Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Veronica Gonzalez

Rep. Ruben Hinojosa to retire

A second open Congressional seat for 2016.

Rep. Ruben Hinojosa

First elected to Congress in 1996, Hinojosa has largely had a dormant campaign operation for most of this cycle, and he drew a Republican challenger this year in former Rio Grande City Mayor Ruben Villarreal.

Hinojosa’s office didn’t immediately return a request to comment for this article. The Monitor, a McAllen newspaper, reported the retirement earlier Thursday. It said that Hinojosa had scheduled an announcement for Friday in McAllen.

Hinojosa is the 12th U.S. House member and second Texan to announce a departure from Congress this term. U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Lubbock, announced in September that he would not seek re-election.

Congressional District 15, which Hinojosa represents, has traditionally been a reliable seat for Democrats. President Obama carried the district by 16 points in the 2012 presidential election.

As the news of Hinojosa’s retirement broke Thursday, names already began to circulate about possible Democrats who could run to replace them. Names floating among state Democratic operatives included: state Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez, D-Weslaco, Hidalgo County Commissioner Joseph Palacios, Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez and former state Rep. Veronica Gonzales of McAllen.

At least one women’s Hispanic group, Texas Latina List, which bills itself as a progressive political action committee, has its eye on the 15th District.

Rep. Hinojosa has since made it official. CD15 is a slightly purplish blue. Every Dem got at least 54% of the vote in 2012, winning by at least ten points in each case. It was a much closer call in 2014, with John Cornyn and Baby Bush holding their Dem opponents under 50%, but each Dem still got at least a plurality. I’d be more worried about this in an off year than in a Presidential year, but it’s still not a sure thing. I’m rooting for a viable female candidate to emerge – it would be awesome to have the first Latina elected to Congress from Texas in a year where we (hopefully) elect the first female President. Trail Blazers has more.

Elsewhere in Democratic primary news, we have our second contested legislative primary in Harris County, and our first involving an incumbent, as Edward Pollard announced on Facebook and Instagram his candidacy for HD137, against two term Rep. Gene Wu. Pollard’s tag line is “The Conservative Democrat”, which ought to make for an interesting debate. Yes, I’ll be doing primary interviews, which will be on me before I know it, so you’ll get a chance to hear what that means and whatever else I think to ask about. By the way, today is the start of filing season. I’ll do my best to keep track of who is filing for what.

What if we didn’t have to worry about county lines?

The federal lawsuit that will be heard by a three-judge panel in San Antonio begins next week, but in the meantime there have been depositions taken by various players, and some interesting things have come up in them. Texas Redistricting highlights one of the assertions made by the Mexican American Legislative Caucus about the need for three new Latino opportunity districts in the State House:

The three new seats would be:

  • a seat spanning Dallas and Tarrant counties (similar to HD 107 in Plan H205),
  • a seat spanning Hidalgo and Cameron counties (similar to HD 144 in Plan 201), and
  • a seat in West Texas (similar to HD 84 in Plan H 205)

To achieve these seats, MALC argues that the court should allow lines for state house seats in the DFW Metroplex and Cameron and Hidalgo counties to selectively cross county lines, notwithstanding the “county-line rule” in the Texas Constitution.

MALC argues that this result is mandated by the Voting Rights Act.

In addition to the three new opportunity seats, MALC argues that in both Harris and Nueces counties a currently existing opportunity seat should be preserved.

You can see MALC’s preferred vision for Dallas and Tarrant Counties in the preceding post. You will immediately notice that it has several districts that include both Tarrant and Dallas Counties, and that a piece of District 10 pokes into Dallas from Ellis County. The five counties in Texas that have over 1 million people in them – Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Bexar, and Travis – do not share legislative districts with any other county. I’m not sure what the source of this is. The Texas Constitution, article 3, section 26, says:

Sec. 26. APPORTIONMENT OF MEMBERS OF HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES. The members of the House of Representatives shall be apportioned among the several counties, according to the number of population in each, as nearly as may be, on a ratio obtained by dividing the population of the State, as ascertained by the most recent United States census, by the number of members of which the House is composed; provided, that whenever a single county has sufficient population to be entitled to a Representative, such county shall be formed into a separate Representative District, and when two or more counties are required to make up the ratio of representation, such counties shall be contiguous to each other; and when any one county has more than sufficient population to be entitled to one or more Representatives, such Representative or Representatives shall be apportioned to such county, and for any surplus of population it may be joined in a Representative District with any other contiguous county or counties.

I found this presentation on the county line rule for apportioning House districts that adds some more information; Greg liveblogged a hearing at which this presentation was given, in which the presenter suggested that Dallas and Tarrant were “not sacrosanct from being carved out” to create a district with Ellis County. My presumption is that MALC picked that up and ran with it. What I have learned, thanks to Michael Li of Texas Redistricting patiently answering my annoying questions, is that the county-line rule is a matter of policy choice and not legislation or litigation. There’s nothing to require that Dallas reps are only in Dallas or Tarrant reps are only in Tarrant. It was a choice they made, and MALC is making the argument that they should have chosen differently to accommodate the burgeoning Latino population.

Along similar lines, the Plan H205 than Rep. Martinez-Fischer submitted gave Harris County 25 members as it now has. There’s another feature of this map that I’d like to point out. Here’s the map that was passed by the Lege and signed by the Governor for Harris County:

Harris County new districts

And here’s Harris County as Martinez-Fischer drew it:

MALC proposal for Harris County

The two districts that don’t show a number are 137 (the gray one in the southwest) and 145 (the yellow one to its east). As I see it, the MALC map has generally more compact districts. Certainly, there’s nothing like the abominations that are 145 and 148 in the state’s map. Personally speaking, I love the fact that MALC’s map leaves Super Neighborhood 22 whole, instead of chopping it into three pieces. I’m willing to bet that if you imposed a neighborhood map over either of these, MALC’s would be a better fit.

Anyway, just something to think about. I hadn’t really understood the county-line rule before, so this has certainly been educational for me. You can see a transcript of the depositions given by Rep. Martinez-Fischer and Rep. Veronica Gonzalez on behalf of MALC here. The trial gets underway next week, so we’ll see what happens.

New map, new opportunities: Outside the urban areas, part 1

Here’s the first post in my series of analyses of the new districts. I’m using 2008 electoral data, since the next election is a Presidential year, and I feel confident that the districts were drawn with an eye strongly towards protecting Republican gains in such a year. Without further ado, here we go.

HD12

District: 12

Incumbent: None

Counties: McLennan (part), Limestone, Falls, Robertson, Brazos (part)

Best 2008 Dem performance: Sam Houston, 46.67%

This district contains parts of Jim Dunnam’s old district, with the eastern part of the old HD57 being chopped off and reconstituted to accommodate Marva Beck. Lack of an incumbent is a big part of the draw here. A big downside is the eight point spread from the top of the ticket – neither Obama nor Noriega cracked 40% – to the Sam Houston number, which suggests that any Democratic candidate may have to swim against the tide. Lack of an incumbent also means you can’t accuse the other guy of voting to gut public education. Not a top priority, and may never be on the radar, but deserves a decent candidate for the first go-round at least.

HD17

District: 17

Incumbent: Tim Kleinschmidt (first elected in 2008)

Counties: Lee, Bastrop, Caldwell, Gonzales, Karnes

Best 2008 Dem performance: Susan Strawn, 48.27% (plurality)

Big change in this district, which used to contain Burleson, Colorado, Fayette, and parts of Brazos. Basically, it shifted south. Bastrop is the population center, and it was a purple county in 2008, with Strawn and Sam Houston scoring pluralities there. The more it becomes an Austin suburb a la Hays and Williamson, the better the prospects for a win. This district was on the radar for Dems in 2008 as an open D seat and in 2010, and I expect it will continue to be.

HDs 32 and 34

District: 32
District: 34

Incumbent: Todd Hunter (HD32, first elected in 2008); Raul Torres and Connie Scott (HD34, first elected in 2010)

Counties: Nueces

Best Dem performance in 2008: For HD32, Sam Houston, 46.20%. For HD34, Sam Houston, 58.83%

HD32 can charitably be described as a reach if Hunter runs for re-election. Nueces County has been trending away from the Democrats, the three counties that were removed from HD32 (Aransas, Calhoun, and San Patricio) were a net winner for Juan Garcia, whom Hunter defeated in 2008, and Hunter has done very well both in terms of fundraising and moving up the ladder in his two terms. However, it’s the worst kept secret in the state that Hunter wants to run for Congress, and if that map is at all favorable to him this seat may be open in 2012. So keep that in the back of your mind.

I’ll be honest, I’m not really sure why Torres and Scott were paired, unless they were considered to be hopeless cases for salvation. This is the more Democratic part of Nueces, with all Dems in 2008 winning a majority, up to 20 points in their favor downballot. This has got to be one of the easiest pickup opportunities for the Dems in 2012.

HD35

District: 35

Incumbent: Jose Aliseda (first elected in 2010)

Counties: Atascosa, LaSalle, McMullen, Live Oak, Bee, San Patricio, Duval

Best 2008 Dem performance: Sam Houston, 50.77%

Republicans have been trying to carve out a South Texas district for themselves for awhile, and this one may be their best shot going forward. The good news for them is that McCain and Cornyn scored solid wins in 2008, with McCain getting nearly 55% and Cornyn 51%. The bad news is that Dems carried the rest of the races, with Houston, Strawn, and Linda Yanez all getting majorities. Aliseda got into one of the more entertaining kerfuffles during the House debate over HB150; I don’t know if he got what he wanted or not, but what he got is a very swingy district that may be a battleground through the decade.

HD41

District: HD41

Incumbent: Aaron Pena (first elected as a Democrat in 2002, switched parties after the 2010 election)

Counties: Hidalgo (part)

Best Dem performance in 2008: Sam Houston, 60.15%

I can’t think of a single seat the Democrats would like to win more than this one. Technically, Pena is the incumbent in HD40, and Veronica Gonzales is the incumbent in HD41, but as the Legislative Study Group noted:

CSHB150 also radically changes Hidalgo County districts in an effort to squeeze a partisan performing district out of the existing population. The incumbent in HD 40 would only represent 1.5 % of his current district, and the incumbent in HD 41 would only represent 1.1 % of her district. The gerrymandered map in Hidalgo County takes great pains to draw the incumbents in HD 40 and 41 into almost entirely new districts, narrowing down to one city block at times.

For this reason, the district numbers were swapped, thus giving Pena and Gonzales most of their previous constituents back. Despite being on the Redistricting Committee and drawing what one presumes was the best map he could for himself, Pena isn’t exactly sitting pretty. The low score among Democrats was Obama’s 54.83%, with everyone but Jim Jordan getting at least 56%. Do his constituents love him enough to overcome the party label or not? Assuming he does run for re-election, that is.

Peña said he is in employment negotiations with a law firm that would require him to move out of the Valley. If he does take the job, he said, he won’t seek office in 2012.

In other words, he’s got a graceful way out if he decides that he can’t win his custom-designed district. We’ll find out soon enough. More non-urban areas coming up next.

Redistricting and party-switching, South Texas-style

Some good discussion about the future prospects of South Texas turncoat Aaron Pena, from Greg, Rachel, the Trib, the DMN, and Greg again. Couple points to add:

1. If Greg says a Republican-leaning district can be drawn for Pena, I for one believe it. Having said that, there’s no guarantee I can see that Pena gets to be the chair of the Redistricting Committee – surely someone who’s been a Republican for more than five minutes might put in a claim ahead of him – and even if he does, there’s no guarantee that the House’s map gets adopted. The Senate has a say in this as well, and that’s before we consider any preclearance issues. Pena may know what he wants, but there’s no guarantee that he’ll get it.

2. Even if everything goes Pena’s way, it’s still a little weird to see the guy trade a 70% Democratic district for a 55% GOP one. Yeah, it’s almost certainly true that the Republicans would have tried to carve out that Republican-leaning district in Hidalgo regardless, and maybe he didn’t like his odds in a primary fight against Veronica Gonzalez. He’d be right about that, too. So we may as well be clear about what his motivations were.

3. To my mind, the best thing we Democrats can do about this is to point out at every opportunity that Pena made the choice to team up with Debbie Riddle and Leo Berman and the rest of the bring-Arizona-to-Texas squad. We can’t control what kind of district he gets, but we can sure work to make sure that it isn’t destiny. Pena chose a side. Make him full owner of that choice.