Drawing new districts not fun
You’re not sure you want to watch. But with lawmaking, it’s too important not to.
Notch that up quite a bit for the redistricting the Legislature faces in 2011, following the 2010 federal census.
In these increasingly partisan days in Texas, redistricting is like having competing teams, armed with double-edged, razor-sharp knives, and heavy cudgels, that they use on each other as much as on the sausage.
Redistricting is a chess game cross-bred with a gang fight -- “Survivor” played with computers. There are members on each team that don’t have much use for those on the other.
And if a member fears being cut from the team, he may show little hesitation in using his weapons against some of his teammates.
That’s true particularly in redistricting the Texas House of Representatives, which has 150 members, of whom at least 101 will be Republicans.
There are parts of the state, particularly West and Southeast Texas, that either have lost population or not grown as fast as the rest of the state, and thus will lose a House seat or two.
They will be awarded to other areas that have gained the most population. That includes particularly the suburbs around Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth, and heavily Hispanic South Texas.
The Republicans will control redistricting again this cycle. They face the chore of drawing districts to keep 101 House seats. The 2010 election was a GOP tsunami, and the water may recede quite a bit after Texas voters watch the Republican lawmakers, facing a huge revenue shortfall, make brutal cuts in state services.
Some House members in those areas about to lose a seat or so may decide it’s time to retire, and let their district be cut up to allow other members to return to the Legislature.
On the other hand, it sometimes happens that someone who had been a friend becomes less of one.
Senate redistricting is comparatively easier, because there are just 31 Senate districts, there was no party change in the 19 Republicans and 12 Democratic districts, and there’s more flexibility in drawing lines because the districts are significantly larger.
In addition to re-drawing their own district lines, legislators are responsible for doing the same for congressional districts. It often is a time when members of Congress spend considerable time in Austin, trying to protect their districts.
Congressional redistricting is made significantly simpler than it might be because Texas will get four new seats in the U.S. House. That will allow the Republicans to draw four new districts for up-andcomers – some of whom will probably be serving in the Legislature next year – and still allow most or all of their incumbent members of congress to be re-elected.
Currently, 12 of the 32 Texan members of Congress are former members of the Texas House or Senate, or both – though two, Ciro Rodriguez and Chet Edwards, were beaten this year.
When the Legislature re-drew congressional districts after the census in 1991, all three of the new districts Texas got were won by Democratic state senators who helped draw the lines.
They are Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas, Gene Green of Houston, who is still in Congress, and Frank Tejeda of San Antonio. Tejeda died in 1997 and was replaced by then-state Rep. Rodriguez.
(In 2001, the Legislature failed during its regular session to re-draw congressional districts – or House and Senate districts for that matter. Rather than call a special session to do it, Gov. Rick Perry let it go to a three-judge federal court.)
That 1991 redistricting, controlled by the Democrats and orchestrated by state party chairman Bob Slagle, managed to not only create the three new majority-minority districts to be won by Democrats, but also to draw districts to preserve all the incumbent Democrats in Congress – at least for the time being.
This time around, as happened in 2001, many state senators aren’t interested in going to Washington. With just 31 senators and now 36 Texans in Congress, not only are the senate districts larger, but the senators can have considerably more influence over gubernatorial appointments, and legislative spending in their districts.
And that influence comes more quickly. As one of 31 in the senate, they have more influence than one of 435 in Congress. New U.S. House members typically have to wait years in Washington’s seniority laden system before they have much clout.
One drawback for the senators is that their annual pay is just $7,200 for their ostensibly part-time job, contrasted to $174,000 for members of Congress.
But the senators -- particularly the lawyers -- also are much more free to make private livings that exceed the congressional salaries.
And they don’t have to commute to Washington almost every week.
Longtime Texas political columnist Dave McNeely, who retired from the Austin American-Statesman in 2004, writes a weekly column on Texas politics for three dozen Texas newspapers. With longtime Dallas journalist and author Jim Henderson, McNeely is the author of “Bob Bullock: God Bless Texas.” Contact him at email@example.com or (512) 458-2963.