Redistricting: What a mess!
The U.S. Supreme Court’s surprise stay on Dec. 9 of the imposition of maps drawn by a three-judge federal panel in San Antonio has put would-be political candidates on hold.
But the high court’s order that it will hear oral arguments on Jan. 9 means that there will be no certainty to the redistricting until at least after that.
With the primary elections scheduled for March 6, there had been talk of having two primary dates: March 6 for statewide offices like U.S. senator, Railroad Commission and judgeships, plus county officials, and a later date for the legislative and congressional primaries.
But last week, Republican and Democratic Party leaders jointly asked for a unified primary on April 3. The three-judge San Antonio court quickly signed off on that suggestion.
The idea is that it buys time for the Supreme Court to have its hearing and decide whether the lower court overstepped its authority in drawing its own maps. It also would allow the political parties to have their state conventions as scheduled in June, to pick their delegates to national conventions.
The presumption had been that holding the presidential primary on March 6, or Super Tuesday, would have given Texas Gov. Rick Perry an opportunity to pick up presidential delegates from his home state.
But most members of the Texas congressional delegation and the Texas Senate said they strongly favored a unified primary.
Their fear was that splitting the presidential primary away from the legislative primaries could have resulted in a smaller turnout for the legislative races. That was expected to increase the relative clout of vociferous anti-spending Tea Party voters, endangering some less conservative legislators.
Also, officials at various levels point out that a single primary saves taxpayers the cost of another election.
The San Antonio court had drawn its new maps after two of its three members ruled those drawn by the Republican-dominated legislature earlier this year did not give minority groups enough districts in which they could have significant influence.
The legislature had done so despite most of the population growth that brought Texas four more congressional districts was among minorities – particularly Hispanics.
The situation is complicated because another three-judge federal court, in Washington, D.C., is involved.
Texas is among the states whose past voting behavior requires it to have any electoral changes “pre-cleared” by the U.S. Department of Justice.
An alternative is to seek pre-clearance from a three-judge court in Washington, D. C.
With a Democratic administration for the first regular post-census redistricting year since the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965, that’s what Republican Texas Atty. Gen. Greg Abbott chose to do.
But the D.C. court denied Abbott’s motion for summary judgment that alleged the legislature had followed proper procedures in drawing its maps. The court instead decided to consider the constitutionality of some parts of the Voting Rights Act, and set hearings for mid-January.
With the scheduled primary date fast approaching the San Antonio court decided to draw its own maps for the 2012 elections.
This process in progress has so many moving parts that incumbents and wouldbe office-seekers are uncertain whether the district they wanted to run in will still exist, or be so jiggered around that it no longer makes sense.
The uncertainty about the districts has thrown off the plans of some would-be candidates, and may revive interest by some who had decided earlier maps had ruined their chances.
For instance, former Texas Railroad Commission member Michael Williams had decided not to run for Congress after a district that stretched from Fort Worth to Austin was re-drawn by the San Antonio Court. The Supreme Court’s decision might revive his interest.
On the other hand, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, whose district had been fractured by Republican legislators as they try yet again to drive a stake through his heart, had seen that undone by the San Antonio court. The court made his re-election in an Austin based district much more likely. Now, Doggett is off balance again, while waiting to see what the high court does.
One state representative who says his decision to run for Congress won’t change is Pete Gallego, D-Alpine. He had announced for a congressional seat that overlaps much of his huge West Texas district, and he presumes there’s not much way the map could be drawn to hurt his hopes too much.
One sidelight of the uncertainty is that it affects the campaign contributions candidates raise to promote their efforts. A wellplaced lobbyist said his clients are asking who to support with campaign contributions.
“We have to tell them ‘We don’t know,’” the lobbyist said. “We’d hate to recommend two folks and then see them run against each other.”
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