Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Jeff Wentworth

The National Democratic Redistricting Committee in Texas

Let’s say I’m hope but verify on this one.

Former President Barack Obama and members of his administration are ready to take another shot at chipping away at Republican domination in Texas.

A new group headed by former Attorney General Eric Holder and with the public backing of Obama is targeting Texas among 11 states in which they are determined to change the redistricting process to assure more competitive state House and Senate races in the future.

“In 2011, Republicans created gerrymandered districts that locked themselves into power and shut out voters from the electoral process,” Holder said in announcing the National Democratic Redistricting Committee’s electoral targets earlier this week.

“By focusing on these state and local races, we can ensure Democrats who will fight for fairness have a seat at the table when new maps are drawn in 2021,” he added.

And Harris County will be a big part of the plan. State Democrats have already highlighted more than 20 seats in the Texas House that Hillary Clinton either won over Donald Trump in 2016 or lost narrowly — a list the new NDRC group is well versed in, said Kelly Ward, executive director of the group.

Ward said her group hasn’t made specific targets yet, but said after the primaries in March they will begin to hone in on more specific targets.

[…]

[Manny Garcia, the Texas Democratic Party’s Deputy Executive Director] said state Democrats welcome the attention from national groups. He said the recognition from group’s like Holder’s only offers further vindication of the progress Texas Democrats are making.

In 2011, the Texas House had 101 Republicans and 49 Democrats. Since then, Democrats have gained 6 seats and have hopes for more in 2018. In the Senate, though Republicans have a 9 seat edge, Garcia said picking up just two seats would have a big impact on how the Senate operates.

Currently Democrats have few procedural tools to slow down the Republican agenda in Austin. But with two additional seats, Democrats would have enough votes to force Republicans to have to listen to them.

It all sounds good, but this isn’t the first time we’ve heard from a big-name group of former Obama staffers with big ideas and the promise of major resources, so I trust you’ll forgive me if I refrain from swooning just yet. They’re saying the right things, and the fact that Senate races are in the discussion is a positive, but we’ll know it when we see it if this is a real and serious thing.

On a broader note, I think a promise of a better and less-partisan redistricting process would have some appeal to less-partisan voters. Since the ouster of Sen. Jeff Wentworth, it’s Democrats who have taken up the thankless task of filing a bill for a non-partisan redistricting committee. Such a bill is highly unlikely to go anywhere without a Democratic majority, and of course once there is a Democratic majority the urge to use the process for our own benefit will be strong. Maybe things would be different this time, and who knows, if you get enough people to campaign and win on a fair-and-less-partisan redistricting process they may actually act on it once elected. It’s worth a shot.

Endorsement watch: Pennington

The Chron endorses CM Oliver Pennington for a third term.

CM Oliver Pennington

CM Oliver Pennington

For the past four years, District G has been ably represented by attorney Oliver Pennington. We recommend a vote for Pennington to continue his service at city hall.

Pennington, a retired Fulbright & Jaworski partner and 40-year District G resident, brings decades of invaluable experience in municipal finance, municipal law and environmental law, as well as time spent representing local governments.

These are precisely the skills City Council will require as it faces issues such as city employee pension reform and ongoing issues related to water and drainage infrastructure.

In a third and final term, we would also encourage Pennington to be active in city efforts to manage the traffic congestion brought by the construction of numerous midrise apartment buildings across Inner Loop Houston.

This growth, while welcome, is threatening mobility on inner city thoroughfares, with consequences that extend to school and neighborhood safety as frustrated drivers seek cut-throughs to avoid delays on main routes.

I did not interview CM Pennington this time around, as my schedule was fuller and less accommodating this year. Here’s the interview I did in 2011 with him if you can’t bear the thought of not hearing me speak with him. I think CM Pennington has done a good job, and I’d vote for him if I lived in District G. One thing I appreciate about Pennington, and it’s something I appreciate more each day as we watch the ongoing train wreck in Congress and the already-nauseating Republican statewide primaries here is that he considers it his job to make things work better. He’s not there to tear things down, or obstruct for the sake of obstruction, or otherwise refuse to accept that not everyone sees the world as he does. He’s conservative and he operates as a conservative, but in the service of getting things done and making city government function effectively and efficiently. I wouldn’t want him to be Mayor, but people like him are needed on Council.

Another way to look at it, from my perspective anyway, is this: In any legislative body where people are elected from districts, any district map is going to include places where candidates that would represent my point of view are not going to get elected. The best outcome in those districts, especially in a legislative body where my kind of legislators are in the minority, is for those representatives to be more like Oliver Pennington and less like Ted Cruz. It’s not a matter of conservatism, at least for any definition of “conservatism” that makes sense, but of nihilism and radicalism. That point was driven home the other day as I read this Trib story about Sen. Tommy Williams, whose retirement announcement caught everyone by surprise. Look at who is being mentioned as a possible successor:

Williams was on the conservative end of the spectrum when he came into the Senate, but the spectrum moved with the elections of senators like Brian Birdwell, Kelly Hancock and [Ken] Paxton. He could be replaced by someone whose politics are more like theirs than his. The line is already forming, sort of: Rep. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, might give up his bid for agriculture commissioner and run for SD-4 instead; Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, is looking; Ben Streusand, a serial Republican candidate who doesn’t hold office, is also considering it.

Tommy Williams is hardly my ideal Senator, but for a guy who represents the district he does, we could do worse. And if the likes of Steve Toth or Ben Streusand get elected, we’ll see just how much worse. Toth has already demonstrated that after his ouster of Rob Eissler. As I said after Sen. Donna Campbell defeated Jeff Wentworth, it’s not about the Senate getting more conservative, it’s about the Senate getting more stupid, and more mean. We’ve seen the effect in Congress. We’re seeing it in the Lege. I for one do not want to see it on City Council.

Chan challenges Campbell in SD25

An awful candidate against an awful incumbent.

Two months after stirring national controversy by condemning homosexuality, Councilwoman Elisa Chan has decided to leave the council to run for the Texas Senate in 2014, challenging District 25 state Sen. Donna Campbell in the March GOP primary.

Chan, 47, is taking on a first-term incumbent from New Braunfels who has strong backing among tea party members and some Republicans. Without attacking Campbell, Chan contends her council service prepares her well for the Legislature, and she hopes to survive the withering criticism generated by her opposition to the city’s new nondiscrimination ordinance.

“I know a lot of people in this community agree with me; so I don’t foresee any problem, but I would never know until I go out there,” Chan said Friday.

“With my qualifications, my experience, my conservative views, what can I do to make the biggest positive impact to the community? I think this is a good opportunity for me,” she said.

Speculation about a Chan candidacy wafted across Central Texas since summer, with some pundits saying she was seeking a graceful exit from her embattled city role. Chan drew national attention in August when the Express-News reported her secretly recorded, anti-gay comments. Yet, the controversy also flushed out Chan supporters who backed her free speech rights and opposition to the ordinance.

[…]

Chan has represented District 9 on the North Side since 2009, winning in repeated landslides. The businesswoman was eligible to run for one more term in District 9 in 2015.

Also running for the GOP nomination in District 25 is San Antonio businessman Mike Novak. Democrat Dan Boone of Canyon Lake, plans to run for his party’s nomination. The final showdown would be in November 2014.

Campbell captured the seat in 2012 after upsetting former Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, in the 2012 primary. She won the general election with 66 percent of the vote.

See here, here, and here for a bit of background on the non-discrimination ordinance and Chan’s shameful role in it. Campbell is awful, but she did vote for the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay bill that Rick Perry vetoed, so there’s that. I have no idea if there’s anything one can say about Chan that would mitigate a bit of her awfulness. I know nothing about Mike Novak, so I don’t know if he might present a somewhat less awful alternative. Sadly, after redistricting this district is sufficiently red that the only paths to less awfulness are Campbell becoming a better person or the GOP primary voters in SD25 accidentally electing a better person. The one positive thing is that San Antonio City Council has a chance to become a better place once Chan officially resigns. It’s not much, but it’ll have to do. BOR has more.

The redistricting commission idea rides again

Jeff Wentworth is no longer in the Senate, but his signature idea for a bipartisan redistricting commission still lives, now in an expanded form.

Rep. Rafael Anchia

State Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) filed a proposed constitutional amendment Wednesday that would move responsibility for both congressional and legislative redistricting in Texas to a 7-person, bipartisan commission.

The proposed amendment is notably broader than proposals pushed for over a decade by former State Sen. Jeff Wentworth (R-San Antonio) which would have applied only to congressional redistricting.

Under the Anchia amendment (H.J.R. 116), the seven-member commission would consist of:

  1. one member appointed by the most senior state senator
  2. one member appointed by the most senior state senator who is not a member of the same party as the senior most senator
  3.  one member appointed by the senior most state representative
  4. one member appointed by the most senior state representative who is not a member of the same party as the senior most state representative
  5. one member elected by majority vote of the four members above
  6. two members who are retired federal judges selected by member #5, with the additional requirement that the two judges must have been appointed to the bench by presidents of different political parties.

Members of the commission could not be elected or appointed public officials, political party officials, or lobbyists or be employed by officeholders or candidates.  Close relatives of public officials also would be excluded.  In addition, commission members would be prohibited from running for the state legislature for three years following adoption of a map.

The amendment also imposes a number of substantive redistricting standards, including a requirement that legislative districts not contain a population deviation of more than 2.5% and a requirement that “to the extent reasonable, district boundaries … coincide with the political subdivisions of the state and divide the smallest number of counties, municipalities, and school districts possible.”

I’m glad to see Rep. Anchia make this a constitutional amendment that includes legislative redistricting and not just Congressional redistricting. I always thought that was a flaw in Wentworth’s plan. Sure, that makes this a tougher lift since it now requires a 2/3 majority to be passed, but it also arguably makes it easier to make the case for it. The only question I have is why Rep. Anchia didn’t include SBOE redistricting in the joint resolution as well. Admittedly, SBOE redistricting seems to be less contentious, presumably because no one in the Lege is thinking about running for one of those seats some day, but why not make a clean sweep of it? Not a big deal, I’m just curious. Anyway, I’m sure this has about the same chance of success as Wentworth’s efforts did, but it’s still worth filing. Given that the Lege has never drawn maps that weren’t successfully challenged in court, this is an idea whose time has come.

Interview with John Courage

John Courage

If you’re following the State Senate elections, there’s probably only one you’re paying attention to now that the primaries are over, and that’s Sen. Wendy Davis’ re-election battle in SD10. As important as that race is for many reasons, I think there need to be a few more eyes on the race in SD25 as well, where GOP primary voters tossed out the long-serving moderate Sen. Jeff Wentworth (he may be the last pro-choice Republican office holder left in the state) in favor of the certifiably loony Donna Campbell. Opposing Campbell in a determined effort to keep the Senate from getting any stupider than it needs to be is John Courage. Courage is an Air Force veteran and an educator; unlike his opponent, he has actually lived in the district for many years. He served on the Alamo Community College District Board of Trustees in the 1980s and ran against Lamar Smith in CD21 in 2006. Here’s the interview:

John Courage MP3

You can still find a list of all interviews I did for this primary cycle, plus other related information, on my 2012 Harris County Primary Elections page and my 2012 Texas Primary Elections page, which I now need to update to include fall candidate information. You can also follow this blog by liking its Facebook page.

2012 Republican primary runoffs

All the results are here. In the end, Ted Cruz won a pretty solid victory. I’ll note that in the last two publicly released polls, PPP had Cruz up by 10, whereas Baselice & Associates claimed Dewhurst was up by 5. Oops. The latter poll sampled people who hadn’t actually voted in the May primary, which sure seems like a stretch now. By the way, Baselice & Associates is the pollster that did that first Metro poll. Two completely different universes, and one silly poll result doesn’t cast a shadow on another, it’s just a reminder that polling isn’t destiny.

In the Congressional primaries of interest, Randy Weber in CD14 and Roger Williams in CD25 won easily, while Steve Stockman won a closer race for CD36. Multiple incumbents went down to defeat, most spectacularly Sen. Jeff Wentworth in SD25. Am I the only one who thinks that he might have been better off switching parties? Hard to imagine he could have done worse in November than this. Nutjob John Devine won himself a spot on the Supreme Court, which like the Senate just got appreciably more stupid. I will console myself with the thought that Devine, who is in many ways a huckster, is highly likely to run afoul of the code of judicial conduct at some point. Speaking of party switching, former Democrat Chuck Hopson is now an ex-Representative, as are Sid “Sonogram” Miller and Jim Landtroop. The only legislative incumbent to survive was the other party switcher, JM Lozano, who now faces a tough race in November. The runoff was even hard on former incumbents, as Warren Chisum lost his bid for the Railroad Commission. However, Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman did survive, and former SBOE member Geraldine Miller got her spot back.

In other races of interest, Rick Miller won the nomination in HD26, thus likely delaying the de-honkification of the Fort Bend County delegation for at least another two years. By my count, of the eight Parent PAC candidates in the runoff, all but Wentworth and Hopson won, which is a pretty impressive result. Maybe, just maybe, the Lege will be marginally less hostile to public education next year.

Finally, in Harris County, it took awhile for the results to come in, but Louis Guthrie won the right to face Sheriff Adrian Garcia in the fall. That will be one to watch. Did any of these results surprise you? Leave a comment and let me know.

UPDATE: Make that five of eight for Parent PAC. When I went to bed, Trent McKnight was leading in HD68, but by the time I got up this morning he had lost.

Election night returns

For your convenience:

Statewide Democratic results

Looks good for Paul Sadler. Going to be a long night in CDs 23 and 33.

Statewide Republican results

Ted Cruz has a modest early lead. Wackjob John Devine is leading Supreme Court Justice David Medina. Steve Stockman is leading in CD36, and Donna Campbell is crushing Jeff Wentworth. The crazy flag is flying high.

Harris County Democratic results

Looking good for Gene Wu, Alan Rosen, and especially Erica Lee, who has over 70% in the disputed HCDE runoff.

Harris County GOP results

Louis Guthrie will get to oppose Sheriff Adrian Garcia.

I’ll post full results in the morning.

Runoff Day

At long last, the 2012 primary season is about to be over in Texas, other than perhaps the HCDE race. To say the least, it’s been a long, strange trip, one that I hope goes down in the books as a bizarre aberration, never to be repeated or approximated. If you have not voted yet in Harris County, you can find all the information you will need here. PLEASE be aware that only a handful of locations will be open, and they are not guaranteed to have both primaries at them. Check your location before you head out and avoid any needlessly unpleasant surprises.

As far as turnout goes, recent runoff history suggests that most of the votes have already been cast:

Year Mail Mail % Early Early % E-Day E-Day % ======================================================== 2006 D 2,920 21.3% 4,296 31.3% 6,510 47.4% 2006 R 5,432 51.6% 2,019 19.2% 3,077 29.2% 2008 D 4,568 47.4% 3,045 31.5% 2,056 21.3% 2008 R 11,373 28.0% 14,912 36.8% 14,262 35.2% 2010 D 5,885 38.7% 5,122 33.6% 4,218 27.8% 2010 R 12,220 28.4% 14,769 34.3% 16,025 37.3% 2012 D 7,304 11,715 2012 R 17,441 53,043

Final EV turnout numbers for this year are here. As there were no statewide Democratic primary runoffs in 2010, I had forgotten there were Harris County countywide runoffs that year. I have added in those numbers to my earlier post to complete the picture on that. My apologies for the oversight. Anyway, what we learn from this, other than the need for a good absentee ballot program, is that in each primary runoff of the past three cycles more than half the ballots were cast before Runoff Day. In fact, outside of the 2006 Democratic primary runoff, more than 60% of the ballots were cast before Runoff Day. Given that, don’t expect too much to be added to the vigorous early turnout so far. It could happen that the final total will be more than double what it is now for either primary, but history suggests otherwise.

Of course, we’ve never really had anything like the GOP Senate primary and runoff, so if there’s going to be another aberration, that would be where and why. I’m not dumb enough to try to guess who will win that race, but I will say that anyone who had made a prediction based on turnout level ought to be giving the matter more thought. It would also seem that Sarah Palin and Rick Perry are no longer BFFs. High school sure can be rough, can’t it?

The other GOP runoffs of interest to me are in SD25 and HD43. In the former, generally sane if occasionally eccentric Sen. Jeff Wentworth is trying to hang on against the decidedly crazy Donna Campbell, whose election would be another big step in the stupidification of the Senate, as well as a clean sweep for the teabaggers in the legislative primaries. HD43 is where turncoat Dem Rep. JM Lozano is hoping to not be yet another Latino Republican knocked off in a primary by a white guy. Expect some narrative-related punditry on that race no matter who wins.

On the Democratic side, obviously I’m rooting for Paul Sadler to carry the banner in the Senate race in the fall. Like EoW, I don’t know if a Cruz-Sadler matchup will be the definitive test of the myth/hypothesis that moderate Republicans may finally be willing to cross over and support a mainstream Dem over a nutty Republican – I’d argue that Bill White already provided some evidence to that, he just picked the wrong year to do it in – but if you want to start your speculation engines, Burka quoted a “nationally known Republican consultant” who said that “if Ted Cruz wins the Senate race, Texas will be a purple state in four years.” Campose says, why wait?

Why not accelerate things starting Wednesday morning?

A little over a million GOPers will cast votes in the GOP runoff tomorrow. In the 2008 General Election in the Lone Star State, eight million of us cast votes. That’s seven million voters that aren’t participating in the GOP mudfest. A lot of voters across the state have been turned off by the onslaught of negative ads that now have a mom blaming her kid’s suicide on Ted Cruz.

I think if Cruz wins he is damaged goods that Dems can seize upon over the next 99 days.

[…]

If Cruz does pull it off tomorrow we need to immediately paint him and the rest of the GOP ballot as too extreme for the Lone Star State and Harris County. Commentary has said it before that in order for Dems to grow here in Harris County we have to head northwest. Commentary is also partial to my client, State Board of Education, District 6 candidate Traci Jensen. Traci’s GOP opponent Donna Bahorich is State Senator Dan Patrick’s former district director and every bit as scary as Ted Cruz. The showcasing of Traci Jensen, Rep. Sadler, and Sheriff Adrian Garcia against extremist candidates in that part of the county will result in more Dem votes up and down the ballot countywide.

Sometimes unexpected opportunities just show up at your doorstep. If Cruz wins, an opportunity is at our doorstep.

If the Dems in charge just shrug it off and go on about business as usual and cede the state to Cruz, the Tea Baggers, and extremism, then a “shame on you” would be letting them off too lightly.

Well, it sure would be nice if Sadler had 45 million bucks to spend to remind everyone of all the awful things Dewhurst and Cruz have been saying about each other, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. But Campos is right, there’s no time like the present, and there’s no place like our own back yard to get started. What are we waiting for?

Beyond that, there are three Congressional runoffs that are big. It’s been clear for a few years now that the future of the Texas Democratic Party has been in the State House, and depending on how things go we could have as many as three former members of last year’s delegation on the November ballot (Joaquin Castro, who is already the CD20 nominee; Marc Veasey in CD33; Pete Gallego in CD23), with two of them all but guaranteed a win in November. I’d consider that a down payment on future state races. In addition, the woefully under-reported CD34 primary will determine whether or not the husband of a Republican judge will be the Democratic nominee for that newly created Congressional district. I have a hard time believing that, too, but here we are. There are numerous State House races of interest as well, with HD137 being the focal point for me. On the GOP side, seven House runoffs plus the Wentworth race feature Parent PAC candidates, so those are worth keeping an eye on, too. What races are you watching today?

GOP results, statewide

Full, though not necessarily the most up to date, results, are here. The Trib and the Observer have good roundups as well.

– Mitt. Yawn. He was at just under 70% statewide, with Ron Paul getting 11% and Rick Santorum 8%. You have to wonder what might have been if Santorum had held on through May.

– Dewhurst and Cruz in a runoff, with the Dew getting 45% to Cruz’s 33%. I will not be taking bets on the outcome of that one. Tom Leppert had 13% and Craig James – cue the sad trombone – was below 4%. Why did he get in this race again? And did he really think he had crossover appeal? Geez.

(UPDATE: Mike Baselice, Dewhurst’s pollster, says every Republican candidate with over 43 percent going into a statewide runoff during the last 20 years has gone on to win. So Cruz may as well go ahead and concede now, right?)

– Christi Craddick and Warren Chisum will go into overtime for Railroad Commissioner, as will Barry Smitherman against Greg Parker. Supreme Court Justice David Medina got less than 40% in a three-way race and will face the will-he-never-go-away? candidate John Devine.

– All incumbent Congressfolk easily won re-nomination, with Campaign for Primary Accountability targets Ralph Hall (59%) and Joe Barton (63%) not particularly bothered. Kenny Marchant in CD24 was on some people’s watch lists as well, but he got 68% in his race. The two open seats for which the GOP is heavily favored in November were interesting. Roger Williams will duke it out with somebody, most likely Wes Riddle as I write this. Michael Williams was a total dud, finishing with just over 10% and in fifth place. Over in CD36, what in the world happened to Mike Jackson? Steve Stockman (!) and somebody named Steve Takach were neck and neck for the runoff slot. The other open seat, CD14, saw Pearlanders Randy Weber and Felicia Harris make it to the second round.

– The first signs of carnage are in the SBOE races. David Bradley, Barbara Cargill, and thankfully Thomas Ratliff all won, but George Clayton was headed to a third place finish in his four way race – Geraldine Miller, whom Clayton knocked off in a 2010 shocker, was leading the pack – and in a race that sure wasn’t on my radar, SBOE Chair Gail Lowe lost to Sue Melton. Where did that come from? The open SBOE 15 seat to replace Bob Craig was the closest race, with Marty Rowley leading Parent PAC-backed Anette Carlisle by 2000 votes.

– State Sen. Jeff Wentworth will have to keep running in SD25, as he had about 36% of the vote with 75% of precincts in. His opponent in July, in a blow to Texans for Lawsuit Reform, will not be Elizabeth Ames Jones, however, as Donna Campbell took for second place. I hope Wentworth can do better in overtime, because Campbell would make the Senate even dumber than Ames Jones would have. Former State Reps. Kelly Hancock (SD09), Mark Shelton (SD10, opposing Wendy Davis), Larry Taylor (SD11), and Charles Schwertner (SD05) all won the right to get a promotion in November.

– It’s in the State House that the body count begins to pile up. The following incumbents lost their races:

Leo Berman (HD06)
Wayne Christian (HD09)
Rob Eissler (HD15)
Mike Hamilton (HD19)
Marva Beck (HD57)
Barbara Nash (HD93)
Vicki Truitt (HD98)

Hamilton was paired with James White. Eissler was the chair of the Public Education committee. With Scott Hochberg retiring, that’s going to put a lot of pressure on two new people next year. And no, Eissler wasn’t beaten by someone who wanted to make public education better. Eissler didn’t distinguish himself last session in my opinion, but this is not an upgrade.

Incumbents in runoffs:

Turncoat Chuck Hopson (HD11, 47.15% to Travis Clardy’s 46.30%)
Turncoat JM Lozano (HD43, 41.55% to Bill Wilson’s 44.38% but with only 42 of 69 precincts reporting)
Sid Miller (HD59, 42.48% to JD Sheffield’s 41.50%)
Jim Landtroop (HD88, 34.63% in a four way race to Ken King’s 30.08% with two precincts out)

Speaker Joe Straus easily survived his re-election bid and picked up an opponent for Speaker before the first vote was counted.

– The Parent PAC slate had mixed results:

Texas Senate

S.D. 9: Rep. Todd Smith, R-Euless – Lost
S.D. 11: Dave Norman, R-Seabrook – Lost
S.D. 25: Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio – Runoff

Texas House of Representatives

H.D. 2: George Alexander, R-Greenville – Lost
H.D. 3: Cecil Bell, Jr., R-Magnolia – Won
H.D. 5: Mary Lookadoo, R-Mineola – Lost
H.D. 7: Tommy Merritt, R-Longview – Lost
H.D. 9: Chris Paddie, R-Marshall – Won
H.D. 24: Dr. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood – Leading, in runoff
H.D. 29: Ed Thompson, R-Pearland – Won
H.D. 57: Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin – Won
H.D. 59: Dr. J.D. Sheffield, R-Gatesville – In runoff
H.D. 68: Trent McKnight, R-Throckmorton – Leading, in runoff
H.D. 74: Poncho Nevárez, D-Eagle Pass – Winning as of last report
H.D. 92: Roger Fisher, R-Bedford – Lost
H.D. 94: Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington – Won
H.D. 96: Mike Leyman, R-Mansfield – Lost
H.D. 97: Susan Todd, R-Fort Worth – Lost
H.D. 106: Amber Fulton, R-The Colony – Lost
H.D. 114: Jason Villalba, R-Dallas – In runoff
H.D. 115: Bennett Ratliff, R-Coppell – In runoff
H.D. 125: Justin Rodriguez, D-San Antonio – Won
H.D. 138: Whet Smith, R-Houston – Lost
H.D. 150: James Wilson, R-Spring – Lost

State Board of Education

SBOE 7: Rita Ashley, R-Beaumont – Lost
SBOE 9: Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant – Won
SBOE 15: Anette Carlisle, R-Amarillo – Lost

Unclear to me at this time if this is a net gain, a net loss, or a wash.

– David Bradley won his race, but Williamson County DA John Bradley was trailing as votes slowly trickled in. If that holds, it’s one of the best results of the day.

– Turnout was likely to be around 1.5 million, which will be a bit better for them than 2008 was (1,362,322 votes in the Presidential primary). Clearly, the Senate race drove their turnout. In 2004, they had less than 700,000 votes total.

(UPDATE: Total votes cast in the Presidential race were 1,438,553.)

On to the Democrats…

Wentworth and Jones sue each other

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a contender for nastiest primary race of the cycle.

In this corner...

On Thursday, incumbent state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, sued challenger Elizabeth Ames Jones, a former railroad commissioner, alleging libel and slander. Emergency room doctor Donna Campbell is also running, but is not a part of this particular squabble.

At issue is a new radio ad aired by the Jones campaign that says, “Records indicate Wentworth has billed both the state of Texas and his campaign fund for the same travel expenses — including gasoline to fuel his Lexus, which he leases with campaign money.”

...And in this corner

Wentworth takes issue with the implication that he has engaged in criminal behavior and insists that no fraudulent activity or double-billing has taken place. “To be falsely accused of committing a crime is over the line of political discourse and has forced me into filing this defamation suit against Jones,” he said in a statement. “I filed this lawsuit to defend my honor and the integrity of our democracy.”

At a press conference in San Antonio, Wentworth said that if he prevailed in his suit, he would donate any monetary damages awarded to a charity organization dedicated to educating Texans about the state’s political process.

Jones responded to the press conference with a statement doubling down on the allegations. “Sen. Wentworth’s double-billing for gas and airfare is the latest breach of public trust in his long and well-documented record of ethical problems,” she said, contending that there are more than 200 instances of Wentworth billing both the state and his campaign for fuel as well as similar issues with expenses on air travel.

Wentworth’s lawsuit counters with this explanation for his expenses: “The procedure followed is that the expenses are advanced in the form of a loan from [Wentworth’s] official campaign account. Upon receipt of the reimbursement from the state of Texas pursuant to the sworn expense report, the funds are then repaid to the campaign account.”

You can see why the Express News declined to endorse in this primary. All I can say is that I hope someone asks Ames Jones what the capital of Texas is during depositions. Seems like there’s been a fair number of lawsuits among candidates in recent years, but offhand the only successful one I can think of was Chris Bell against Rick Perry. I suspect this one will come to nothing, but it will provide us some entertainment in the meantime. Ames Jones has joined the fun with a counterclaim:

On Thursday afternoon, Jones said in a statement, “I will be filing a counterclaim in Bexar County District Court tomorrow because truth is an absolute defense, and my television ads are true.” She also called on Wentworth to produce copies of the reimbursement checks for the expenditures in question.

You can see a copy of Wentworth’s lawsuit here. He’s also this year’s example of why public officials should register their names as domains before someone else does. In case you’re curious, there is a Democratic candidate for this seat as well. The TM Daily Post has more.

Filings and un-filings

Tomorrow is the re-filing deadline, the last day that candidates have to jump into a district that now looks good to them, or to withdraw from one that no longer does. There is still a possibility of further map changes, however, which would require yet another filing period and almost certainly another delay to the primaries. The reason for this is that there are still unsettled issues with the DC court, and its ruling could make their San Antonio counterparts go back to the drawing board one more time.

I just wanted to post this picture one more time

In the ongoing redistricting saga, the Washington, D.C., court asked for briefs by March 13 on Congressional District 25, currently represented by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin. The three-judge panel seems to be struggling with a contentious issue that has divided plaintiffs’ groups suing the state in a San Antonio federal court over redistricting maps drawn by the Legislature last year; the plaintiffs say the maps are racially and ethnically discriminatory.

At issue is whether District 25 is a minority district protected by the Voting Rights Act or a white district that would not require protection. Some plaintiffs in the redistricting fight argue that Hispanics and blacks join with whites in District 25 to elect a candidate of their choice, while other plaintiffs say it is a majority Anglo district that has long elected Doggett, a white Democrat.

If the D.C. court issues an opinion saying that District 25 deserves protection, it could throw Texas’ election schedule into turmoil again. That’s because the San Antonio court adopted the Legislature’s boundaries for District 25 in drawing the congressional map to be used for this year’s elections.

Assuming the D.C. court will allow enough time to produce new maps by March 31, the San Antonio court could redraw new boundaries for District 25 and the surrounding districts, said Michael Li, a redistricting expert and author of a Texas redistricting blog. But because of tight timetables, any changes would force the court to push back the primary until June 29, almost four months after the original date of March 6.

But if the D.C. court does not allow for new maps to be drawn by March 31, then the primary would have to be pushed back to July with a runoff in September — a move that would be problematic because of general election deadlines, Li said.

There is another — perhaps more likely — option if the Washington court has problems with District 25: The San Antonio judges could shrug off their colleagues in Washington and simply say that they’ll make changes to a remedial map for the 2014 elections.

Michael Li has more on that here and here. It is my non-lawyer’s opinion that the DC court is going to find substantial problems with the Lege-drawn maps, most of which have not been corrected in the interim maps. However, I don’t think their required changes will be made for this election. Still, what I’ve been telling people lately is that until we actually start voting, anything can happen.

Until then, however, one of the effects of the court-ordered maps was to convince CD10 candidate Dan Grant to drop out. Here’s his statement:

Today, Dan Grant, Congressional candidate in the 10th District of Texas, announced he will withdraw from the race citing the most recent changes to the district lines made by the San Antonio Federal Court.

“In the latest version of Congressional maps the 10th District has been redrawn to solidly protect Congressman McCaul. This latest iteration of CD-10 is the same as in the illegal map drafted by the Republican-controlled state legislature last year whose primary goal was to disenfranchise minority voters, dilute Democratic voting strength, and protect Republican incumbents,” Dan Grant said.

“I will continue to do all that I can to support the principles of our campaign: real representation for all Americans, a government that is focused on the people and not on personal politics, and working for the future of our great country. The support that our campaign received shows that all Texans are hungry for these principles, and I’ll continue to work for them,” he added.

“I cannot thank enough all the people who have made this effort possible: my family, friends, supporters and allies. This rested on their shoulders, and I’m deeply grateful for and humbled by what they’ve given.”

Here’s a comparison of CD10 as it is under the 2003 map and as it will be under the interim map:

Plan McCain Obama Wainwright Houston =========================================== Current 54.8 44.0 52.5 44.0 C235 56.2 42.6 53.1 43.2

Not that much redder, but just enough to make an already-daunting task look impossible. If the DC court doesn’t intervene for this year, there’s always 2014.

As Grant looks to the future, a fellow former Congressional candidate gets in to a different race this year. Former CD21 candidate John Courage sent out an email announcing that he had filed for the State Senate. From his email:

I am running for the Texas Senate for District 25.

I am running in opposition to everything Perry, Dewhurst and Abbott have espoused and forced on us. I am running for a stronger, better public education system for all Texans; for a healthcare system that protects our most vulnerable citizens – our children and our seniors, and for the right of every Texas woman to have access to the healthcare she needs and wants. I will fight for a real Citizens Commission for Redistricting our legislative boundaries, to take the process out of the hands of the self-serving politicians who are only interested in their own reelection. I am running to change the way we do business in the Texas Senate, to change the good old boy, back slapping, backroom deal making, that has corrupted our Legislature.

This is the tip of the iceberg I want to take to Austin, and with your help and support we will make it happen.

SD25 is currently held by Sen. Jeff Wentworth, who is frankly not that bad from a Dem perspective. He’s that nearly-extinct subspecies known as the pro-choice Republican – he actually voted against the awful sonogram bill, which would have been enough to derail it if one of Sens. Eddie Lucio, Judith Zaffirini, or Carlos Uresti had had the decency to join him. It would not be the worst thing in the world for Wentworth to return to the Senate. But he’s got opposition from the radical wing of the GOP, and could well be knocked off in the primary. Even in a district that voted 61% for McCain in 2008, you can’t let that go unchallenged.

By the way, the TDP is tracking filings that it has received here; sort it by date to see what’s new. Note that most filings take place with the respective county party office, so don’t sweat not seeing a given name. The most interesting addition to the pool of candidates on that list so far is former State Rep. Dora Olivo, who lost to Rep. Ron Reynolds in the HD27 primary in 2010 and who has thrown her hat into the ring for the new HD85.

More good news on the State House side of things as former Rep. Joe Moody will try to win back HD78. Moody defeated Rep. Dee Margo by a fairly comfortable margin in 2008, then got caught up in the 2010 wave. The redrawn district was won by all statewide Dems in 2008, so Moody should have an excellent shot at taking the tie-breaker. It was a bit of a question if he’s run in HD78, however, because the interim map drew him out of it and into HD77, which gave rise to some speculation that Moody would stay there and primary freshman Rep. Marissa Marquez. But he chose to fight it out in his old district, which I think everyone was rooting for him to do. Here’s his statement on getting back in.

Finally, here’s a little quiz for you. The following are the 2008 numbers for a couple of mystery State House districts. See if you can guess which is which:

Dist McCain Obama Wainwright Houston ======================================== "A" 51.45 47.94 42.24 54.68 "B" 51.04 47.95 43.02 54.53

Figured it out yet? District “A” is HD43, in which the turncoat Rep. JM Lozano decided he’d be better off running as a Republican. District “B” is HD144, in which two-term Rep. Ken Legler decided he couldn’t win it as a Republican.

State Rep. Ken Legler, R-Pasadena, has decided to pack it in. The two-term incumbent from District 144 in southeast Harris County announced today that he would not seek reelection in 2012. He blamed the redistricting controversy for his decision.

“Those that know me know I do not back down from a fight,” Legler said in a statement. “I seem to always enter a contest as the underdog and exit the victor. I have no reason to believe that 2012 would be any different. However, the sad fact is that the Federal Court has seen fit to give me a district that will be a constant electoral struggle every two years throughout the decade. That is a political distraction from legislative responsibilities that I choose not to accept.”

I’ll leave it to you to decide who’s the genius and who’s the chump. Burka reacts to Legler’s decision. I had said that I was hoping for former HD43 Rep. Juan Escobar to jump in against Lozano. I won’t get that, but according to the Trib, former Rep. Yvonne Gonzales Toureilles, who was another 2010 wipeout in HD35, will take up the challenge. As that Trib story notes, HDs 43 and 35 were paired, so YGT should be on familiar ground. This is obviously now a top priority for Dems, so it’s good to have an experienced candidate in place.

Ames Jones resigns from the Railroad Commission

We have our answer about how confident she was in her defense of that lawsuit.

Elizabeth Ames Jones

Elizabeth Ames Jones resigned from the Texas Railroad Commission on Monday to devote herself full time to running for state Senate District 25, she said in a statement.

State Sen. Jeff Wentworth, whom she is trying to unseat in the Republican primary, insisted that Jones violated the state Constitution by remaining on the commission even after she moved back to San Antonio from Austin to run against him.

The Constitution says elected officers must live in the “capital of the state” during their time in office. As railroad commissioner, Jones had been living in Austin, which was the last place where she voted. She updated her voter registration to San Antonio in November.

Jones at first brushed off the attack, but last month she sought an opinion from the attorney general.

In her letter, she made several arguments as to why she should be able to keep the position, including a claim that, because the Constitution doesn’t define where “the capital of the state” is, the provision was unenforceable.

Yes, that was her “vagueness” claim: We don’t really know where “the capital of the state” is because the Constitution doesn’t actually specify it. Via Forrest Wilder, here’s an excerpt from Ames Jones’ letter to AG Abbott, which you have to see to understand the full ridiculousness of her argument:

Under the Texas Constitution, members of the Railroad Commission, along with other statewide elected officials, are required to live in the “capital of the State.”

“While this provision may seem straightforward at first glance, its meaning is unclear,” Jones said in her request this week for an attorney general’s opinion on the matter.

“The drafters of the Constitution were capable of prescribing the location of the ‘capital of the state’ but did not do so.

“If a statewide official lives in Rollingwood or Westlake, is he living ‘at the Capital of the State’? What about Pflugerville or Round Rock? Or, perhaps, Kyle, San Marcos, New Braunfels or San Antonio?”

She didn’t mention El Paso.

After I read about this, I asked Olivia, who is in second grade, if she knew what the capital of Texas was. She promptly answered “Austin”. Perhaps Ames Jones’ crack legal squad should have consulted her before putting that embarrassing legal theory in writing. This is the sort of thing that deserves to bring a lifetime of mockery down on its perpetrator.

Anyway. On her way out the door, Ames Jones released a whiny and petulant statement that blamed Wentworth for her inability to get away with flouting a clear Constitutional requirement for holding her now-former office. A class act all the way.

On primary challenges

I bookmarked this Statesman story about State Sen. Jeff Wentworth and the primary challenge he faces back when it ran, not because I was terribly interested in that particular race (though some elements of it are quite entertaining) but mostly because it piqued my curiosity about a broader question.

The seven-term senator, who represents parts of South Austin, has drawn not one but two challengers for the Republican nomination. And the three have been sparring for weeks over everything from who lives in the San Antonio-based District 25 to the ethics of fundraising tactics and, especially, which candidate is conservative enough to win the party’s nod.

It’s an unusual position for Texas senators, most of whom never draw election challengers from within their party. But for Wentworth, an iconoclast who doesn’t always toe the party line, it’s familiar territory. He survived a tough primary challenge in 2002, which he won with only 51 percent of the vote.

“Clearly, what happens is special interests come in and inflame people’s passions on an issue and try to defeat you, by saying things that are untrue,” Wentworth said, alluding to a tort reform group’s endorsement of one of his opponents. “That’s happening this time.”

This got me wondering just how often legislators in Texas draw primary challengers. I presume it was more common back in the day when Texas was a Democratic Party-only state, but the records on the Secretary of State webpage only go back through 1992. I just checked the last decade, and did so for both parties and both chambers. Here’s what I found:

Republican incumbent primary challenges Year Chamber Races Losses ============================= 2002 Senate 3 0 2002 House 11 0* 2004 Senate 0 0 2004 House 12 0 2006 Senate 1 0 2006 House 21 5 2008 Senate 2 0 2008 House 17 5 2010 Senate 3 0 2010 House 17 3 (*) - One pairing of incumbents, in HD83 2006 losers: Blake (09), Campbell (72), Casteel (73), Grusendorf (94), Reyna (101) 2008 losers: Macias (73), Haggerty (78), West (81), Latham (101), Van Arsdale (130) 2010 losers: Brown (04), Merritt (07), Jones (83), Democratic incumbent primary challenges Year Chamber Races Losses ============================= 2002 Senate 0 0 2002 House 16 4 2004 Senate 3 0 2004 House 18 7 2006 Senate 1 1 2006 House 12 2 2008 Senate 1 0 2008 House 12 4 2010 Senate 1 0 2010 House 7 5 2002 losers: Salinas (31), Najera (75), King (80), Garcia (104) 2004 losers: Capelo (34), Canales (35), Wise (39), Gutierrez (41), Garza (80), Lewis (95), Wilson (131) 2006 losers: Madla (SD19), Jones (110), Edwards (146) 2008 losers: Escobar (43), Moreno (77), Bailey (140), Miles (146) 2010 losers: Olivo (27), Ybarra (43), Chavez (76), Hodge (100), Edwards (146)

Republicans have had more primary challenges over the past three cycles by a 61-34 margin, but Democrats have been more successful at knocking off incumbents, with challengers succeeding 12 times (35.3%), including a remarkable 5 for 7 in 2010 and the only defeat of an incumbent Senator in 2006. Republicans had barely more victorious challenges with 13, but that’s a win percentage of only 21.3%.

I should note, by the way, that what these numbers indicate is that Senate primary challenges really aren’t any rarer than House primary challenges. Remember, outside of the first post-redistricting election, only half of the Senate is up for election, while the full House is every cycle. What that means is that in the last three cycles, Republicans had about 80 incumbent House members and 10 or 11 incumbent Senators running, while Democrats had about 70 incumbent House members and five or six incumbent Senators on the ballot. You should therefore expect about seven or eight times as many Republican House challenges as Senate challenges, and 12 to 14 times as many Democratic House challenges. Given that, I’d say that the 2006 GOP cycle and the 2010 Democratic cycle were exceptional, but the others were all about what you’d expect.

A more interesting question is whether or not we’ll see more primary challenges over the next decade. I think these things come in cycles, so I would not be surprised if the numbers plateau or decline, but nor will I be surprised if we’re on an upswing. We’ll need to have districts before we can really speculate about it, of course.

Side note from the story:

“I got polled by phone telling me how bad he was, basically,” said Terry Keller, a remodeler who lives in South Austin. “I’ve actually met Mr. Wentworth, and he seems like a nice guy for a politician. He seems to vote independent, what he thinks is best for his district, and not what the power structure wants. So, I like him.”

Others at coffee shops off South Lamar Boulevard and in Sunset Valley last week echoed the sentiment, which helps explain why Wentworth has drawn challengers from the right. No Democrat has filed for the seat.

That’s a nice sentiment for a general election, but not so much for a Republican primary. I’ve previously expressed my concerns about the direction of the next Senate, and the outcome of this race will be a big determining factor in that. Democrats in SD25 need to find a candidate in the repechage filing period to try to salvage something if Wentworth gets knocked off.

That’s hitting them where they live

Clever.

Elizabeth Ames Jones

Railroad Commission Chairman Elizabeth Ames Jones vacated her office when she moved from Austin to run for the state Senate, and she should not be continuing to collect her monthly salary, a lawsuit filed [last week] alleges.

In the suit, Austin attorney and former Travis County Judge Bill Aleshire alleges that Jones’ move of her official residence to San Antonio on Nov. 1 to run in the Republican primary against state Sen. Jeff Wentworth violated a constitutional requirement that Railroad Commission members live in the capital city.

In order to run for the Texas Senate, Jones had to live in the district — which stretches from South Austin to San Antonio. Since she was appointed to the Railroad Commission in 2005, she has lived in a Tarrytown home that is not located in the Senate district.

Because she is no longer eligible to serve on the Railroad Commission, which regulates Texas’ oil and gas industry, she should no longer be getting a state paycheck, according to the suit.

“When an officer is prohibited by the constitution from discharging the duties of her office, her term in office has fully and finally ended, she cannot be a de facto officer and is nothing more than an interloper,” the filing by Austin attorney Doug Ray states, alleging that Jones is now being paid “for duties she is constitutionally prohibited from discharging.”

While the suit seeks to stop her paycheck, the suit does not name Jones as defendant — but instead was filed against Comptroller Susan Combs, who signs state paychecks. The law firm of Austin attorney Buck Wood, who has represented Wentworth in the past, filed the suit on behalf of Aleshire because the former judge is a taxpayer and has a legal interest in “seeing that his tax funds are not spent illegally.”

You can see a copy of the suit here. As the Trib notes, Jones has asked AG Abbott for an opinion on the matter. I’m no lawyer, but this is what the Constitution has to say:

Sec. 23. COMPTROLLER OF PUBLIC ACCOUNTS; COMMISSIONER OF GENERAL LAND OFFICE; ELECTED STATUTORY STATE OFFICERS; TERM; SALARY; FEES, COSTS AND PERQUISITES. The Comptroller of Public Accounts, the Commissioner of the General Land Office, the Attorney General, and any statutory State officer who is elected by the electorate of Texas at large, unless a term of office is otherwise specifically provided in this Constitution, shall each hold office for the term of four years. Each shall receive an annual salary in an amount to be fixed by the Legislature; reside at the Capital of the State during his continuance in office, and perform such duties as are or may be required by law. They and the Secretary of State shall not receive to their own use any fees, costs or perquisites of office. All fees that may be payable by law for any service performed by any officer specified in this section or in his office, shall be paid, when received, into the State Treasury.

Emphasis mine. Seems pretty clear-cut to me: To hold statewide elected office, one must live in Austin. Austin is not in SD25, however, so we have a contradiction. And what does Commissioner Jones say in her defense?

While Jones has acknowledged that the Constitution says statewide officials should reside in the “capital of the state,” she argues that because the language is vague, it cannot be enforced.

Vague? Seriously? Again, I’m no lawyer, but “any statutory State officer who is elected by the electorate of Texas at large” and “shall…reside at the Capital of the State during his continuance in office” sure look clear to me. I’ll grant that it doesn’t specifically mention the Railroad Commission, but I daresay the folks who drafted this thing included that “any statutory State officer” bit because they realized that the composition of the state’s government may change over time. Just ask our State Treasurer about that. Let me say this: If there’s any evidence that any prior Railroad Commissioner – or Ag Commissioner, or any other “statutory State officer who is elected by the electorate of Texas at large” – did not reside in Travis County during his or her time in office without anyone kicking up a fuss about it, then I’ll concede the point. If not, I don’t see what leg she has to stand on. Judging by her lawyer’s pound-the-table response in the original story, I’d say she knows it, too. We’ll see what the court and the AG have to say.

Another day in the sun for Wentworth

The longer that the redistricting litigation drags on, the more opportunities there will be for stories to be written about State Sen. Jeff Wentworth and his bipartisan redistricting commission proposal.

Sen. Jeff Wentworth

State Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, has been a longtime proponent of creating a redistricting commission to draw new boundaries every 10 years to reflect population changes after the U.S. census.

Wentworth said his idea would cost the state less money and be more efficient.

“And the state legislators are not distracted and have the attention diverted from the more important issues,” he said, adding that redistricting “becomes the single most important issue after only the budget” in redistricting years because re-election trumps almost everything else for most members.

[…]

A realist, Wentworth said he would attempt to create a redistricting commission only for Congress. It requires a simple majority vote of both chambers and the governor’s signature.

Getting a commission to be in charge of legislative redistricting would be more difficult, requiring a state constitutional amendment, which needs a two-thirds vote in each chamber as well as voter approval. Wentworth said it would be “an insurmountable mountain” for the Legislature to climb.

Wentworth’s plan for a congressional redistricting committee would have eight people, who could not be lobbyists or lawmakers and who would be chosen by the Legislature.

Thirteen other states have redistricting committees with varying structures. In some states, legislators appoint the members of the commission, while other states try to keep lawmakers out of the process.

The National Conference of State Legislators notes that the track record of commissions’ success is inconsistent and that courts often end up getting involved anyway.

“Reformers often mistakenly assume that commissions will be less partisan than legislatures when conducting redistricting, but that depends largely on the design of the board or commission,” the conference says on its website.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund was critical of commissions in a 2010 report, noting that they are not accountable to the citizens as elected politicians are.

The report notes that commissions “do not guarantee a process or final redistricting plan that will protect minority voting rights.”

I’m sure that will sound familiar to anyone who’s been following this saga. To me, the main weakness of the Wentworth proposal is that it is necessarily limited to Congressional redistricting. I understand the reasons for that, but it should be clear that simply adopting a commission for Congress won’t make the redistricting process any less contentious or litigious. Congressional maps grab the headlines, but the State House and State Senate maps are large components of the ongoing lawsuits, and the State House map was singled out by both the Justice Department and the San Antonio court as being retrogressive. Even with the Wentworth proposal as law last year, we’d still have had lawsuits, and may well still be in the position we are now, not knowing when our primaries can take place.

And that assumes that the Congressional map drawn by the Wentworth Commission would be free of controversy. The state of California now uses a Wentworth-like commission for its redistricting, and the results have been contentious as ever.

“Redistricting and lawsuits go hand in hand,” [Douglas Johnson, a commission expert and a fellow with the nonpartisan Rose Institute of State and Local Governments at Claremont McKenna College in Southern California] said.

After the first round, many Republicans feel as though they were short-changed, Johnson said. The map drawn for the state Assembly has gone unchallenged. But the Republicans have some serious problems with the state Senate map.

A referendum to overturn the commission’s map will go before the voters as Republicans scramble to rein in the power of California Democrats.

“Simply forming a commission doesn’t get rid of the controversy,” Johnson said. “It remains a difficult and controversial process.”

Another challenge came from a former California Republican congressman.

George Radanovich filed a lawsuit to challenge the map on grounds that it violates the Voting Rights Act by intentionally diluting the African American vote in the Los Angeles area.

Johnson says that the new way was still better than the old way, and he may well be right. All I’m saying is that there is no way to remove the politics of this, and there are no solutions that everyone will agree on. As long as there are winners and losers in redistricting, there will be fights about it.

Wentworth touts his redistricting commission

State Sen. Jeff Wentworth takes to the op-ed pages to tout again his bipartisan redistricting committee bill, the merits of which I daresay look a little clearer now given recent events.

Last June, during the special legislative session, a bill I authored, that would have changed the method whereby we redraw Congressional district lines, was passed by the Senate. Senate Bill 22 would have brought to an end the divisive and highly partisan exercise that always results in bad blood, expensive lawsuits, and gerrymandered Congressional districts, which are a disservice to Texans.

In addition to separating communities of interest, gerrymandering protects incumbents. Protected incumbencies discourage challengers, so voters’ choices are limited to a “token” challenger or to no choice at all.

Since both political parties have proven conclusively that they are unable to resist the gerrymandering urge, Senate Bill 22 would have created an independent, bipartisan citizens’ redistricting commission that I believe would bring more of a sense of balance and a semblance of fairness to redistricting.

An independent commission also would allow the Legislature to attend to critical issues during a redistricting session instead of indulging in bitter wrangling over Congressional districts.

Not to be nitpicky, but the Lege didn’t touch Congressional redistricting during this past regular session. They only took it up in a special session. That doesn’t change the merits of his bill, but that needed to be mentioned. To me, the curious thing about Sen. Wentworth’s bill is that it only addresses Congressional redistricting. The State House and State Senate districts were redrawn by the same three-judge panel as the Congressional districts, so you’d think those items would be worth pursuing for this kind of reform as well. I believe those changes would require a Constitutional amendment, which is probably why he’s not taken it up – his Congressional bill hasn’t been able to make it through, and it has a lower bar to clear. Be that as it may, I believe that if such a committee is a good idea for one form of redistricting, it’s a good idea for them all.

Berlanga and Craig to retire from SBOE, Ames Jones changes Senate races

This could be bad news.

Longtime State Board of Education members Bob Craig, R-Lubbock, and Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi, said they will not run for re-election in 2012.

First elected in 1982, Berlanga said 30 years on the board was enough, particularly given the recent ideological battles over history and science.

“It’s time for fresh, new blood to get involved,” she said.

Craig, a lawyer and former Lubbock school board member, was first elected to the state board in 2002.

Both consistently voted with a bipartisan bloc of the board during recent contentious adoptions over textbook and curriculum standards.

Craig leaving is potentially bad news because he was definitely in the moderate Republican bloc on the SBOE. He’s endorsed a successor, which may help hold his seat for the forces of sanity, but you hate to have to hope for the best in a Republican primary in what’s already proven to be a fever swamp year. I hope I’m wrong, but I have a bad feeling about this.

Berlanga’s departure is potentially bad news because hers is a swing district that could very well be lost if the Dems nominate a bad candidate or the Rs pick a good one. If the Dems manage to fumble what should be a strong pickup opportunity in SBOE1, which was taken over by an R in what is actually a bluer district than Berlanga’s SBOE2, we could be staring at a 12-3 split on the board. That’s not something I’d like to contemplate. Burka has more.

Meanwhile, Robert Miller was first to report that a third “contender” for the open US Senate seat in 2012 has woken up and smelled the coffee.

Railroad Commission Chairman Elizabeth Ames Jones has decided to run for Texas Senate District 25, which is currently held by Sen. Jeff Wentworth. Jones began making calls to San Antonio supporters late last week gauging support for the race, and on Friday called Sen. Wentworth to advise him that she was running.

Jones previously was seeking election to the U. S. Senate, and as of September 30, 2011, reported $304,067 in cash on hand. She will be able to transfer all of those funds to her state race.

Jones represented San Antonio in the Texas House from 2001 until Gov. Perry appointed her to the Railroad Commission in 2005. Speaker Joe Straus subsequently won the special election in February 2005 succeeding Jones in HD 121. Jones’ San Antonio ties are wide and deep, and she will be a formidable competitor to Sen. Wentworth. Dr. Donna Campbell has recently moved into SD 25 and is also in the race.

I’m hard pressed to think of anything Ames Jones has done other than be in the right place at the right time. Her Senate campaign had all the traction of tube socks on a freshly waxed floor, but she thinks she can win by being the bigger wingnut, and I can’t say she’s wrong about that, though I hope she is. The Senate and the SBOE both have the potential to be a lot less functional after this election.

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.

Senate approves Wentworth redistricting commission bill

It’ll never get past the House, but bully for Wentworth anyway.

The Texas Senate [Wednesday] approved Senate Bill 22, which would create a citizens’ commission to redraw congressional districts.

Congressional redistricting is a highly political task now handled by the Legislature. Senate Bill 22, authored by Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, would hand the task to an eight-member commission consisting of four Republicans and four Democrats appointed by the House and Senate. The commission would appoint a ninth, nonvoting member to preside.

Wentworth has long sought redistricting reform. His proposal, approved 16-13 in the Senate, is unlikely to go far in the House.

Here’s SB22. I try to be philosophical about redistricting – of course it’s going to be partisan! – not that it stops me from bitching about it when it serves my purposes. I will say that if we ever do go this route, I’d prefer to hand off all of the legislative redistricting efforts we now have to a Wentworth Commission. If it’s good for Congress, it’s good for the House and Senate (and SBOE) too, right? The House and Senate processes are written into the state Constitution, however, so it’s a much higher bar to clear. And I will note that just because you’ve handed the map-drawing task off to a non-partisan group doesn’t mean no one will think they’ve gotten screwed afterward; just ask California Latinos about their initial experience with the new Citizens Redistricting Commission there.

Like I said, though, this is all an academic exercise. This won’t pass the House, and you need only look at the record vote to realize why. SB22 was approved by all 11 Democrats (Uresti was absent), but only received five Yeses from Republicans – Carona, Deuell, Eltife, Seliger, and Wentworth. The remaining 13 (Duncan was absent) all voted No. That’s not a vote that bodes well for House passage, and that’s before you take into account the remaining unfinished business before the end of the session on Wednesday. It’s a nice try, but it’s nothing more than that. The AusChron has more.

Is now the time for the Wentworth redistricting bill?

Postcards says “Maybe”, but I remain skeptical.

In both 2005 and 2007, the state Senate approved a bill to establish a Texas Congressional Redistricting Commission, in part to remove the contentious and partisan process from the plate of the state Legislature.

“I think the votes are here to get this bill on the floor,” said state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, the author of Senate Bill 22.
Committee Chairman Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, agreed. He said the committee could vote as soon as tomorrow afternoon to put the measure up for a vote by the full Senate.

Under the bill, eight citizens would be selected to redraw congressional boundary maps — including two appointed by each party caucus in the Senate and the House, plus a ninth non-voting member selected by the commission, according to Wentworth.

No lobbyists, elected officials or officials of any political party — above precinct chairs — could be members. “It would take five (votes) to pass a map,” Wentworth said.

Katy Kappel, with the Texas Silver-Haired Legislature, urged the committee to approve the bill as a way to correct problems in Texas’ redistricting method. She called the proposed new maps “not fair, a product of self-interest and party interest,” and said a citizens commission could do better.

Wentworth said while the Legislature is required by the state Constitution to redraw its own boundaries, congressional maps are not so required. He agreed that congressional redistricting could better handled by a citizens panel.

Even so, Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, who blocked passage of a similar bill in the Senate two years ago, questioned why a citizens committee should be expected to be less partisan than legislative committees whose members are beholden to voters.

“You can’t separate redistricting from partisanship,” Wentworth acknowledged,” but in this state we’ve seen that the majority party draws districts that are very much to its advantage.”

The problem for the bill is that the party in power always thinks it will continue to be in power and thus keep drawing those advantageous districts. The right time for this bill was probably the mid-90s, when the Democrats still controlled the Legislature but anyone could see what was coming. Arguably, the Republicans are in that position today, but it’s harder to see from here than it was (or at least, that it should have been) for the Dems in 1993 or so. My recollection is that the powers that be within the state GOP are not in favor of this bill, and as such I have a hard time imagining it passing the House. If it does come to a vote in the House, I’ll be very interested to see who does and does not support it.

Seliger-Solomons 2.0

Go to http://gis1.tlc.state.tx.us and have a gander at Plan C130 to see the version of the Seliger-Solomons Congressional plan that was passed last night by the Senate redistricting committee. The biggest changes are in and around Harris County, mostly due to CD36, which Rep. Solomons had admitted was ridiculous. Gone is its bizarre shape, which had been described by me and others as “the Gateway Arch”, a “horseshoe”, and a “Gulf shrimp”, which is my favorite. Here’s a before and after look for comparison. First, the original, Plan C125:

What once was

And here’s Plan C130:

What now is

CD36 loses all of its western turf and takes in territory that had originally been drawn into CDs 01, 02, 08, and 14. While it can now be more accurately described as an East Texas district, it still takes a chunk of Harris County, which I daresay will remain the population center for it. I don’t know if this is more of what State Rep. James White had in mind when he complained about the original CD36, but if it’s not I don’t know that he’s going to get what he wants. East Texas didn’t gain population in the past decade, the Houston area – Montgomery, Fort Bend, Brazoria, and Harris – did. One way or another they’re going to get yoked to this area. This is probably about as good as it’s going to get for them.

The folks in SN22 no longer have to be worried about being represented by someone from 200 miles away, but in return they get stuck with Ted Poe, whose CD02 is now entirely within Harris. CD08 takes most of the non-Harris portions of what had been the west and north ends of the CD36 arch – Grimes, Madison, Houston, and Trinity counties – while CD10 takes the piece of Washington county and the rest of Harris that didn’t go to CD02. Angelina County is reclaimed by CD01. CD22 gives up much of its east Harris turf and picks up more of Brazoria. The Brazoria bit came from CD14, which loses Chambers and picks up the rest of Jefferson.

There are some minor changes elsewhere in the map, which Greg discusses. He also disagrees with the contention made in the Trib that the changes to CD14 target Ron Paul. While I’ve long held the crackpot belief that this next round of redistricting would do Paul no favors, I also don’t think this is much of a threat to him. His district has been changed more significantly in the past, and it didn’t stop him. Short of eliminating his district altogether, I daresay he’ll keep on keeping on. According to this interactive Trib map, the redrawn CD14 is less red by a few points, but still pretty red and encompassing counties that are going the wrong way from my perspective. Paul has no real reason to lose any sleep.

Anyway, this is what we’ve got for now. Most of what will happen between now and the eventual adoption of a map is aimed at the lawyers, since there clearly isn’t going to be much public input allowed. See Greg‘s liveblogging of the Senate committee hearing, the Trib, and Texas on the Potomac for more. Finally, while I doubt it will be considered during this session, State Sen. Jose Rodriguez sent out this press release about “legislation which would establish new guidelines for the process of redrawing congressional district lines.” It doesn’t create a non-partisan commission for this purpose as Sen. Jeff Wentworth’s biennial bill would, but it does require that districts “not be drawn based on partisan data nor with int ent to favor or disfavor any individual or organized group”. The bill is SB32 if you want to have a look.

Legislation to allow slot machines filed

Fresh from the inbox:

BI-PARTISAN LEGISLATION FILED TO ALLOW STATEWIDE VOTE ON SLOTS AT TEXAS TRACKS, INDIAN RESERVATIONS

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas State Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen) and Texas State Representative Beverly Woolley (R-Houston) filed legislation today to allow Texas voters to decide whether to allow slot machines at existing horse and greyhound tracks along with federally recognized Indian reservations.

Both Legislators filed Joint Resolutions (HJR 111, SJR 33) that would trigger statewide constitutional amendment elections as well as the corresponding enabling legislation (HB 2111, SB 1118) detailing the proposal.

“For years Texas has missed out on billions of dollars in gaming and entertainment revenues while neighboring states pocket the winnings,” said Senator Hinojosa. “This proposal is the first major revenue generating proposal of this session – it will help keep the money we lose to other states in Texas, and put new revenues on the table without increasing taxes.”

Economic studies indicate that the legislation as proposed would bring in about $1 billion a year in tax revenue and create more than 77,000 Texas jobs across a wide variety of sectors. Currently, Texas loses revenue to Louisiana, Oklahoma and New Mexico at a rate of $2.5 billion a year.

“The people of Texas should have the opportunity to decide whether or not to add slot machines to Texas’ racetracks and federally recognized Indian reservations,” said Representative Woolley. “This legislation gives Texans a voice to decide our economic future.”

In a recent poll conducted by Baselice and Associates, Inc., 82 percent of Texas voters favored the right to vote on adding slot machines to racetracks and federally recognized Indian reservations. Sixty four percent favored the specific proposal. Support was evenly spread across all partisan and demographic subgroups.

For more information, please visit www.winfortexas.com

Here’s HJR 111, SJR 33, HB 2111, and SB 1118. You can read more about that Baselice poll here; a similar poll from 2009 found a nearly identical result. Finally, here’s a DMN story about the newly-filed bills.

You know what my opinion is of how likely any such measure makes it out of the Lege, so I’ll spare you another accounting of it. I will say this, though. Lately, we’ve started to see Republican legislators not only embrace the idea of using at least some of the Rainy Day Fund to ease the budget cuts a bit, we’ve also seen one Republican make the case for some form of tax increases, too. Sen. Deuell is still out on a pretty lonely limb right now, but the mere fact that he’s there is remarkable. I certainly wasn’t expecting it. As such, I must consider the possibility that I’m overestimating Republican resistance to gambling legislation. I still want to see some news story showing new House members being on board with this, or former opponents of gambling stating their willingness to vote for a particular measure this time around before I really change my mind. But for the first time, I’m beginning to think that it’s within the realm of the possible that something might pass. Postcards has more.

UPDATE: And now there’s a casino bill, too.

Rep. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, filed a casino gambling bill in the Texas House. He filed it hours after Rep. Beverly Woolley, R-Houston, filed another bill that would allow slot machines at racetracks.

Companion bills were also filed in the Senate. Sens. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, filed the slots bill. And casino proponents said Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, filed a casino bill.

House Joint Resolution 112, which is supported by the Texas Gaming Association, would call for an election on a constitutional amendment that would allow the creation of a five-person Texas Gaming Commission. A fiscal note has not been published.

Once created, the Texas Gaming Commission would issue up to eight licenses to operate slot machines at racetracks.

It also would issue up to six licenses for casino gaming in different urban areas in Texas.

Additionally, the bill also would allow the commission up to two licenses for casino gaming on islands in the Gulf of Mexico.

The commission would also allow an Indian tribe to operate slot machines or have casino gambling.

Here’s HJR 112, and here’s a statement from Sen. Ellis about his bill, SJR 34.

The opening bars of the redistricting overture

Now that we have Census data, you know what comes next. Here’s an Express News story that discusses how redistricting will be different this time around.

Democrats still are smarting from the redistricting plan engineered in 2003 by then-U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land. The plan was adopted, for the first time, without the benefit of a new census or the threat of a court order. Although DeLay had no official role in the process, he and his allies in the Texas House went to work drawing a congressional map that targeted every Democrat in Congress. They were spectacularly successful.

Two things are different this time.

“DeLay had the muscle to make it happen, but there’s no DeLay around this time, and Dewhurst, because he’s running for the Senate, doesn’t want to make any enemies,” said political scientist Richard Murray of the University of Houston.

The second difference is a Justice Department run by a Democratic administration. Any redistricting plan the legislature draws must adhere to federal rules, most importantly voting rights rules. Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act says minority areas can’t be diluted. Democrats complain that political appointees in the Bush Justice Department ignored those rules when they approved the DeLay-driven redistricting plan.

“We don’t need them (the Justice Department) to put the thumb on the scale to our advantage,” Democratic consultant Matt Angle said. “We just need them to be fair.”

Henry Flores, professor of political science and dean of the graduate school at St. Mary’s University, pointed out the strength of the GOP.

“The Republicans now have supermajority, so they don’t really have to negotiate with anybody on any plans. The Democrats are in the bleachers. They can leave the state if they want to, but that’s OK, nobody’s going to miss them.”

“Because a lot of the growth was driven by Hispanic areas, the way they rearrange the district lines is going to be very difficult. The new hybrid’s going to be the Hispanic-Republican district. Then what you have to worry about is: Will those new district pass muster in the U.S. Department of Justice?”

Actually, I’d argue there’s a third difference, which the Austin Chronicle pointed out last month:

Texas is one of several (mostly Southern) states with a history of racial discrimination that are required under the Voting Rights Act to have their plans precleared by either the Justice Department or the D.C. federal district courts. “For the first time since the 1960s, we have a Democratic Justice Department to review the lines through the Voting Rights Act,” said Karl-Thomas Musselman, publisher of Dem blog the Burnt Orange Report, at a gathering of the party faithful back in November 2010. This “will make a big difference.”

Other knowledgeable observers disagree and believe the Republicans won’t even bother with the Justice Department and will go directly to the courts. “I think what will happen is Republicans will say [the review process] is unfair,” [UT law professor] Steve Bickerstaff told the same gathering. “If [the GOP redistricting] is aggressive, you go to the court.”

[State Sen. Jeff] Wentworth, whose district includes part of South Austin, told the Chronicle the same thing. “I don’t believe it would be in Texas’ interest to even go the route of trying to get precleared by the Department of Justice,” Wentworth said. “We’ve always had the option of going to a three-judge federal court in the District of Columbia. We’ve never taken that route; we’ve always gone the preclearance route through the Voting Rights division of the DOJ. But I think that would be a waste of time in 2011, and I don’t believe we’re planning on doing that.”

Wentworth advises avoiding the DOJ because “they’re not only Democrats, they’re partisan Democrats. Before, you had a professional, career Voting Rights division [staff] at the Department of Justice. Now, you have a partisan Democratic Voting Rights division. Many of us, including me, are convinced that there’s not a map that we can draw that they would approve, so it’s a waste of time and money.” He says the Voting Rights division became more partisan “with this administration.” (In 2003, Democrats leveled similar charges at the Bush DOJ, noting that the career professionals in the Voting Rights division balked at the map but were overruled by Bush political appointees and then-Attorney General John Ashcroft. As Bickerstaff noted, in 2005 The Washington Post uncovered a memo by the head of the division that supported these allegations. The Supreme Court indeed overruled one district in 2006 on VRA grounds, forcing the current map.)

Wentworth is clearly projecting about the Justice Department, but he’s right that it makes no sense for the Republicans to go to them for preclearance. Frankly, their ultimate goal is to overturn the Voting Rights Act on the grounds that it’s no longer needed. I don’t know how they can make that argument with a straight face, given the way they’ve operated before and will undoubtedly do again, but that won’t stop them from trying, and the DC district court is likely to be a sympathetic ear.

On a related matter, both Greg and PDiddie discuss this article by Rice U poli sci prof Mark Jones, entitled “Why Houston won’t send a Hispanic to Congress”. I don’t have anything to add to their analyses, which you should read, but I do have two things to add to the pile of things to think about. One is that for all the talk about how West Texas will surely lose one seat, maybe two, in the State House – Burka has suggested a likely target, though Warren Chisum’s RRC dreams may change that equation – but I’m not really sure West Texas gets to keep all of the Congressional districts it has now. Two West Texas districts, CDs 13 and 19 are below the target in population now, before four new seats get drawn; CD11 is just barely above, thanks to its inclusion of some Hill Country counties. I don’t think any of them are going to disappear, but as with the State Rep districts they’re likely to be much more closely anchored to the suburbs of Fort Worth, Austin, and San Antonio, which seems to me to present future problems for the Midland, Panhandle, and Lubbock-based incumbents.

And two, you have to wonder what electoral data the mapmakers are going to use to draw their lines. The 2012 electorate is going to look a lot like the 2008 electorate, maybe more so. Look at that last link above, and you can see that the GOP has three or four incumbents who are skating close to the edges of vulnerability in a year like that – Sessions, Marchant, and McCaul at the least, with Johnson, Carter, and Culberson not that far behind, and that’s before you try to shore up freshlings Canseco and Farenthold. Basing maps on 2010 returns will surely lead to overexposure, but basing them on 2008 returns will as surely be seen as insufficiently ambitious. Sessions, who won three straight close races before getting a breather last year, is an advocate of maxing the number of possible seats via 55-45 districts rather than making fewer incumbents feel more safe in 60-40 ones. But what’s the optimal strategy for a starting point when the long-term trends are going against you? That’s the question.

I should note that it’s hard to say what a “normal” electorate might look like based on what we saw last decade. 2002 was a moderate turnout election that was mostly good for Republicans. 2004 was a moderately high turnout election that was mostly good for Republicans but in which Democrats gained a seat in the Lege for the first time in over a decade. 2006 was a low turnout election that was good for Democrats. 2008 was a high turnout election that was very good for Democrats. 2010 was an off-the-charts high turnout year that was spectacular for Republicans. Barring anything unusual, I’d bet on 2012 being like 2008, but beyond that, who knows?

Sonogram bill coming up for a vote

Sen. Dan Patrick’s “I know what’s best for you ladies” sonogram bill SB16 is on the schedule for today. I had previously expressed pessimism that there was anything to be done to prevent its passage based on the expected support of Democratic Sens. Lucio and Zaffirini, but it has since occurred to me that Sen. Jeff Wentworth, who has a pro-choice history, is not a guaranteed vote to allow it to come to the floor. If that’s so, then if the rest of the Democratic Senate caucus sticks together, this can be blocked. That would require Sen. Carlos Uresti, who is currently playing it coy, to do the right thing. If you’re a constituent of Sen. Uresti’s, this morning would be a good time to give his office a call at (512) 463-0119 and ask him to please vote against SB16. In a year where Democratic values and women’s rights are under unprecedented assault from an increasingly radicalized Republican Party, that vote really matters.

UPDATE: The bill passed the Senate, with Uresti voting to suspend the rules after getting a minor amendment passed. I’m not happy about this.

Expanded gambling: Still doomed

The Dallas Morning News does a little checking, and the math isn’t good for gambling fans.

The Dallas Morning News, canvassing all lawmakers, found that expanded gambling lacks the votes, mostly because of objections to social ills and new tax revenue being too far off to help now.

The results may indicate that the Legislature, already facing a host of confrontational issues when it convenes Jan. 11 for the 140-day session, could give short shrift to a gambling debate.

[…]

Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, who heads a key economic committee, said he has turned down a request to carry a casino bill.

“It is highly unlikely that any version [to expand gambling] will be found acceptable by the required number of members in either chamber,” Carona said recently.

[…]

In the House, 115 of the 150 members responded to the gambling question, with 54 saying they would not support its expansion in any form. Only 27 said they favored doing so, and 26 said they were undecided. The rest who were reached declined to comment.

Because of the two-thirds mandate for constitutional amendments, 51 “no” votes would kill the proposal in the House.

In the Senate, 24 of the 31 members responded, with 11 saying they would oppose expanding gambling and six saying they would favor it. The others said they were undecided or declined to comment. Eleven “no” votes would kill the proposal in the Senate.

Asked about the various plans, some of the lawmakers who were counted as favoring gambling said they might be open to allowing slots at existing racetracks under limited circumstances, but would oppose casinos.

I know I’ve beaten this horse many times, but it bears repeating. Gambling expansion is a tough sell, which is why it hasn’t happened after all this time. It’s certainly possible, as suggested by gambling lobbyists and State Sen. Jeff Wentworth elsewhere in the story, that some legislators who are currently opposed to expanded gambling might reconsider once they see what a cut-only budget approach begins to look like. This assumes that they will recoil from such a realization, and I at least am not prepared to make that assumption. I say it’s doomed, and I don’t see any reason to change that assessment.

Wentworth will try again with redistricting bill

Every two years, State Sen. Jeff Wentworth introduces a bill that would take redistricting out of the hands of the Legislature.

Under Wentworth’s plan, a commission responsible for drawing new maps would be made up of two appointees selected by the majority party in both the House and Senate, and two by the largest minority party in each chamber — for a total of eight commissioners. Here’s the key to draining the partisanship: the members can’t have held either elective office or positions with a political party, other than precinct chairs, within the previous two years.

Commissioners then would select a ninth, nonvoting member.

“I continued to introduce it, trying to appeal to people’s sense of fairness,” Wentworth said. “And I tried to fight off the characterization that this was some sort of nonpartisan plan. It’s notnonpartisan — it’sbipartisan. … Of course, it’s going to be partisan. The question is, will it be bipartisan or not.”

I have no problem with this, and I think most people would at least admit that this is a fairer way of conducting this bit of business. It’s just always hard to convince the party in power that it won’t always be that way, and it’s in their best interests to do this, too. Democrats should have helped Wentworth pass his bill in the 90s when they were on top but on their way out. You can make the same case for Republicans today, but good luck with it. I expect he’ll be back in 2013 with the same bill again.

Wentworth’s bill would also eliminate straight ticket voting. I’m at best agnostic on this – if people plan to only vote for candidates from one party, why not let them save some time? In my opinion, the main effect of a bill like this would be a large increase in undervoting on downballot races. Whether that would lead to “better” outcomes, or would be a desirable end in and of itself, is not clear to me. PDiddie and Greg have more.

TxDOT’s shell game

State Sens. Jeff Wentworth and Wendy Davis, and State Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon show in this op-ed how TxDOT is trying to move money that the Lege specifically designated for rail to roads.

Transportation advocates won a hard-fought victory during the 2009 legislative session by securing $182 million in financing for the Texas Railroad Relocation and Improvement Fund, created by the voters through a constitutional amendment passed in 2005 but never funded. Sadly, the state’s transportation bureaucracy at the Texas Department of Transportation is using a budgetary shell game to thwart the will of the Legislature and steal this victory from the public.

“This is wrong,” as Chairman John Carona told the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee last fall. “It smacks of trickery.”

[…]

The $182 million budget rider passed by the Legislature was contingent upon a finding by the state comptroller that there was at least as much money available for roads in the current budget (2010-11) as was available in the last session’s budget (2008-9). TxDOT actually worked with legislators negotiating in good faith to create this formula, and the conditions were clearly and unequivocally met.

Until the Legislature left town, that is.

After the session ended, TxDOT subsequently came up with the disingenuous argument that money allocated to run the new Department of Motor Vehicles was a diversion from TxDOT and should count against certification of the budget rider — ignoring the fact that when the Legislature transferred funding to the DMV it also transferred all of the functions and employees to the new agency: a net zero of budgetary impact.

Even the new chairman of the DMV — the honorable Victor Vandergriff — recognized this accounting trick as a ruse intended to deny rail advocates their victory and so testified to the Senate Transportation Committee, prompting Chairman Carona to say that “the game was rigged” against rail funding.

Remember how KBH tried to make an issue of TxDOT’s mismanagement in the GOP gubernatorial primary? The combination of her general ineptness as a campaigner and Perry’s successful move of the issues to things like secession and who hates government more made that go nowhere. That’s a shame, because this latest move by TxDOT is typical of what the agency has been under Rick Perry, and it deserves more scrutiny than it got during the primary season. I presume the Lege will once again roll up a newspaper and try to swat it on the nose to make it behave, but as with many things in this state, it will ultimately require new leadership to bring about real change.

Looking ahead to City Council redistricting

Prof. Murray and Greg take a look at the upcoming redistricting of Houston City Council, with the latter offering a possible map of the to-be-11 districts. I have two things to add to their efforts. One is to wonder just what the process is going to be to do this. We know how it works at the state level. It’s far from perfect, and indeed there are likely to be a number of better ways, including potentially the Wentworth Committee, if it ever comes to be, but at least it’s a process that happens with regularity and is well understood. Council has never gone through anything like this, and while the district lines are periodically redrawn to accommodate population changes and annexations and whatnot, it’s not clear to me that the process is defined for this. I’m thinking it would be a good idea to start talking about it now, rather than just waiting for the new Mayor to inherit it.

The other thing, given that the emerging consensus is that it will be difficult to give something to all of the interested parties with just two extra seats coming on line, is that maybe we ought to think about adding more than two seats. The 1979 lawsuit settlement required two more seats when the population hit 2.1 million, but unless it specified only two, I don’t see why we couldn’t go to 13 or even 15 seats, instead of 11. I realize that increasing the size of legislative bodies is something of a hobby horse of mine, so apply a suitable amount of salt. The idea should be considered, that’s all I’m saying.

The whole “two thirds” thing is more flexible than you might think

State Sen. Jeff Wentworth is mad as heck about some Senate rules shenanigans, according to the Statesman’s Jason Embry.

Wentworth, R-San Antonio, thinks that Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst abused his authority in the recently completed legislative session, and he wants senators to change their rules in 2011 to prevent it from happening again.

To back up for a second, I wrote a story for the Statesman last week about the fact that most of the bills that Gov. Rick Perry vetoed this year received few dissenting votes as they moved through the Legislature. As part of that story, I talked to Wentworth, who unsuccessfully pushed a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow the Legislature to come back into a brief special session and override some of Perry’s vetoes.

Wentworth said that the measure had support from 26 of the 31 senators but Dewhurst would not recognize him to bring it up for a vote. And this part was not in that story — Wentworth said senators should change their rules in the next session to prevent that from happening again.

“If I have anything to say about it, we’re going to change the rules come January 2011,” Wentworth said. “We’re going to say, if you put a file in writing with the secretary of the Senate, 21 signatures that senators want to debate a bill, then the president of the Senate should recognize that senator the next day of the session.”

He added, “We’re not going to put up with this any longer. There are a number of senators that I’ve already spoken to that agree with me. It only takes 16 senators to adopt rules.”

Wentworth said Dewhurst told him that Gov. Rick Perry talked to him 20 times about stopping the legislation. And he said former Sen. Ken Armbrister, who works for Perry, “cajoled and threatened” six senators into opposing the measure, giving Dewhurst the cover he needed to not bring up the bill. (Asked about all this, Dewhurst spokesman Rich Parsons said only that the bill did not have the votes necessary to be called up).

Wentworth said there is an unwritten understanding between senators and the lieutenant governor that if 21 senators are willing to debate a bill, Dewhurst will recognize the appropriate senator to bring it up.

“The lieutenant governor should not abuse that power that we give him,” Wentworth said. “He should not have given his word to Perry that he would kill that bill.”

Just so we’re all clear, Wentworth was perfectly happy to scrap the existing two-thirds rule to bring voter ID to the floor. I’d have more sympathy for him if it weren’t for that. Live by the end-around, die by the end-around, you know? In any event, Burka thinks this is a bad idea on principle, and he thinks he has a better one.

If Wentworth’s plan goes through, it will change the nature of the lieutenant governor’s office. The proposal grants 21 senators the ability to force the lieutenant governor to recognize one of their number to bring legislation to the floor. By denying the light gov the discretion of when and whether to recognize members, Wentworth would weaken the office and rob the legislative branch of a counterweight to the executive.

If one of the arguments against Wentworth’s proposal is that it ties the hands of the lieutenant governor, another argument is that his idea is doomed to failure. All the lieutenant governor has to do is to take a look at the list, pick out one or two members to lobby, get them to remove their names, and –poof! — there won’t be twenty-one signatures any more.

I think that there is an easy solution to the problem of the Legislature’s inability to override the governor’s vetoes: start sooner. Quit wasting time early in the session. Get legislation to the governor’s desk early enough that he has to take action while the session is still going on. The Legislature could do what Congress does. After the November elections, each house should caucus in December. The speaker and the lieutenant governor will have a month to meet with members and get their committee preferences. At the caucus, the presiding officer-apparent announces the appointments for the upcoming session. And the Legislature can began holding committee hearings in January. The accelerated schedule will get bills to the governor’s desk in a timely manner so that he has to take action before the session ends, giving the Legislature a chance to override his vetoes.

In theory, Burka’s solution makes a lot of sense, and should be the norm in years where the Speaker is predetermined. As he admits, that wouldn’t have helped this time around, and may not help in 2011 – the most likely scenario is a House that’s nearly as evenly divided as it is now, with a 75-75 split a distinct possibility – or 2013, the first post-redistricting session, either. Other than that, it’s a great idea.

RIP, statewide smoking ban

I thought it still had a chance after it finally passed out of committee in the Senate, but the statewide smoking ban is officially dead.

[State Sen. Rodney] Ellis held a press conference to announce the death of the statewide smoking ban in public facilities and indoor workplaces after it failed to get enough Senate support.

The announcement comes at the end of a dramatic last minute push over the last two days by Ellis and others, notably Rep. Carol Alvarado who got one bended knee and pleaded with Sen. Mario Gallegos to change his “no” vote. “If you watch the tape you’ll either think I’m a dancer or I was working votes,” said Ellis. “I can assure you, I had very little to dance about.”

Yesterday, Ellis said he was at 20 votes in the Senate, just one short of the 21 needed to bring a bill to the floor. But, things changed between the end of yesterday’s floor session and this morning. “Some of the amendments that I was inclined to take [yesterday] became even more Draconian overnight,” he said. Ellis opted to end the fight rather than “gut the bill to the point where it’s almost meaningless.”

Advocacy groups like Smoke Free Texas vows to continue their fight as they look forward to the 2011 session. “Two years from now, when the Legislature returns,” Smoke Free Texas member and government relations director for the Texas High Plains Division of the American Cancer Society James Gray said in a statement, “more states will be smoke-free, more Texas communities will have passed local moke-free ordinances – and thousands more Texans will be ill or dead from secondhand smoke exposure.”

I thought this was the year for the statewide smoking ban, but it wasn’t to be. It did get farther than last time, so you have to like its chances in 2011. Better luck then, y’all. A statement from Sen. Ellis about this is beneath the fold.

Meanwhile, in other legislative news and notes:

– The handguns-on-campus bill gets new life in the Senate after an identical House bill had been declared dead. I can’t say I’m crazy about this, but given that private schools can opt out, I’m not too worked up about it. I thought at the time of its passage that the original concealed-carry law would be a disaster, and that has not proven to be the case. I suspect in the end this will not be any different. This still has to pass the House, however, and as Floor Pass notes, it may run out of time before that happens.

– Congratulations! It’s a bouncing new state agency.

The Texas Senate, GOP-controlled and usually advocating smaller government, voted this afternoon to create a new state agency — the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles — to help streamline vehicle registrations in the state.

Earlier approved by the House, the measure includes only a transfer of registrations and three other functions from the Texas Department of Transportation.

It does not include vehicle inspection and driver licensing, which legislative leaders had earlier threatened to strip from the embattled Texas Department of Public Safety.

“Maintaining these functions under the TxDOT umbrella does not allow that agency to focus on its core mission” of building and maintaining Texas’ transportation system,” said state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, the Senate sponsor of the measure. “By separating these functions into a new agency, we can more rapidly automate the process.”

In addition to the Vehicle Title and Registration Division, the new agency will include the Motor Carrier Division, the Automobile and Vehicle Theft Prevention Division and and Motor Vehicle Division, Corona said. It will not include a transfer of overweight permits.

I thought this was a good idea when I first heard about it. I still do.

– Sen. Patrick’s slightly-watered down sonogram bill got somewhat undiluted in the House State Affairs committee. If we’re lucky, that will make it too rich to pass the Senate again.

HCR50, the states-rights resolution that Governor Perry embraced for the teabagging demonstrations, got derailed, at least for now, on a point of order.

– That burning smell you might have detected earlier today was TxDOT getting grilled by the House over HB300.

– A lot of good environmental bills are still alive.

– When you make a mistake, and you admit you’ve made a mistake, you try to fix it, right? Well, then you’re not the Texas Railroad Commission, which needs for the Lege to clean up after itself.

– And finally, it’s probably a bad idea to imply that your primary opponent’s supporters are somehow akin to prostitutes. Eileen explains. No, that’s not legislative in nature, but I couldn’t pass it up.

(more…)

It only hurts when it happens to you

This story is about the likely death of the Wentworth nonpartisan redistricting committee bill, which wasn’t unexpected, but the real story is about how it went down.

A move to put redistricting into the hands of a bi-partisan public commission instead of partisan lawmakers was derailed today in the Texas Senate, as conservative Republicans flexed their muscle against moderate members of their own party.

The rare display of a GOP split came when state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, a San Antonio Republican who represents parts of southern Austin and Travis County, tried to bring up for debate his long-delayed Senate Bill 315.

Five senators were absent, several of whom were against the measure. Conservative Republicans immediately jumped up to object.

“It appears this is an end-around movement,” complained Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston. This is a bushwhacking.”

Yes, Lord knows we can’t have any attempts to get around Senate rules to push through legislation that doesn’t have two-thirds support of the chamber. That just won’t do.

Patrick said he opposed today’s maneuver by Wentworth to take a vote with several members absent.

“Trying to sneak one through. That’s not how its supposed to work in the Senate,” he said.

Oh, Danno. You’re so frigging precious I could just pinch your cheeks.

Carlos Uresti came down with a serious bout of the flu Monday, and left the Capitol after fellow senators noted how bad he looked shivering in the Senate lounge. In particular, Dr. Kyle Janek advised him to get to bed, amidst joking from others present: “What do you think is going to happen? That we’ll call up the Voter ID bill?”

It now appears that Uresti’s illness may have prompted David Dewhurst to recognize Troy Fraser on the controversial bill, which set in motion an emotional outburst midday Tuesday over Dewhurst’s refusal to count John Whitmire’s vote.

Oddly enough, I don’t remember Sen. Patrick expressing any outrage at the time of that attempt to sneak one through. He’s always advocated for letting the majority have its way in the Senate (though he aimed a bit lower this session, trying to drum up support for a three-fifths rule instead), and for doing away with the two-thirds rule altogether – the whole opening day voter ID rules change was a dream come true for him. But when he needs the protection of the two thirds rule to prevent something he doesn’t like from going through – indeed, in a situation where he himself was the difference between there being two-thirds support and not – boy will he whine about any sneaky attempts to subvert that rule. Way to be a man of principle, Danno!

Danno says his vote on redistricting commission was a mistake

Sen. Jeff Wentworth’s SB315, which passed on second reading last week in the Senate, may not make it to third reading because Wentworth no longer has enough votes to suspend the rules and bring it back to the floor. The reason for that is because one of the votes in favor of suspending the rules in the first place was apparently cast in error. From QR:

Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston) said today he inadvertently cast the vote that allowed Senate Bill 315 by San Antonio Republican Jeff Wentworth to be debated on the floor March 23.

“I’ve always been a no vote,” Patrick told QR. “I just made a mistake when I voted to suspend. But I told the author that had made a mistake and that I’m a no.”

Wentworth got the bill to the floor with the minimum 21 votes needed under the Senate rules. In each of the past two sessions, he’s managed to pass a version of the redistricting bill only to see them die on the House side.

“I don’t have a vote to spare,” Wentworth said. “So, I either need to get someone to switch, or wait until someone is absent.”

Although the bill passed on the first try, Wentworth was far short of the four-fifths vote he needed to finally pass it the same day. Now, he needs 21 votes to bring the bill back up for final passage.

Not exactly sure how it is that it took Danno a week to figure out that he’d goofed, but I suppose that’s not important right now. I’m also unclear on that four-fifths provision – our Senate, like the one in DC, is full of arcana, among other things – but be that as it may, Wentworth appears to be stuck. Unless he can convince Lt. Gov. Dewhurst to bring it up the next time Patrick’s taking a potty break or something, which we know is within the Dew’s range. But it’s not looking too good for this bill’s prospects. As usual.

House passes veto override resolution

I’m a little surprised that this got taken up so (relatively) quickly, but not at all surprised that it passed.

The House today passed a measure that would allow Texas voters to decide whether to allow the Legislature to override gubernatorial vetoes in short sessions after regular legislative sessions.

The House voted 131 to 16 to approve a resolution by state Rep. Gary Elkins, R-Houston, that would put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot. The resolution now goes to the Senate.

Elkins said that although the Legislature has the authority to override a gubernatorial veto, legislators rarely get that opportunity because the session is typically over by the time the governor vetoes most bills.

“This will bring the power back to the people,” Elkins told his colleagues.

The House passed a similar measure in 2007, but it died in a Senate committee.

The measure is HJR29. All 16 No votes were Republicans, including former Speaker Tom Craddick. And yes, this was authored by Gary “What’s Medicaid?” Elkins. He was the author in 2007, too.

I don’t know if it’s due to April Fool’s Day or what, but apparently Burka has had a change of heart on this.

Is this a good idea? When this came up two years ago, I was opposed to the amendment. My reason was that Texas has a constitutionally weak governor, and this proposal would further weaken the governor. Rick Perry, however, has changed the nature of the governor’s office. His lengthy tenure has allowed him to appoint all of the officials who oversee the executive agencies. He is a very strong governor, at least in his ability to control the actions of the executive branch through what amounts to a de facto cabinet form of government. This amendment is needed to restore a balance of power. For example, the Legislature, which controls the purse strings, can pass a statute making Texas eligible for stimulus funds for unemployment insurance, but the governor can veto the statute.

I was ambivalent about this in 2007, and I think I’ve come to Burka’s viewpoint now. The way things work, the Lege’s veto power is more a theoretical one than a real one; as the Observer notes, the last actual veto override was in 1979. So yeah, I do think this would restore some balance, and as such if it does make it through to the November ballot, I’ll vote for it.

That’s assuming it gets that far, of course. Burka thinks the Senate version of this measure, SJR14 by Wentworth, will never come to a vote because Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst won’t allow it. It hasn’t been scheduled for a committee hearing yet, so who knows. RG Ratcliffe has more.

Redistricting commission advances

We know about Sen. Jeff Wentworth’s biennial efforts to create a nonpartisan redistricting commission for Texas. On Monday, those efforts advanced forward a step.

By a vote of 21-10, senators approved Senate Bill 315 that would create the nine-member commission — eight of its members named by the Legislature, four Republicans and four Democrats, with the ninth member to serve as a non-voting presiding officer.

The measure by Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, would also designate the Texas Supreme Court as having original jurisdiction in all cases regarding redistricting.

Passage came after a bit of drama. Debate was stopped after it appeared that Wentworth might not have the 21 votes necessary to suspend the Senate’s rules to debate and pass the bill.

But after several minutes of huddling on the Senate floor, Wentworth went ahead and got enough votes.

State Sen. Mike Jackson, R-Lake Jackson, was among the 10 senators who voted against passage. During the brief debate, he said he had doubts that the commission could accomplish its intended purpose.

Wentworth insisted it would, noting that 12 other states use such commissions successfully.

Here’s the vote (PDF) on second reading:

Yeas: Averitt, Carona, Davis, Deuell, Duncan, Ellis, Eltife, Gallegos, Hegar, Hinojosa, Lucio, Patrick, Seliger, Shapleigh, Uresti, VanideiPutte, Watson, Wentworth, West, Whitmire, Zaffirini.

Nays: Estes, Fraser, Harris, Huffman, Jackson, Nelson, Nichols, Ogden, Shapiro, Williams.

That’s all 12 Dems in favor, and Republicans split 9 for and 10 against. I think this thing may just have a chance to make it through. Which means it’s a shame that it only covers Congressional redistricting and not also State Lege redistricting, which needless to say is as big and hot a potato as anything else. Maybe next time, if doing so could still put such a commission in place before the 2012 elections. Having said that, I can also see this thing getting vetoed by Governor Perry. As Patti Hart reported, the only opposition to this bill in the committee hearing came from the executive director of the Republican Party of Texas, which probably thinks that it can ram through what it wants again next session. If the activists think this is a screw job, you can be sure Perry will have their back. I’m not saying that will be the case – Dan Patrick voted for this, after all, so it’s safe to say that the base is not uniformly against the idea – but if it does get rejected I won’t be surprised.