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Pete Laney

Another look ahead at redistricting

The short version of this Chron story is basically “Republicans would like to control every aspect of the redistricting process, while Democrats would at least like to win the Governor’s office and maintain some semblance of parity in the House”. A few points:

“The governor’s race is critical to redistricting,” declares U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, a former state legislator whose district is one of the fastest-growing in the nation. “A Republican governor increases the likelihood that the final map will be drawn by elected state representatives. A Democratic governor who vetoes the GOP Legislature’s plan ensures the federal courts will draw the final congressional map for Texas.”

That’s what happened in 2001, when the Democrats still had a majority in the House and Pete Laney was Speaker. The House and Senate could not agree on a redistricting bill, and the Congressional map was ultimately drawn by a three-judge federal panel in Dallas. That was the flimsy justification that Tom DeLay then used to force his re-redistricting scheme in 2003, that since the map wasn’t drawn by the Lege it wasn’t legitimate. A Republican triumvirate would ensure a Lege-drawn map; a Democratic Governor and/or House would likely mean another map job for the judges. This time, a do-over in 2013 would almost certainly not happen, as there isn’t really anyone in the Texas Congressional delegation who would have the juice to make it happen.

Without White in the governor’s chair, the Democrats’ only leverage would be the Justice Department, which has reviewed Texas districts for the past four decades as part of a “pre-clearance” process required in states with legacies of institutionalized racial discrimination.

For the first time since the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965, the Justice Department is controlled by Democrats – something that makes Texas Republicans a bit nervous.

The GOP’s suspicion of the Obama administration has given birth to a novel legal strategy: Republican leaders in Austin are privately discussing the possibility of bypassing the Justice Department and filing any redistricting plan directly with the U.S. District Court in Washington.

This has come up before, and I confess I’m fuzzy on the details. It would have been nice for the story to explain it a bit more. The bottom line is that the GOP would prefer to take its chances with some activist judges than with a Justice Department that actually takes civil rights enforcement seriously.

Back in Texas, both parties have been gearing up for political combat for a year. Party leaders have convened training sessions for their operatives, legislative redistricting committees have begun holding hearings and congressional Republicans have chosen Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, as their point person in the process. The Democratic delegation has not yet picked its redistricting leaders.

But the political calculations are complicated by demographic realities. West Texas, a region dominated by Democrats, is likely to lose power in the legislative and congressional redistricting processes because of the concentration of population growth in the Houston area and along the I-35 corridor from Denton to Laredo.

What’s more, redistricting is just one of the hot-button items on the legislative agenda for 2011, along with a state budget dripping with red ink, education policy and funding, border security, the future of the Texas Department of Transportation and much more.

Here I will note again that the Trib floated the possibility of a redistricting compromise, agreed to in advance, which I believe the Lege would take if it were offered to them. Whether that’s still a live possibility at this point or not, I have no idea. I do know that the Republicans have to be at least a little careful, lest they do to their Congressional delegation what they did to their State House membership, which is to say lose a bunch of ground after initially overreaching. How they try to save Mike Conaway, in a district that was barely justifiable in 2003 and which owes its existence entirely to Tom Craddick’s insistence on separating Midland/Odessa from Abilene and Lubbock will be worth watching in itself. I feel quite confident that the electorate in 2012 will be more Democratic than it was in 2002, which complicates things further for them. Especially if Chet Edwards loses, holding serve and protecting their incumbents may look pretty good to them. But who knows? As Molly Ivins once said, our state motto ought to be “Too much is never enough, and wretched excess is even more fun.” Why should this be any different?

Farabee not running for re-election

Democratic State Rep. David Farabee is not running for re-election to his Wichita Falls House seat.

David Farabee is taking his hat out of the ring in the race for the State Representative District 69 — Wichita Falls mayor Lanham Lyne is throwing his in.

Farabee told the Times Record News Tuesday he will not seek re-election to the post he’s held almost 12 years.

“It was a goal of mine for some time to serve 12 years. When we had a change of leadership in the House, I considered an additional term. Then I revisted my plans and decided to stick with my original life goals,” Farabee said.

Farabee, a Democrat, said he had pretty well made up his mind against running in May, “but I wanted to visit with certain people and I have done that now.”

[…]

Farabee, 45, said he had no idea who might run for the Democratic nomination to replace him.

“I’ve gone out of my way not to involve myself in that process,” he said.

Farabee was a well-regarded member of the House, and I thank him for his service and wish him well in retirement. I’m not quite as optimistic as Phillip is about the Dems’ chances of holding that seat. Farabee’s district is pretty red, and without knowing who will vie to replace him, it’s a little hard to say. Dems have been able to hold onto a seat like this before, when Rep. Joe Heflin succeeded Pete Laney in 2006, so it certainly can be done. We’ll have to see who steps up to run. Greg has more.

Another Democratic gubernatorial hopeful

Well, you can’t say that the Democratic cast of characters for Governor lacks characters.

Rick Perry might not be the only candidate in the 2010 race for Texas governor who is known for great hair.

As the Republican governor with famously spiffy locks seeks re-election, the head of a Houston hair products company that Perry recently touted says he might be running for governor — as a Democrat.

Farouk Shami, 66 , founder and board chairman of Faorouk Systems Inc., hosted Perry at his company’s headquarters in July for a news conference announcing the company’s decision to move manufacturing facilities from South Korea and China to Texas, bringing 1,200 jobs to Houston. Perry called Shami, who was born in what was then Palestine, someone “who pretty much embodies the American dream.”

“Inspired by the freedoms we enjoy, he was drawn to this state,” Perry said at the news conference, a video of which is posted on the governor’s Web site. “He’s built a life of significance and an organization that is respected around the world. His is the story of Texas.”

Now, Shami, who has never run for office, is pondering a run to replace Perry, though their philosophies sound similar. Shami says he wants to bring jobs to Texas and avoid raising taxes. He said Perry “is a wonderful person” but lacks business experience.

“I have the capability to run the state as a business,” said Shami, whose shampoos, hair dryers and flat irons are sold around the world under the BioSilk and CHI brands. “People are tired of politicians.”

Yeah, the name “Tony Sanchez” is popping into my head, too. Given what Perry said about Sanchez during that campaign, one can only wonder what he might say about Farouk Shami in this one.

Shami donated more than $24,000 to [Kinky] Friedman’s independent campaign for governor in 2006, when Friedman referred to Shami as his Palestinian barber. Now, Shami said Friedman doesn’t seem serious.

Well, I can’t argue with that last part. At least he’s able to learn from his mistakes.

On a much less colorful note, Burka touts former Speaker Pete Laney as the Democrats’ best hope in the Governor’s race. I have a lot of respect for Pete Laney, and if he got into the race I’d certainly consider him. It’s not clear to me why Burka thinks Laney’s support for George W. Bush in the 2000 election would be any less a problem for him than Tom Schieffer’s Bush connection, but I suppose Burka was addressing the general election and not the primary. I’m far from sold on the need or the wisdom of having a rural candidate as the nominee – I think the marginal gains in rural counties may not be enough to overcome a lack of enthusiasm for a rural white guy in the urban, heavily non-Anglo Democratic base, and I tend to agree with Greg that the place to be looking for persuadable voters is the suburbs. I also take issue with Burka’s assertion that Laney isn’t just the Dems’ best hope, he’s the only hope. Among other things, I’m hearing from more and more people who think KBH may back out of the Governor’s race, in which case you’d have Bill White and John Sharp in a non-existent Senate campaign; surely White would represent a stronger hope than Laney, or anyone else for that matter, and I’d rank Sharp above Laney as well. Be that as it may, if this is more than wishcasting, I’m certainly open to hearing more. But get back to me after I’ve heard it.

Followup on Keller impeachment resolution

I had a brief conversation with Rep. Lon Burnam about HR480, the House resolution to impeach Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller, which had a hearing on Monday. He’s working on getting enough support in the House Committee on Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence to get it voted out of committee and brought to the floor of the House for a vote; he’s also talking to Members and answering their questions about this arcane and seldom-used procedure, and securing their support for an eventual vote. If the Jurisprudence committee does not vote HR480 out, Burnam can and will bring it to the floor on a personal privilege motion. So one way or another we will see a House vote on this.

Because of the nature of this kind of resolution, the only deadline Burnam faces is sine die on June 1. Only the House must take action for impeachment to move forward. What HR480 does is authorize the creation of a select committee on impeachment, which would be chosen by Speaker Straus and which would meet in the summer to investigate the charges and potentially refer articles of impeachment back to the full House for another vote. The House would then convene for that vote, and if they accept the articles of impeachment, the matter then passes to the Senate for a trial. A two-thirds vote in the Senate would be required for a conviction, with the penalties including removal from the bench and a ban on holding public office in the future.

Rep. Burnam’s office sent me the 1975 Select Committee on Impeachment report (PDF), which was the last time a resolution was brought forth to impeach an officeholder, in that case a district judge in Duval County, and which makes for some interesting reading. The Committee, whose members included former Speaker Pete Laney, Sarah Weddington, and still serving Rep. Senfronia Thompson, likened the role of the House to that of a grand jury, offering no judgment on the guilt or innocence of the accused or exploration of possible mitigating factors; that was left for the Senate, which was the trial court. They were there to determine if there was cause for further action.

One other point of interest is that the impeachment resolution of 1975 was brought to the floor by a privileged motion. Rep. Burnam is taking the longer way by having this go through the normal committee process, though as noted he can still go the privileged motion route if need be.

Craddick’s cleanup

I’m amused by this.

Before the House voted Speaker Tom Craddick out of his powerful job, state officials wiped his computers clean and deleted scores of electronic files, raising concerns that important public records may have been destroyed.

Files on one shared computer network drive were saved, but unless Craddick specifically requested them, computer hard drives and electronic records associated with individual employees were deleted, officials said.

Craddick left the speaker’s office on Jan. 13, returning to the state House as a rank-and-file member without a vast staff and without the sweeping power the presiding officer wields.

The computers were removed from the speaker’s office to be wiped clean at 5 p.m. on Jan. 12, said Anne Billingsley, spokeswoman for the Texas Legislative Council, which oversees computer issues for the Legislature. Rep. Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, was sworn in as speaker at noon the next day.

But before Craddick gave up the gavel to Straus, the council let Craddick take what he wanted and deleted everything else, officials said.

“Everything that Speaker Craddick had on his computers as far as data and records, he was allowed to take with him into his (state representative’s) office,” Billingsley said. “As far as the computers go, they took all the computers for the speaker’s office and they got wiped.”

Deleting computer files is standard procedure, Craddick’s chief of staff Kate Huddleston said. But it’s not clear what files were deleted, setting off alarms among government watchdogs.

Fred Lewis, an independent government watchdog, called the deletions “outrageous.”

“If it’s on a state computer, it’s a state record. They’re not his records. They belong to the people of Texas,” Lewis said. “I think there should be an investigation on whether or not he illegally destroyed state records.”

My reaction upon seeing this was, is this really standard procedure? If the commenters on Burkablog are to be believed, apparently so. It would be standard in the business world, but then we don’t have open records laws to worry about. This followup story goes into more detail.

[The Texas Legislative Council] said it followed its regular procedures, which included computer “sanitization” guidelines that had been issued in 2003 and revised in 2007. The bottom line: only the legislators themselves — and in this case former speaker Craddick — get to decide what to keep and what not to keep.

“The legislator makes all decisions regarding their files,” the council said in an unsigned news release on the stationery of council director Milton Rister. “The council simply follows its operating procedures in reformatting the computers for use by other or new legislators.”

But state Rep. Tommy Merritt, R-Longview, said Rister should resign over the incident.

“I’m very concerned about records being destroyed the day before the election of a new speaker without anyone in the Legislature in charge of stopping it or preventing it,” Merritt said. “Milton Rister needs to resign.”

Council spokeswoman Araminta Everton declined to comment on Merritt’s request.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, said he was filing legislation to prevent such destruction in the future. He said his bill was designed to “preserve the public’s right to know about legislative information when a legislator leaves office.”

I think that’s a better approach. At the very least, there’s no reason why a backup of the computer can’t be done before the wipe is performed. As for Milton Rister, he’s been the subject of controversy since he was first named director of the TLC.

And of course, with Tom Craddick, if it’s not one thing, it’s another.

Even as fellow House members were wresting him from his leadership post, former House Speaker Tom Craddick directed state officials to renovate his cherished Capitol apartment, spending all but $18.55 from a restoration fund that once totaled over $1.3 million.

The final purchase order — $45,400 for two historic Texas oil paintings — was issued just hours before Craddick had to hand power over to Rep. Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, after House members voted him out of the No. 1 post because they didn’t like his autocratic leadership style. Straus got Craddick’s job as well as the keys to the 1,804-square-foot apartment behind the House chamber.

Private funds, donated from wealthy contributors and lobbyists, were used to pay for the renovation. State employees were also dispatched to perform minor installation work on the project late last year, officials said.

Craddick, a Midland oilman, announced he was withdrawing from the speaker’s race on Jan. 4, after it was clear he no longer had a majority of the House behind him. A day later, on Jan. 5, the Texas State Preservation Board approved the expenditure of $124,000 on the apartment, including the purchase of a $75,000 crystal chandelier that had already been hung over the speaker’s spacious dining room.

All told, the State Preservation Board — in charge of modifications to the state capitol — approved $169,400 in expenditures on the apartment renovation during Craddick’s final week in office. The last expenditure, for the oil paintings, was approved just before 5 p.m. on Jan. 12, only hours before the Republican speaker formally relinquished power, records show.

I have to admit, the man does have a certain flair.