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Lloyd Doggett

Sizing up the opportunities

This Chron story about the new Congressional map and who’s looking at what (which ran in the Express News last week) has a lot of things we’ve been discussing, and a couple of things to point out. First, a theme that I’ve harped on more than once:

The 33rd District in North Texas was transformed from an Anglo-majority, heavily Republican district into one with a 66 percent minority population that cast more than 62 percent of its votes for President Barack Obama in 2008.

The 35th District, as drawn by Republicans, would have forced Austin Rep. Lloyd Doggett into a potentially messy Democratic primary battle. But the courts created a safe 25th District for Doggett anchored in Travis County by eviscerating the Legislature’s heavily Republican 25th District. Meanwhile, the revised San Antonio-based 35th District almost certainly will elect a Latino Democrat.

The 27th District, currently represented by Republican freshman Blake Farenthold, has been redrawn to become more heavily Hispanic and strongly Democratic. Farenthold’s home is in the new 34th District, where he is likely to run.

But even with those three gains, some Democratic partisans worry that they may not be able to maximize their opportunities in a year when Obama is likely to lose the state by a wide margin.

First, of those three districts, only the 35th is reasonably competitive, and with Rep. Joaquin Castro having announced for it, I’m not terribly worried about Democratic prospects there. Second, Obama lost Texas in 2008 by a “wide margin” as well, and the limited polling data we have so far indicates that 2012 looks a lot like 2008. Things can certainly change, and there’s hardly any guarantee that the models pollsters are currently using will be reflective of reality next November, but unless you’re arguing that Obama will lose significant ground from 2008, let’s keep things in perspective.

Among the races Democrats are eyeing:

The 23rd District, stretching from San Antonio to El Paso, became more Democratic in the court-ordered plan, endangering the re-election of freshman Republican Francisco “Quico” Canseco, R-San Antonio. Democrats have recruited a well-known challenger in state Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine.

The 14th District, currently represented by retiring Republican Ron Paul, will shift eastward into Jefferson County and has a minority population of about 35 percent. Former Rep. Nick Lampson, D-Beaumont, who has represented much of the district over the past two decades, is considering another run. The early favorite on the GOP side is state Rep. Randy Weber, R-Pearland.

The 10th District, which rambles from Austin to the outskirts of Houston, loses three-fourths of its heavily Republican Harris County population and becomes a swing district. While Republican Rep. Michael McCaul has turned back expensive challenges in the past, Democrats being mentioned include previous congressional hopefuls Larry Joe Doherty and Michael Skelly of Houston, and Dan Grant of Austin.

The 6th District, long represented by Joe Barton, R-Ennis, has been shifted into heavily minority sections of Dallas County. Democrats think they have a chance to unseat the 14-term incumbent if they can recruit a strong challenger such as former Rep. Chet Edwards, former state Rep. Chris Turner, a longtime Edwards aide, or former state Rep. Allen Vaught, a Purple Heart recipient.

Rep. Gallego has filed for the 23rd. Nick Lampson is still being drafted, though I hear there are other potential candidates out there as well. I have no idea where they got Mike Skelly’s name for CD10. He doesn’t live in the district, not that one is required to do so, and I at least have not heard any chatter about him being interested in a campaign. Dan Grant is known to be interested, I do not know about anyone else, though David Nir wonders about one-time 2010 candidate Jack McDonald. As for CD06, Chet Edwards would indeed be a coup, but again as yet I have not heard anything to that effect. Chris Turner is running for the new State House seat in Tarrant County, so he’s off the list. Oh, and as far as I know John Sharp is not running for any of these seats. I don’t feel whole until he gets mentioned.

Anyway. There are always last minute surprises at filing time, and I daresay this year that will be even more so than usual. Don’t believe anything until it’s official. Oh, and as of last night there was still no word from SCOTUS on the stay request. We’re almost halfway through the filing period.

Rep. Charlie Gonzalez to retire

As the story says, it’s the end of an era.

Rep. Charlie Gonzalez said Friday he will not seek re-election, a decision that will end the congressional tenure of a Democratic family whose name has been synonymous with the city of San Antonio for more than half a century.

[…]

His decision not to run for another term ends nearly 50 years of representation by the Gonzalez family.

It also presents a political opportunity to state Rep. Joaquín Castro, twin brother of San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro. The Democrat likely will seek Gonzalez’s 20th Congressional District seat, his spokesman Cary Clack said.

Former U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, another Democrat, is eyeing the newly redrawn 35th district in which Castro originally intended to run.

“It’s about having lived in this district almost my entire life,” said Rodriguez, who previously served in the 28th district before being ousted by Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, and in the 23rd district before losing to Rep. Quico Canseco, R-San Antonio.

And just like that, the redrawn Congressional map may have eliminated the need for two potentially contentious Democratic primaries. In the case of Doggett versus Castro, that’s surely a good thing, as it will avoid a ton of bad karma and hurt feelings. In the case of Ciro Rodriguez and Pete Gallego, who now has a clear path to the CD23 nomination, it may or may not be so good, as a primary would have helped Gallego raise his name ID and get him up to speed for this next level. On balance, it’s probably a positive, but you can make a case the other way.

The Trib confirms that the dominoes will fall as described by the story, so this gives Texas Democrats a good chance to boost its bench without losing Doggett’s strong progressive voice. It will be interesting to see if Castro will represent a leftward move from Gonzalez, who was a strong voice on a number of issues but typically “centrist” on things like the environment. Regardless, it’s better to have the open seat in a Presidential year, when turnout should not be an issue. I thank Rep. Gonzalez for his service and wish him well in whatever comes next. BOR and News Taco have more.

First thoughts on the new Congressional map

OK, down to business. Here’s a map of the new plan, which was unanimously approved by the three judges, the 2008 election data, and here’s 2010 election data. Going by the 2012 data, I break it down as follows:

Strong R


Dist  Obama Pct  Houston Pct
============================
01         30.5         36.4
02         34.4         35.6
03         37.4         36.8
04         29.4         37.6
05         36.5         41.2
08         25.6         29.3
11         23.0         28.4
12         34.1         35.5
13         22.2         27.4
17         33.2         38.2
19         28.0         32.4
21         33.0         31.5
24         38.0         37.5
26         35.4         35.5
31         39.8         41.3
34         32.9         37.1
36         31.1         39.8

Likely R


Dist    Obama Pct    Houston Pct
============================
07         42.5         40.8
14         41.9         47.3
22         40.6         41.2
32         43.0         43.1

Lean R


Dist  Obama Pct  Houston Pct
============================
06         44.8         47.5
10         46.5         45.5

Strong D


Dist  Obama Pct  Houston Pct
============================
09         77.3         77.6
15         61.9         65.8
16         66.6         68.8
18         77.4         77.5
25         68.4         65.2
27         58.3         62.1
28         58.6         63.0
29         62.0         67.6
30         81.5         81.3
33         62.5         63.1

Likely D


Dist  Obama Pct  Houston Pct
============================
20         58.5         58.8

Lean D


Dist  Obama Pct  Houston Pct
============================
23         51.4         53.1
35         54.4         55.9
 

Barring any surprises, that’s a 23-13 split, which means (contra the Chron and its funny math once again) a four-seat gain from the current 23-9 split. The Dems have more upside than downside, and it’s not crazy to think that over the course of the decade some districts could move into a different classification, such as currently solid R seats 05, 24, and 31. I was just on a conference call with Matt Angle and Gerry Hebert about the new map, and Angle suggested CDs 06 and 14 as ones that will trend Democratic. I asked him about CD10, which has a similar electoral profile right now to those two, and while he agreed it can be competitive, he didn’t think the demographics will change as much as in the others.

Note that CD33 is now a majority-minority seat in Tarrant County – BOR notes that State Rep. Marc Veasey, one of the plaintiffs and strong fighters in these suits, has already indicated his interest in running for it. He’s already got an opponent if so – a press release from Fort Worth City Council member Kathleen Hicks that announced her entry into the CD33 sweepstakes, hit my inbox about ten minutes after the publication of the new map. PoliTex confirms both of these. One way or another, though, it sounds like sayonara to Roger Williams.

CD34 stretches from the Gulf Coast into the Hill Country, taking a chunk out of the southern edge of the old CD10. CD36 is more or less as it was before, in the eastern/southeastern part of Harris County and points east from there. CD35 is no longer in Travis County, so the Doggett/Castro death match is no more – Rep. Lloyd Doggett gets his Travis-anchored CD25 back, and Rep. Joaquin Castro gets a new Bexar-anchored district to run in. I don’t know if freshman Rep. Blake Farenthold can run in CD34 – I suspect he’d face a challenge from some Republican State Reps if he tried. Perhaps State Rep. Geanie Morrison, based in Victoria and now paired with State Rep. Todd Hunter, might take a crack at it, or maybe Hunter will. I presume State Sen. Mike Jackson will continue to pursue CD36. All of the Republican contenders for the Lege-drawn CD25 are also now out of luck, so bye-bye to former Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams as well. Not a good day for Williamses who wanted to run for Congress.

Comments and objections are due on Friday, and one presumes it, along with the other two, will be finalized by Monday the 28th, which is the opening of filing season, though I hear that could possibly get pushed back a day. Greg, Stace, the Lone Star Project, Postcards, the Trib, and Trail Blazers have more.

Redistricting action this week

It’s a busy week for redistricting lawsuit action, as the federal court in San Antonio is having hearings on the proposed interim maps that were submitted by the various parties to the suits. The Statesman has an overview of the action, both from San Antonio and Washington, DC. A lot of this will be familiar to you if you’ve been paying attention, but I want to highlight this bit, since I don’t think it’s been explicitly stated as such before:

J.D. Pauerstein, a San Antonio lawyer who worked two previous rounds of redistricting for Republican clients but is sitting this round out, said he doesn’t expect extensive changes to come out of the San Antonio court. He said if the judges draw interim maps, they’ll look to case law that has indicated that the court should give deference to the existing maps and the Legislature’s plan.

“You wouldn’t expect an interim plan to be radically different,” he said.

But in a surprising move late Friday, the Justice Department asked the San Antonio panel not to use the state lawmakers’ maps at all in the interim.

“The United States has taken the position that both the Congressional and State House plans were drawn with discriminatory purpose,” the department wrote in Friday’s filing. “Additionally, the United States takes the position that both plans have retrogressive effects in that they diminish the ability of minority voters in the state as a whole to elect their preferred candidates.”

Michael Li, a Dallas lawyer and redistricting expert, called the department’s decision to make the filing “extraordinary” and “unusual.”

As candidates watch the events in San Antonio, the Washington side of the fight could overshadow the Texas proceedings.

“What happens in D.C. will determine whether or not the districts passed by the Texas Legislature are used for future elections,” said Steve Bickerstaff, a University of Texas Law School professor who worked on redistricting cases over four decades.

He added that he expects the San Antonio court to act in lock step with the Washington judges and that the two panels probably have been working together all along behind the scenes.

The San Antonio court could disrupt the process only if the plaintiffs convince the judges that the state’s plan dilutes minority votes or violates the Constitution. But Bickerstaff added, “That’s difficult to do.”

The Texas attorney general’s office hopes to persuade the Washington panel to quickly grant pre-clearance.

But many people believe a speedy decision is unlikely.

Li, who also has a blog on Texas redistricting, said the Justice Department has made a strong case for why the pre-clearance case should go to trial.

“It’s hard for me to believe the court isn’t going to want to hear live testimony about the process that led to the maps,” Li said in an email.

See here for more, and of course keep tabs on Li’s Texas Redistricting blog for full coverage. Obviously, the degree to which the maps are changed for this election could have a huge effect on who runs for what where, and who is favored to win, in 2012. Will Harris County be given its 25th legislative seat back? Will Sen. Wendy Davis receive a district that is favorable to her? Will Lloyd Doggett and Joaquin Castro get separated? You pretty much can’t overstate the stakes here. The start of filing season is 13 days away, so one way or another we should get some answers soon.

Third quarter Congressional fundraising

The Trib has the highlights from some of the contested Congressional primaries that are shaping up.

Texas congressional incumbents raised more than $4.7 million during the third quarter of the year, but some of them face challengers who also displayed a knack for raising political cash. New fundraising reports show what’s in the war chests of Texans vying for seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, giving definition to some of the state’s most closely watched races.

State Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, wowed by bringing in more than $500,000 for his challenge to U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin. Doggett raised $377,000 by comparison – but he reported millions more in cash on hand, $3.3 million to Castro’s $389,000.

U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, raised almost $290,000 in the third quarter, far outpacing his first serious challenger, Beto O’Rourke. The former El Paso City Council member raised almost $26,000 and ended the quarter with about $12,000 on hand to Reyes’s $276,000.

State Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, reported another of the top challenger fundraising numbers – about $137,500 – in his contest with U.S. Rep. Francisco “Quico” Canseco, R-San Antonio, who raised slightly less. The incumbent reported about $460,000 in cash on hand to Gallego’s nearly $136,000.

You should read that linked story about Beto O’Rourke, which I saw at the time but didn’t get a chance to write about. I don’t have anything in particular against Rep. Silvestre Reyes, but a young, aggressive progressive like O’Rourke is exactly the kind of person I want to see succeed in politics. O’Rourke has no money to speak of yet, but if you look at his campaign finance report, you see that he only filed his initial paperwork on August 26, so there wasn’t much time to raise money for this period. We’ll see how he does in the next quarter.

I should note that State Rep. Pete Gallego, whose report is here, also didn’t file paperwork until late in the quarter. He did pretty well for himself, which is very encouraging, as Rep. Gallego is another person I’d like to see succeed.

That covers three of the four contested Dem primaries that I know of for this cycle. The fourth is in CD30, where Rep. Eddie Berniece Johnson already has one opponent in State Rep. Barbara Mallory Caraway and may soon have another in businessman Taj Clayton. Rep. Johnson raised $82K for the period and has $223K on hand, not great but probably okay for a longtime incumbent who is well known. Rep. Caraway does not have a report visible through the search facility, but she does have a report. It’s here, and it was done by hand. No, I don’t understand why anyone would do it that way if they didn’t have to, either. In any event, she raised $13K and has $7K on hand, all from the month of September; note that in addition to the old-school handwriting, the form was filed for 2010 and not 2011. Hopefully, she’ll get her act together for the next quarterly filing. Thanks to DavidNYC for pointing this out to me.

I should note that the Trib provides a handy app that summarizes all candidates’ totals. I was a bit confused at first by the differences between their numbers and what you see in the FEC reports, but eventually it dawned on me that the totals the FEC gives for receipts are cumulative for the cycle, and not just the amouint raised in the given period. This is not how the state and city reports are done, which is why I was thrown off. In any event, the Trib’s app lets you know how much was raised over the past three months, which would be hard to do otherwide unless you had saved a query result from July.

Two other numbers of interest to note. Freshman Rep. Blake Farenthold was cited by Politico as an underperformer for this period, having raised a mere $102K. He does have $277K on hand, which isn’t nothing but also isn’t exactly insurmountable. You can see his FEC report here. Farenthold was by no means the low scorer – by my count, ten incumbents raised less, and eleven others have less cash. Fellow freshman Quico Canseco, in what is now a swingier district, raised $112K, but has $460K on hand.

And finally, a number to make you shake your head.

Seeking to gin up enthusiasm about an expanding the 2012 Senate map, national Democrats touted the candidacy of retired Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez when he entered the Texas Senate race in the spring. But Sanchez has maintained a low profile so far and his latest fundraising numbers aren’t impressive.

In the third quarter, Sanchez brought in just $83,000, spending over $112,000 and finishing the quarter with about $119,000 in the bank.

Yeah, that’s what I call a truly crappy report. I hope it’s because he has not been fully engaged in fundraising yet and not because no one is giving anything. At least there’s no place to go from here but up.

The interim plans

Monday was the deadline for parties in the redistricting lawsuit being heard in San Antonio to file interim plans for the court to consider in the event preclearance is not granted in time for candidate filing. Texas Redistricting summarizes the various plans that were presented to the court:

The Plaintiffs’ Interim Plans

All of the plaintiffs’ plans have substantial similarities, though they differ in the details.

All would add a new Hispanic opportunity district in North Texas, and all, in some way, would restore Lloyd Doggett’s congressional seat (CD-25)- most by creating a ‘tri-ethnic’ coalition seat strongly anchored, if not wholly contained, in Travis County. All also would make adjustments to CD-23- currently represented by freshman Republican, Quico Canseco- to improve the district’s ability the elect the “Hispanic candidate of choice.”

However, there also are divergences.

Proposals submitted separately by MALC and State Senator Wendy Davis and State Representative Marc Veasey would create an additional African-American opportunity district in the DFW Metroplex (CD-35 in both Plan C211 and Plans C202 and C204).

By contrast, the Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force and Travis County plaintiffs would forgo that seat and, instead, create a new Hispanic opportunity seat in Harris County (CD-36 in the Task Force’s Plan C213 and CD-36 in the Travis County plaintiffs’ Plan C166).

[…]

The State of Texas’ position

In its papers, the State of Texas, not surprisingly, takes the position that the panel should simply adopt the legislatively passed maps as the interim maps, arguing that the “intent of the State of Texas … is due great deference when the judiciary intercedes in the province of the legislative branch.”

[…]

Congressman Canseco

Freshman Republican Congressman Quico Canseco (CD-23) also has submitted two interim congressional map proposals (Plan C209 and Plan C212).

During trial on the claims before the San Antonio court, the court expressed a number of concerns about changes to CD-23 under the state’s map.

In response to concerns raised by the court at trial, both these maps would create a new Hispanic opportunity district in North Texas that is substantially identical to the district included in Congressman Lamar Smith’s proposal to the Texas Legislature in April 2011.

You can see links to all of the briefs that were filed at that post, and you can see the all of plan numbers here. All proposed interim maps can be found at http://gis1.tlc.state.tx.us. To view a map, click on ‘select plans’ and then ‘base plan.’ The congressional and state house plans are filed under Exhibits in Perez v. Perry, and state senate plans can be found under Exhibits in Davis v. Perry. You can zoom in on these maps to see street-level detail, which I needed to do during the legislative process to see which district my house was being moved to. The parties have until Monday the 24th to respond to any plan they object to – one presumes the plaintiffs have already made their feelings clear about the legislative maps, but I imagine they might reiterate those feelings, just in case – and on Wednesday, November 2 there will be a hearing at which the plans get formally presented. This Statesman story and Randy Bear have more, and an explanation of State Sen. Wendy Davis’ proposed Senate map is here.

Redistricting lawsuit relocated

More preliminaries.

A panel of Austin-based federal judges assigned to hear a redistricting lawsuit filed by prominent Travis County Democrats and the city of Austin has decided that case should be transferred to San Antonio’s federal court. Most of the already filed redistricting cases will be heard here.

Two judges supported transferring the case to San Antonio, while U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel issued a five-page dissent that blasted the move.

“Simply put, I see no good sense in combining all redistricting cases complaining of all redistricting plans adopted by the Texas Legislature into one matter,” Yeakel wrote.

The move sets the stage for another consolidation of the redistricting lawsuits that have been filed against the redistricting plans passed by the Texas Legislature.

According to the story, State Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer was happy with this ruling. The state wants to “split” the battle between San Antonio and Austin, with data-related stuff taking place in Austin and witness testimony in San Antonio. I’m not exactly sure how that will work. Fortunately, it turns out there’s a site called TxRedistricting.org that’s following the ins and outs of the litigation, so hopefully I’ll have a better idea going forward. In the meantime, there’s also an argument about whether legislative staffers, who likely know quite a bit about what their bosses were up to during all of this, can be called to testify, and it’s not clear if the latest ruling helps or hurts Rep. Lloyd Doggett.

Third time’s a charm

We won’t have any Williams on Williams action in the new CD33 after all, as former Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams has changed races again.

Michael Williams, who jumped from the U.S. Senate race to the congressional race in the new CD-33 in North Texas, says he’ll jump again: He’s running for congress in CD-25, a district that stretches from Tarrant County all the way south to Hays County.

He said in a press release that people have been urging him to make the switch. In CD-33, he would have faced car dealer and former Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams. He could face a crowd in the new race, possibly including state Rep. Sid Miller, political consultant-turned-candidate Chad Wilbanks (website here), and Dave Garrison, a former Halliburton and USAA exec who’s making his first foray into electoral politics. Garrison’s campaign website is up and running.

Not totally clear to me why this is a more winnable primary for Williams than a straight up race against the other Williams, but whatever. I will note that at least one of his potential foes in March thinks this district
is his.

State Rep. Sid Miller, R-Stephenville, has been talking about it, but CD-25 includes only 17,534 people from Erath County, his home base. He’d be running without a strong geographic base and against a statewide elected official.

“He called me about a week ago and said he was being encouraged by congressional members to look at it,” Miller says. “I think that translates into Roger Williams calling on some congressmen to give him a call and see if they can get him out of his way.

“I don’t think it’s a secret my colleagues drew it for me to run in,” he says.

I don’t know about that. If you go to the District Viewer and compare the Congressional and State House plans, you see that only Coryell, Hamilton, Somwevell, and parts of Erath Counties are in CD25. That’s about 2/3 the total population of Miller’s SD59, a bit more than 100,000 total people out of a Congressional district of 698,000. Over 240,000 of CD25’s residents live in Travis County. If I had to guess, I’d say someone from that area would be the favorite in a primary.

Also of interest is that Michael Williams was urged to switch by some Congressional Republicans, who presumably think that having both Williamses on the ballot in November is preferable to them fighting it out in March. One wonders at what point any of Lloyd Doggett’s colleagues will reach a similar conclusion about his decision to switch to CD35 and engage in a primary against Joaquin Castro instead of staying and fighting in the admittedly much less friendly CD25. I have to say, if Sid Miller and Michael Williams and a couple of first-timers are the contenders for the GOP nomination there, I’m not so sure I’d bet against Lloyd Doggett in November, if he were to change his mind and stay put instead. I know a lot of people would prefer to see that, as it would be better to have both Doggett and Castro on the ballot in November instead of just one of them, and having Doggett in CD25 gives us a chance to hold that district. Easy for me to say, I know, but still. As I said before with CD23, we’re never going to gain any ground if no one is willing to run a race they might lose. I hope Doggett thinks long and hard about which race really is the bigger risk for him.

Doggett v Castro by the numbers

Greg looks at primary results from the last two cycles in the newly drawn CD35, and finds confirmation of the convention wisdom that Rep. Lloyd Doggett has his work cut out for him against State Rep. Joaquin Castro. Go take a look and see for yourself, then check out NewsTaco and Somos Tejanos for a few words with Rep. Castro.

There are two things that need to be said here. One is that these numbers are publicly available, and anyone with any skin in this game is well aware of them. What that means is that if Castro had not jumped into this race, somebody else would have. Maybe that person would make a better member of Congress than Castro would, and maybe not, but one way or another Lloyd Doggett was going to be challenged if he ran in CD35, and recent electoral history suggests he’d be an underdog. To me, the question is not just whether or not Castro is more progressive than Doggett but whether or not Castro is preferable to anyone else that might have run instead. I don’t want to sound like I’m writing Doggett’s political obituary here, because no one has run an ad yet, never mind cast a vote, but the prospects of him being ousted are very real. It’s worth thinking about whether or not Castro is the best alternative we were likely to get.

The other thing is that CD35 is not the only attractive opportunity for an ambitious young Democrat in Bexar County, though it is the only one on anyone’s radar right now. As we know, CD23 is the most Democratic-leaning of the currently Republican-held Congressional districts. In some ways, given the longer time frame, the possibility of an active Presidential campaign behind you, and the fact that Lloyd Doggett starts out with an order of magnitude more cash on hand than Quico Canseco, one could argue that a challenge in CD23 might be less arduous, even given the relative tilt of each district. Be that as it may, if the only high profile candidacy to come out of Bexar County this year is Castro’s campaign against Doggett, then the 2011 Republican redistricting effort is as big a triumph for them as they could have wanted. If the only risks Democrats are willing to take are in our own sandboxes, we’ve already lost.

Castro says he’s in for Congress

It’s on in CD35.

State Rep. Joaquin Castro said today he is running next year for U.S. Congress in a new district carved by the state’s Republican majority, likely pitting him in the Democratic primary against U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Austin.

“This congressional race is all about the future,” Castro said in a prepared statement.

“Just like streets and highways help people get where they need to go, I believe there is an Infrastructure of Opportunity that helps people achieve the American dream. We will build this infrastructure by investing in higher education and job training, by improving public education and by making sure our small businesses succeed,” he said.

Castro has represented the 125th District in the Texas House of Representatives since 2002.

The Trib has a lengthy story about this development. I agree with my blogging colleague here:

“If you’re going by the numbers, I would say Castro is the heavy favorite,” said Harold Cook, a Democratic political consultant based in Austin. “But if there’s any Anglo candidate, any Austin candidate, who can win this race, it’s Doggett.”

Two things to consider: One, there’s no guarantee that CD35 will still exist as drawn by the time the filing deadline arrives. The Justice Department may kick the map back for any number of fixes. Castro is quoted in the Trib story expressing confidence that CD35 at least will withstand review, and he may well be right. Nothing is set in stone just yet, that’s all I’m saying.

And two, the GOP may want to consider being careful about what they’re wishing for. It’s true that Doggett is a senior Democrat with a solidly progressive record who has generally been a pain in their rear end. He’s also a 64-year-old white guy who’ll be happy to occupy his seat until someone carts him out of there. Castro is a 36-year-old Latino with ambitions. I daresay there’s little chance he’ll still want to be a Congressman when he’s 64. He may have his eye on bigger things by the time he’s 44. By winning what will surely be a high-profile election and getting access to a much deeper and broader donor base, he’d take a big step towards that end. And thus, by finally ridding themselves of their longtime nemesis, the Republicans may enable the Democrats to significantly upgrade their bench. No guarantees, of course, but I’d bet big money on Joaquin Castro running for something statewide before Lloyd Doggett does, and if he does run I’d give him much better odds of winning than Doggett ever would have had. Like I said, be careful what you wish for.

Two other views of Texas redistricting

Here’s a fascinating paper from the Harvard Election Data Archive that attempts to project how many Congressional seats each party will win based on statewide performance.

Based on the 2008 presidential election results, twenty-two of the twenty-three current Republican members of Congress will be in districts in which Republicans are expected to receive 55 percent of the vote or more, and eight of the nine current Democratic members of Congress will be in districts in which Democrats are expected to receive 55 percent of the vote or more. Democrat Lloyd Doggett’s 25th district will go from 60% Democratic to 55% Republican. Of the four new districts, two are districts where we expect Republicans to receive 55% or the vote or more, and two are districts where we expect Democrats to receive 55% of the vote or more. Consequently, if Doggett is defeated due to the shift of his district from heavily Democratic to Republican, the Republicans will increase their congressional delegation from twenty-three to twenty six seats, and the Democrats from nine to ten seats.[1]

Analysis of the plan also allows us to project the likely division of the legislature for different (hypothetical) divisions of the vote statewide. We plot these results on a seats-votes curve, where each point on the plot represents the percentage of seats that would be won by the Democrats for the given vote share.[2]

This curve reveals two important features of this plan. First, the plan has a partisan bias of 14-17%. Rather than winning 50% of the seats in the hypothetical case where the Democrats win 50% of the vote, the Democrats would win only 43-46% of the seats. To win 50% of the seats, the Democrats would need to win roughly 52-53% of the vote.

Second, the number of seats won by each party is constant for any Democratic share of the vote between thirty-seven and forty-eight percent. This range includes the recent statewide performance of most Democratic candidates over the last ten years, which has averaged 42%. This flat portion of the seats-votes curve indicates extremely low competitiveness in almost all of the congressional districts under this plan. Thus, the plan is not responsive to small changes in the vote share of either party in the range of vote shares that we expect in the next elections. All of the changes in the makeup of Texas’ congressional delegation are likely to be the result of the partisan decisions in the redistricting process, rather than from competitive congressional elections.

I don’t know what methodology they used, so I can’t evaluate that, and their graph isn’t very detailed and probably not exactly to scale – it sure looks to me like the step to an 11th Democratic seat comes at a lower point than 48% – but this is interesting anyway. If you look at the most recent table of 2008 electoral data that I posted, you can surmise which seats are most likely to flip in a better-than-expected year by the Dems. Obviously, there are plenty of other factors in play here – individual Congressfolk can outpace or lag the party average in their district based on their own individual qualities and those of their opponents – and external factors like demography and increased restrictions on voter eligibility may skew things further. But as I’ve said before, the opportunity to pick up a couple of Congressional seats should be a compelling reason for Team Obama to campaign in Texas next year.

Meanwhile, the Lone Star Project provides names and numbers for all of the Democratic-proposed alternate Congressional maps, some of which I had previously looked at. They also provide a useful update to the litigation situation:

  • Plans C122 & C123 are regional proposals made by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF). While the MALDEF proposals are not included in the comparison of statewide plans, MALDEF’s proposals will be examined and taken quite seriously during preclearance and other litigation. MALDEF is an important and influential voice in any ongoing litigation.
  • Other important litigants will likely include Mexican American Legislative Caucus (MALC), NAACP, plaintiffs affiliated with the Texas Justice Fund, some Texas Democratic Members of Congress and, of course, Governor Perry, Greg Abbott and the Secretary of State who will use taxpayer funds to defend and protect the Republican plan.
  • Congressional redistricting lawsuits are already pending in Federal Courts in San Antonio, Austin and Sherman. It is likely that the cases will be consolidated before substantive action is taken.
  • Finally, prior to any action in the Federal Courts in Texas, the State must seek preclearance or federal approval of the plan under Section 5 of the U.S. Voting Rights Act. It is expected that the Republican leadership will bypass the Department of Justice and seek preclearance from the U.S. District Court in Washington, DC. The DC Court is not necessarily a more favorable venue for the Republicans, but it will significantly increase the litigation costs for those opposing the State plan. Of course, Texas taxpayers are forced to pick up the large legal tab run up by the Republican leadership.

There has also now been a lawsuit filed by LULAC in the U.S. District Court’s Western District of Texas. That too may wind up being consolidated with other litigation, though as Greg notes this is probably the one to watch. If the previous two decades are any indicator, we should expect to see some kind of system edit for the 2016 elections.

Plans from an alternate universe: The Alonzo plan

Here’s my third entry in the the Redistricting Plans From An Alternate Universe series. So far, we’ve seen the Veasey-West proposal and the Gallegos plan and Uresti amendment. Today I have what I consider to be the most interesting map I’ve seen. It was submitted by State Rep. Robert Alonzo during the House Redistricting committee meeting, and it’s Plan C142 on your scorecard. Let’s look at some pictures, starting with Alonzo’s home turf, the Metroplex:

Alonzo Plan C142 DFW

Alonzo, like his neighbor to the west Marc Veasey, goes for two new Democratic districts in the Metroplex, one Latino and one African-American. Unlike Veasey, he does this by drawing a Republican out of a seat, in this case Rep. Kay Granger, whose CD12 would not be recognizable to her. His districts also appear to be more compact than Veasey’s. Now let’s look at Central Texas:

Alonzo Plan C142 Central Texas

District 10 moves west, and may or may not contain Mike McCaul’s home precinct; off the top of my head, I just don’t know. It has about the same electoral profile as the current CD10. Once again, Lloyd Doggett gets restored to a Travis-centric district. CD34, about which you’ll see more in the next picture, wends its way south and takes up a chunk of Bexar County. CD27 comprises a fair amount of the old CD10, as well as some of the current CD14 – it goes down to the coast and also picks up most of northern Brazoria County. CD22 shifts northwest to swipe Austin and Waller Counties from the old CD10. Now let’s look south from here, starting with the Bexar County area:

Alonzo Plan C142 Bexar County

CD28, which once had a small piece of Bexar and included counties like Guadalupe and Wilson, shifts south and west, while CD23 goes south. Continuing south, here’s what we see:

Alonzo Plan C142 South Texas

I guess it’s fajita strips forever, but they do get a new district, CD33, in the bargain. Finally, let’s look at the Harris County area:

Alonzo Plan C142 Harris County

It’s so different I almost don’t know where to begin. Pete Olson would have to move, as Clear Lake is no longer in CD22. So would Ron Paul, as Matagorda County is now in CD27. John Culberson gets banished to the northwest corner of the county, which would make him safe for the decade and would remove his influence over the Universities light rail line. CD36 is new, and may be the single most interesting district I’ve seen proposed by someone with skin in the game. To see why, let’s look at the electoral numbers:

Safe R Dist Obama Houston ======================= 01 30.65 36.37 02 29.72 35.54 03 37.68 37.02 04 33.10 35.39 05 28.83 38.38 06 35.42 36.76 07 30.96 31.84 08 25.90 30.11 11 22.40 28.07 13 22.87 28.50 17 34.69 39.78 19 27.87 31.94 21 32.53 31.71 22 36.25 36.00 24 37.05 36.92 26 31.42 32.66 27 34.08 38.66 Likely R Dist Obama Houston ======================= 10 44.82 42.96 14 42.06 49.08 31 42.57 42.57 32 42.11 42.09 Lean D Dist Obama Houston ======================= 36 51.92 52.53 Safe D Dist Obama Houston ======================= 09 71.37 70.78 12 68.37 68.81 15 56.61 60.86 16 64.15 66.29 18 73.44 72.95 20 58.63 58.60 23 59.00 60.86 25 71.96 69.07 28 58.48 62.64 29 60.80 66.47 30 71.51 72.23 33 58.42 62.35 34 59.18 61.31 35 64.07 65.29

Yes, that’s a genuine swing district. Every Democrat won it in 2008, every Democrat other than Bill White lost it in 2010; the high D score on the statewide ticket was Bill Moody’s 45.58%, with David Porter’s 51.66% being the low R score. I’m sure a couple of countywide Ds did better, but I don’t have those numbers, and I doubt they would have won it anyway. In a more normal non-Presidential year, it would likely be a slightly lean-D district, but it’s not out of the question that you could see it flip back and forth every other year. What’s even more curious to me is that it’s not drawn as a Hispanic opportunity district; the SSVR there is 23.4%. I’d love to know what motivated Alonzo to draw this particular seat. With all four of the new districts going to the Ds, plus the two takeaways (Granger and Canseco; Farenthold might have to move to get into the new CD27), Alonzo’s plan would make the split 21-15 in favor of the Rs. Well, it would have, if it hadn’t gotten voted down along predictably partisan lines, along with Veasey’s plan and a bunch of other Democratic-drawn maps. Still, you can see a full spreadsheet from 2008 here and from 2010 here. What do you think of Alonzo’s plan?

House approves Congressional map

Once again, that was quick.

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

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

Travis County is now in two districts.

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE: The Trib has more.

WaPo on Texas redistricting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Senate approves Congressional map

On to the House.

A new redistricting map, drawn to promote and protect Republican interests in the U.S. Congress, sailed out of the GOP-led state Senate Monday.

The map, predictably approved 18-12 along strict party lines, would give Republicans a decent chance of retaining every congressional seat they now hold. They also would have a good shot at picking up one additional district with the elimination of U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, who would be drawn into a heavily Republican seat.

[…]

During the debate, Democrats complained loudly — and are sure to argue in court — that the plan illegally packs blacks and Hispanics into a small number of districts and fails to adhere to provisions in the federal Voting Rights Act aimed at protecting and expanding the interests of minority voters.

State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, said minority groups were shut out of the Senate’s Congressional redistricting proceedings, which included a single public hearing. He called it the “most closed process I’ve ever been involved in.”

Likewise, state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, complained that there were no lawyers of African American or Hispanic origin advising senators. The author of the proposal, state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, noted that there is a Latino lawyer advising House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio.

“I don’t differentiate between House Hispanics and Senate Hispanics,” Seliger told Zaffirini.

The final plan that was approved was Plan C141. It has two minor tweaks from Plan C136 – an amendment by Sen. Seliger that makes changes to CDs 05 and 32, and an amendment by Sen. Dan Patrick that effects a similarly small change in CDs 08 and 10. The latter appears to undo the one change that was adopted in Plan C136, which was the committee substitute for Plan C130, an amendment by Sen. Tommy Williams. Not sure what’s up with that, but there you have it. I presume the House Redistricting committee will take this up shortly, and assuming no major kerfuffles there will send it on to the full House later in the week. No, I am not expecting any more opportunities for public input than the Senate process allowed. More grist for the eventual lawsuits. I’ll have a look at a couple of alternate maps in a future post. For now, this is what we’ve got.

Finally, Texas on the Potomac says something that needs to be expanded on.

Bottom line: If this is the congressional redistricting plan that wins final legislative approval, it will provoke a major test of the Voting Rights Act. Many Texas Republicans believe that the Voting Rights Act has outlived its usefulness because American Apartheid ended five decades ago. But Democrats argue passionately that because of past discrimination, minority districts must be created where the population of an area makes it possible. There will never be a better chance to answer these legal questions.

Given the way Latinos, especially in the greater Houston and D/FW areas have gotten shafted in all aspects of state redistricting, it should be clear that the same old discrimination is alive and well today. If the maps that this Legislature have drawn have not made it abundantly clear that we still need robust enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, I don’t know what would.

Who’s running for what where?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

More on the Seliger-Solomons plan

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

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

[…]

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(more…)

The Seliger-Solomons Congressional map is out

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

CD36

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

CD35

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

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

CD21

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

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

CD27

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

CD34

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MALDEF has a similar reaction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still going after Doggett

Scott Stroud suggests there’s a new ploy by Republicans in the works to get rid of Rep. Lloyd Doggett.

Congressman Lamar Smith, the Republican charged with redrawing Texas’ congressional districts, has floated a map that would transform Doggett’s district into one that barrels from Austin down Interstate 35, 18-wheeler style, through San Antonio’s East Side, then veers west across the mostly Latino South Side.

Under Smith’s proposed map, to be taken up Thursday by the Senate redistricting committee in what is always a fluid process, the district would become majority Latino and — more important to the GOP — its center of gravity would shift to San Antonio. Its brilliance lies in the long odds that voters here would accept being represented by anyone from Austin, Democrat or Republican.

[…]

What makes Smith’s ploy slick is that it draws the home of state Rep. Mike Villarreal into Doggett’s district. It would surprise no one if Villarreal, one of the few Democrats with a hand in the process, allowed his own congressional ambitions to trump any impulse to wage an uphill fight to see that his party gains a seat.

Villarreal said he supports adding a majority-Hispanic district for its own sake, regardless of who lives where. He said he sees Hispanics being underrepresented “in a real way every day, in a Texas House that currently is not a reflection of the state’s values and people.”

That hearing was postponed as Republicans were unable to agree among themselves what map to lay out. It’s still possible that Smith’s map won’t see the light of day, though with Friday’s hearing also being canceled and a special session apparently looming, there may be plenty of time for it to re-emerge. We’ll just have to see.

As for the latest scheme, losing Doggett’s seniority would be a blow to Texas, especially if the Democrats can ride the GOP’s attack on Medicare back to the majority. You can certainly argue that it would be bad for Texas Democrats if Doggett doesn’t get a district he can win, and in the grand scheme of things I’d rather have Villarreal knock off Quico Canseco and serve alongside Doggett than have him run a primary against him. Two are better than one.

That said, it’s also bad for Texas Democrats if ambitious, talented, and younger politicos like Villarreal are blocked from advancing. People who feel they have no place to go where they are will find someplace else to go, and it would definitely be a shame to lose Villarreal’s skills to the private sector, or worse a lobbyist shop. Outside of maybe Henry Cuellar, there’s no one in the Democratic Congressional caucus that has any desire to run statewide. We’re never going to build a bench for that hoped-for Democratic future if there’s nobody above the State House that has their eye on bigger things and the capability to fundraise for them. It would be a shame if we were to lose Doggett, but with all due respect, nobody is irreplaceable, and nobody is entitled to a seat. Whatever happens, we’ll get over it and figure it out.

Federal education funds officially on their way

That’s $830 million that the Senate was counting on for education funds that it will now officially have.

Just two weeks after a bipartisan federal budget deal ended an eight-month impasse over $830 million in federal education funding, the U.S. Department of Education agreed Friday to send Texas the money that previously had been in dispute.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan quietly made the announcement on Good Friday. But Texas Republicans immediately declared victory in a two-front political war that had been waged for months.

“Today our schoolchildren and teachers received the funding they should have never been denied,” said Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Lewisville, who led Texas House Republican efforts to secure the aid. “This $830 million will give our schoolchildren, teachers and communities additional funding during this financial crisis. Today is indeed Good Friday.”

Burgess said he received word of the aid reversal during a conversation with Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who had condemned the attempt by Texas congressional Democrats to attach strings to the federal school funding.

Texas Democrats, led by Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, had required the state to pledge that it would not divert the federal education funding to other uses as the Legislature attempts to plug a state budget shortfall.

Republicans will celebrate the political win, which resulted from the budget deal that avoided a federal government shutdown, and everyone in Texas is no doubt glad to have these funds, but Doggett was right to do what he did. In the end, this money will be used for education and not for plugging other holes in our own budget, so as far as that goes Doggett got some of what he wanted as well. What happens in 2013 will be up to that Legislature.

Messing with Doggett

I’m sure the Republicans would love to draw Lloyd Doggett out of existence if they can. The question is whether they can do it without causing other problems elsewhere.

Republicans have tried to oust Doggett before by drawing a district with a large Hispanic constituency hundreds of miles from Doggett’s hometown. They failed, and key Republicans in the Legislature might not want to spend much of their time trying to beat him again.

Also complicating matters is the fact that any effort to defeat Doggett by putting more Republicans in his district could weaken the GOP vote in Travis County’s other congressional districts, which are represented by Republican Reps. Lamar Smith and Michael McCaul, whose seats are relatively safe.

“The ultimate decider is the numbers themselves,” said Steve Bickerstaff, a redistricting expert at the University of Texas School of Law who wrote a book about Texas’ last redistricting. “There’s only so much you can do.”

State Senate Redistricting Committee Chairman Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo , said he has seen a congressional map that targets Doggett for defeat.

“I have heard from some people that that’s a goal,” Seliger said. “I have not personally drawn a map that does that.”

Asked whether the congressional map that the Senate will eventually work on will make it difficult for Doggett to win re-election, Seliger said, “That’s not clear yet.”

Doggett’s district is not VRA protected, so the Republicans have a fair amount of latitude, but not necessarily a lot of good options. Doggett has a ton of money and easily won a primary in 2004 against a South Texas Latina, so drawing him into a heavily Hispanic district is no guarantee of success. Making his district red enough to knock him off in November means shifting a lot of Republicans in and Democrats out, which may well have an effect on Lamar Smith or Mike McCaul, both of whom got less than 60% in 2008. Carving Travis County into smaller pieces, all of which are distributed to Republican districts (possibly including the new Central Texas one) could work, but that’s an awful lot of Democrats to spread around, and Travis’ neighbors Hays and Williamson have also been trending blue. With redistricting most things are possible, but some may not be worth the effort. According to Texas on the Potomac, the GOP Congressional delegation submitted its preferred map to the House on Thursday. We’ll know soon enough what they try to do. The Trib has more.

HISD lays off teachers, discusses school closures

We knew this was coming. There may yet be more of it to come.

Officials with the Houston Independent School District announced Tuesday that about 730 teachers have been notified they won’t have jobs next year — because of budget cuts or poor performance.

Like many districts across Texas, HISD is purging jobs and possibly closing schools to save money amid a state funding shortfall. But HISD leaders have coupled those cuts with a rare, aggressive approach to weeding out teachers deemed ineffective.

“This is about helping teachers improve, but it’s also about being responsible to students to ensure that each of them has an effective teacher,” said Ann Best, HISD’s human resources chief.

The district so far has eliminated 567 teaching jobs because of budget constraints and fired 163 teachers for poor performance, according to preliminary data released Tuesday. The cuts represent about 6 percent of HISD’s teachers and do not include voluntary resignations and retirements, according to Best.

District officials emphasized that the numbers could change as the budget process continues.

I say again, remember that HISD is operating under the assumption that the budget cuts will be about half as severe as what’s in the current House budget. You may be wondering what the effect of Texas receiving the $830 million in federal money that had previously been unavailable to it. The answer is, in effect, “nothing”, because the Senate was already factoring it in.

Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, said the senators have been struggling to find new nontax dollars to help them pay for $5.3 billion in school aid that they recently added to their initial bare-bones version of the 2012-13 budget.

This change frees up $830 million for the 2012-13 budget that will go toward — but not add to — the $5.3 billion, Shapiro said. She said that will save teacher jobs, just as last year’s legislation intended.

In other words, the Senate Education Committee said “We’re going to restore $5.3 billion to education on top of what the House provides. Now we just have to figure out where to find that money.” The $830 million that Texas may now get merely covers some of that still-hot check. That’s a very good thing, but it’s not anything new. Note also that the Senate budget is slightly better than the scenario for which HISD is preparing, meaning that HISD would be able to restore some of its cuts if the current Senate version of the budget is adopted. There would still be a lot of cuts, just slightly less than what they’re now planning to make.

HISD also could see fewer schools next year. Grier said this week that he will consider closing or merging up to 17 of the district’s 300 schools.

He will review elementary schools with fewer than 400 students and middle schools under 500. Many have space for far more students but aren’t drawing them.

With HISD reducing its funding to its schools, Grier said he worries those with low enrollment won’t be able to deliver a good education. HISD funds each campus based on its student count.

You can see a full list of schools being considered for closure or consolidation at School Zone. This sort of thing is always very unpopular, and there has been a fair amount of pushback, especially from Love Elementary in my neighborhood. My guess is that the Board will delay taking action on this for as long as it can.

Doggett Amendment repealed as part of budget-shutdown deal

Oh, the things that can happen in the dark of night.

In a victory for Gov. Rick Perry, the most recent Congressional budgetary stopgap — passed Friday night to avoid closing the federal government — contains language that repeals the “Save Our Schools” amendment from U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin. The measure would have prohibited Texas from using federal dollars to replace state funding of schools.

Last summer, Doggett and other Democrats in the House supported an amendment to a bill allocating $10 billion in federal funding for education that said Texas couldn’t use its portion — $830 million — to supplant rather than supplement state public education money. Because Perry refused to guarantee future funding without the permission of state lawmakers, the Department of Education denied the Texas application for money. In a Jan. 10 New York Times letter to the editor, Doggett wrote that he worked to pass the measure because Perry and state lawmakers used $3.25 billion in federal stimulus dollars marked for education to replace state funding for schools in 2009.

The US House had repealed the Doggett Amendment in February, but that was before the hostage standoff that resulted in last weekend’s deal. Even before that, there was speculation that the funds would come our way, and indeed the Senate version of the budget assumed those funds would be available. I still wish someone would provide me with a roadmap for when federal money is pure and wholesome and when it’s the tool of the devil. Anyway, it looks like we will get this money after all, and given how dire the budget is there really isn’t a bad way for it to be used.

House repeals Doggett Amendment

This may be a partial answer to my earlier question about the status of the $830 million in federal education funds that await Texas if Governor Perry will attest that they will be actually spent on education.

In the latest round of the political feud over $830 million in federal funding, House Republicans, led by U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Lewisville, passed a bill Saturday that blocks the enforcement of the Texas-specific Education Jobs amendment.

Republicans do not like the amendment, introduced by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, last summer, because it requires Texas — and only Texas — to guarantee that it will maintain state funding for education throughout 2013. Democrats support the amendment because it requires the state to use the federal money to supplement, rather than supplant, its public education funding.

[…]

“There is a clear path to get this money,” Doggett said. “All the governor needs to do is sign a three-page application, like the one he signed to get the $3.25 billion of aid he kept for purposes other than education.” That $3.25 billion would be the federal stimulus money— marked for education — Perry accepted in 2009 and used to offset spending in other areas of the budget.

In a statement, Burgess said, “The schoolchildren and teachers in Texas will finally have the opportunity to receive the $830 million they should have had in the first place. This money should have never been denied when the original bill passed, and it is a shame that Mr. Doggett put education funding at risk.”

The legislation still has to make it through the Democratically-controlled Senate, where U.S. Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn have sponsored a companion bill.

Two points. One, if this thing makes it through the Senate I have a hard time seeing it get Presidential approval, given that Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently warned Texas to fish or cut bait. What possible reason could President Obama have to fold on this and give Rick Perry an unqualified propaganda victory?

And two, I seem to have lost the ability to determine when it is that federal funds for Texas are evil and fascistic and must be resisted lest they pollute our precious bodily fluids, and when they are good and wholesome and must be fought for. Is there, like, a Wikipedia page or something I could use as a guide to aid me in these matters? Thanks.

Do we now expect to get those federal education dollars?

You may recall that last year, Congress passed a supplemental appropriations bill that included $830 million in education funds for Texas, but which came with the requirement that Texas maintain its spending levels on education for the next three fiscal years. When Governor Perry applied for the funds but said he could not make that promise, the application was denied. See here, here, and here for some background. As of today, the situation has not changed but Perry is seeking a way around the restriction.

Gov. Rick Perry is asking Congress to repeal a federal provision that has stirred up a political hornet’s nest and tied up about $830 million intended to help struggling Texas schools.

In a letter to Texas Democrats on Friday, Perry reiterated his position that state law forbids him from making the assurances about spending that the federal law requires.

Perry, who was in Washington to speak to several groups Friday, urged the delegation to repeal the amendment, which he said “unfairly targets Texas schoolchildren, teachers and taxpayers.”

State Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, added the amendment to last year’s $10 billion education jobs bill that required Texas to certify that the state’s public education spending would hold steady as a proportion of the state budget for three years. Other states had to make that assurance for one year.

I rather doubt that Perry will get his wish on this; even if the Republican-controlled House goes along with it, the Senate is unlikely to. But I’m beginning to wonder if something may give one way or the other. It was a paragraph in this AP story about the Republicans in Austin waking up to the realities of the budget cuts they’ve proposed that got me thinking:

Modest fee increases also are possible, and more than $800 million in federal education money could be added before the session ends in May. The federal dough has been tied up in a partisan squabble between Austin and Washington.

The Trib has more on this. There’s no other mention of those funds in the story, so I don’t know if this is just idle speculation or the result of enough background chatter to make it seem plausible. Obviously, I’d like for Texas to get the money, and I’d like for Texas to comply with the spending requirement that comes with it. The problem is that unless Congressional Republicans get their way and repeal the Doggett amendment, the only other option is for Perry to cave, and I just don’t see that happening. I could be wrong and I hope I am, but I’m not going to bet any of my own money on it.

Texas gets a teeny bit of high speed rail money

It’s a step forward, but a very very small step.

High-speed rail in Texas, long left for dead, is likely to regain a pulse today when U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announces a $5.6 million grant to plan a passenger rail line from Oklahoma City to the Rio Grande.

The money is part of $2.4 billion in federal grants to be unveiled today for high-speed rail projects, a spokesman for the Federal Railroad Administration said.

The $5.6 million grant, announced Wednesday by the office of U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, would pay for what is expected to be a 42-month study that would identify a preferred route on existing or new tracks, estimate capital and annual operating costs, project ridership and evaluate environmental effects of passenger rail.

Building high-speed rail from the Texas-Mexico border to Oklahoma, however, would cost billions of dollars. Policymakers have not identified a source for the money.

The grant is only half of what the Texas Department of Transportation requested for what it estimated would be a $14 million study. TxDOT will contribute $2.8 million from money the agency had approved for the Lone Star Rail District, the agency that hopes someday to build commuter rail between Georgetown and San Antonio.

The $11.2 million grant application did not mention any contribution from Oklahoma.

TxDOT had requested an additional $8.1 million to study passenger rail from Austin to Houston and from Houston to Dallas. But Sarah Dohl , Doggett’s communications director, said the $5.6 million is all the state will get.

Better than nothing, but still. Don’t spend it all in one place.

Feds reject Texas’ application for education funds

Oops.

The U.S. Department of Education has rejected Texas’ application for $830 million in federal money for schools and asked the state to resubmit its request without conditions.

The rejection was based on a line in the state’s application that said Texas’ constitution and laws supersede any assurances made by the governor in the application. Republican Gov. Rick Perry and the state’s top education official added the language because, in order to get the money, Texas must ensure schools will be funded at a certain level for the next three years — an assurance they believe is unconstitutional.

Texas officials responded with a letter Thursday saying the earliest they could constitutionally guarantee the amount of money Texas spends on schools is next July, after the next state budget becomes law. The letter asks the Education Department for a written commitment to save the funds for Texas until that time.

You know, this really shouldn’t be that hard. All that needs to be done is to say that we’ll try our level best to comply with the regulation. To say that we’ll try, but we probably can’t do it, that just doesn’t seem like a winning strategy. At least we were given a second chance; let’s hope we don’t screw it up again.

Perry asks for federal education funds

About time.

Gov. Rick Perry on Friday submitted the state’s application for the money, which is intended to help school districts save teacher jobs now.

But Texas faced a bigger hurdle than other states because of an amendment authored by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, that required Texas to assure that state education spending for the next three years would remain on par with current spending.

In an effort to comply with that Texas-specific amendment, Perry committed to “prioritiz(ing) public education funding” in the next budget, though he did not offer the more binding assurances about education spending that Doggett had wanted.

Perry maintains that he cannot provide that assurance without violating the state constitution because the governor can neither appropriate money nor bind a future Legislature to spending money.

Perry’s commitment will probably not be enough to meet the requirements of the amendment right now. Even so, the money could still be available for Texas in 2011 when the Legislature convenes to write the next two-year budget, according to Education Commissioner Robert Scott.

“The Department assured me and the Office of the Governor, both in our meeting in Washington, D.C., and in a follow-up conference call, that the Department has all necessary authority to and will…reserve the $830 million for Texas until the 2012-13 budget becomes law and Texas is awarded the $830 million,” Scott wrote the Education Department.

So all that huffing and puffing was mostly bluffing – you will note, no lawsuits have been filed. Sending that letter to the feds didn’t stop Perry from sending a letter to school superintendents asking them to write the Obama administration to criticize the Doggett amendment, but that plea seems to have fallen on deaf ears. The best outcome remains the case where the Lege promises to use this money on education and then does so. Here’s hoping for that.

Federal education funds still in limbo

All talk, no action.

A high-level meeting of state and federal officials aimed at finding a way for Texas to access $830 million in emergency education aid failed to produce a clear path forward, according to the Texas Education Agency.

“This afternoon’s meeting was cordial, with all parties trying to get these education funds flowing to Texas classrooms as quickly as possible,” Education Commissioner Robert Scott said in a statement.

[…]

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, added a provision to that bill that singled out Texas’ education money and required the state to provide assurances that it would maintain current education spending levels for the next three years. Other states have to agree to that spending level for only one year.

[…]

Scott said that talks will continue with the Department of Education.

Education Department press secretary Sandra Abrevaya said: “We are working constructively with state officials to figure out how we can, subject to statutory requirements, get these funds to serve Texas students.”

How hard is this? Seriously. Money comes with strings all the time. Other states have to meet the same requirement for one year. What’s the problem?

I note, by the way, that despite all the earlier saber-rattling and lawsuit-threatening, all is currently quiet on the legal front. Has Team Perry quietly retreated, or are they biding their time? Maybe we’ll know when an agreement is finally reached.

Congress wants education money spent on education

It sounds simple, but around here these things never are.

State leaders on Thursday threatened to sue the federal government over a restriction Congress is placing on $830 million in education funding for Texas.

Texas educators and Democratic congressional allies, however, say the strings are necessary because of the way Gov. Rick Perry and the Legislature handled federal stimulus money last year.

The issue pits all of the state’s major education groups against state legislative leaders and involves Texas’ share of funding for emergency education jobs in a bill expected to get final congressional approval next Tuesday.

Texas congressional Democrats inserted an amendment they say is necessary to ensure the money goes to school children and Texas teachers. Educators remain unhappy that some $3 billion in federal stimulus money for Texas education last year was used to replace state money instead of increasing the investment in public education.

The bill moving through Congress would require Perry to certify that the emergency education money would not be used to replace state funds and that education funding would not be cut proportionally more than any other program.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said on Thursday the state would sue if the measure passes.

Litigation could hold up the funding and deprive school districts of funds needed to avert layoffs, said U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, author of the amendment.

“This money could begin flowing to these school districts now,” Doggett said. “The only thing stopping it is Governor Perry’s decision on whether to certify that federal education dollars will get to the school boards for local purposes.”

More huffing and puffing from Dewhurst et al is here. Am I the only one who feels like we could settle this a lot faster and more cheaply if we simply handed everyone involved a ruler and pointed them towards the men’s room?

Jokes aside, there’s no question that the Lege used those federal stimulus dollars for their own purposes last year, which is to say they filled in the budget hole, including the five billion or so of structural deficit caused by the 2006 property tax cut, and patted themselves on the back for being fiscally responsible. For Congress to insist that the money they’re allocating be spent on the purpose they intended for it should not come as a surprise to anyone. And if Governor Perry had spent the last 18 months acting like a grownup and not like a three-year-old coming down from a sugar high (not that I have any first-hand knowledge of what that looks like), maybe Texas wouldn’t have been singled out like that. Too late for that, unfortunately. Katherine, Phillip, and Martha have more.

By the way, the bill in question, which was passed by the Senate and will be passed by the House next week, included another $850 million in funds for Texas’ Medicaid program, all of which will put a nice little dent in the current budget hole. A press release from Rep. Garnet Coleman about that is beneath the fold.

(more…)

Let’s seat those judges

Traditionally, a President seeks input from a state’s Senators when filling federal court, US Attorney, and US Marshall openings. Also traditionally, when the President and both Senators from a given state are from opposite parties, the state’s Congressional delegation assumes that role. Here’s hoping that actually works here in Texas.

Democrats, with their party in control of the White House, want more input into selecting judges and U.S. attorneys in a system that has been dominated by Republicans for the past eight years.

“We have to be realistic,” said Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi, the state’s senior congressional Democrat. “Democrats won the election.”

Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, the Democratic congressional delegation chairman, said the Republican senators may offer input, but House lawmakers will recommend candidates for nomination.

“Individuals seeking these positions must have the approval of the Texas Democratic delegation,” said Doggett.

A White House statement confirms the Texas Democratic delegation clout, but it also adds to the ambiguity of the process by saying the “Texas U.S. senators will be accorded a full opportunity to share their views about each candidate whom the president proposes to nominate.”

That led Republican Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison, to install their own Federal Judicial Evaluation Committee to screen applicants for judicial districts in the state. It’s the same committee used over the past decade, only the formerly all-Republican panel now has added Democrat members.

Cornyn said the committee process exists to ensure judicial candidates are “the very best lawyers in the state.” A member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which conducts confirmation hearings on judicial nominees, Cornyn said he did not want the process “viewed as a partisan exercise. We want it to be a quality control exercise.”

Cornyn also warned that senators have the power to block any home state nominee to judicial posts — a process known in Senate parlance as rendering a “blue slip.”

I assume they refer to this largely female-free list. I’m happy to let Cornyn and Hutchison have some input, but I hope they’re grownup enough to realize that this isn’t all about them. The President can and should give priority to Democrats for these positions, and as long as the nominees are well qualified, I think our Senators should go along instead of playing partisan games. I don’t think that’s too much to ask. We did finally manage to get Justice Sonia Sotomayor approved, after all. Of course, that happened over Cornyn and Hutchison’s objections. That’s not an option here thanks to the blue slips, so we’ll have to see if they can play nice with everyone else.

If you can’t beat ’em, shout ’em down

Ladies and gentlemen, your modern day Republican Party:

Angry teabaggers and other opponents of health care reform are heckling members of Congress at their town hall meetings back home in an effort to sway the debate and drown out reform supporters.

This weekend, a group of teabaggers showed up at a town hall in Philadelphia with Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. They shouted and booed to drown out remarks from both officials and questions from the audience.

They’ve made their appearance in Texas, too – Mean Rachel was there with a firsthand report. As TPM reports, all this is part of a coordinated national effort, much like the teabagger events themselves were. It’s funny in that way that makes you wince to think about the reactions that a similar Democratic effort at Republican town halls might have engendered, especially in the leadup to the invasion of Iraq. Can’t you just hear the tongue-clucking and see the finger-wagging about the “angry Left” and how out of control it is and how conservatives would never behave like that? Boy, those were the days.

The good news is that at least one target of this thuggish anti-democratic behavior is undeterred by it.

This mob, sent by the local Republican and Libertarian parties, did not come just to be heard, but to deny others the right to be heard. And this appears to be part of a coordinated, nationwide effort. What could be more appropriate for the “party of no” than having its stalwarts drowning out the voices of their neighbors by screaming “just say no!” Their fanatical insistence on repealing Social Security and Medicare is not just about halting health care reform but rolling back 75 years of progress. I am more committed than ever to win approval of legislation to offer more individual choice to access affordable health care. An effective public plan is essential to achieve that goal.

Good for you, Rep. Doggett, especially in pointing out the distinction between activism and astroturfing, which unfortunately some reporters are unable or unwilling to do. May all your colleagues follow your lead. Mark Kleiman has some good advice for them if they need it. McBlogger, John Coby, and Harold Cook have more.

UPDATE: Here’s an example of a town hall meeting that wasn’t disrupted by the teabaggers. Let’s learn the lessons of that.

Education stimulus money for Texas approved

Good news.

The U.S. Department of Education has approved Texas’ application for using $3.2 billion in federal stimulus money, Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, said.

That money will be used to pay for textbooks and a $1.9 billion increase in school funding, which covers an $800 raise for all Texas teachers.

There had been concerns that the Texas application might not win federal approval.

Congressional Democrats had complained loudly that Texas misused its stimulus money by filling the state’s budget holes with the federal dollars while leaving untouched the $9.1 billion rainy day fund.

“While I am pleased that our hardworking Texas teachers are each assured a well-deserved raise, we could and should have done much better by our local public schools,” Doggett said.

Approval was expected but it’s always good to see the I’s get dotted and the T’s get crossed. And just remember, whenever you hear Rick Perry talk about giving public school teachers a raise this year – and you can bet that he will – it was that bad ol’ federal government he hates so much that made it all possible. In particular, it was President Obama and all the Democrats in Congress. Both of our Senators voted against the stimulus package, so KBH has as much claim to this as Perry does, which is to say none at all. Texas on the Potomac has more.

Voting right on climate change, part 3

Here we go again.

The late-stage whip count on the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 has produced a particular political irony. A measure crafted by two Democrats in the House of Representatives — Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) — over the course many years could hinge on the willingness of members of their own party to compromise.

At the heart of the issue is a belief among some progressives that the bill’s standard for carbon emission reductions have been set too low, and that the measure itself is too easy on both the coal industry and farmers. Already, according to Hill aides, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) has said that he will not support the bill regardless of whether his own amendments are approved. High-ranking officials involved with whipping votes tell the Huffington Post that there are at least three or four other liberals who are withholding their support. Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and Lloyd Doggett (D-T.X.) were two names put forward by multiple sources, the latter issuing a floor statement on Friday saying that without significant improvements he couldn’t support the bill. Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) whose vote remains up in the air, is said to be leaning towards backing the measure, according a Democratic source.

For a bill that could be decided by one or two votes, holdouts could make all the difference.

“The irony here is that this bill, which people like Waxman and others have been working on for years, could be derailed, not by the right wing,” said one high-ranking Democrat, “but by members of their own party. This could be the classic case of cutting off your nose to spite your face.”

I’m going to say the same thing to Congressman Doggett that I said to Congressmen Gene Green and Charlie Gonzalez: The right thing to do is to vote for this bill. We can always make things better going forward, but if we don’t take this first step now, after all this time, who knows how long it will take just to get this far again? Please do the right thing and vote for this bill, Congressman Doggett.

UPDATE: According to Politico, Rep. Doggett is now a Yes vote. Good for him.

UPDATE: Here’s Rep. Doggett’s statement.

Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) spoke on the House floor today about the pending climate legislation.

“I struggled deeply about whether to support this flawed bill, but I finally determined that voting for it was my best hope for making it better,” Rep. Doggett said.

“Earlier today I voiced my strong objections to this bill. I voted against the rule to permit this debate because of its rejection of some amendments that I thought would have improved this legislation.

“For three reasons, I’m voting for final passage. First, I’ve been listening to the debate; not so much to those who support a bill that I’m not all that enthusiastic about, but listening to the flat earth society and the climate deniers, and some of the most inane arguments I have heard against refusing to act on this vital national security challenge.

“Second, I believe there is still some hope to make improvements once it gets out of the House – better to have a seat at the table to try to influence the change that is needed in this legislation.

“Third, I am convinced that unless we act today, the Senate will not act, and unless we act in this Congress, we will not get the international agreements we need to address this serious challenge. I’m voting yes in the hope that we will have a better bill and we will have the international accord that we so desperately need to deal with this critical matter.”

To view a video of his floor statement, please click here.

We’ll see what happens in the Senate.