Gov. Rick Perry today said state lawmakers should be the ones to draw new congressional districts, not judges.
“I do think that the responsibility is with the members of the Legislature,” Perry said this morning. “To allow the courts to do that is not in the best interest of the people.”
There are six days left in the legislative session, and while Perry says he hopes lawmakers will get the job done, there is virtually no way that lawmakers can still tackle the task of congressional redistricting.
And here is the problem for Perry: The 2001 Legislature did not draw a new congressional map, leaving that job to federal courts. In 2003, Perry called lawmakers into repeated special sessions to do so.
So will he do that again? Numerous people close to Perry have said he will not.
I’m a little surprised by this. Greg has a theory (see second comment) that Perry is looking to get something from the Congressional delegation and will act when he has it. I think he may not want to get in the way of an intra-Republican pissing contest, between Lamar Smith and Joe Barton, and may just not care to have any distractions as he tries to get himself drafted to run for President. He’s usually pretty clear about what he wants and what he’ll do to get it, so it shouldn’t be too hard to tell. If the ongoing school finance negotiations fail to bear fruit and a special is needed to sort that mess out, then I don’t see how he avoids adding Congressional redistricting to the call. Will he do it just for that? So far I have no reason to believe he will, but that could change.
What’s different between now and 2001, when the Congressional map was also judicially drawn? (I seem to recall it’s been that way every time since 1971, the difference being that now Republicans have the control over the process.) In 2001, the House was still majority Democrat, and the two chambers could not agree on a bill. In addition, the Texas Congressional delegation was 17-15 D (though one of those Ds was Ralph Hall, who doesn’t count and who later switched to keep his seat), so the Republicans had a reasonable argument that the districts did not reflect the state’s political reality. (Much like Latinos have a decent argument now, not that it’s gotten them anywhere.) They also had a backup plan, which was to dominate the 2002 elections and redraw the map at that time to their preferences in the 2003 session.
The history of the 2003 legislative sessions is told as best I could at the time in my Killer D’s archive. Late in the session, some maps began to emerge, and though it wasn’t clear that anything could pass the Senate, House Democrats decided to take no chances and broke quorum on May 12, departing the state for Ardmore, OK, where they stayed for five days, returning after the House deadline for passing new bills had passed. After a number of redistricting hearings were held around the state, a special session was called to try again. After the House passed a map, everything came to a screeching halt as ten Senate Democrats plus Republican Bill Ratliff signed a letter saying they would not vote to suspend the rules and allow a redistricting bill to come to the floor. With the Senate’s two thirds rule in effect, that meant redistricting was dead for the session.
And that’s when it got even stranger. A second special session was called immediately after the first one ended, only this time with no “blocker bill”, meaning that the Senate’s two thirds rule was not in effect. This time, Senate Democrats took a powder, having previously announced their intent to do so under these conditions. They headed west to New Mexico and stayed there through the end of the second session. Two weeks after that, Sen. John Whitmire returned to Houston and announced his intent to attend Session #3; his comrades followed him home shortly thereafter and the next session was called. Finally, as time was running out in the third overtime, Tom DeLay swept into town, cracked a few heads, and got a deal done.
I give all that history to say that I can’t really think of a good reason why Rick Perry wouldn’t call a special session on Congressional redistricting. The two thirds rule in the Senate is hardly an obstacle, as they have demonstrated numerous times. There’s no way that a court will draw a friendlier map for Republicans than the Republicans themselves can. The only thing that makes sense to me is that he’s just biding his time, for whatever purpose. He waited 30 days before calling the first special session in 2003, so who’s to say he needs to act now. All I know is that if we go into 2012 with a map drawn by a three-judge panel or the like, it’ll be the biggest political mystery of recent years.
Finally, I should note that while the Senate Redistricting Committee may be fallow, other folks are taking on the map-drawing task. State Rep. Marc Veasey released a statement saying he “will present a statewide congressional redistricting map that provides the opportunity for Latino and African-American Texans to elect their candidate of choice as required by the Voting Rights Act, in recognition of the fact that minority population growth is the only reason Texas is receiving four additional congressional districts”. That’s happening at 9AM in the Speaker’s room at the Capitol. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with.
UPDATE: Welcome Kos Elections readers, and thanks very much to David Nir for the kind words. Roll Call suggests another possible reason why Perry isn’t motivated to call a special session on redistricting this time around:
If state lawmakers pass a map during special session, Perry will ultimately have control over it — and it’s likely the delegation won’t love the result. There’s still bad blood between Perry and the Texas delegation, which largely supported Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s (R) bid against the governor in 2010.
“If Perry takes control of the process, then at least you know that it will be a Republican-friendly map. It may not be a delegation-friendly map,” said one Texas GOP source close to the redistricting process. “He’s essentially let the Texas delegation know, ‘Don’t come to me with any favors.’ Read between the lines: The Congressional delegation, at least two-thirds of them, endorsed KBH in the primary.”
Never underestimate the power of spite, especially where Rick Perry is concerned.