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Redistricting update

From Russ Tidwell, writing at Letters from Texas:

Plan H382

There is well-established case law around redistricting that calls for creating a new minority opportunity district anytime a compact majority of a single minority group can be established (i.e., majority Black or majority Hispanic), but a combination of the two doesn’t necessarily count.

While Texas is seeing explosive growth in its various minority populations, much of that growth is not concentrated in single minority neighborhoods. Rather, much of this population has been diffused into the close-in suburbs of our major urban counties and other small cities. Multi-ethnic communities of Hispanics, Blacks, Asians and Anglos have emerged in Mesquite, Garland, Irving, Arlington, Grand Prairie, Killeen, Waco, Sugar Land, and western Harris County.

It is literally impossible to draw compact districts here that have a majority of any single minority.

As noted in a previous post, by 2008, minority citizens in many of these naturally-occurring suburban concentrations had elected the candidates of their choice to the Texas House, and this made a difference. The House was closely divided and all minority legislators had the opportunity to be “at the table.”

The 2010 electoral tsunami swept out the minority candidates of choice in all swing districts. The resulting Anglo supermajority in the legislature attempted to make its status permanent by dismantling the districts that had given minority citizens voice. Alternatively packing and fragmenting those voters was the process. Litigation ensued.

Do those minority citizens in ethnically diverse communities have voting rights? That is what the redistricting litigation is about in large part. The State of Texas, in closing arguments at trial, says they do not. The state, in effect, says that if a minority citizen cannot be drawn in to a district with a majority of the population from a single minority group, they have no other voting rights protection. Believe it or not, that is the state’s position in federal court.

The Perez Plaintiffs published a demonstration map (view the map and view the analysis) showing eleven hypothetical State House districts in suburban Texas where this fragmentation occurred. This map reverses that fragmentation and produces eleven compact districts where minority citizens would have the opportunity to elect the candidates of their choice.

These demonstration districts have a total population of 1,834,145. Just over a million of them are Black or Hispanic (1,002,389); another 184,802 are Asian. Almost 65% of this population is minority, yet it is impossible to draw one district in this territory that has a majority of a single minority group. The population is too diffused.

This map would recognize voting rights for almost 1.2 million people who are disenfranchised under the state’s enacted plan. That is the significance of this litigation.

Tidwell notes that final arguments and briefs have been filed with the three-judge panel in San Antonio, so one presumes we will get a ruling sometime in the next few months, with the possibility of new maps being in place for the 2016 election. The Perez plaintiffs’ map and associated data can be found here. There’s also a Plan 381, which shows all of the districts that would be affected after these 11 were changed. In any event, the point is that either the state will get some number of these minority fusion districts or it won’t. That’s the question for the court. There is no election data analysis for the Perez plan, but based on the data I recall seeing for maps that got proposed during the redistricting process in 2011, it’s fair to say all 11 districts in the Perez map would be friendlier to Dems, in some cases tilting competitive but red-leaning districts blue, and in others (such as HD26) turning solid red districts into competitive ones. How likely any of this is to happen, including at the appellate levels, I don’t know. But this is where we are as of today.

Another story about parents and education cuts

I really want to believe that there’s an uprising in the works and that the Lege could be a very different place for the better next year, but I’m reserving judgment on that for now.

Deep cuts in school funding approved by the Texas Legislature last summer could energize angry parents in a way similar to how the tea party movement mobilized conservatives in 2010. In the 150-seat state House alone, at least 29 candidates who are current or former school board members, or have other education experience, are challenging incumbents or vying for open seats in the May 29 primary.

Seventeen are Republicans and 12 are Democrats — and most are pledging to fix Texas’ broken school finance system and dial back the importance of high-stakes standardized tests.

A possible education backlash has [Rep. Marva] Beck nervous and another incumbent, West Texas Republican Rep. Sid Miller, facing a primary challenge that could be tougher than expected. Among several candidates vying for an open seat in suburban Dallas, meanwhile, is Bennett Ratliff, scion of a well-known Texas political family who says his education background sets him apart from a crowded field.

“Funding is not the whole issue, but you can’t continue to cut, and continue to cut, and continue to cut. At some point it does become about funding,” said Ratliff, a Republican and nine-year veteran of the school board in Coppell, northwest of Dallas. His father is former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff and his brother Thomas is on the state Board of Education.

Beck and Miller, who was the author of the sonogram bill, are both awful and richly deserve to be ousted, but I’m not prepared to believe that their opponents will be measurably better, even if we just confine the discussion to the issue of public education. At this point, anything short of a commitment to restore the $5.4 billion in funding that was cut from education plus a commitment to work on closing the structural budget hole caused by the 2006 tax swap leaves too much room for the same old same old. I’m glad there’s something out there other than the nihilists that can put some fear into these guys, I just want to see it translate into better votes.

Carolyn Boyle heads the Texas Parent Political Action Committee, which in 2006 supported at least 10 candidates who unseated incumbents or captured open seats. This year, the PAC has conducted more than 25 interviews with pro-education candidates and will endorse an equal number of Republicans and Democrats.

“This could be a game-changer election,” Boyle said. “There are so many candidates with rich education experience.”

Republicans hold a 102-seat super majority in the Texas House and while they will likely lose as many as 10 seats due to redistricting, they will maintain control. But next year they take a different tack.

As I said before, being an educator is nice but hardly sufficient. I love what ParentPAC does and I’ll be keeping a close eye on their endorsements this year – so far, I have received emails announcing their endorsements of Republicans Trent Ashby in HD57, Ed Thompson in HD29, Roger Fisher in HD92, Susan Todd in HD97, Amber Fulton in HD106, Jason Villalba in HD114, Bennett Ratliff in HD115, and Whet Smith in HD138; they have also endorsed Democrat Justin Rodriguez in HD125 – but I have not forgotten that all of their previous Republican endorsees marched off the cliff with the rest of their party last year. Not a one as far as I can tell argued against the cuts to education – hell, not a one as far as I can tell argued against the twice-as-big education cuts that were in the House budget. How do I know that once they’ve been elected they won’t take Rick Perry’s budget suicide pledge and give us more of what we got last time? I really really hope I’m being overwrought about this, because we’re not getting a Democratic majority any time soon and we need there to be at least a decent contingent of pro-education Republicans in Austin, but I’m not seeing what I want in the rhetoric just yet.

Republican Mike Jones is a former college instructor and member of the school board in Glen Rose, southwest of Fort Worth, who calls fully funding school districts a centerpiece of his campaign. He says it has raised the profile of his challenge of Miller — a one-time vocational teacher himself who voted in favor of the school cuts.

“It’s like the school district is a Chevy Suburban and it’s been driven by a superintendent … then the state comes and saddles them with a 40,000 pound trailer on the back end of it and starts blaming the Suburban or the principals or the teachers or the kids,” Jones said. “It’s not their fault it’s that trailer put on there. It’s the unfunded mandates and the testing.”

Jones and others have also seized on what they call the state’s over-reliance on standardized testing, which districts are forced to prepare their students for more rigorously than ever despite budgets cuts.

I’m glad to hear this and I agree with what Jones is saying, but it doesn’t take much political courage these days to be anti-standardized testing. I’m happy for these candidates to pursue a more balanced testing policy – as the parent of a rising third-grader, I’ll be delighted to have less to worry about on this score – but let’s not confuse that with a solution for the school finance problem. We may find some savings there, but it’ll be little more than couch cushion money. Dialing back the standardized tests is worth doing on its own merits, but it’s a separate issue from the main event of education funding.