Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Burt Solomons

Redistricting trial set for July

The San Antonio federal court has set a date in July of 2014 to resolve the litigation relating to the 2011 and 2013 redistrictings.

A federal three-judge panel in San Antonio on Friday issued a schedule for the case, mostly granting state attorneys’ wishes to have the claims regarding 2011 and 2013 redistricting maps argued in one trial. The Department of Justice and civil rights groups who waged the legal challenge, claiming the maps discriminate against minorities, had asked for a bifurcated trial process.

The trial is set to start on July 14, 2014 and “will continue day to day until complete,” U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia wrote.  The scheduling order also set a variety of pre-trial deadlines

According to the filingthe trial will first dive into remaining issues from 2011 redistricting maps and then pivot to Section 3 claims related to those plans. From there, the court will take up evidence about redistricting maps passed by the Legislature over the summer, followed by arguments over Section 3 relief based on that set of election boundaries.

Texas Redistricting noted a week earlier that the state wanted a single trial for both 2011 and 2013 but the plaintiffs wanted two separate ones; the Justice Department proposed a schedule that was a bit of a hybrid. While the state got what it wanted schedule-wise – it made the reasonable point that the two-trial schedule, with the second trial in September, could wind up interfering with the 2016 election cycle, given the inevitability of appeals and the December of 2015 filing deadline – the plaintiffs got their wish to litigate 2011 and 2013 issues separately. Their point about the players being different in each cycle – Burt Solomons was the Redistricting Committee Chair in 2011, but he retired from the Lege after that session – carried weight as the court ruled that the two would be done sequentially rather than at once.

Here’s the schedule of events as we now know them:

April 2 – Deadline for dispositive motions.

May 14 – Deadline to complete supplementation of discovery.

June 2 – Deadline for bench briefs on section 3 relief and for pre-trial disclosures.

July 2 at 8:30 a.m. – Pretrial conference.

The length of the trial is not set, with the court saying it “would continue from day to day until complete.” Mark your calendars and get ready for the action.

More on the size of the SBOE and its districts

The House Redistricting Committee is holding its hearing today on whether the 15-member State Board of Education and its ginormous districts are appropriately sized.

SBOE Districts

A House Redistricting committee will study the merits of expanding the board to creating smaller districts, which are now nearly double the size of state Senate or congressional districts.

A hearing on Tuesday is unlikely to produce a consensus as many conservatives prefer the current configuration.

Conservative blogger and retired educator Donna Garner wrote recently that a larger board will become more unwieldy, less effective and erode the influence of conservative members.

“If more SBOE districts are created, then this will mean an even better chance for the left-leaning Republicans and the Democrats in the Texas Legislature to divide up SBOE districts so that conservative influence will be marginalized,” Garner wrote.

House Redistricting Chair Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, recommended that House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, order an interim study on possible board expansion.

“What concerned me were the size of the districts and the sheer number of people in those districts,” Solomons said. “You start wondering, ‘is that just too many people, especially since they don’t have any real staff?’”

Solomons’ committee will issue a report later this year for future lawmakers to consider.

“You need to do something so there’s a sense that you’re representing the people in your district and the children in the school districts and the parents of school children,” he said. “How do you communicate with all these people?”

Actually, SBOE districts are more than twice the size of Senate and Congressional districts, as there are fewer than half as many of SBOE districts as there are the others. Garner’s complaint that a larger SBOE would mean less influence for conservatives is both accurate and what I consider a feature – it’s also the direct result of a larger SBOE being necessarily more diverse and representative of the state as a whole. As for her other complaints, it’s nigh impossible to imagine the SBOE being less effective than it already is, and the “more unwieldy” argument is just silly; the State House has ten times as many members, and for all its many flaws it generally manages to get stuff done in a short period of time.

As I’ve said before, the question is not so much whether the SBOE is the right size but why we need it to be geographically based. If it must be that way, then I’d suggest making SBOE and State Senate districts one and the same, which if nothing else would save time and money in the redistricting process. Beyond that, I have no idea what the best thing to do with it is. I look forward to seeing what the committee recommends.

Down to the wire for “sanctuary cities”

There’s an 11th hour lobbying effort to stop the “sanctuary cities” bill as it is.

As two of Texas’ most politically-involved business leaders emerged as opponents, a bill banning “sanctuary cities” lost crucial momentum Friday, raising the possibility the measure will be killed or substantially weakened before the special session of the Texas Legislature ends Wednesday.

HillCo Partners’ lobby team, led by Neal T. “Buddy” Jones, is working on behalf of Houston home builder Bob Perry and San Antonio grocery store magnate Charles Butt to alter a proposal that would permit law enforcement officers to inquire about the immigration status of people they detain, Jones’ partner Bill Miller confirmed.

Miller declined to detail the changes Jones hopes to make in the legislation, saying only that they have “given language to members” to consider including in the proposal, which would carry financial penalties for cities that prohibit law enforcement from inquiring about immigration status.

The opposition of the business leaders demonstrates a schism in the Republican Party on the issue, designated a priority by Gov. Rick Perry. Bob Perry, no relation to the governor, is a prolific Republican contributor who has given $2.5 million to the governor’s campaign coffers since 2001. HEB CEO Butt has made substantial contributions to members of both parties.

Friday, the House State Affairs Committee canceled hearings scheduled to pass the bill for the second day in a row, due to a lack of a quorum, as exhausted lawmakers returned home to tend to their businesses and families. A meeting has been scheduled for Monday, but House leaders did not rule out that a meeting could be called during the weekend if enough lawmakers return to Austin.

[…]

Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, who sponsored the measure, expressed frustration that the two businessmen are “trying to kill the bill” at such a late hour.

“It’s good to know that my good friend, Buddy Jones, and his clients, Mr. Butt and Mr. Perry, decided after six months what they think a sanctuary cities bill ought to look like,” he said. “I don’t know where they’ve been for six months.”

Well, Burt, not to put too fine a point on it but for the first 140 days they knew that Democrats would kill the bill in the Senate, so there was no urgent need on their part to do anything. With the two-thirds rule out the window for the special session, they figured they needed to get their act together, and that meant lobbying Republicans. Any questions?

Perry and Butt aren’t the only ones telling Republicans to back off, and much as it pains me to say anything nice about the likes of Norman Adams and Steven Hotze, they’re doing the right thing for mostly the right reasons, so kudos to them. If they do succeed here, however, I still believe they need to rethink their strategy going forward, because unfortunately this issue isn’t going away. In fact, unless there’s a miraculous breakthrough on windstorm insurance reform in the next 24 hours or so, it may reappear later this week. So keep fighting the good fight and all that, but try to remember that plugging your fingers into the leaks isn’t the same thing as repairing the levee. PDiddie has more.

House approves Congressional map

Once again, that was quick.

Rejecting charges that the GOP plan to redraw congressional district boundaries discriminates against minorities and punishes Austin, the Texas House just tentatively approved the partisan plan 93-48.

The new map in a revised Senate Bill 4 divides Travis County into five districts, like a plan approved earlier by the Senate.

Travis County is now in two districts.

Several amendments were offered to redrawn the map to add more so-called “opportunity districts” for African-American and Hispanic voters, but all were defeated. Several of those amendments would have put Travis County in two congressional districts.

House Redistricting Committee Chairman Burt Solomons, R-Denton, said the plan is the fairest that could be drawn. While it does not pit any incumbent congressman against each other for reelection, it targets U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, by putting him in a new district that stretches from eastern Travis County to San Antonio.

Far as I can tell from Greg’s liveblogging, the map that the House approved was basically unchanged from the committee version, with a couple of minor tweaks; see Trail Blazers and Texas Politics for more on those. Note that Greg quoted a Texas Insider story that had claimed there would be a substitute plan, Plan C161 by Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, so I went and got the 2008 and 2010 electoral data for it in anticipation. In the end, the Hilderbran Plan went nowhere and wound up getting withdrawn, which at least saved me the trouble of grabbing more images from the redistricting viewer site. No complaints there, let me tell you.

CSSB4 now moves to third reading in the House, then back to the Senate for concurment (concurrage? concurrification?) or a conference committee, then off to the Governor (assuming he can make time in his busy not-running-for-Presidential schedule), the Justice Department, and every court this side of your local JP. I will note that the special session was called on June 1, with Congressional redistricting on the call from the beginning. Today is June 14, and the map is basically finalized and will be on its way to the Governor soon. Makes you wonder what the heck took them so long during the regular session, you know?

Finally, speculation about which San Antonio might pol might run against Lloyd Doggett in CD35 seems to be centering on State Rep. Joaquin Castro, twin brother of San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro. The author of that piece misidentifies the district as CD21, but I can tell you that I heard the same speculation about Castro from a fairly plugged-in person yesterday, so I’m inclined to take it seriously. Obviously, nothing is in stone until someone files paperwork, and the inevitable Justice Department review will likely put some of this action on hold for the time being. But you can be sure that there’s a lot happening behind the scenes.

UPDATE: The Trib has more.

Plans from an alternate universe: The Veasey-West plan

Congressional redistricting, which took so long that it couldn’t be done during the regular session, has zipped through the special session, thanks in no small part to the virtual elimination of public testimony. At this point, the full House needs to pass the map that emerged from the House Redistricting Committee last week, then either the Senate must concur or a conference committee will be formed.

All this you know. What you may not know is that along the way there were some interesting alternative plans put forth by various Democratic legislators. None of them ever had a chance of being adopted, of course, but all of them served the purpose of showing what could have been for the eventual litigation. I’m going to take a look at a few of these.

We’ll start with the Veasey map, Plan C121, which was presented to the Senate by Sen. Royce West. I’ve already shown the pictures, so let’s skip ahead to the electoral numbers.

Safe R Dist Obama Houston ======================= 01 29.95 36.74 02 29.89 31.27 03 36.30 36.00 04 29.77 37.74 05 27.93 36.13 06 29.41 32.64 08 24.93 29.54 10 36.54 38.49 11 25.36 28.90 12 34.14 35.28 13 23.06 28.16 14 33.14 38.04 17 37.01 40.78 19 26.96 31.73 21 34.67 33.30 22 39.04 40.61 24 39.00 38.31 26 33.77 35.10 Likely R Dist Obama Houston ======================= 07 42.60 40.89 31 44.01 42.93 32 43.32 43.36 36 41.32 48.27 Safe D Dist Obama Houston ======================= 09 76.48 76.68 15 60.22 64.01 16 65.18 67.38 18 78.24 78.29 20 63.67 64.10 23 65.31 66.14 25 60.68 56.95 27 56.64 60.72 28 58.91 61.69 29 60.28 65.59 30 72.41 73.05 33 58.86 60.85 34 66.15 67.84 35 64.78 65.20

A spreadsheet with all the 2008 numbers is here. Arguably, CDs 27, 28, and 33 could be Likely Dem instead of Safe Dem, but as no Republican other than McCain topped 40% in any of them, I feel comfortable with this designation. CD25 is an odd duck. Obama did better than every other Democrat by up to almost seven points, but downballot Republicans didn’t best John McCain by similar amounts. It was Libertarian candidates, who got as much as 6.38% of the vote, that sopped up the extra support, while no R reached 41%. Keep Austin weird, y’all. Finally, as I expected CD31 would make for an interesting potential swing district, while CD36’s apparent Dem strength is overstated, as Jefferson and Galveston counties continue to go the wrong way.

Veasey’s plan would likely give 14 seats to the Democrats. It adds three of the four news seats to the D column – two in the Metroplex and one in South Texas – while ensuring that Blake Farenthold and Quico Canseco would be one-termers. It does not create a new Harris County seat, nor is it the most ambitious Democratic plan. We’ll see the former in the next entry.

House Redistricting committee approves modified Congressional map

Even quicker than the Senate committee.

The Texas House Redistricting Committee approved a new version of the Congressional map that makes a few tweaks, mainly in North and South Texas. But the overall goal remains the same: Maintain and expand Republican power in Washington.

The map was approved on an 11-5 party line vote in the committee, sending it to the full House. The map looks very much like the one that sailed out of the Senate Monday. But this new version would slightly reduce Hispanic voting strength in the district represented by Republican U.S. Rep. Francisco “Quico” Canseco, who faces a potentially stiff re-match in 2012 from former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, a Democrat.

The author of the map, Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, said the change was a response to “concerns of the San Antonio Hispanic community” and is meant to shore up Latino voting strength in the district held by Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, D-San Antonio. It does that by taking Latinos from surrounding districts, including District 23 held by Canseco and a newly proposed District 35.

State Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, said the changes were designed to protect Canseco, easily the most vulnerable Republican in the Congressional delegation.

“They switched some Hispanic and Anglo voters around to make the district safer for Canseco, and make it easier for Anglo voters to control the district,” Veasey said.

The House version of the map would also switch around some precincts in Tarrant and Denton Counties, changes that Veasey said would help shore up the re-election prospects of U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth.

Postcards has more. I guess I was expecting them to hold a public hearing with testimony or something before they actually voted. Silly me. The new plan is C149. Here’s what the partisan numbers look like now, with comparisons to the original plan and the one that the Senate approved:

C125 C130 C149 C125 C130 C149 Dist Obama Obama Obama Houston Houston Houston ==================================================== 01 30.40 30.47 30.47 37.01 36.39 36.39 02 35.39 35.86 35.86 38.14 36.65 36.65 03 37.37 37.37 37.37 36.79 36.79 36.79 04 29.28 29.28 29.28 37.55 37.55 37.55 05 37.31 37.28 37.21 42.07 42.05 42.01 07 39.32 39.08 39.08 38.10 37.83 37.83 08 25.43 26.08 26.14 28.59 29.40 29.44 11 23.42 23.13 23.13 28.44 28.29 28.29 13 22.24 22.24 22.24 27.48 27.48 27.48 14 34.30 41.96 41.96 39.69 47.31 47.31 19 27.94 27.94 27.94 32.32 32.32 32.32 22 35.80 37.65 37.65 36.92 38.32 38.32 26 39.44 39.33 39.33 39.64 39.64 39.55 06 41.67 41.67 42.51 44.29 44.28 45.44 10 43.81 42.77 42.59 44.14 43.41 43.23 12 42.50 42.50 43.53 43.10 43.10 44.13 17 40.71 40.94 40.94 43.98 44.08 44.08 21 42.51 42.67 42.25 40.48 40.61 40.26 24 40.55 40.54 40.54 39.91 39.91 39.91 25 42.40 42.83 42.73 43.63 43.95 43.54 27 40.78 40.31 40.12 46.28 45.85 45.75 31 42.61 42.61 42.54 42.47 42.47 42.40 32 43.79 43.79 43.80 43.63 43.63 43.67 33 42.64 42.64 41.74 43.90 43.90 42.96 36 41.02 29.58 29.58 47.46 39.30 39.30 23 47.19 47.19 47.14 49.27 49.27 49.18 15 59.15 58.43 56.36 61.90 61.19 58.91 20 58.40 58.47 58.40 58.15 58.34 58.71 34 59.11 60.29 60.52 62.85 63.87 64.10 09 76.42 76.49 76.49 76.77 76.85 76.85 16 66.44 66.44 66.44 68.68 68.68 68.68 18 79.48 79.24 79.57 78.71 78.47 78.73 28 60.40 60.91 62.09 63.33 63.82 65.12 29 65.18 65.40 64.63 70.09 70.29 69.70 30 81.87 81.89 81.89 82.08 82.10 82.10 35 60.70 60.61 61.59 61.16 60.98 61.47

Doesn’t look like Granger got much help to me. Joe Barton’s district also got a little bluer, while Blake Farenthold and Ruben Hinojosa’s got a touch redder. Quico Canseco’s CD23 got just a pinch redder – now only Linda Yanez achieved a majority there for the Dems; Susan Strawn fell short by a handful of votes – but it remains the case that every downballot Dem other than Jim Jordan got at least a plurality. CD23’s SSVR dropped a bit, from 53.65% to 53.40%, while CD20’s Charlie Gonzalez saw his go up from 50.8% to 53.64%. You can see all of the district data here, and of course Greg liveblogged the committee hearing, with salient analysis about how it all ties into the forthcoming litigation. On to the full House from here.

WaPo on Texas redistricting

The Fix makes a few curious statements about the proposed Congressional redistricting map for Texas.

Despite the Lonestar State voting 55 percent for Republicans in the 2008 presidential race, the GOP-controlled legislature’s proposed map features 26 districts that went for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) out of a total of 36 districts, according to a Fix analysis based on data from the Texas Legislative Council. That’s 72 percent of districts that favor Republicans on paper.

The big changes are the four new districts the state gained in the decennial reapportionment process thanks to its rapid population growth. Of the four, three lean Republican while one is solidly Democratic. The other big change is the shifting of Rep. Lloyd Doggett’s (D-Texas) district from a strongly Democratic district to a strongly Republican one.

The new Republican-leaning districts went 53 percent, 57 percent and 58 percent for McCain, while the Democratic district went 38 percent for McCain. Doggett’s district would go from 40 percent McCain to 56 percent.

In effect, Republicans appear to be trying to give themselves a good chance to gain three of the four new seats, leaving Democrats to gain just one.

If The Fix’s math here were correct, that would be a net gain of four Republican seats – three new ones, plus the eradication of Lloyd Doggett. As we know, however, two of the four “new” seats are Democratic – CDs 34 and 35 – so two new R seats plus Doggett’s is what takes them from 23 to 26.

The result is a map in which there are 10 very safe Democratic seats — McCain didn’t take more than 40 percent in any of them — and 26 districts that went at least 52 percent for McCain. The fact that there is no district that went between 40 percent and 52 percent for McCain suggests a carefully crafted gerrymander.

Of those 26 McCain districts, the GOP presidential nominee took less than 60 percent of the vote in 13 of them, which suggests they could be competitive under the right set of cirumstances. But 2008 was a very bad year for the GOP, and McCain’s numbers were on the low end of what a Republican presidential — or congressional — candidate will likely get in any given election cycle.

First, it’s not clear what he’s basing that statement about where McCain’s numbers might fall on the spectrum, other than perhaps a reflexive “Texas is a red state” intuition. Second, there’s a surprising amount of variation between the number of votes the Presidential candidate for a given party gets in a particular district and the amount of votes a downballot candidate gets. I’ll explore this in some depth in a future post, but trust me on this. There can be a large difference, amounting to several percentage points. Finally, as we saw in 2008, nearly all of the growth in the Texas voter pool from 2004 came from Democratic voters. That likely won’t be as big and may not be as pronounced this time, but it’s not Republican voters that have caused Texas’ population surge this decade. My belief is that Obama starts out at the level he got in 2008, and is more likely to go up than down in 2012, and that’s before we consider the possibility that he might actually campaign here.

About the closest thing to a swing district would be freshman Rep. Quico Canseco’s (R-Texas) big and rural 23rd district, running from San Antonio to El Paso. McCain’s vote share would increase from 48 percent currently to 52 percent under the new plan, though, so Canseco would have an easier time in what’s looking like a rematch with former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D).

Again, you can’t just look at the Presidential numbers. In some districts, Obama ran ahead of other Democrats. In others, including the old and the reconfigured CD23, he ran behind other Democrats. As I said before, every downballot statewide Democrat other than Jim Jordan got at least a plurality in CD23, with Susan Strawn and Linda Yanez getting majorities. This district is friendlier to Canseco than the old CD23, and I call it a Lean Republican district, but it’s far from a slamdunk for him.

Freshman Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) may not have an easy time, either. But his South Texas 27th district would undergo significant changes and would grow seven points more Republican.

(Most of Farenthold’s current district is in what would be the new 34th district, but since most of that “new” district is from Farenthold’s current district — and the new 27th is a patchwork of other districts — we and others consider the 27th to be the new district, along with the 33rd, 35th and 36th.)

Ah, here’s the math error. If you are counting CD27 as the fourth “new” district, then you must also count Farenthold’s “old” district, which is now CD34, as one that would flip from the GOP to the Democrats, much as you counted Lloyd Doggett’s old CD25 as an R pickup. Otherwise, as we saw, you credit the GOP with a four seat gain instead of three. Which is technically a two-seat net gain – they go from a 14-seat advantage (23-9) to a 16-seat advantage (26-10), assuming they can hold onto Canseco.

Among other Republicans, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions gets a two-point bump to a 55 percent McCain district in his Dallas-based 32nd; Rep. Mike McCaul (R) keeps a 55 percent McCain district in the 10th; and GOP Reps. John Carter, Lamar Smith, Kay Granger and Joe Barton all see their districts get less Republican.

Freshman Rep. Bill Flores (R) would take the biggest hit, with his 17th district dropping from one where McCain got 67 percent to one where he would have gotten 58 percent. Flores would be taking one for the team, in order to add Republicans to nearby districts. But besides he and Granger (6 percent drop), no other Republican would see his or her district drop more than 2 percent, according to the 2008 presidential numbers.

And clearly this was either written before the Senate modified the original into Plan C136, or it was written in ignorance of that, as Plan C136 makes Ron Paul’s CD14 a lot less red, at least on the surface. (Plan C141, which made no further changes to CD14, is what was eventually passed by the full Senate.) Stuff does happen over the weekend, fellas, especially when the GOP considers it to be in its interest to get things done before the public figures out what’s going on.

Who’s running for what where?

Chris Cillizza notes an old familiar face who’s back on the scene.

Former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D-Texas) is running again after losing his seat to businessman Francisco Canseco (R) last fall. Rodriguez won the seat in an 2006 special election, after the Supreme Court found that new lines drawn in 2003 violated the Voting Rights Act. Other Democrats have expressed interest in the seat, including state Rep. Joaquin Castro, state Rep. Pete Gallego, and state Sen. Carlos Uresti.

DavidNYC also noted this, as he had come across Rodriguez’s FEC Form 2 declaring his candidacy. As for the other Dems that may be interested in this race, the linked article is pre-Seliger-Solomons and thus may well be obsolete. To wit:

Congressional redistricting is under way at the Capitol, and a map proposed by key Republican legislators splits Democrat-heavy Travis County into five congressional districts, up from the current three-district split. The map puts U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, into a Republican-friendly district that stretches north from western Travis County up to the Fort Worth suburbs.

If the map becomes law — and that’s a long ways off from happening — Doggett may move into the newly created District 35, which stretches from southeastern Travis County, down through eastern Hays and Caldwell counties and into San Antonio.

Doggett would vie for the support of tens of thousands of voters whom he has never represented in Congress before. And that creates an opening for a San Antonio Democrat to try to beat him in the March 2012 primary.

“That district as drawn is probably attractive to no less than half of the Bexar County delegation from the (state) House,” said state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio. “It takes in some of the most Hispanic and Democratic neighborhoods in San Antonio.”

Martinez Fischer said the district is tempting to him but that it’s too early to decide whether to run.

A more likely candidate is probably state Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, who said he would not be deterred by a Doggett candidacy. “I’m interested in taking a very close look at it,” said Castro, a 36-year-old lawyer who has been in the Legislature since 2003 and whose brother is San Antonio’s mayor.

Other San Antonio Democrats who might give the race a look include Reps. Mike Villarreal and Roland Gutierrez, plus state Sen. Carlos Uresti.

I can say with certainty that Pete Gallego does not live in the proposed CD35, though I’m sure if the GOP could have figured out a way to extend it as far as Alpine, they would have. As for the others, I’d have to do some digging to see who actually lives where. Suffice it to say that this is a one or the other proposition for all involved.

Meanwhile, in a district that has nothing to do with any state legislators from San Antonio, another potential candidate for a new seat has emerged.

Former Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams, who announced his intention back in January to seek the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Kay Bailey Hutchison, is likely to drop out of that race and instead run for a newly created congressional seat in House District 33, which contains his hometown of Arlington, sources tell the Tribune.

[…]

According to the latest filing with the Federal Election Commission, Michael Williams’s Senate campaign raised just $418,000 in the first quarter of 2011, less than Cruz, Leppert and Roger Williams but more than Jones.

Williams’ campaign consultant Corbin Casteel, confirmed the switch was impending. “Commissioner Williams has lived in Arlington since the early 90s when he returned to Texas after working for Presidents Reagan and Bush,” Casteel said in a statement to the Tribune. “His home has been drawn into a newly created Congressional district. He has received a great deal of encouragement to transition from the Senate race to run for Congress. Provided the new district does not change significantly, he will pursue the new congressional seat.”

Well, he wouldn’t significantly change the craziness ratio of the Republican delegation, I’ll say that much. He’d fit right in, in fact. And he’d no doubt raise the spirits of bow tie wearers everywhere. Beyond that, I will hope that my assessment of CD33’s partisan potential is too pessimistic.

Senate committee approves redistricting map

That was quick.

A state Senate panel, voting along strict party lines, approved a Texas Congressional redistricting plan designed to increase Republican strength in the U.S. Congress.

The Senate redistricting committee voted 8-4 to send the map to the full Senate, which could consider the proposal as early as Monday. The vote came after hours of pubic testimony that featured heated and racially tinged exchanges.

The map was drawn to keep Republicans in all the seats they hold now, including two freshmen who won big upsets in 2010 in mostly Hispanic districts in South Texas. Using those recent gains as the baseline, the four new Congressional seats coming to Texas then would be divvied up evenly between Democrats and Republicans.

This is Plan C130, which is a modified version of the original map that fixes the ridiculous arch-shaped CD36 that even Burt Solomons admitted was a joke. I prepped a post analyzing this new map and queued it up for tomorrow morning, not imagining that the committee would take action so quickly. Live and learn. That post will be up first thing in the morning. In the meantime, read Greg‘s liveblog of the committee hearing. Postcards has more.

One more thing: Some people, like RG Ratcliffe, have suggested that the existence of this special session has given the Republicans a golden opportunity to take another crack at Congressional redistricting, which otherwise would have been left as an exercise for the courts. I say let’s look at the timeline:

May 24

The chair of the Senate Redistricting Committee, Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, just confirmed to LegeLand that it won’t happen this session.

“It’s too late to get a map through the process,” Seliger said. “The federal courts will decide [how to draw the lines]. Or if a special session is called on any subject, we will ask to have it added to the agenda.”

May 26

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.”

May 31, Day One of the special session

Congressional maps “are ready to go tomorrow morning, if [Perry] wants them” said state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo. He wouldn’t discuss the specifics of the maps, but said that he and his redistricting counterpart in the House, Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, would start with identical maps.

At the time of Seliger’s statement about not doing redistricting in the regular session, I assumed he meant there wasn’t a map that the powers that be had agreed on. It’s clear now in retrospect that the map was indeed ready, and that all that was needed was the excuse for the special session. Which we already had, thanks to the failure to reach a deal on windstorm legislation. But even if that wasn’t the case, Perry was free to call one any time, whenever he was ready. The point I’m making, which wasn’t clear to me until now, is that once Seliger and Solomons agreed on a map, we were going to have a special session to do Congressional redistricting. The only difference between this and the alternate reality in which Wendy Davis keeps quiet and lets SB1811 pass is the need to redo the school-related bills. This was always the endgame.

Solomons admits his map is a joke

OK, that’s not quite what he said, but you get the idea.

A top state Republican said Thursday that the newly proposed congressional map, which includes an odd-looking “horseshoe” district stretching from the northwestern edge of Harris County to the Louisiana border, will undergo significant changes.

“It’s a proposal, people,” said an exasperated state Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, co-drawer of the map. “I can assure you there will be some changes . . . It’s a work in progress.”

Solomons’ comments at the first committee hearing on the plan raise questions about how long the redistricting process could drag on this summer, and how contentious the effort will be. Officials said there would not be any votes in the House Redistricting Committee on Thursday.

All due respect, Burt, but what did you expect? People took it seriously because it was the map that came from not one but both of the Redistricting committees. And in case you hadn’t noticed, the final versions of the SBOE, State House, and State Senate maps are pretty close to the originals. So don’t go getting defensive about this.

Democrats aren’t the only ones who have expressed concerns about the map. State Rep. James White, a newly elected East Texas Republican, came to the committee Thursday seeking “some illumination” about why GOP leaders drew that controversial “horseshoe” seat. The district starts in central Houston, shoots west through Waller County over to Navasota, loops north through rural counties above Montgomery County — and includes the cities of Lufkin and Woodville — before settling back east and south all the way down to Port Arthur.

“We have some concerns about being anchored with any urban area and what that means for our interest in East Texas,” White told the Tribune. “Ideally we would want a rural Congressional east Texas districts that would highlight our concerns with water, transportation, health care, agriculture and timber.”

Solomons said his office had been getting phone calls about the odd-shaped district and told White he was “100 percent sure” that the map would be changed.

That district, like many others in each of the maps so far, was drawn for the sole purpose of maximizing Republican strength and cracking Democratic voting blocs. You could take the Harris County portion of that district out and make CD36 all rural and East Texas-y, but if you do you put too many Republicans in one district and leave behind a bunch of pesky Democrats that could make life and re-election hard for John Culberson or Mike McCaul or even Ted Poe. Or, heaven forfend, you might have to draw them their own district. I know, I know, it’s heresy. As for Solomon’s assurance that the map will change, I’ll believe it when I see it.

More on the Seliger-Solomons plan

Rick Dunham has a nice analysis of the proposed Congressional map that’s worth your time to read. I disagree with him on two related points.

Republicans successfully shored up three districts they captured from Democrats in the past two election cycles — those held by Pete Olson of Sugar Land, Blake Farenthold of Corpus Christi and Francisco “Quico” Canseco of San Antonio.

[…]

Rep. Joe Barton is the only Republican to be put in jeopardy by the GOP line-drawers. His Dallas-area district becomes more Hispanic and is probably a political toss-up. Barton decided to take the high road when I sought his reaction: “I think this map is a great starting point,” he said. “And it is positive that the House and Senate redistricting chairmen joined together and put forth a public map. Now open debate can begin.”

To see where I disagree, let’s look at a breakdown of the districts by 2008 electoral results. I’m using the Obama and Sam Houston numbers to divide these districts into different groups. First, the Safe Republicans:


Dist Obama Houston ======================= 01 30.40 37.01 02 35.39 38.14 03 37.37 36.79 04 29.28 37.55 05 37.31 42.07 07 39.32 38.10 08 25.43 28.59 11 23.42 28.44 13 22.24 27.48 14 34.30 39.69 19 27.94 32.32 22 35.80 36.92 26 39.44 39.64

Some of these are likely to move into the next category over time. Keep an eye on districts 7, 22, and 26, as I think they’re the best bets to be affected by demographic change over the next decade. All this is assuming this is the map we get, of course, which is no sure bet, but we do have to start the conversation somewhere. Next is what I’d call the Likely Republicans:

Dist Obama Houston ======================= 06 41.67 44.29 10 43.81 44.14 12 42.50 43.10 17 40.71 43.98 21 42.51 40.48 24 40.55 39.91 25 42.40 43.63 27 40.78 46.28 31 42.61 42.47 32 43.79 43.63 33 42.64 43.90 36 41.02 47.46

Some of these are likelier than others. Despite the high Sam Houston numbers, I don’t really think that either CDs 27 or 36 are going to be seriously in play. They just have too much rural turf. Same for CDs 17 and 33. The ones I’d keep my eye on are CDs 32, 31, 21, 12, and yes, 06. But while Smokey Joe may have a slightly more purple district in this map, he’s not the GOPer on the most shaky ground. That goes to the one Lean Republican district:

Dist Obama Houston ======================= 23 47.19 49.27

I should note that both Linda Yanez and Susan Strawn won a majority in CD23, while all downballot Dems other than Jim Jordan had pluralities. It’s redder than it was before, but it sure as heck isn’t safe.

On the Democratic side, there’s not much to see:

Dist Obama Houston ======================= 15 59.15 61.90 20 58.40 58.15 34 59.11 62.85 09 76.42 76.77 16 66.44 68.68 18 79.48 78.71 28 60.40 63.33 29 65.18 70.09 30 81.87 82.08 35 60.70 61.16

For the sake of consistency, I’d call the first three Likely Dem and the latter seven Safe Dem. I don’t really think Congressmen Hinojosa or Gonzalez has much to fear, and whether it’s a Lucio or someone else I figure the Democratic nominee in CD34 would win easily.

So as drawn, this map would elect 10 or 11 Democrats, depending on how things broke in CD23, and 25 or 26 Republicans, though I would expect several Republican held districts to become more competitive over time. Again, all of this assumes that the final map is more or less the same as this one. Even without lawsuits and a Justice Department review, surely some aspects of this map will change. For those of you in Austin or who can get there today or tomorrow, the House Redistricting Committee will have a hearing this morning at 10:45, and the Senate will have a hearing Friday at 9. Be there if you can. A statement about the proposed map from the Texas Democratic Congressional delegation is beneath the fold, and an analysis of the plan plus a statement from the Lone Star Project is here.

(more…)

The Seliger-Solomons Congressional map is out

And it’s a joke. Seriously, I can’t describe it any other way. Look at the following districts – go to http://gis1.tlc.state.tx.us/ and look up Plan C125 – and tell me how they can possibly satisfy any rational legal argument for compactness or communities of interest. Let’s start with CD36, which forms a giant Gateway-style arch from Super Neighborhood 22 up into East Texas and down around to Orange County.

CD36

Let’s continue with CD35, which basically snakes along I-35 from the northern reaches of Travis County to the southern end of Bexar County.

CD35

Speaking of I-35, if you drive it through Travis County, you change Congressional districts no fewer than seven times.

Here’s CD21, which spreads tentacles into both Travis and Bexar from the west.

CD21

You really have to zoom in on the Bexar County portions of CD21 to fully appreciate its ridiculousness. The word “fractal” comes to mind in some places. As for Travis County, it gets split into five districts under this plan. When I said that the Republicans would put a piece of Travis into every single district if they could, I wasn’t kidding.

Here’s the GOP’s attempt to save Blake Farenthold by turning his district into one that’s more Hill Country and less Gulf Coast.

CD27

There’s some similar juju with HD34, which I guess is supposed to be the Aaron Pena Special.

CD34

For what it’s worth, CD27 becomes a fairly strong Republican district, according to 2008 election data. Here’s how it stacks up against some current GOP districts:

District Incumbent Obama % Houston % ========================================== 06 Barton 41.67 44.29 10 Mc Caul 43.81 44.14 12 Granger 42.50 43.10 21 Smith 42.51 40.48 23 Canseco 47.19 49.27 25* Doggett 42.40 43.63 27 Farenthold 40.78 46.28 31 Carter 42.61 42.47 32 Sessions 43.79 43.63 33 Open 42.64 43.90 34 Open 59.11 62.85 35* Open 60.70 61.16 36 Open 41.02 47.46

Greg makes the case that CD27 is really a “new” district, much as CD25 is – it may contain Lloyd Doggett’s house, but it’s not his district in any meaningful sense – and that Farenthold is actually in CD34, with Doggett likely to aim for CD35, where he may or may not get knocked off by a San Antonio hopeful. I’ll defer to him on that, I’m just going by the existing district numbers. Some of these Republican districts are more purple than I’d have expected, and much as is the case with State House districts, it may be that in a cycle or two a few of these guys could be imperiled. It’s harder for me to say with such bigger districts, but the possibility certainly exists. Honestly, it’s a bit hard to believe this map represents a genuine consensus among Republicans, as there’s plenty more they could have done to make most incumbents safer while warding off the more obvious VRA-related complaints. But we’ll see.

Anyway, it goes on and on, with no new minority opportunity district for the D/FW area in sight, and some examples of what seems to be clearcut retrogression – CD27 goes from a district with a 59.4 SSVR percentage to one with 37.2%. I suppose you can claim that CD34 makes up for that, but still. One hopes that means this map would be a non-starter with the Justice Department. In fact, Rep. Marc Veasey, whose alternate map I showed yesterday, issued the following statement about this map:

Last week, Rep. Veasey offered the Fair Texas Plan, a congressional map that provides electoral opportunity for the Texans who earned our state four additional congressional districts and meets the requirements of the Voting Rights Act. Today, Chairman Seliger and Chairman Solomons presented Texans with their proposed congressional map.

“This map is the very definition of an unfair and illegal congressional plan, one that was constructed behind closed doors with reckless disregard for the testimony of Texans who asked for a plan that adheres to the Voting Rights Act and preserves communities of interest,” Rep. Veasey explained. “The Seliger-Solomons Plan is a slap in the face of minority voters responsible for 90% of Texas growth in the last decade.”

An initial review of the proposed plan clearly indicates that it is retrogressive and creates only 10 effective minority opportunity districts out of 36 compared to the 11 effective districts in the current 32 member plan.

“In fact, preserving only 11 effective minority opportunity districts when the state now has four additional seats due to minority population growth would still be retrogressive, and I have no doubt that a plan that has only 10 effective minority opportunity districts runs afoul of the Voting Rights Act,” Rep. Veasey said.

Across the state, this discriminatory plan splits and packs minority communities. Nowhere is that illegal scheme more apparent than Tarrant and Dallas Counties. Veasey pointed out that once again, the Southeast Ft. Worth community he represents is separated from other areas of African American growth in Tarrant County and placed in a district that would be controlled by suburban Anglo voters. This time, the North Side Hispanic community is exiled to a Denton County district and Latino voters in Dallas-Ft. Worth are split into at least seven different districts.

“A plan that splits and packs the 2.1 million African Americans and Latinos in Dallas and Tarrant Counties to provide us only one effective voice in Congress is not just illegal, it’s wrong,” concluded Rep. Veasey.

MALDEF has a similar reaction.

A coalition of Latino groups which submitted partial state maps for congressional districts blasted the Republican plan. “The Solomons-Seliger map does not increase the number of Latino opportunity congressional districts despite the fact that 65% of the State’s growth over the past decade was comprised of Latinos,” said MALDEF’s Nina Perales. “Instead, the map gerrymanders more than nine million Latinos in Texas to make sure that we have no more electoral opportunity than we did in 1991.”

And as of Tuesday evening, the issue is now on the call with a hearing scheduled for Friday. In the meantime, another lawsuit has been filed.

Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston, expressed dissatisfaction with the proposed congressional redistricting because he said it neglects Hispanic population growth in Harris County and elsewhere in Texas.

“Personally, the map is fine with me,” said Green, whose district remains largely the same. “But the reason I’m not totally happy with the plan is because I don’t think it fairly treats Harris County — and particularly the Hispanic community in Harris County. I don’t think it recognizes the huge increase in the Hispanic population.”

Green said that he and three Democratic House members from Texas who represent large Hispanic populations – Reps. Charlie Gonzalez of San Antonio, Silvestre Reyes of El Paso and Lloyd Doggett of Austin, have filed suit in federal and state courts in Austin seeking court-ordered creation of two Hispanic congressional districts in Harris County with more than 60 percent Hispanic population.

Just something to consider here: After the 1991 redistricting, subsequent litigation led to the redrawing of several districts, for which special elections had to be held in 1996. After the 2001 redistricting and 2003 re-redistricting, subsequent litigation also led to the redrawing of several districts, for which special elections had to be held in 2006. Point being, whatever map we have in 2012 is unlikely to be the map we still have in 2020.

Anyway, take a look at this map and react as appropriate. I have 2010 electoral data here, and Greg has further analysis here and here. PoliTex, Trail Blazers, and the Trib have more.

Veasey’s Congressional plan

We didn’t get a Congressional map from the Senate Redistricting Committee, though we may now get one in a special session but that didn’t stop State Rep. Marc Veasey from drawing his own before sine die.

In Veasey’s map, thirteen of the state’s 36 districts would be minority districts, all of which would lean Democrat, along with one in Travis County. The other 22 districts would lean Republican.

Veasey said he was using the “same logic” Republicans used in 2003 redistricting in arguing that 55 percent of the seats should favor Republicans because 55 percent of the state voted Republican at the time.

“A certain percentage of the population is African-American and Latino and a certain number of seats should be as well,” Veasey said.

Part of Veasey’s motivation in presenting his own map was to promote his approach to redistrict his home of southeast Fort Worth. The African-American community is still smarting from 2003 redistricting, when it was drawn into Denton County-based District 26, now held by U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Lewisville. In Veasey’s map, the community would be part of District 35, an African-American district which would also include southeast Arlington and southwest Dallas.

“I wanted to do this for folks in my district who felt they had been wronged last time,” Veasey said.

Veasey emphasized that his map still provides plenty of political opportunities for “the next young stable of leaders in the Republican Party” citing Anglo state representatives Kelly Hancock of Fort Worth, Ken Paxton of McKinney and Van Taylor of Plano.

“It doesn’t take away any opportunities from the Van Taylors and Kelly Hancocks or anyone like that who are future leaders in the Republican Party…Their communities that they represent still have more opportunities than Black and Latino,” Veasey said.

Of course, the Republicans drew a map that was intended to give them far more than 55% of the seats, but that’s neither here nor there. Veasey’s plan is Plan C121, so let’s look at some pictures.

Dallas and Tarrant Counties

According to Veasey’s press release, which is beneath the fold, CD34 is a “new, effective Latino Opportunity District” and CD35 is a “new, effective African American Opportunity District”. I would have to check to see if CD35 includes Rep. Veasey’s home precinct, but I’d be shocked if it didn’t.

South Texas

CD33 is “a new, effective Latino Opportunity District in South Texas.” No room here for Aaron Pena, that’s for sure. The interesting thing is that CD33 continues up into Bexar County, where it takes over a lot of the turf currently in CD23. CD23 in turn gets shifted to the east, while CD28 takes over the western portion of what had been CD23. Here’s a look at the new CD23 and the districts around it:

Central Texas

CD23 would be the “new” Central Texas district in this plan; it would clearly lean Democratic, as would CD27 in South Texas. Veasey’s plan gets to 14 Democratic seats, which by the way is only 39% of 36 total seats and thus still quite reasonable for the Republicans even if you think 2010 was a normal year, by adding those two currently R-held seats to the three new Democratic ones. The district that really interests me in this map is CD31. There’s a piece of Bell County in that district that I can’t quantify, but here are the Sam Houston numbers for the other counties from 2008:

County Wainwright Houston ============================ Blanco 2,951 1,490 Burnet 10,764 4,903 Hays 26,845 26,389 Williamson 81,458 61,782 Total 122,018 94,564

That’s a 56% Republican district, with the population centers of Williamson and Hays trending blue. That would be a district to watch.

Finally, the new Republican district:

Harris County and Southeast Texas

No new Latino district for Harris County, which as Greg notes stands in contrast to MALDEF’s vision. Basically, CD02 takes up more turf and shifts west. CD36 is an amalgam of territory from CDs 02, 08, 14, and 22 and would certainly be Republican. A piece of it is in Harris as well. CD10 becomes solid red as it sheds Travis County and becomes the fourth CD with a piece of Fort Bend. For comparison’s sake, here’s the same area as it is today:

Harris and its environs today

While this is all mostly an academic exercise, as Veasey’s map is hardly likely to get debated, there is a reason for this beyond showing what could be, and that’s showing a court what could be.

Sen. Kel Seliger said his redistricting committee ran out of time, but did produce a map that a federal judge could consider. The committee has not made the map public, and Seliger would not characterize what his map would do in terms of ethnic representation.

“We will take our product … and ask our state officers to present this product to the court as our answer to the legal proceeding,” Seliger said. The court “will get dozens and dozens of them and ours will be a good deal more credible than almost all of them.”

Fort Worth Rep. Marc Veasey, a Democrat on the House redistricting committee, also produced a map that will go before the court. He says his would create two Hispanic-opportunity districts and one African-American district.

“The dramatic growth of the Latino and African American population is the only reason Texas is receiving additional congressional seats, and any plan that fails to add at least three additional effective minority opportunity districts would violate the Voting Rights Act,” Veasey said.

The Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund also proposed an alternative map that produced two Hispanic opportunity districts, one along the border and the other in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Perhaps that mystery map is the one that he and Rep. Burt Solomons now claim to have agreed on. Why they couldn’t get it out in time remains a mystery, but whatever. As for MALDEF, they will argue for their map in court as well. We’ll just see how it plays out from here.

(more…)

Get ready for the special session

Ready or not, here they come back. And with the start of the special session comes a little surprise.

Gov. Rick Perry and legislative leaders hope to move through a series of bills quickly during the special session that begins tomorrow, starting with the fiscal issues that forced the session and continuing on through other controversial legislation, including congressional redistricting, reforms to the state’s windstorm insurance program, and legislation loosening state mandates on public education, sources said Monday.

The governor has talked to legislative leaders about including several items in the special session, but not all at once. Instead, they’re talking about trying to pass legislation in series, moving quickly and adding items to the call as each item wins passage, according to sources.

Congressional maps “are ready to go tomorrow morning, if [Perry] wants them” said state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo. He wouldn’t discuss the specifics of the maps, but said that he and his redistricting counterpart in the House, Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, would start with identical maps.

If they have “identical” maps ready to go now, it makes you wonder how it is they didn’t have them a week ago, when overtime would not have been needed. The least surprising part of this is that the maps in question would be sprung on everyone without any advanced notice. If the Republicans could pass a map without any input from the public, they would. We’ll see what they have in mind.

As for the rest of the potential issues that may be added to the call, I would just point out that despite what some Republicans may want you to believe, whatever is on the agenda is up to Rick Perry. That’s true with the failure of SB1811, and it was true with windstorm insurance. Perry does whatever it is he wants to do, he doesn’t need to be goaded into anything. The Governor made “sanctuary cities” an emergency item. If it was that important to him, it was always within his power to force the issue. As for claims that the Republicans might somehow make school finance worse as payback, they’ll have to vote for whatever they produce, too. As Nate Blakeslee pointed out, several of them in the House voted against SB1811 the first time, enough to make its passage not a slam dunk. I suppose they could cut funding further, but it’s a little hard for me to believe that the Senate, which pushed so hard for more funding for schools, to the point of conjuring up all kinds of budgetary alchemy to make it look like there were more funds available than the House was otherwise willing to use, would throw that all away in a fit of pique. I guess we’ll find out.

I should note that the Democrats will try to play a little offense during the overtime period as well.

Mild-mannered Texas House member Elliott Naishtat, the VISTA worker from Queens who came to the Lone Star State and stayed, has a message for U.S. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, the Ayn Rand disciple who is steeling congressional Republicans’ spines for the hard job of taming the welfare state: We will bury you.

Naishtat, D-Austin (at right in May 11 AP photo), put state Republicans on notice Monday that he and other Texas Democrats soon will try to link the Legislature’s recent work on an interstate health care compact to a Medicare overhaul the U.S. House recently endorsed at the urging of Ryan, R-Wisc.

“Voters pay attention when you mess with their health care,” Naishtat said. “Last week, we all watched voters in a very conservative district in New York, my home state, elected a Democrat to the U.S. Congress.” Naishtat referred to Democrat Kathy Hochul’s special election upset victory in a U.S. House district, stretching from Buffalo to Rochester, that has been in Republican hands for four decades.

Will that resonate, or will it just distract from the message about what’s going on with school finance? I have no idea, but for sure there’s no lack of material. Dems will need to run with all of it between now and next November. How well they make their case will be what it’s all about. A letter from Lt. Gov. Dewhurst to Rick Perry about the special session is here, and you can see the official call here.

Senate Dems block “sanctuary cities” bill

They did it as they said they would.

The state’s contentious sanctuary cities bill failed to move out of the Senate late Tuesday — a move some senators said effectively killed one of the most controversial measures the Texas Legislature has considered this session.

As late as 11 p.m., an aide to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said the Senate leader was still intent on bringing up the matter for a vote. (The Senate debates bills on the floor in the order they come in. Going out of order requires a two-thirds vote.)

But Republicans’ efforts were unsuccessful on Tuesday. Democratic senators stayed true to their word to block the bill — an item designated by Gov. Rick Perry as an emergency piece of legislation — by voting along party lines to keep the bill from making it to the floor.

“You know, it was a party-line vote,” said state Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, who sponsored the bill in the upper chamber. The bill, HB 12 by state Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, would prohibit cities, counties and other governmental entities or special districts from adopting policies that prevent law enforcement from asking persons lawfully detained or arrested if they are in the country legally.

Yes, it was a party-line vote. There have been a lot of those this session, more in the House than in the Senate but still a lot, thanks to the extremely partisan agenda that Rick Perry and the Republicans in the Lege have pursued. We deserved some clarity about who stands for what, and I’m glad we got it. As always, nothing is truly dead until sine die, and there’s always the chance Rick Perry could call a special session for this, or add it to the call for a special on something else like school finance, but I’ll take it for now, and I’ll be more than happy to continue this conversation next November. Postcards, Somos Tejanos, and Stace have more.

House approves Senate redistricting map

Three down, one to go.

The Texas House today gave preliminary approval to the Senate redistricting map that would give Travis County four state senators.

The sponsor of Senate Bill 31, Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, pushed to pass the map without amendments.

He got what he asked for. And in what has become the telltale rhythm of the House this session, members of the Republican-dominated chamber rejected all the Democrats’ proposed changes.

The count: 92-48, with seven member present but not voting. The measure still needs a final vote in the House, which is usually perfunctory. The Senate already approved the new map.

Democrats took the opportunity today to criticize the plan.

Those complaints were brushed off with the same indifference to minority voting rights and Latino population growth we’ve seen all along. I mean, why should the Republicans change now?

I don’t recall seeing a news story about it, but apparently the Senate approved HB150, the House redistricting bill, on Tuesday, the same day they approved their own redistricting bill. Yesterday, both chambers passed the others’ map on third reading. At this point, all that’s left is a Congressional map, and who knows when that will appear.

“Sanctuary cities” bill gutted in committee

Didn’t see this coming.

In a surprise move that could effectively kill HB 12, the sanctuary cities bill that Gov. Rick Perry declared an emergency item, a Senate committee today replaced the immigration language with a homeland security bill by state Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands.

The move could be deadly for the sanctuary cities legislation because the Williams bill, which was offered as a substitute to HB 12 by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, does not contain any language about local law enforcement checking immigration status.

The homeland security bill, SB 9, which is also a controversial measure, was passed out of the Senate last month. It doesn’t have a House sponsor, though, and the House committee didn’t vote on it Tuesday. The bill would require all law enforcement agencies to adopt the federal Secure Communities program. It also would institute stronger penalties for a laundry list of felonies and codify proof-of-citizenship requirements for driver’s licenses and state-issued IDs. It would establish an automatic license-plate reader pilot program for vehicles used by Department of Public Safety officers. It does not, however, prohibit local governments from preventing police from asking people about their citizenship. That means it wouldn’t put an end to sanctuary cities. The committee approved the new bill unanimously.

Williams has said since January that he does not want to mesh sanctuary cities with his homeland security priorities and reiterated his commitment today.

“It’s not a trick play. I wanted to keep these issues completely separate,” Williams said. “I think it’s very important, and unfortunately [SB 9] hasn’t received any serious consideration on the House side.”

Asked if there was a chance that some form of a sanctuary cities bill would pass, Williams shrugged and said, “It’s getting late.”

It must be noted that SB9 is not a good bill, either, so while it’s great to see HB12 get what it deserved, this is not a clean win. It’s also the case that HB12 could get attached as an amendment to something. Still, it’s at least a small win, and who knows, maybe both HB12 and SB9 will die as a result. Melissa del Bosque has more.

“Sanctuary cities” ban passes the House

I suppose we should get used to the phrase “cutting off debate” because that seems to be the norm these days.

After taking the unusual and controversial strategy of cutting off debate, the Texas House late Monday voted 99 to 47 in favor of a ban on “sanctuary cities,” despite objections that the measure was unnecessary and will increase racial profiling against Hispanics.

House Republicans voted to end debate by calling for an immediate vote on the bill, shutting down debate on amendments after four hours of sometimes heated discussion.

Democrats roundly criticized the tactic almost as emotionally as the underlying legislation, and faulted House Speaker Joe Straus for allowing the maneuver.

“Is this the intended course that the chair intends to exercise as we proceed?” asked State Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston. “If the chair along with the super-majority — if they will simply let the rest of us know — which bills they intend to have proceed regardless of debate and points of order — they will save us a lot of time and effort. No question the super-majority can pass any bill at any time.”

It’s just that, as Burka pointed out, they’ve taken their sweet time about it, and the combination of a few successful points of order, a late-in-the-day “emergency” tort reform bill, and the need to deal with remaining items like redistricting have put them in a bind. As Pete Gallego noted, calling the question like this hardly ever happened in previous sessions under other Speakers, but now seems to be a matter of routine. It’s hard to see this as anything but a deep sense of insecurity about the ability to pass their own agenda in the face of any kind of opposition. The Republicans did allow some debate and amendments before passing the bill on third reading, not that it really mattered at that point.

As for the bill itself, what else is there to say? It’s an offensive solution to a non-problem, one that will impose large unfunded costs on local law enforcement agencies and which makes a mockery of the alleged Republican value of local control. It’s evil and fascistic for the federal government to tell states what to do, but good and just for states to tell cities what to do. What should happen as a result of this is that police departments decide that in order to fully comply with the law they need to ask everyone for proof of citizenship whenever they pull them over for a traffic stop or whatever. How many of the people cheering on this bill’s passage routinely carry their passport or birth certificate – the long form, naturally – on them? That won’t happen, of course, because it’s “obvious” that some people are citizens, and hey, this is America, right? More for some of us than for others, I guess. Statements from Reps. Carol Alvarado, Jessica Farrar, and Garnet Coleman are beneath the fold, and there’s more from EoW, Burka and Burka again, Trail Blazers, Postcards, Texas Politics, and the Trib. Be sure to read the exceptionally ugly comments there if you have any doubt about how supporters of this bill perceive it. And then, to cleanse your mind, watch Rep. Ana Hernandez Luna’s personal privilege speech about growing up as an undocumented immigrant (thanks to Texas Politics for the link). If you think the country and the state would be better off today if Rep. Hernandez Luna and her family had been deported, I don’t know what to say to you.

(more…)

Sanctuary cities bill delayed

Another point of order sends another “emergency” bill back to committee.

The controversial “sanctuary cities” bill hit a roadblock in the Texas house late Friday when a point of order derailed the legislation and knocked it off the calendar.

The bill, HB 12, by state Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, would prohibit cities, counties and other governmental entities or special districts from adopting a policy that prevents law enforcement from asking persons lawfully detained or arrested if they are in the country legally. Minority groups and immigrants’ rights groups oppose the bill, alleging that it will promote racial profiling and open up legal residents and citizens to harassment by police officers.

The roadblock, which materialized five hours after lawmakers began debating the bill, is the result of an error on a witness affirmation form. State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, called the point of order because, he said, a member of the State Affairs Committee, where the bill was heard, filled in a section of the form for a person scheduled to testify. Witnesses are asked to indicate whether they are for a bill, against it or neutral. In this case the witness left the section blank, and the lawmaker filled it in. State Rep. Charlie Geren, R-River Oaks, a member of the committee, said there was no way to determine that the position indicated was truly what the witness meant to convey.

Martinez Fischer and Geren declined to name the lawmaker, but both said it was “absolutely” a mistake.

Trail Blazers has more, and you can get a blow-by-blow from the Trib’s liveblog. It’s a temporary win – the bill will be back on the calendar on Monday – but sometimes it’s not about whether you win or lose but how you fight. This is something the Dems need to fight.

For what it’s worth, yesterday’s Chron had a story about how law enforcement agencies across the state were speaking out against HB12 on the grounds that it would be a huge unfunded mandate on them; Rick Perry dismissed their concerns, because what does he care? Many of the Democratic amendments that were brought up before the point of order attempted to give police departments and Sheriff’s offices some discretion, but they were all knocked down. I always am amused by those who rail about the oppressive federal government trying to impose its will on helpless innocent states gleefully pushing legislation like this that would impose more state control over cities. And all this happened on the same day that Perry’s “unfunded mandates” committee released its report, though without mentioning this particular bill. A missed opportunity, if you ask me.

On a side note, the early derailment of this bill meant that HB400, the bill that would raise the class size limit, among other things, had the time to be taken up.

“Sanctuary cities” bill on the House calendar

According to Somos Tejanos, the so-called “Sanctuary cities” bill HB12 is on the House calendar for Friday, May 6. It had originally been scheduled for Cinco de Mayo, but I guess someone decided the optics of that weren’t so good. This is a bill that all Democrats should oppose, and now would be a good time to remind your Rep of that. Your Senator as well, since they would have the ability to kill it in their chamber.

New map, new opportunities: Outside the urban areas, part 2

More districts to look at for Democratic opportunities outside of the traditional urban areas.

HD45

District: 45

Incumbent: Jason Isaacs (first elected in 2010)

Counties: Blanco, Hays

Best 2008 Dem performance: Barack Obama, 46.78%

Patrick Rose won this district in 2002, the only Democratic takeover of an existing Republican seat that year. Like many other Democratic legislators, he was swamped by the 2010 tide. The new HD45 drops Caldwell County, which was moderately Democratic at the downballot level in 2008; adding it in makes Susan Strawn, at 47.1%, the top Democratic performer. Rose always won with crossover appeal; as that was in short supply last year, he lost. If Hays County gets blue enough, crossover appeal won’t matter much, but until then a candidate will likely need at least a few Republican defectors to win. I don’t know what kind of Democratic organization exists in Hays right now, but there needs to be some for 2012.

HDs 52 and 149

District: 52
District: 149

Incumbent: Larry Gonzales (HD52, first elected in 2010); none (HD149)

Counties: Williamson (part) for each

Best 2008 Dem performance:Barack Obama for each, 46.18% in HD52, 45.92% in HD149.

Unlike a lot of other districts, Obama outperformed the rest of the ticket here, by three to six points in each case. I don’t know how that changes the dynamic, but I thought it was worth noting. Both districts are in the southern end of WilCo, the fastest growing and closest to Austin parts of the district. I don’t know how conducive they’ll be to electing Democratic reps in 2012, though obviously they both need to be strongly challenged, but it’s not hard to imagine them getting more competitive as the decade goes on. I don’t expect there to be too many boring elections in either of them.

HD54

District: 54

Incumbent: Jimmie Don Aycock (first elected in 2006)

Counties: Bell (part), Lampasas

Best 2008 Dem performance: Sam Houston, 49.01% (plurality)

This one was totally not on my radar. It was so unexpected to me that I figured Aycock, who won easily in 2006 and hasn’t faced a Democrat since, must have gotten screwed somehow by the committee. The 2008 numbers for his old district, in which Houston also got a plurality with a hair under 49%, says otherwise. HD54 swaps out Burnet County (now in HD20, one of the three Williamson County districts) for more of Bell but remains about the same electorally. Typically, downballot Democrats did better than the top of the ticket, with only Jim Jordan and JR Molina not holding their opponents under 50% (McCain got 51.20%, Cornyn 53.85%). I figure the 2008 result in HD54 was a surprise, but the 2012 possibilities should not be. One possible wild card: Aycock was a ParentPAC-backed candidate in 2006, and as far as I know he maintained that endorsement in 2008 and 2010. Back then, the main issue was vouchers, which have been dormant in recent years. Will Aycock’s vote for HB1 and its $8 billion cut to public education cost him ParentPAC support? If so, might that result in a primary challenge, or a general election opponent? That will be worth paying attention to, as it could affect other races as well.

Collin and Denton Counties

District: 64
District: 65
District: 66
District: 67

Incumbent, HD64: Myra Crownover (first elected in 2000)
Incumbent, HD65: Burt Solomons (first elected in 1994)
Incumbent, HD66: Van Taylor (first elected in 2010)
Incumbent, HD67: Jerry Madden (first elected in 1992)

Counties: Collin (66 and 67) and Denton (64 and 65)

Best 2008 Dem performance, HD64: Sam Houston, 41.98%
Best 2008 Dem performance, HD65: Barack Obama, 43.04%
Best 2008 Dem performance, HD66: Barack Obama, 40.21%
Best 2008 Dem performance, HD67: Barack Obama, 39.59%

I don’t actually expect any of these districts to be competitive in 2012. However, if the Democrats hope to have any chance to take the House before the next round of redistricting, they’ll need to be by the end of the decade. Collin and Denton have been two of the fastest growing counties in the state – each got a new district in this map – and they have been slowly but surely trending Democratic. They started at a pretty low point, of course, so they can trend for a long time before it becomes relevant, but as more and more non-Anglos move into the traditional suburbs, I expect the trend to continue. The question is how fast, and how much blood and treasure the Democrats will put into hastening it.

HD85

District: 85

Incumbent: None

Counties: Fort Bend (part), Wharton, Jackson

Best 2008 Dem performance: Susan Strawn, 45.29%

This is the new Fort Bend district, comprising territory that had previously been represented by John Zerwas (Wharton and part of Fort Bend) and Geanie Morrison (Jackson). As with the Denton and Collin districts, it’s probably out of reach in 2012, but it’s also likely to see a lot of growth and demographic change over the course of the decade, and as such ought to get more competitive over time. And again, it needs to be, as I don’t see a path to a Democratic majority that doesn’t include districts like this.

House passes redistricting map

The Trib stayed up all night to see how it ended.

The Texas House tentatively approved new political districts early this morning on a 92-52 vote after hours of nips and tucks that left the proposal they started with mostly intact.

They turned back wholesale redesigns presented by various groups, including the Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force, a coalition of Latino groups, and a map prepared by the Texas Legislative Black Caucus. They also got a look at a map drawn by Republicans who wanted to press for more GOP seats than in the proposed map, though that one never came to a vote. And they picked and chose their way through amendments that changed the political lines only in particular regions, counties, cities, and neighborhoods.

“I recognize that some members are not going to be pleased with the results of the map,” Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, predicted at the beginning of the 16-hour debate. He said the lines and the stakes were “very personal” to each of the 150 House members in the room.

The Republicans, with a 101-49 supermajority, easily fended off Democratic attempts to overhaul the maps to increase the voting power of minorities. But not all of the votes split along party lines. In fact, three Democrats voted for the map when the debate ended, and ten Republicans voted against it.

West Texas freshmen Reps. Jim Landtroop, R-Plainview, and Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, were drawn into the same district in Solomons’ plan. They got their own districts after the House accepted an amendment.

Here’s the Chron story on the map’s passage. If West Texas got an extra district, then some other district disappeared, but as of now I can’t tell where that may be. Here’s the Harris County view:

Harris County districts

And here’s how it looks for my neck of the woods:

Only three districts this time

I should note that the map changed a bit between second and third readings; here’s the Harris view and the Heights view of the maps that were originally adopted. Either way, there’s still 24 districts, despite the wishes of the Harris County Democratic caucus, Mayor Parker, and Judge Emmett, who modified his original statement on the matter. The roulette wheel ultimately dropped me into HD145, though as before this map splits the Woodland Heights into two districts, with the eastern half remaining in HD148. This map finally does what I expected to be done all along by putting some heavily Republican territory, around the Galleria and in Memorial, into HD134. I have a feeling it won’t look like a swing district any more when the elections data comes out. (Turnout data is here, but that doesn’t tell me what I want to know.)

While this map is a near certainty at this point to get signed into law, it’s less likely that there will be no further changes to it. Democrats are loudly complaining about Voting Rights Act problems with the map, so if the Justice Department doesn’t take action, you can be certain a lawsuit or two will be filed. Whether anything gets changed for 2012 or if it has to wait till a later election remains to be seen.

As noted, the debate over this map was very long and there were about a million amendments proposed. Greg’s liveblogging, which lasted till about 8 PM, has the most detail. Be sure to see his comparison of Rep. Charlie Howard’s proposed district to his current one, which apparently contains too many Asians for Howard’s taste. See this press release from the Texas Asian American Redistricting Initiative (TAARI) for more on that. Other good coverage from the debate comes from Texas Politics and Trail Blazers. The Trib has a chart comparing average margin of victory in statewide races for the new and old districts that’s now obsolete; we’ll see if they update it. It was useful while it lasted, but the spread in statewide results can be pretty broad, and is to some extent driven by funding differentials. I prefer to look at the full range, but I can certainly understand why the Trib took a more compact approach. Greg now has a Google maps view of the plan (original rev here), so you can zoom in and see more details. Burka, EoW, South Texas Chisme, PDiddie, and Abby Rapoport have more.

House approves SBOE map

One down, three to go.

A new map for the 15-member Texas State Board of Education became the first redistricting proposal to make its way through the Texas House Thursday afternoon, winning approval on a vote of 99-45.

State Rep. Burt Solomons, the Carrollton Republican who sponsored the legislation and who chairs the House Redistricting Committee, told House members that the map created districts that were as compact and cohesive as possible, maintained communities of interest and met the requirements of the Voting Rights Act.

Solomons easily fended off challenges to his map in the form of amendments from Hispanic lawmakers who contended that he had largely ignored the state’s dramatic Hispanic population growth.

Alternate plans were offered by Reps. Roberto Alonzo and Trey Martinez-Fischer. You can see all three of them here – Alonzo’s plans are E114 and E115, Martinez-Fischer’s is E113. Where Solomons’ plan had three Latino VAP majority districts and two Latino VAP plurality districts, the three alternatives had four of the former and one of the latter. Interestingly, SBOE6, home of Terri “Don’t call me Terry!” Leo, is now the least Anglo of the other ten districts, with Anglos having only a 47.2% VAP plurality. That’s all the result of natural change, as the SBOE6 district didn’t change at all, as far as I can tell. The main difference in Harris County is that David Bradley’s SBOE7 is completely removed, replaced in the far north and east by Barbara Cargill’s SBOE8, and Lawrence Allen’s SBOE4 is now completely within Harris; the bit of Fort Bend County that had been in SBOE4 is now in Bradley’s SBOE7, as is the rest of Fort Bend.

While I expect this map to easily pass the Senate as well (assuming Democrats don’t block it via the 2/3 rule), it’s clear that between this map and the State House map that as little as possible is being done to accommodate Latino growth in Texas. I fully expect that to be the basis of legislation regardless of what happens with the Senate and Congressional maps. There’s more of this story to come.

Solomons State House map 2.0

Go to http://gis1.tlc.state.tx.us/ and check out Plan H134 for a revised State House map from House Redistricting Chair Burt Solomons. Here’s the Harris County view:

Harris County, take two

Still 24 districts, with either Rep. Scott Hochberg or Rep. Hubert Vo on the outside looking in. In this variation, HD143 goes back to being an East End seat, and HD148 regains some of its old territory in the Heights, but my part of the Heights gets moved into HD145, which would make me a constituent of Rep. Carol Alvarado. As with Rep. Ana Hernandez Luna, I would be delighted to be her constituent, but heartbroken not to be Rep. Jessica Farrar’s constituent. HD134 gains a little more outside the Loop territory, but most of the districts on the west side look not too different than they were before. Beyond Harris County, the only thing I looked for was the weird uterus-shaped HD149 that surrounds and passed through Williamson County. It’s still there. You’ve got to be a little desperate to maintain Republican hegemony if you’re drawing districts like that.

Also, State Rep. Garnet Coleman has submitted a plan, Plan H130. The Harris view:

Rep. Coleman's map for Harris County

That one has 25 seats in Harris County, so Reps. Hochberg and Vo can remain. It also puts me back into HD148, which just feels right. And as we turn our eyes to Williamson County, we see no uterine districts. All of which means that this map won’t be given a moment’s thought.

With regards to Rep. Hochberg, I note that someone has been whispering into Burka‘s ear.

I haven’t discussed Hochberg’s plans with him, but I did hear from sources close to Sarah Davis that she expects Hochberg to move into her district and run against her.

I don’t know who his sources are and I don’t know who his sources’ sources are, but I do know that I have not heard anything like this from Democrats as yet. In fact, the reaction many of us had was that it was Rep. Vo who’d gotten the short end of the stick, since the HD137 drawn (in the original map, anyway; I can’t vouch for the revised map just yet) has more of Hochberg’s precincts in it than Vo’s. I personally thought Vo might be better off running against Rep. Jim Murphy in HD133, since as noted before it might be viable for him. Burka’s sources may be right and they may be wrong, I’m just saying that I’m not hearing the same buzz that he is.

Finally, a couple of stories from the Monitor and the Guardian about redistricting in South Texas and the disposition of Hidalgo County. I figure they wind up getting shafted again, which is to say business as usual.

UPDATE: The following was sent out by email from Karen Loper, Rep. Vo’s campaign manager, last night:

Message from Hubert Vo for help with redistricting

The Texas House Committee on Redistricting  has re-drawn the district lines of the State Representatives and  filed the plan as HB150.   District 149 which is Hubert Vo’s district has been eliminated.  Many of the  precincts in his district have been moved to other districts which breaks up the voting strength of all  ethnicities including the Vietnamese.  The only 3 current Vo precincts left after they move the others are combined with District 137.

Letters should be sent as soon as possible to the redistricting committee.  We have attached two sample letters to email or fax – one is for you to use if you live in District 149 and the other should be sent if you live somewhere else.  These letters will be used  for  the committee and also will be sent to the Department of Justice (DOJ) where the redistricting map must be approved .

All you have to do is date the letter and type in your name and address at the bottom.   You can make additions to the letter if you wish to do so. The letters should not argue the Democratic and Republican point because that is not part of the DOJ’s concerns.  You can email or fax the letter. The e-mail address and fax number are listed below.  PLEASE SEND A COPY TO HUBERT VO ALSO

SEND YOUR LETTER TO:

marc.veasey@house.state.tx.us or Fax (512) 463-1516

AND SEND A COPY TO:

hubert.vo@house.state.tx.us or Fax (512) 463-0548

Sample letters were included. You can see them here and here.

First State House redistricting plan is up

Go here, click Select Plans, then Base Plan, then choose Plan H113. The first thing I noticed is that it did in fact reduce Harris County to 24 members. Here’s a screen grab:

This could be what Harris County State Rep districts look like

HD149 is the odd district out – it’s a weird barbell district that joins Burnet and Milam Counties via a thin strip of southern Williamson County. Go ahead, take a look at that and then tell me why MALDEF’s CD35 is too ugly to live.

According to the announcement letter from Redistricting Chair Burt Solomons, which you can see on this Trib post, the map pairs Reps. Scott Hochberg and Hubert Vo in Harris County. For what it’s worth, I’ll note that the “Other” population, which usually means “Asian”, is highest for HDs 137 (Hochberg) and 133, the latter being Rep. Jim Murphy’s district. See here for those numbers. Until we see data for previous elections, it’s hard to put it all in context. Note that this was the only Dem-on-Dem pairing – there were five R-on-R pairings elsewhere in the state, all driven by lagging population.

Beyond that, I don’t have much to say just yet. These things take time to figure out. I will note that this map moves me from HD148 to HD143. While I will be delighted to be represented by Rep. Ana Hernandez Luna, I will be equally sad to not be represented by Rep. Jessica Farrar, who has been my voice in Austin since I moved to the Heights in 1997. What do you think about this map?

UPDATE: From the Inbox, a statement from Rep. Carol Alvarado:

“The redistricting proposal by Chairman Solomons is a starting point, however, I believe there is still work left to do,” said Alvarado.

“I believe that there is a major deficiency in taking Harris County down from 25 districts to 24 districts. I believe that unlike other counties in Texas which have seen drastic loss, Harris County’s population did not significantly desert our county, they shifted from the east to the west. It is important that Harris County be able to maintain its 25 house districts in order to best represent our constituents.”

I’d prefer that Harris get 25 as well, but the numbers are what they are. I can’t fault the committee or Rep. Solomons for that.

UPDATE: And a statement from Rep. Garnet Coleman:

I know Chairman Solomons and the members have worked hard and we all have more steps to take in this process. However, I am disappointed that the first Harris County House map produced by the House leadership was devised and designed without the input of many members of the Harris County Delegation. This initial plan only allots Harris County 24 seats, contrary to the original instructions by Chairman Solomons to develop a 25 seat plan for Harris County.

Most importantly, Harris County loses representation under this plan because it pairs two incumbents who represent predominantly minority districts, which almost certainly violates the Voting Rights Act.

With a month left before this bill must be considered by the House, the public should have an opportunity to demand a fair plan instead of one that includes bizarre districts that can cause voters to lose faith in their government. Unfortunately, hearings on this map are scheduled in less than 48 hours. I intend to work with the House leaders to allow more input from our constituents who will be impacted for 10 years by this process.

I’m sure there will be more.

UPDATE: Found on Facebook, a statement from Rep. Jessica Farrar:

“At first glance, there are districts with the proposed House map that would make Tom Delay blush. Surely the final House plan won’t resemble this one, because it does not respect the voters and it violates the standards established by the Voting Rights Act. Simply put, this is not a fair or a legal plan. The map laid out today splits communities of interest and denies proper representation to people of color who drove the population growth in Texas for the past decade. Without question, Texans deserve better than another redistricting plan that puts politics ahead of fair representation for Texas voters. We’ll spend time listening to our constituents about this map and looking at compliance with the Voting Rights Act, legally accepted redistricting practices and protecting communities of interest.”

Keep ’em coming.

UPDATE: Still more, a twofer from PoliTex, from Postcards, and from Burka.

UPDATE: Here’s PDiddie, and Greg with the Google Maps view.

UPDATE: EoW analyzes that barbell monstrosity HD149. Burka analyzes the Republican pairings and longrer term prospects. Greg gives his take on the WilCo Barbell and has several other maps up besides.

So what is the point of the SBOE, anyway?

Here’s another story about the difficulties of SBOE redistricting, and it’s got me wondering why we bother having an elected body called the State Board of Education.

This legislative session, lawmakers are working on redrawing the 15 districts based on new census data — released every 10 years — but a rise in population has made the task difficult and left some pushing to enlarge the board.

State Rep. Burt Solomons, a Carrollton Republican who heads the House Redistricting Committee, said that by the time the next census is done, some members will represent more than 2 million people.

“That’s unreasonable,” Solomons said.

Solomons said in drawing the new map, which was approved by his committee this month and is waiting to be brought before the House for a vote, it became clear that there is a problem as the population continues to grow.

He said he plans to ask House Speaker Joe Straus to take a look at restructuring the board after the session.

“There needs to be some resolution before the next census,” Solomons said.

His push to restructure the board has drawn support from both Democrats and Republicans.

State Rep. Donna Howard, an Austin Democrat who ran for a spot on the board twice, said its districts are twice the size of congressional districts.

“Nobody knows who their State Board of Education member is unless they’re in the news for misbehaving,” Howard said.

My SBOE member is Terri Leo, who happens to represent one of the smallest geographic districts. I know she’s my SBOE member because it says I’m in SBOE6 on my voter registration card. I also know that at least in the last decade, I’ve never received any form of communication from her about what she or the Board are doing or how I can give her feedback. You’ll note there’s nothing on her rather primitive website for any of that, either. You can make a contribution, however, and you can marvel at the fact that her own website misspells her name (see where it says “What people are saying about Terry”?). Way to set a good example, Terri!

Well, maybe that’s just Terri Leo. Maybe Charlie Garza has a legitimate complaint about how much driving he’d have to do to meet his constituents, and maybe Donna Howard is right about knowing your SBOE member. The problem I have with this thinking is that whatever the merits or demerits of a 15-member Board, we can’t expand it enough to make the geography less of an issue. There are 31 State Senators, and some of them have massive, multi-county districts, too. Hell, so do some of the 150 State Reps. I’m certainly open to the idea of expanding the SBOE if by doing so we can make it more diverse, but if you’ll pardon the expression, the geography issue is too big to solve by this method.

Which leads to my question: Why do we need geographic representation on the SBOE? How are the issues that the SBOE deals with – curriculum standards and management of the Permanent School Fund – different for people in El Paso and Houston? The geographic representation we have now is a joke anyway. My urban neighborhood is stuck in Terri Leo’s far-flung suburban district; because of this pairing and the GOP’s partisan needs, Leo is (and has been in the past) the only person who will be on my ballot next year that is both subject to the redistricting process and a Republican. Travis County, as always, is split apart to ensure only Republicans represent it. I might be more sympathetic if these districts made geographic sense, but they don’t. Given all of the other issues, why do we even bother?

If we must have a State Board of Education, I don’t see how we’d be any worse off with an all-appointed board that was subject to some diversity requirements as well as Senate oversight. Really, given that curriculum expertise and fund management are not skill sets that necessarily go together, it would make more sense to dissolve the SBOE, put the curriculum function into the Texas Education Agency, and create a separate board to manage the PSF. Or forget the TEA, create a separate entity for curriculum oversight like the appointed body I mentioned before. Tell me how this would be less representative or less competent than what we have now.

I don’t think any of that is likely to happen, now or in the future. I won’t be surprised if there’s enough momentum for expanding the Board, to maybe 21 members or some such, to get on the agenda in the future. That may allow for some diversity, which is all to the good, but at best it will make a small and temporary dent in the district size problem. I say it’s better to give up on that and think outside the box. What do you think?

The redistricting process gets started in the Lege

From the Trib:

The public version of drawing new congressional maps for Texas started [Thursday] morning with committee hearings and the unveiling of a proposal from a coalition that insists at least two of the four new districts should have Latino majorities.

The chairmen of the Senate and House committees that will draw those and other maps, meanwhile, both said today that they’ll be trying to draw new maps that are fair, that are legal, and that make the greatest number of legislators happy.

“The process won’t be driven by assertion or insistence but by the numbers,” said Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, at a TribLive event this morning sponsored by the Tribune. He said the Hispanic growth in the state is undeniable, but said that population is “diffused” throughout the state. It isn’t always easy to draw districts for a population that’s scattered throughout the state and not bunched in particular neighborhoods and geographic communities.

Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton and the head of the House Redistricting Committee, echoed that: “There’s been a lot of Hispanic growth in the state, but they’re not all in one place.”

Boy, where have we heard that before? So far, the process has been relatively tranquil, though that will likely end once we see a map or two. As Rep. Solomons said in the piece, blood will be shed, though this time it won’t just be Democratic blood. See Greg for some liveblogging of the first hearing.

SBOE map approved by House committee

One down for the House Redistricting Committee.

A House Redistricting Committee approved a new map for the State Board of Education [Friday] afternoon on a vote of 12-4. The map now moves to the full House.

State Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, one of the four no votes, said she thought it would have been possible to “tweak some things and create an opportunity for a Hispanic-majority district.” She noted that Hispanics represented 3 million of the state’s 4.2 million population growth between 2000 and 2010 and a majority of the state’s school population, but that the 15-member board contains only three Hispanic-majority seats.

State Rep. Burt Solomons, the Carrollton Republican who chairs the committee, said he thought it was a fair map and that if lawmakers had alternative proposals they could raise them on the House floor.

“Burt’s been amenable to listening,” Alvarado said.

Greg has comparisons between the old map and the new one, the demographics of the new map, and finally Obama/McCain numbers for each new district. It’s likely this will restore the 10-5 partisan split we had prior to the 2010 Republican wave that washed out Democrat Rene Nunez, with some possibilities for a Republican pickup in SBOE2 and long-range Democratic opportunities in Ken Mercer’s SBOE5 and other places. I’m sure there will be a few more tweaks to this, plus the outside chance of more substantial change. Along those lines, the Statesman notes the main criticism of the map.

The map was modified slightly last week after the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund wrote a letter protesting the dilution of Latino voting strength in District 1 — a monster of district that stretches from El Paso County east to San Saba County before turning south into the Rio Grande Valley.

Solomons’ original attempt to redraw that district eliminated some South Texas counties from District 1 and replaced then with Hill Country counties.

That, wrote MALDEF attorney Nina Perales, dropped the Mexican American voting strength in the district from 63 percent to 57 percent. “The unnecessary removal of over 40,000 Latinos from SBOE District 1 significantly reduces the voting strength of Latinos and raises the strong inference that this change was made to prevent Latinos from electing their candidate of choice,” Perales wrote.

The letter from MALDEF’s director of litigation was a broad hint that the organization would sue. Somebody might sue anyway because Solomons’ plan is a basic denial of the 2010 census.

State Rep. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas, noted that Hispanics account for 2.8 million of the 4.3 million increase in Texas residents between 2000-2010. Solomons’ map “doesn’t reflect that we exist,” said Alonzo, a member of the redistricting committee.

Solomons says membership of the State Board of Education would have to be increased to better represent the state’s 254 counties. With 15 members, he shrugged, there’s just so much you can do. After all, 254 divided by 15 equals problems.

Solomons suggested an interim committee study the matter, but by the time the committee is assembled and meets, the 2012 elections will have come and gone.

And just think, this was, relatively speaking, the easy map for the Redistricting Committee to do. It gets a lot dicier from here.

SBOE redistricting

The House Redistricting Committee gets to work.

It would be easier to draw new State Board of Education districts to reflect the state’s booming Hispanic population growth if there were more than 15 seats, a state lawmaker said Friday while calling for a study to expand the board.

House Redistricting Chairman Burt Solomons said Friday the current 15 districts are too large and unwieldy. He said he will ask House Speaker Joe Straus for an interim study to determine a better way to configure the State Board of Education.

Meanwhile, the new map that Solomons, R-Carrollton, has drawn for those 15 seats needs additional work, some said, because it does not accommodate Hispanic growth. Although Hispanics represent about two-thirds of the state’s population growth, critics note the proposed map would dilute one of the three existing Hispanic districts.

“With the current 15 members and the districts being so large, there’s only so much you can do,” Solomons said.

The current districts each will have about 1.7 million people. Some of the districts anchored in west Texas take 12 hours to drive from one end to the other.

“That’s not exactly what I would call reasonable,” Solomons said. “I don’t know what the answer is, but at the end of the day, you can’t have districts that are going to have 2.5 million people (after the 2020 Census). You will have to do something.”

Couple points to make. First, I completely agree that 1.7 million people per district, with some of these districts being larger than most states, is ridiculous. I seem to recall that there was briefly an amendment in some large bill from the last legislative session that would have significantly changed the nature of the SBOE, but it didn’t make it into any final bill; I can’t find a citation for this, but I know it happened. In any event, I’m of the opinion that State Senate districts are starting to get too big, and that we ought to consider expanding that body to reduce the size of each individual district, so bringing the SBOE a little closer to the people appeals to me, if we’re going to have it around at all. And get used to hearing phrases like “reflect the state’s booming Hispanic population growth”, because some variation of it is going to come up at pretty much every single redistricting-related hearing. As well they should. If you want more, Greg has number-crunching, map commentary, and a liveblog of the House hearing on SBOE redistricting, which was short and sweet. Check ’em out.

“Sanctuary cities” bill passes out of House committee

And another so-called legislative emergency gets voted on.

Legislation banning “sanctuary city” policies in Texas was voted out of the House State Affairs Committee today, sending the bill to the full House for consideration.

HB12 by Rep. Burt Solomons would prevent cities, counties and other governmental entities from adopting policies that prohibit law enforcement from asking a person legally detained or arrested their immigration status. The legislation was labeled an emergency item by Gov. Rick Perry in January. Under the bill, entities refusing to comply risk losing state funds.

Solomons presented the committee, with its nine Republicans and four Democrats, a substitute bill he said would address concerns raised about how the original bill would affect school districts. State Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, originally objected to their inclusion, alleging that allowing school district employees to inquire about a student’s status would violate federal law. A U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1982’s Plyler V. Doe ruled that a school district could not deny funding to a school that educated undocumented immigrants. Oliveira said denying education to any student also contradicts the Texas Constitution. Solomons removed school district employees in his substitute, but the bill would still apply to campus police officers. Oliveira tried but failed to amend the bill to remove school districts altogether.

Here’s HB12, a bill that solves no problems but causes plenty, and contains that great legislative fiction, a fiscal note that claims “no impact” on the state budget. What impact it will have on city and county budgets, the Lege isn’t required to say and for sure Gov. Perry doesn’t care. It’s all about the optics. There’s absolutely no reason for any Democrat to support this bill, so by all rights it ought to wither and die in the Senate. I sure hope it does.

Here come the “sanctuary city” bills

The Lege gets set to tackle another “emergency”.

Top state lawmakers filed the latest legislation Wednesday to prohibit so-called sanctuary city policies, saying local governmental bodies would risk losing state grant money if they prohibit enforcement of state or federal immigration laws.

“We just want to make sure that if someone is lawfully detained that there’s not a prohibition against law enforcement officers asking about their immigration status,” said Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, who filed the legislation with Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton. “We need a consistent statewide policy.”

If you need any evidence that this is a “solution” to a non-existent problem, consider this.

Williams, Senate Transportation and Homeland Security chairman, said he did not know how many cities would have to change their policies if the bill became law.

If you can’t name a single example of the type of problem your legislation is designed to fix, it’s a pretty good indication that your legislation isn’t going to actually fix anything.

The bills in question are HB12 and SB11. I don’t expect the Senate Democratic caucus to become like Republicans in the US Senate and band together to block anything and everything, nor do I want them to. But for petty partisan stuff like this that serves no purpose and may have all kinds of harmful effects, I see no reason to play along. These bills deserve ignominious deaths. Texas Politics and the Trib have more.

Voters say they don’t want spending cuts

According to one poll, anyway.

Voters gave Republicans an overwhelming victory in November, leaving the GOP with nearly two-thirds of the seats in the Legislature and every statewide office. Many have interpreted the election as a clear call for spending cuts, and in fact, a Texas newspapers poll conducted in the weeks before the election showed that voters prefer spending cuts to higher taxes.

But the new poll shows voters want more than half of the state budget protected.

Some 70 percent of respondents said lawmakers should not cut school spending, and 61 percent said they want no spending cuts on health care programs for children and low- to moderate-income families.

“Everybody would like to make cuts, but it’s hard to actually make them where the most spending is,” pollster Mickey Blum said.

She said Democrats, Republicans and independents all prefer not to cut education and health care. Also, a majority of poll respondents who voted in the November election oppose cuts to those programs.

[…]

Voters are more willing to cut spending on colleges and universities, however. Pollsters found that 41 percent of respondents said lawmakers should cut higher education spending a little, while 12 percent said they should cut it a lot. Still, nearly four in 10 voters said they did not want any spending cuts in higher education.

The poll also shows majority support for expanded gambling, a preference for raising cigarette taxes as opposed to other forms of increasing revenue, significant opposition to raising the class size limits and (somewhat oddly, in my opinion) to allowing concealed handguns on college campuses. A few thoughts:

– I don’t see crosstabs – this was a telephone poll of 819 Texans, including 716 registered voters, conducted from December 28 to January 5 by Blum & Weprin Associates – so as always, take with a requisite amount of salt.

– There is always more support for cutting budgets in general than there is for cutting specific programs. This is why many Republicans avoid being specific about making cuts, no matter how ridiculous it makes them appear. Similarly, there is always more support for ways of raising revenue that don’t affect most people, like cigarette taxes, than for broad-based measures like sales and property taxes.

– Having said all that, this is why I stressed in the immediate aftermath of the election that it is vital for Democratic legislators to avoid supporting Republican budget-cutting efforts, at least without getting substantial concessions. We have to be able to make them own it 100%. They got us into this mess, after all.

– I still believe that expanded gambling is doomed. But I’m sure the gambling industry will use polls like this to put pressure on the Lege, especially as some of them begin to grasp the sheer magnitude of the problem. They could prove me wrong.

– Needless to say, Rick Perry didn’t get the memo.

Interestingly, there’s some evidence that at least a few Republicans are looking at this mess with something other than glee.

The underlying fear, from some in both parties, is that the budget-cutting zealousness could go too far.

“You’ll be gutting, literally gutting, some core services that government does for everybody,” warned 16-year Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, a key member of the House leadership. “You’ve got to be careful about crippling every program to the point of no recovery.”

[…]

Solomons, a lieutenant of House Speaker Joe Straus, said ordinary Texans will notice if the deficit is as huge as expected – and only cuts are used to zap it.

“You just won’t build any more roads. And you might not be able to maintain roads for a while. … Instead of taking three days to get your license, it might take 30,” he said.

Solomons said he’ll support many spending trims but left open the possibility that he might reluctantly back tax or fee increases. The state has too many needs, especially in education, he said. Business people tell him they want an educated workforce.

“So are you going to fund community colleges?” he said. “Or are we going to cripple everything?”

It’ll be interesting to see if Solomons gets criticized for his heretical stance. The Chron quotes a couple of former legislators, who no longer have to worry about such things.

The second-biggest Republican freshman class was the 27 who faced a major budget shortfall of $10 billion in 2003. Several members of that class said the new lawmakers will bring fresh ideas but warned that they should watch out for unintended consequences as they try to cut the budget.

“A lot of us thought we can clean this by doing better about spending and we can cut out waste, but we didn’t know at the time the significance of the cuts and the fallout,” said former Rep. Carter Casteel, R-New Braunfels.

Casteel noted the Legislature her freshman year deregulated college tuition to balance the budget without actually cutting higher education spending. She said the unintended consequence was that a higher education became harder to obtain for the children of Texas and was a new financial burden on the state’s middle class.

Casteel and another 2003 freshman, former Rep. Corbin Van Arsdale, R-Houston, said the Legislature that year also shifted a financial burden to counties by cutting the caseloads handled by the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Instead of having a doctor through health insurance, low-income children were treated in expensive emergency rooms at the cost to county taxpayers.

“There are consequences on the back end,” Van Arsdale said.

Good to know there’s some maturity out there. Of course, both Casteel and Van Arsdale later got ousted in Republican primaries, Casteel for opposing schools vouchers and Van Arsdale for not showing sufficient fealty to Dan Patrick. Maturity isn’t always valued.

In case you need a reminder to vote this November

What we have to look forward to in Austin next year if nothing changes.

Legislators next year will face severe budget problems, divisive redistricting, school funding troubles and reviews of major state agencies, including the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality and the Texas Department of Insurance.

“We are going to have a very tough session,” said Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, chairman of the State Affairs Committee.

But addressing those over-arching issues will not be enough to satisfy Republican voters, he said: “They want us to deal with these other issues. It’s a line in the sand.

“Voter ID and immigration issues are right up there at the top. And nullification (of the national health care law) is a big issue,” Solomons said. “The Republican voters are wanting some things done if Washington isn’t going to do it. And they want states to start taking action.”

Note the problems that we face, and the problems that our Republican legislators will be pressured to deal with by their primary voters. Not much overlap, is there? Now imagine the difference between having Rick Perry there to egg them on, and having Bill White there to veto that kind of hateful stupidity. Puts it all in perspective, doesn’t it?

Solomons and Berman, not BFFs

This may be my favorite letter from one legislator to another of all time. Any time a missive starts with “You are a liar”, you know it’s going to be fun. By my count, Rep. Burt Solomons used the words “lie” or “lair” ten times to describe his colleague, Rep. Leo Berman, and that’s in addition to words like “falsehood”, “fabrication”, “innuendo”, “distort”, “purposely mislead”, and of course “Pinocchio”. C’mon, Burt, tell him what you really think! Go read and enjoy.