluded when Republicans were drawing the final map. Travis County's Republicans in the House took little active role in the mapmaking.
Sen. Jeff Wentworth, a San Antonio Republican whose district includes southern Travis County, shifted his support behind the GOP map although he had said he would oppose further fracturing Travis County. He said getting more support for President Bush in Congress was more important.
At a news conference Thursday, House Democrats said the map will polarize Texans along racial lines.
"It was designed to put a face that is a black or brown face on the Democratic Party so they can play the race card whenever they want to play it," Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, said. "We have a group of charlatans running our state government."
Is House changing the rules on maps?
Dewhurst says yes, though some in Senate say deal is in the works
By Laylan Copelin
October 2, 2003
Even as Gov. Rick Perry tried to tamp down Republican infighting over congressional boundaries, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst on Thursday likened negotiating with Speaker Tom Craddick and the House to bargaining with an Iranian cabdriver.
"At this late hour, I think we need to come together . . . and stop playing the Iranian cabdriver negotiations where you get what you want, then you start adding two or three other requests," Dewhurst said at a news conference.
The Senate leader's comments came after Perry urged both sides to cool their rhetoric and complete a deal on a new state map by Monday so the March 2 primaries won't be delayed.
Despite the escalation in Dewhurst's rhetoric, Senate sources reported a breakthrough in the negotiations and alerted reporters that a deal could be struck as early as today.
The Senate on Thursday offered the House two proposals. One keeps Travis County divided between U.S. Reps. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, and Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio. The other splits the county among three districts that would run to Mexico, San Antonio and toward Houston. The House's chief negotiator, Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, already has said he favors a statewide approach that would divide Travis County at least three ways. That approach also would make it easier to defeat the senior Democrat in Congress, Martin Frost of Arling- ton.
Negotiators from the House and Senate were expected to work overnight Thursday for the second night in a row.
Democrats control 17 of the state's 32 congressional districts under a 2001 court-drawn map. Republicans think they can win four or six additional seats with new boundaries.
Relations between the Senate and House have been strained all year even though Republicans control both chambers.
Since May, the Democrats distracted the Republicans from their own infighting by boycotting the Legislature twice over congressional redistricting. But with the Democrats back, the Republicans are focused only on one another.
Craddick has insisted on a congressional district for his hometown of Midland and is willing to delay the March 2 primaries if necessary.
He said his region has been unfairly represented ó often split between congressional districts ó for 40 years.
"I want a district in West Texas that represents the people I represent," Craddick said. "I'm here for my district."
Dewhurst said the Senate thought it had offered Craddick what he wanted, only to get more demands for other areas around the state.
"The current leadership of the House seems to have a style of negotiating in which they wait until the last minute, then try to pile on additional requests," Dewhurst said. "I'm not even sure they've begun nego- tiating."
Craddick denied that he has focused on Midland to the detriment of the rest of the state or that he is negotiating in bad faith. He said the House has offered several statewide maps with compromises: "They haven't been acceptable, or we haven't gotten an answer."
Dewhurst accused the House of refusing to schedule negotiations on legislation other than redistricting until Craddick gets his West Texas district, a charge Craddick's office denied.
The sniping among Republicans came as the Senate debated rules to prevent future senators from boycotting as 11 Democrats did when they stayed in Albuquerque, N.M., for 45 days this summer rather than vote on redistricting.
The Senate narrowly approved rules that would strip a senator of the privileges of seniority if he or she is absent for three days without an excuse. Office space, parking and rituals such as being governor of the day are based on seniority. The Senate, by a 16-to-12 vote, rejected a proposal to fine absent senators $1,000 a day.
The new rules, offered by Sen. Chris Harris, R-Arlington, would allow a lieutenant governor to ask the Texas Supreme Court for a court order ó a writ of mandamus ó to make a senator show up.
Debate at times was snippy between Democrats who had boycotted and Republicans who had tried to punish their missing colleagues. A couple of times, Dewhurst motioned Republican senators to restrain their comments as Democrats questioned the motives behind the rules.
When one of the boycotting senators, Judith Zaffirini of Laredo, pressed Harris about the effect of the court order, he said, "I have no answers for you, Zaffirini."
Polls indicate the players in the
bitter Texas battle over congressional redistricting may pay a heavy price
in the next election, but the biggest loser may be the state itself.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. ñ It wasn't supposed to last this long.
More than three months into the Legislature's unprecedented standoff over congressional redistricting, experts and insiders say it's clear that Republicans and Democrats have misjudged the other party's willingness to fight ñ and fight some more.
With 11 quorum-busting Democrats holed up in New Mexico stymieing action on adopting a new, GOP-friendly map, observers see miscalculations on both sides:
ï Republicans might have underestimated the resolve of their opponents, most of them Hispanic, that stems, in part, from a scrappy brand of South Texas politics that extols the noble fight.
ï Democrats might have underestimated the GOP's willingness to resort to scorched-earth tactics in a battle closely followed by national leaders.
That leaves the Legislature in a seemingly hopeless political deadlock, with neither side hinting at the possibility of compromise.
The AWOL Democrats spent their 21st day in political exile Sunday. Both sides vow not to surrender.
"I agree that we did underestimate each other," Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, said last week in Irving. "As time goes on, we're all getting very frustrated, especially with the fact that the Democratic senators left."
Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the Washington-based Rothenberg Political Report, called the Texas standoff "the ultimate fight."
"It's a fight for political power and survival," he said.
Democrats hold a 17-15 edge in the Texas congressional delegation, despite Republican dominance in state politics.
The GOP wants a new map to assure the election of 20 or 21 Republicans at the expense of veteran Democratic representatives, all of them white men.
House Democrats fled to Oklahoma for four days in May to kill action on a new map during the Legislature's regular session.
In a special session called for July, Democrats used Senate rules to bury the issue, and Gov. Rick Perry immediately called another session.
The 11 Senate Democrats lit out for Albuquerque on July 28 because Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the Senate's presiding officer, was lifting a key rule to allow a simple GOP majority to muscle through a new map. Previously, it took two-thirds of the chamber before legislation could be considered.
Why Democrats won't quit
Democrats have used the plight of the minority voter as their battle hymn.
Of the 11 Democrats, two are black, two are white and the rest are Hispanic, mostly from South Texas.
Sen. Juan Hinojosa of McAllen says the fight is more about "heart" than politics.
"We take pride in standing up for our rights and for the minorities we represent," he said. "We won't give up."
"They don't understand our resolve, and they don't understand our people," said Sen. Judith Zaffirini of Laredo. "Where we come from, if you get hit, you get up and hit back."
Some speculation in political circles had the AWOL Democrats returning from Albuquerque after one, maybe two weeks of living in their hotel headquarters.
Nearing the end of the third week of the Democrats' boycott, San Antonio's Leticia Van de Putte, chairwoman of the Senate Democratic Caucus, said some Republicans didn't think the Democrats were tough enough.
"For some reason, they thought we came down here for a show," she said. "But we're here because we have to do whatever it takes to stop redistricting."
Jerry Polinard, a political science professor at the University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg, said the stakes are too high for Democrats to fold.
More Republican congressmen from Texas could lead to a more conservative national agenda that runs contrary to the minority constituents represented by the Texas 11.
"They are aware of the impact," he said. "They know that there are national implications."
During legislative hearings on redistricting around the state, members of various civil rights groups, including the NAACP, testified against a plan that would elect more Republicans to Congress.
"It really would affect services if there is a big change made in Washington," said U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas. "It's a distinctive difference between the philosophies of Democrats and Republicans. There is a majority of Republicans there already. If more are added, it can be disastrous."
Charles Elliott, a retired political science professor from Commerce, agreed.
"It's not just a matter of redistricting," he said. "It's a matter of being able to hang on and not be steamrolled."
Some Republicans were surprised that members of the Senate ñ called the Legislature's "upper chamber" ñ used rough-and-tumble, House-like tactics against the Republican majority.
"We're standing up for ourselves," Ms. Van de Putte said. "We will not be deterred from working for the people."
But Mr. Dewhurst still questions the Democrats' toughness, explaining that visiting well-wishers such as country music legend Willie Nelson have given them a morale boost.
"The presence out in Albuquerque has fueled them," he said. "They are rock stars, so they stayed a little longer."
Why Republicans won't quit
Clearly in their political prime, Texas Republicans vow to give no quarter in the fight. They know Washington is watching their performance, because the stakes are high nationally.
"It comes down to who's in charge," said Jim Ellis, head of Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's political action committee.
The latest proposal waiting for Senate consideration would give the GOP up to 22 congressional seats and make it more difficult for Democrats to regain control of the U.S. House.
"If the Republicans get more seats from Texas, there is no way the Democrats will be able to take back the House in 2004," said David Bositis, a senior analyst for the Washington-based Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. "Democrats know that without Texas, they won't be able to take back the House. They are both fighting for the same thing."
Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, a prime legislative sponsor of the redistricting plan, said his immediate goal was to keep the U.S. House under Republican control.
"I want to make sure when President Bush is elected that [California Minority Leader] Nancy Pelosi doesn't become speaker," Mr. King said. "If we send four, five or six more representatives to Congress from Texas, it would make it difficult for Democrats to make up the difference."
Republicans also are motivated by the mushrooming Hispanic population in Texas and the difficulty that could pose for the GOP's ability to hang on to congressional seats through the decade.
"The next six years are important to Texas Republicans," Mr. Bositis said, "although the immediate battle is for 2004."
Federal judges developed the existing map based on the 2000 census, after the 2001 Legislature could not settle on a plan. Barring more unusual moves, redistricting would occur again after the 2010 census.
Republicans say their resolve to prevail should not be questioned.
Mr. Perry has said that he would keep calling legislators back for special sessions, setting up a scenario in which Democrats might have to constantly leave the state to break quorums.
To turn up the heat, Mr. Dewhurst and Senate Republicans have taken the unprecedented step of fining the absent Democrats up to $5,000 a day for each day they are not in session.
Republicans are also taking Democrats' Capitol parking spots and cutting their staff budgets.
"I'm shocked at the actions that our colleagues back in Austin have taken," said Frank Madla, D-San Antonio. "I didn't think I would ever see the state of Texas in this type of a situation."
Mr. Ellis said the GOP was prepared to take other extraordinary steps to ensure new congressional districts. Those include moving filing and primary dates for next year's congressional elections, thwarting any Democratic tactics to stall redistricting until it was too late for 2004 elections.
Viewing the odds of approving a redistricting plan in his favor, Mr. Dewhurst has asked Democrats to return to Austin and negotiate or debate a "fair plan."
"Redistricting is going to happen, whether it's in this session or another," Mr. Dewhurst said. "I urge our colleagues to come back to work and help us work on a fair plan."
Democrats remain defiant.
"I would have thought he'd gotten the message by now," said Sen. Royce West of Dallas. "We're staying here for 30 days."
E-mail [email protected]
State Supreme Court is asking for legal briefs Monday on whether runaway Democrats can be forced back to the state.
Some see it as a move of desperation. Others say it is simply a matter of course. But one thing is clear with the dueling lawsuits filed late last week in Austin: Texas lawmakers are at a stalemate.
The months-long battle over redistricting has now moved to the courts, with both sides hoping for some validation for their actions.
The Republicans are asking the state Supreme Court to force runaway Democrats back to Texas, and the Democrats are asking a state district court to find that Republican Gov. Rick Perry violated the state constitution by calling for an "emergency special session" when no emergency existed.
The Senate has been shut down since July 28, when 11 Democratic senators broke quorum and fled the state to keep the legislature from passing a Republican-sponsored congressional redistricting plan.
It's the second time the issue has come before the legislature this year, and the second time Democrats have quashed the vote by refusing to show.
Now the courts are being asked to untangle it all. The lawsuits deal not only with the fundamental issues of how state government should run, they also raise important questions about the separation of power among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government.
Can the governor, representing the executive branch, call an emergency special session of the legislature when, according to Demo-crats, no emergency exists? Or can the state Supreme Court, representing the judicial branch, force the quorum-busting senators back from Albuquerque, N.M.?
While the Founding Fathers had no idea what specific questions would arise when they divided the federal government into three separate branches, they did so saying control by one was "the quickest road to tyranny."
"In general, courts know that the separation of power is important enough to allow branches to settle their own disputes," says Paul McGreal, a constitutional law expert at the South Texas College of Law in Houston. "Unless there is something in the constitution for the court to hang its hat on, it should refuse to hear the case."
Whether it will intervene will soon become clear. The Texas Supreme Court has given the Democrats until Monday to respond to the Republicans' lawsuit, but some are questioning whether the all-Republican high court can serve as an impartial referee.
"The justices are going to be tugged between their Republican inclinations and this very strong judicial practice of declining to mess in political affairs," says Gary Keith, a lecturer in the department of government at University of Texas at Austin.
But M. Renea Hicks, the lawyer who is working on the Democrats' response, says Texas has one of the most rigid separation of power provisions of any state and believes the conservative justices will follow those provisions closely.
"The judiciary in Texas has no basis and no constitutional authority for intervening in this argument," says Mr. Hicks. "The only authority for compelling a legislator to appear falls to the legislative branch."
He says courts have shied away from intervening in similar cases. Judges in general are reluctant to get involved in political matters involving another branch of government.
If the Texas courts refuse to hear the lawsuits and the legislature is not able to pass the redistricting plan, experts believe the issue will be settled in the next election.
"If Texans believe what the Democrats are doing is bad, then they will pay for it in the next election," says Professor McGreal.
Texas Democrats are trying to drag President Bush into a bitter dispute in his home state, calling on Bush to intervene to stop a Republican attempt to redraw the boundaries of the state's 32 congressional districts for a second time in the last three years.
In a letter addressed to Bush at his Texas ranch, 11 Democratic state senators who fled to New Mexico to prevent passage of the GOP redistricting plan accused Bush's chief political strategist, Karl Rove, of playing a key behind-the-scenes role in orchestrating "a blatantly partisan and grossly unfair re-redistricting scheme."
"Your continued silence [on the Texas dispute] is being interpreted by thoughtful Americans as complicity or as tacit approval," the senators wrote on special stationery bearing the title "The Texas 11."
A White House spokesman said in reply yesterday: "While the president always maintains an interest in Texas, he currently is concentrating on governing all of America." When White House spokesman Scott McClellan was asked about the dispute last Monday, he called it "a matter that the state of Texas is addressing."
"We'll leave it to the state of Texas to address that," McClellan said. The redistricting dispute has paralyzed the state legislature.
Redistricting is normally done the year after the census, but in 2001, when Democrats still controlled the Texas House, the two parties deadlocked, and new lines were drawn by a panel of federal judges. Democrats emerged from the 2002 elections with a 17-to-15 advantage in the state's U.S. House delegation.
But since then, the GOP has taken over the Texas House -- which has already rammed through one version of a new redistricting plan -- and controls the entire redistricting process. A Republican attempt to redraw the district lines during the legislature's regular session this year was thwarted when more than 50 House Democrats bolted to a motel in Oklahoma near the end of the session, depriving the House of a quorum to conduct business.
Bush's successor, Republican Gov. Rick Perry, has called two special, 30-day legislative sessions to deal with redistricting. In the first, Senate Democrats blocked the GOP plan because of a Senate procedure requiring a two-thirds vote to consider any new legislation.
But when Perry called a second special session, Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the presiding officer of the Senate, announced that the two-thirds procedure would be suspended. In response, the 11 Democrats fled to a hotel in Albuquerque, preventing a quorum in the Senate.
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) is widely seen as the driving force behind the GOP redistricting plan, which could result in a gain of five or more congressional seats for the Republicans. Dewhurst has acknowledged discussing tactics with Rove, but the exact role of the White House strategist in the dispute has remained murky.
In their letter to Bush, the 11 Democratic senators said the GOP redistricting plan "smacks of blatant racism by Republican leaders" because of its likely impact on minority voters. Democrats charge that the plan would dilute the votes of about 1.4 million black and Hispanic voters by "packing" them into a handful of congressional districts. "Clearly you recognize the increasing significance of the Hispanic and African American vote in national elections because you sought our help in Texas," the senators said. "Early on, you vowed to unite, not divide. Today your Texas successors threaten to divide us as never before in our state's history. This flies in the face of your national Latino outreach programs. With all due respect, Mr. President, you cannot have it both ways."
Last week the two sides took their dispute to court. Perry and Dewhurst asked the Texas Supreme Court to order the missing Democratic senators to return to Austin. The 11 senators filed suit in Travis County contending that Perry had no authority to call a special session on redistricting and asking for a ruling that they could not be arrested if they return to the state.
Staff writer Mike Allen in Crawford, Tex., contributed to this report.
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- Thousands gathered Saturday to rally against a Republican push to redraw state congressional lines and in favor of the Democratic state senators who fled to New Mexico to scuttle the effort.
``The people of Texas said 'no' once (Republicans) started drawing the maps,'' said protester Ginger McGilvray. ``They said 'no' with a strong voice and they didn't listen,'' ``So here we are, standing out here ... to show that we mean it.''
Despite muggy temperatures that neared 100 degrees, between 2,000 and 4,000 protesters rallied at the Capitol and cheered relatives of the 11 Democrats holed up in an Albuquerque hotel. Their absence has brought the Senate to a standstill because the 31-member chamber needs two-thirds of its members present to conduct business.
Several protesters chanted ``Recall Rick,'' referring to Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who has called two special sessions to take up congressional redistricting. The first effort failed after House Democrats fled to Oklahoma.
In Albuquerque, meanwhile, the absent senators received VIP treatment from a big fan -- country star Willie Nelson.
Nelson offered his fellow Texans front-row seats for Saturday night's sold-out concert an Albuquerque casino and resort, and met two of them backstage before the show.
``I think they're great,'' Nelson told The Associated Press. ``I think they're heroes and we're all very proud of them.''
``We're your outlaws, buddy,'' Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos said.
Republicans and Democrats are clashing over congressional boundaries drawn up by federal judges after lawmakers failed to come up with their own map in 2001.
Democrats argue they are not constitutionally required to redraw the lines, and that proposed maps would disenfranchise minorities and rural Texas.
``They are fighting for a Texas that I want to be a part of -- a Texas that recognizes voting rights, minority rights and above all democracy,'' Nicole Van de Putte said at the rally. Her mother, Leticia Van de Putte, is the Senate Democratic Caucus chairwoman and one of the senators who left the state.
Rep. Jim Dunnam, one of the Democrats who fled to Oklahoma, offered his support to the senators.
``It's hot ... But, I tell you what, it is August and it is noon and we're going to tell Governor Gridlock and the (U.S. House Majority Leader Tom) DeLay that we can take the heat if it takes all summer, all fall and the rest of the winter,'' Dunnam said.
DeLay has implored the Texas Legislature to redraw congressional lines to reflect the state's GOP majority. Democrats currently hold a 17-15 advantage in the state's congressional delegation.
A handful of Republicans attended the rally to voice support for the redistricting effort.
``Republicans voted for governor, lieutenant governor, Texas Senate, Texas House and Texas resident President Bush is commander in chief,'' said Dana Petroni. ``Redistricting is a legislative process not a judicial process.''
One woman carried a sign that read: ``Deserters, Duty Dodgers, Get back to work!!''
AUSTIN, Texas Aug. 7 ó Eleven Senate Democrats in out-of-state exile challenged Gov. Rick Perry's authority to call the current special legislative session, and the governor later Thursday made his own court filing asking the Texas Supreme Court to order the lawmakers home.
The Democrats, who are holed up in a New Mexico hotel, filed suit in Travis County District Court, also asking that state officials or their deputies be prohibited from arresting them should they return to Texas.
No details were immediately available about the Supreme Court filing by Attorney General Greg Abbott on the governor's behalf.
Sen. Royce West said the Democrats are challenging Perry's authority to call the special session on redistricting because the Texas Constitution allows governors to call special sessions only in extraordinary situations.
"It's our contention that if you have a legal map in place that's been approved in federal court and defended by the attorney general, then extraordinary occasions do not exist," West said.
Lawmakers during the 2001 legislative session failed to draw congressional district boundaries so federal judges drew up the plan. Two Republican-led attempts this year to get a new map have failed.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst called the Democratic lawsuit "frivolous and politically motivated."
Shortly before Perry called his second special session last week on redistricting, the 11 Senate Democrats fled the Capitol to bust a quorum.
Their absence has brought the Senate to a standstill because without them the chamber does not have enough members to take up business. The Senate has 31 members and two-thirds must be present to conduct business.
Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, among the Democrats staying in Albuquerque, said part of the suit that seeks to allow the exiled Democrats back into the state without fear of arrest simply seeks clarification.
A state judge has ruled that Department of Public Safety did not have the authority to arrest members of the state House to enforce a quorum in that chamber. The ruling stemmed from the May walkout by more than 50 House Democrats to thwart redistricting efforts.
The DPS troopers had been dispatched to try to find the House Democrats. They could not bring them back from Oklahoma because they did not have authority to do so since the Democrats were in another state.
Dewhurst has said that if the Texas Democrats return to the state he will ask that they be compelled to return to the Senate chamber.
AUSTIN ñ As the battle over congressional redistricting deadlocked a second time, with no resolution in sight, both sides paused Friday to calculate the political risks of a third go-around.
"This is for all the marbles," said Democratic pollster Jeff Montgomery. "It's for keeps. And there will be no turning back."
Democrats used the Senate's traditional requirement of a bipartisan consensus and a key Republican senator's defection to thwart passage of a new congressional map in the special session. House Democrats staged a boycott in May to block a new plan during the regular session that ended June 2.
On Friday, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst pronounced the GOP's remap effort dead in the special session that began June 30 and will end Tuesday.
"We didn't have the votes to bring it up," Mr. Dewhurst said, though he reiterated that Republicans probably would in a second special session because he wouldn't require a two-thirds vote, as is customary, for a bill to be brought up on the Senate floor.
A spokeswoman said Gov. Rick Perry has not decided yet to call another session.
Strategists have advised Mr. Perry to first make sure there is agreement within his own Republican Party on a new congressional map and enough time for it to clear federal review and be in place for next year's elections.
Meanwhile, 11 Democratic senators waited for Mr. Perry to make a decision before they consider whether to show up for a second special session.
"It's premature to discuss any location or where we would possibly go because the decision has not been made," said Sen. Leticia Van De Putte, D-San Antonio and chairwoman of the Senate Democratic Caucus. She said Democrats would discuss a boycott this weekend.
Political scientists and polltakers agreed that few voters care deeply yet about the prolonged redistricting battle, though they differed about whether the public eventually will punish one side or the other.
"It's an activist fight," said Bruce Buchanan, a political science professor at the University of Texas at Austin. "The mass public does not have a way to relate to how redistricting is affecting their interest."
Mr. Buchanan said he was surprised that Republicans and Democrats are not spending advertising dollars to sway the public to their side.
Democrats packed field hearings with critics of the push for a new redistricting plan by such Washington Republicans as U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Sugar Land and senior White House adviser Karl Rove.
For instance, at seven meetings the Senate held across the state, 89 percent of the 2,620 witnesses opposed any change in the congressional maps drawn by federal judges two years ago, after the Legislature failed to produce a plan.
Ordinary Texans may not be aware of the redistricting battle at all, said Mr. Montgomery and Mike Baselice, a GOP pollster in Austin.
However, Cal Jillson, political science professor at Southern Methodist University, said he thinks a good many voters are watching the spectacle at least sporadically and with casual interest.
"The public is sitting back, sort of bemused at this point," Dr. Jillson said. "It's having a hard time sorting out fact from fiction. Republicans say it's a matter of fairness, that they've got 58 percent of the vote in this state. ... Democrats say this is a heinous act of political hardball."
Although Dr. Jillson predicted a second session would bring "a partisan explosion" that could damage one party or the other, Mr. Baselice, who polls for Mr. Perry, said "the downsides are minimal" for Republicans and probably for Democrats, too.
"I don't know how it's going to stack up against other issues," Mr. Baselice said.
"Probably, it's not that powerful a deal. ... I wish I could sit here and tell you here's somebody that lost an election because of redistricting ... because of the way they voted or how they conducted themselves during the debate. I can't think of one."
The public views redistricting "as a political issue," which doesn't affect paychecks or quality of life, he said.
Mr. Montgomery, the Democratic pollster, and SMU's Dr. Jillson said they were surprised that Mr. Perry had called the first special session without having made sure beforehand that a map would pass.
"This has been a fairly ineffectual performance by the Republican leadership in Austin," Dr. Jillson said.
Mr. Montgomery said Mr. Perry had "mediocre" rankings with the public in a recent survey. But he attributed the lack of enthusiasm for the governor to the state's $9.9 billion budget shortfall and Mr. Perry's low profile during the recent regular session, not to his handling of redistricting.
Dr. Jillson said Republicans could get too greedy, drawing a map to boost their current 15 seats to as many as 22 of the 32 seats in the state's congressional delegation, only to have it overturned by federal judges on the grounds that it diluted minority voters' voices.
"When the adrenalines starts to flow, as it is down there now, it's hard for these guys not to overreach," he said.
GOP consultant Mr. Baselice said "you're going to hear that type of rhetoric," but it won't be persuasive with voters.
"I don't think anybody's trying to get back at Democrats for their gerrymander districts that were partisanly drawn in the 1990s and in the 1980s," he said.
Mr. Montgomery said assessments of damage are premature.
"This opera is only in the second act, and perhaps about to go into the third act," he said. "There's any number of scenarios that might play out."
AUSTIN -- A state Senate committee today approved, on a party-line vote, a congressional redistricting map that would increase Republican representation from Texas in the U.S. House.
The map approved 4-3 by the Senate Jurisprudence Committee would create 22 districts with Republican voting histories and 10 with Democratic histories, and probably would result in the defeat of several incumbent Democratic U.S. representatives. The Texas delegation now comprises 17 Democrats and 15 Republicans.
The bill's future is uncertain in the current special session because Senate rules are in place that require a two-thirds vote -- 21 of the 31 senators if all are present -- to bring a bill up for debate. Ten of the chamber's 12 Democrats and one Republican have said they would vote against debate, which would be enough to kill the bill.
That vote is expected Friday.
Gov. Rick Perry has signaled that he will call another special session to consider redistricting if it dies in this session, and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate, has said he might not employ the two-thirds provision if there is another session.
Senate Democrats have not ruled out boycotting the next session, as House Democrats did in the regular session last spring when they fled to Oklahoma to kill a redistricting bill in that session.
The state House has passed a redistricting bill in the special session, and differences in Senate and House versions eventually would have to be reconciled in a conference committee.
Both versions have similar effect on Houston-area districts, most notably slicing U.S. Rep. Chris Bell, D-Houston, out of his district to reduce his chances for re-election.
By drawing boundaries that move the homes of Bell and 95,000 other Anglos out of the 25th District while increasing the district's black population, Republicans say they have created a district that a black politician can win. But more than anything, they hope they have created a district that Bell cannot win.
"It wasn't drawn on a racial basis. It was drawn on politics. It was drawn to defeat Chris Bell," said Jim Ellis, a political aide to U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land. DeLay is pushing redistricting to increase Republican representation in the U.S. House.
DeLay and others argue that the Democratic majority in the Texas delegation is unfair in light of the GOP dominance of statewide offices and the state Legislature.
Bell spokesman Eric Burns said the congressman has not looked at his re-election chances in any of the GOP proposals.
The new 25th District would be numbered the 9th under the Senate map passed today, and the 25th designation would go to a district in South Texas.
Predominantly Anglo neighborhoods including West University Place, Braeswood Place, Meyerland and the Medical Center, no longer would be in the district. Bell's residence would be in the heavily Republican 7th District represented by U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston.
The new district picks up a large black population in the Sunnyside area from the southern end of the 18th District, represented by U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee.
The district's black voting-age population would be 36 percent, compared with 22 percent in the existing 25th.
The district would lose Anglo areas of eastern Harris County and pick up mixed ethnic neighborhoods around Alief.
The redrawn district would include almost half the people who are Bell's constituents now. But for Bell, who is out and who is in may be crucial.
Bell defeated Houston City Councilman Carroll Robinson 59 percent to 41 percent in the 2002 Democratic primary runoff. But redistricting computers at the Texas Legislative Council show the areas Bell won are mostly out of the proposed district, while the ones Robinson won are in.
Robinson, who is black, could not be reached for comment.
Democrats dismiss Republican claims that the new map creates a black district. They say Bell could move back into the district and win re-election as an incumbent.
Democrats make the same argument for Houston's 29th District, which is almost 60 percent Hispanic.
GOP proposals would cut U.S. Rep. Gene Green's residence out of the district, and Republicans say that would create an open Hispanic seat. But the district's voters have elected Green, an Anglo, for a decade.
Ellis said it may be difficult for minorities to defeat incumbents in the two districts, but he said it is not impossible.
"If they choose to move into those districts and take an opportunity from an African-American or a Hispanic, that is something they will have to deal with," Ellis said.
Ellis said the maps were driven in part by a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that gives protected status to minority-influence districts -- those where Hispanic or black voters can affect the outcome of elections, even if an Anglo is elected. Bell's district and the 24th, represented by U.S. Rep. Martin Frost, D-Dallas, fit that category, Ellis said.
Now 11 districts are minority-influence or actually represented by minorities. Ellis said GOP redistricting proposals would retain that number as required by the federal Voting Rights Act.
Frost, a national Democratic leader, is a major Republican target. To eliminate his district and increase Republican representation in other parts of the state while retaining 11 minority districts, Republicans are drawing maps they say create minority districts in Houston -- the 25th and 29th -- and a new Hispanic district in South Texas.
Democrats do not agree that the GOP Republican proposals would be acceptable under the Voting Rights Act, designed to prevent dilution of minority voting strength.
Any redistricting plan that passes the Legislature almost certainly will face a court challenge.
Houston Chronicle reporter Clay Robison contributed to this report.
It appears that the Congressman Tom DeLay, Governor Rick Perry, and Lt. Governor David Dewhurst are determined to force redistricting on the state of Texas, regardless of public support or not.
Despite hearing mass opposition during public hearings throughout the state, anti-redistricting testimony in Senate committee hearings, and what appears to be less than a majority (21) of Senators willing to support a redistricting map, the push by the highest elected leadership in Texas continues full bore.
Perry has threatened to call a second special session if no plan comes out of the first session. Dewhurst has threatened to wave the majority vote rule on getting a plan on the Senate floor if the second session is called. Senate Democrats are now discussing an Ardmore-style walkout if a second session is called. What an expensive ($1.7 million) politically motivated mess. Maybe someone should send a bumper stick to the governor's office reminding him of our state's slogan, "Don't Mess with Texas."
Meanwhile, the Senate Jurisprudence Committee, which is charged with coming up with a map, is only one vote away from killing redistricting in committee. The seven-member committee split 4-3 on the vote last week.
I've spent several hours listening to the debate within the committee on the Internet. It has been very interesting to say the least. On Friday afternoon, city and county elected officials throughout the state testified in opposition to redistricting for more than four hours. Not one pro-redistricting person testified before the committee.
The committee will reconvene at 9 a.m. Monday. If you would like to listen or watch the testimony here's the Web address: http://www.senate.state.tx.us/bin/live.php and go to Channel 8.
The committee does have two plans that they are considering. You can turn to Page A10 of today's Empire-Tribune to see how Erath County stands. You'll see that either plan is better than the ridiculous plan that squeaked out of the House.
While I rarely have been a supporter of Senator Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio, who is not very pro open government, his redistricting plan is the best of any submitted during the special session for Erath County. Wentworth is not a member of the Jurisprudence Committee, but he appears to have the better of the two plans the committee will continue to debate on Monday.
Dave McNeely, columnist with the Austin American-Statesman, really hit the nail on the head this week when he pointed out what Texas will lose in Congress if some leading Democrats are redistricted out of office.
Chet Edwards of Waco, who has been in Congress since 1991, is the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee's subcommittee on Military Construction, the group looking at closing military bases. Edward's district encompasses Fort Hood.
McNeely goes on to say that Texans currently are ranking minority members on four full Congressional committees and eight subcommittees.
The four ranking members of full committees, the year they came to Congress, and the state whose congressman would take over include: .
Charles Stenholm, Abilene (1979) - Agriculture.Minnesota. .
Martin Frost, Dallas (1979) - Rules (agenda-setter for Congress).New York. .
Ralph Hall, Rockwall (1980) - Science.Tennessee. .
Jim Turner, Crockett (1997) - Select Committee on Homeland Security.Mississippi.
So Texans, had we rather have minority party (Democrats) senior members in Congress, or freshman majority party representation? That is really what we face with redistricting. Is what we give up with ranking Democrats, like Edwards and Stenholm worth the risk of redistricting and replacing them with Republican freshman?
MIKE COGGINS is publisher of the Stephenville Empire-Tribune. His column appears on Sundays. He may be contacted by e-mail at [email protected].
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said he thinks lawmakers will come together to approve a map, although it may not be until August.
Dewhurst's comments came Friday despite opposition from Senate Democrats to passing a congressional redistricting bill.
The current special session ends July 29.
If a redistricting bill has not been approved by then, Dewhurst has said Gov. Rick Perry will call lawmakers back for another special session.
If he does that, Dewhurst said he'll abandon a long-standing Senate tradition so that only a majority of senators would need to vote to let a redistricting bill be debated on the floor.
Traditionally, two-thirds, or 21 of the chamber's 31 senators must agree to allow a bill to come up for debate.
Republicans have a 19-12 majority in the Senate.