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Chris Harris

Senate changes

I’m not worried about the State Senate becoming more conservative, I’m worried about it becoming more stupid.

“A seat in the Texas Senate does not come open very often, and all of a sudden now there are four,” said Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, one of the four who have announced their retirements.

“The Senate is pretty conservative now but that could change, depending on who wins the seats. It’s going to be an interesting election.”

Retiring with Shapiro, the longtime chair of the Education Committee, are Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan; Jurisprudence Committee Chairman Chris Harris, R-Arlington; and Economic Development Committee Chairman Mike Jackson, R-LaPorte.

The four senators will take with them a combined 64 years of experience in the upper chamber.

And that’s before next year’s election, when all 31 senators are up for election because of redistricting, instead of the usual one half. In addition to the retirements, some senators could lose their re-election bids.

Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, for example, was one of only two freshmen senators in 2009. Now, she is expected to have a tough time running in a new district that the Republican-majority Legislature drew to elect a Republican.

Other senators are drawing challengers from the right. On Oct. 3, Donna Campbell, a Columbus ophthalmologist and tea party favorite who ran for Congress in 2010, announced that she will challenge longtime Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio.

I can’t speak to whatever ludicrous litmus test is controlling Republican minds this week, but none of the four retiring Senators can be reasonably classified as anything but solid conservatives. Ideologically speaking, whoever replaces them will be very close to them. What concerns me is that Ogden and Shapiro are well-informed (if generally wrong) on policy and care about outcomes, while it is highly likely that the people who replace them will be cookie-cutter Dan Patrick wannabees that won’t be able to add anything to the discussion beyond sound bites. (I see Jackson and Harris as essentially fungible; swapping them out won’t matter much.) Our discourse is dumb enough already, we don’t need it dumbed down any further. As for Davis and Wentworth, who may be the last remaining pro-choice Republican in the state, losing them would indeed make the Senate a more conservative place as well as a less intelligent place. I’m hopeful that Davis at least will get a court-mandated lack of preclearance reprieve, but beyond that it’s all up to the campaigns and the voters. In other words, one more thing to add to your list of things to worry about.

Sen. Chris Harris and Rep. Will Hartnett to retire

One more out the door of the upper chamber.

State Sen. Chris Harris, R-Arlington, announced [Monday] afternoon that he will not seek reelection — the fourth veteran lawmaker to announce their retirement from the Upper Chamber.

He is the longest serving Republican in the Senate and chairs the Senate Jurisprudence Committee.

“I want to express my deepest gratitude to the people of North Texas and to my family for allowing me to serve,” Harris said in a statement. “It has been the greatest honor of my life that my friends and neighbors have asked me to represent them alongside so many amazing men and women for almost three decades.”

Harris has served in the Senate since 1991 and served before that in the Texas House.

State Rep. Rodney Anderson, R-Grand Prairie, announced last month that he planned to challenge Harris in next year’s primary, insisting that the district needed a more conservative voice. Harris said at the time that he planned to run again.

In his announcement, Harris encouraged Victor Vandergriff, son of late former Tarrant County Commissioner and Arlington Mayor Tom Vandergriff, to replace him in the Senate.

Sen. Harris is joined at the exit by State Rep. Will Hartnett in HD114.

Eleven-term Dallas state Rep. Will Hartnett has decided not to seek re-election, creating an opening for other Republicans to move up the ladder — or in one case, return to the House.

As expected, Hartnett said in a statement on his future plans Thursday that he would retire.

“My wife and three sons have stood by me during my years of public service, and now I look forward to having more time to stand by them in our family life and events that, in the end, are vastly more important than political life,” he said.

First elected in 1990, Hartnett is the longest-serving House member from North Texas and has sponsored scores of new laws — many of them refining the state’s legal system, though he also did some heavy lifting in 2005 to help secure water supplies for the region. In July, Hartnett was selected by Texas Monthly as one of the Ten Best lawmakers, largely for his handling of a House election contest. The magazine also applauded him for winning passage, in “a session in which any issue having to do with immigration or citizenship was potentially explosive,” of a resolution urging the federal government to grant a conditional green card to noncitizens who arrived in the U.S. before the age of 16 and who graduate from high school, and then allow them to enlist in the armed services and be granted citizenship after four years of service. In his retirement statement, though, Hartnett took pains to point out that in 2001, he “was the only House member who voted against passage of the now controversial HB 1403, which provides in-state college tuition for undocumented immigrants.”

A mixed record, to say the least, but I will definitely give him his props for running a fair election contest process. I hope whoever succeeds him at that does half as good a job at it.

From an electoral standpoint, Hartnett’s HD114 is more purple now that it was before. To sum it up in two numbers:

Dist McCain % Obama % Wainwright % Houston % ================================================ Old 54.5% 44.6% 54.2% 43.4% New 52.4% 46.6% 51.7% 45.7%

There was only so much the Republicans could do to hold onto what they won in 2010 in Dallas County. With HD114 being open, this ought to be a top tier race.

As for SD09, as redrawn by the Lege it’s almost identical to SD10 in terms of partisan performance. Assuming SD10 doesn’t get altered by the courts, it deserves a respectable challenge from a Democratic contender. For what it’s worth, SD09 could have been a pickup for the Dems in 2008 – as it is now in the new map, SD09 was nearly identical to SD10 in partisan performance, when Sen. Wendy Davis knocked off Kim Brimer. Sen. Harris was fortunate to draw an underfunded no-name, and still barely beat him by ten points.

All ancient history now. I wish Sen. Harris and Rep. Hartnett well in their retirement, and I hope someone on the Democratic side is sizing both of these races up.

Jackson to run for Congress, Anderson to primary Harris

State Sen. Mike Jackson makes official what had been speculated.

As expected, state Sen. Mike Jackson, R-La Porte, will run for Congress next year instead of for re-election to the Texas Senate.

He’ll be running in the newly created CD-36. Jackson, the Senate’s president pro tempore, has been in that body since 1999, and served in the Texas House for ten years before that. He’ll turn 58 this weekend.

Jackson’s main claim to fame is his valiant attempt to protect the right of manufacturing plants to pollute the city of Houston. Other than that, to the best of my recollection, he hasn’t done much; certainly, he’s done very little that was constructive. He’ll fit right in with the other Republicans in Washington. State Rep. Larry Taylor has announced his interest in Jackson’s seat. The names may change but that’s about it – there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the two. The new Senate map doesn’t make SD11 any more competitive than it was, so I would not expect much of a fight for this open seat next November.

Moving up north, there’s a primary battle brewing for a different Senate seat.

Freshman state Rep. Rodney Anderson, R-Grand Prairie, plans to challenge state Sen. Chris Harris, R-Arlington, in the March Republican primary, according to a source familiar with Anderson’s plans.

In this year’s state House redistricting, Anderson was drawn into a district that would have had him running in 2012 against fellow GOP Rep. Linda Harper Brown of Irving.

Anderson lives in Harris’ Senate district, and much of his current House district is within that seat.

I guess he figured Harris was the easier target. SD09 was drawn to be about eight points more competitive than SD11, but that means Sam Houston lost it by ten in 2008 instead of 18. Still, the Democrats might have won that seat in 2008 had they run a real candidate, and if there are any changes made to Sen. Wendy Davis’ SD10 as a result of current litigation, there will be an effect in SD09 as well. Whether that would make it any more or less competitive, I couldn’t say. Nonetheless, this is a seat that really ought to be fought for, just as Davis fights to retain hers.

Senate map is out, controversy precedes it

Before we had a State Senate map, we had a brawl brewing over one proposed district on it.

Accusing the state Senate’s Republican leaders of a “shameful partisan attack,” Sen. Wendy Davis said Tuesday that a new redistricting map for her Tarrant County senatorial district violates the federal Voting Rights Act by ripping apart a powerful minority coalition that was crucial to her election over a Republican incumbent in 2008.

After reviewing the map for the first time Tuesday, the Fort Worth Democrat fired off an angry letter to the head of the Senate Select Committee on Redistricting and said she plans legal action to challenge the plan, which revamps her 10th senatorial district.

“I’m very sure we will be in a court battle,” Davis told the Star-Telegram.

Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, chairman of the redistricting committee, is expected to release the proposed map for the state’s 31 Senate districts today. The committee plans a hearing Thursday to take public testimony.

Davis said she was not given an opportunity to provide input for the plan or review preliminary maps, despite repeated requests. She vowed to fight the proposal “with every resource I can muster.”

“I will not allow the voting rights of hundreds of thousands of constituents in Tarrant County to be trampled to satisfy the partisan greed of the Senate leadership,” Davis said.

[…]

Davis said Seliger’s plan would shift African-American voters in southeast Fort Worth, Everman and Forest Hill into redrawn District 22, represented by Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury. Hispanic neighborhoods in north Fort Worth would become part of District 12, represented by Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound.

Putting aside the minority voting strength issue, it’s hard to see how folks in an urban area like that can be served by a Senator from another county in a district that’s mostly rural. What communities of interest do Granbury and Flower Mound share with Fort Worth? Regardless, minority voting strength will certainly be the focus of any legal action that may be taken against the upcoming map. A press release from Sen. Davis that talks about the cracking of these communities is here, a letter from Davis to Sen. Seliger over the latter not meeting with her before the map was created is here, and a letter from four current Fort Worth City Council members to the Justice Department is here.

In the meantime, the Seliger Senate map has now been released into the wild. I know what you want, so here it comes. First, some pictures. Here’s the Metroplex, source of Sen. Davis’ consternation:

Metroplex Senate districts

SD22, Sen. Birdwell’s district, stretches all the way down to Falls County, south of McClennan. It’s closer to Austin than Fort Worth at that end. Speaking of Austin:

Travis County Senate districts

Sens. Troy Fraser and Judith Zaffirini each wind up with a piece of the Capitol county. Neither Zaffirini nor Sen. Kirk Watson are particularly happy about it. I think if the GOP could draw a map that put a piece of Travis County into every single district, they would. Finally, here’s Harris:

Harris County Senate districts

Sen. Joan Huffman’s SD17 goes south but loses the tail that had snaked east across the coast through Galveston into Jefferson County. Sen. Mike Jackson gets all of Galveston, while Sen. Tommy Williams gets all of Chambers and Jefferson. And I am once again moved into a new district, as nearly all of my part of the Heights gets separated from Sen. Mario Gallegos’ SD06 in favor of Sen. John Whitmire’s SD15.

As for electoral data, see here for 2010 and here for 2008. As the map is drawn, it’s hard to see how Sen. Davis can hold on in a district that topped out at 43.50% for Sam Houston (43.12% for Obama), though I suppose it’s not totally out of the question. Interestingly, the Democrats could have some other opportunities over the long term:

Dist Incumbent Molina Houston old Houston new =================================================== 09 Harris 39.4 47.6 43.4 10 Davis 42.3 47.4 43.5 16 Carona 41.0 46.9 43.4 17 Huffman 43.6 47.6 40.8 19 Uresti 55.1 57.0 57.2 20 Hinojosa 55.7 59.7 59.7

I threw in Sens. Carlos Uresti and Chuy Hinojosa as points of comparison, as they were the least Democratic non-Davis districts, with Obama numbers around 55%. Sam Houston wasn’t the high scorer in their districts, either – Linda Yanez got 60.5% in SD20, and both Yanez (59.0) and Susan Strawn (58.4) did better in SD19. I’m not too worried about either of these guys. I wish I had Molina numbers from 2004 for the new districts to compare, but I don’t. I still suspect these districts are bluer now than they would have been then, and will be more so in 2012, but I can’t quantify that. I also suspect there’s only so much that can be done to protect Sens. Carona and Harris, though it may be enough to get them through most if not all of the decade. As with the SBOE, the draw to determine whether they run again in 2014 or 2016 could make a difference. I am sure that there will be alternate maps filed, starting with one from Sen. Davis, so we’ll see how it goes from here.

UPDATE: Something I had not noticed before: Sen. Zaffirini, whose district stretches from Laredo to Austin, would no longer have a piece of Bexar County.

Under the proposed changes, the number of senators representing San Antonio would slip from four to three because state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, would have a district that completely avoids Bexar County.

Zaffirini was upset she wouldn’t represent San Antonio if the proposal were to pass. It has her district running all the way from Laredo to East Austin’s historically black neighborhoods.

“I’ve worked hard for Bexar County,” she said. “I especially carry their higher education agenda passionately; I’ve made a difference for Bexar County over the years.”

There’s a good side-by-side comparison at the story.

UPDATE: Greg has more.

Population growth by legislative district

Some nice work by the Trib here.

Our new interactive map visualizes population changes by district for the total population and residents who are of Hispanic origin. These totals are especially important now given that lawmakers are preparing to redraw these districts based on their growth, demographics and election histories.

The data behind the map reveal some interesting trends. As we’ve seen, suburban areas around Texas’ largest cities saw the robust growth in the Hispanic population — both in raw totals and rate. That means suburban representatives — most of whom are Republicans — are seeing an influx of potential voters from a group that has traditionally favored Democrats.

You can see the map here. As a companion to that, bookmark the Texas Legislative Council’s redistricting page, in particular the ones that show election returns by Senate and House districts.

That serves nicely as a lead in to this Trib story about the challenges the mapmakers will face, and who’s in for a rough couple of months while they’re working it all out.

In any conversation about who is vulnerable in the redistricting process, the four freshmen from West Texas always rise to the top of the list. Sure enough, when the census numbers came out, that part of Texas lagged behind the state’s overall growth; there aren’t enough people there to justify the number of state representatives in the Legislature. Two will have to go. It’s not at all clear this early who’ll be on the list, but two things stand out. State Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, is interested in running for the Texas Railroad Commission and won’t be back, so that seat will be easy to delete. And of the four Republican freshmen, Rep. Jim Landtroop of Plainview is the least well-anchored. Rep. Walter “Four” Price is based in Amarillo, and John Frullo and Charles Perry call Lubbock home. Only 22,194 people live in Plainview, and the 16-county district is spread out like a crucifix that reaches from north of Lubbock to south of Midland.

Parties and friendships aside, it’s an easy district to cut up.

Or look at Tarrant County, where Sen. Wendy Davis, a Fort Worth Democrat, is completely surrounded by Republicans, two of whom need to add people to their districts. Her seat isn’t a district protected by the federal Voting Rights Act — it voted for Republican John McCain in the 2008 presidential election — and she’s a Democrat in a legislative body in which Republicans would gain solid control by flipping a couple of seats to their side. Like Landtroop, she’s got time to negotiate, and a district that will require her to be good at it.

Or look at U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, a freshman who surprised Democrats and Republicans alike when he beat U.S. Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi, in the November elections. Texas gets four new U.S. congressional seats in 2012, and Latinos are pushing for at least one in South Texas. Farenthold’s district isn’t stable ground for a Republican and could easily be affected by changes in the lines nearby. And he’s a freshman at a time when it would be more useful to be an incumbent.

I think it’s a little early to state unequivocally that Chisum won’t be back, since we don’t know for sure that there will be an elected Railroad Commission for him to try to join. As for Davis, I’ll just note that you can say basically the same thing about one of her neighbors, State Sen. Chris Harris, whose district in 2008 was actually a tiny bit more Democratic than Davis’ was:

SD Senator McCain Cornyn Williams Wainwright ================================================== 09 Harris 51.9 52.6 50.7 49.6 10 Davis 52.1 52.1 50.4 50.2 16 Carona 51.7 54.6 53.1 50.2

Harris is between Davis and Democratic Sen. Royce West in SD23, with Sen. John Carona’s SD16 just touching his district to the northeast. Davis’ district actually has the most people in it of those four – she has 834,265, which by my count is the 12th-most populous Senate district overall; Harris has 807,907; West 749,622; Carona 641,007; his is the least populated Senate district, and was the only one to decrease in number. I’m not saying she has nothing to fear, just that as always with redistricting, you can’t look at any one district in isolation. What happens to her will affect everyone around her, and just as Travis County could not sustain three Republican House districts after 2002, it’s not at all clear to me that Dallas and Tarrant Counties can sustain having only one Democratic Senate district.

Anyway. Maps! They’ve got ’em, we like ’em, go look at ’em and see what you think. Robert Miller has more.