Trust in short supply in Austin
The legislative tradition in Texas has been that the House and Senate each draw the new maps for its own districts, and then each body rubber-stamps the other’s plan.
The operation this year was choreographed so each body could closely monitor the other to guard against any last-minute funny business. They each gaveled through the other’s plan at almost exactly the same time.
It’s not that they don’t trust each other. It’s just that – late in the session -- they don’t trust each other all that much.
They took the simultaneous approach because that’s what the House and Senate had done in 1991. That was the first, last, and only time Texas legislators successfully completed their own redistricting plans that survived, at least for a while, since the passage of the Voting Rights Act and one-person, one-vote U.S. Supreme Court decisions of the 1960s.
In 1971, 1981 and 2001, legislative districts were drawn by a five-member committee of elected officials called the Legislative Redistricting Board -- in capitol shorthand called the LRB.
In the last legislative redistricting, in 2001, the Democratic majority in the House narrowly passed a bill to send to the Senate. But the Senate couldn’t muster a two-thirds vote to bring up its own map. So the Senate, with a narrow Republican majority, ignored the House map.
That meant that the map-drawing for both bodies went to the LRB, an entity set up by a constitutional amendment six decades ago. It comes into being to redistrict the House and/or Senate if the legislature fails to do so, or the redistricting is vetoed by the governor or thrown out by the courts -- all of which have happened in the past.
The LRB performance became so punitively partisan in 2001 that this year, even though several of the 12 Democratic senators objected to parts of the map drawn to suit the 19 Republican senators, all but two Democrats voted for it. They didn’t want to take their chances letting five Republicans draw the map.
(The LRB members this year would have been Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, House Speaker Joe Straus, Atty. Gen. Greg Abbott, Comptroller Susan Combs, and Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson.)
As the legislative session winds down to its final day May 30 or blows up and requires a special session, the presumption is legislators won’t pass a congressional map, even though it’s their duty. While it could happen, it’s so late in the process that its prospects dim with each passing day.
While the legislative redistricting maps go to the LRB if the legislature fails to get them done during the first regular session after the census data becomes available – which is this one – congressional redistricting doesn’t. If the Legislature doesn’t get it done, the governor could call a special session – which he probably won’t.
In 2001, when neither house passed a congressional redistricting map, Perry said he’d let it go to a federal court, partly to save Texans the cost of a special session.
Perry is also presumed to be eager to get back on his un-campaign to be on a national ticket, a prospect that he has repeatedly pooh-poohed.
By the way, after the LRB-drawn districts for the 2002 elections for the Texas House had produced a Republican House majority, Perry in 2003 did call several special sessions for congressional redistricting.
The congressional plan the three-judge federal court drew in 2001 hadn’t suited Perry and the Republicans, because it allowed all 17 incumbent Democrats to win re-election in 2002.
The new Republican majority in 2003, and new Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick, decided to re-draw congressional districts. Late in the regular legislative session, House Democrats fled to Oklahoma to break a quorum to block it.
Perry called them back into session repeatedly, so the new Republican majority could draw maps to defeat several senior Democrats in 2004 – which they did.
Tom DeLay, Republican Majority Leader of the U.S. House, had shuttled back and forth between the Texas House and Senate to personally negotiate the redistricting. The result was that new Texas Republican members padded the Republican U.S. House majority in 2005.
However, Delay also found himself indicted for helping launder corporate funds to funnel to some of the Republican candidates for the Texas House in 2002, which under Texas law is a no-no.
That indictment resulted in DeLay having to step aside as majority leader. Then he quit Congress. And, he was finally tried, convicted by a jury, and sentenced in January to three years in prison. He’s appealing that verdict.
This redistricting stuff is hardball at its hardest. Stay tuned for the aftermath, because the courts may well be busy dealing with the redistricting aftermath for years.
Contact McNeely at email@example.com or (512) 458- 2963.