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17Jun/130

House Redistricting Hearing: The Final Liveblog? (of 2013)

What I believe will be the final committee hearing in the House on redistricting is about to begin. So be forewarned that there will be live-blogging ....

There is literally not a whole lot of anything going on yet in the committee room (at least via the live video feed). So I'll take the time to point out one of the amendments I'm watching with keen interest: Plan H318 by Vo. There are some tradeoffs between Gene Wu's HD137, Hubert's HD149, and Jim Murphy's HD133 ... all agreed to by the respective members. Like the rest of the amendments, I'm not expecting this to get approved since the bar for GOP approval is set at an impossible level. A lot of this has to do with cleaning up boundaries so that they align more closely with specific neighborhoods. Along those lines, we looked at working in our own Pct 311 fix as an amendment to this amendment (so to speak), but the Hispanic numbers would end up below a majority, meaning that it would just get shot down courtesy of GOP votes and leadership that doesn't understand that VAP numbers really mean a lot less than they think it does. Particularly in SW Houston.

Committee members are discovering their seats and roll is being called as I type. So this kangaroo court is moving into second gear.

1:12pm ... Darby leads off with some legal cleanup, getting the transcripts added to the minutes of the field hearing. Done ... on to pending business.

HB2 laid out first - no amendments to the Senate map. Motion to pass. 17-0 in favor. On to the floor.

HB3 - the House map. Bring on the amendments: (remember, DistrictViewer is your friend for this)

Amend. 1 (Yvonne Davis) - Plan H312, changes to Bell and Dallas counties. This is, I believe what Yvonne Davis filed in the Regular Session. I forget what changes there were to Dallas, but the Bell county change to Jimmie Don's district probably makes this one a non-starter. It's a decent legal argument-starter, though. According to Davis, Dallas' HD101 was more compact in previous iterations. Court made it look funny, splitting the town of Mesquite into four districts. Balch Springs is also repaired. Darby notes that it pairs HD107/HD108, creating a new HD107 and asks whether it addresses deviations, saying that the court notes overpopulation in GOP districts, underpopulation in Dem districts. Davis says her plan doesn't do that, saying that "it doesn't have a deviation different from anyone else's." Darby turns to asking wither the coalition HD107 is required under Sec. 2.

Senfronia Thompson up with some friendly questioning, clarifying deviation issue - that it is within legal compliance. Davis notes that the plan is within +/-4. Not sure if that's just Dallas Co. or overall.

Jim Keffer asks about HD54, wants to know about the impact to neighboring districts.

TMF asks for a resource witness from the AG's office to discuss this map. Here we go again! There's nobody from the AG's office there and Darby doesn't intend to call anyone. TMF asks how it is that the committee can get legal advice, to which Darby says that the Lege Council has legal counsel. This brings up David Hanna. Hanna mentions that he has not looked at this plan, to which TMF asks for another resource witness. That was one quick minute for David Hanna. TMF is obviously setting up some points of order for the floor fight. Given the way the committee has tried to argue that changes that are "legally required" are the only ones they will be open to, this sort of approach by TMF looks to be aimed at the courts, also. Bottom line: "legally required" is purely the discretion of whoever wants to take a stab at defining it on the committee. While Darby goes fishing for someone else to offer legal advice, TMF essentially holds the floor by asking a question of Davis. (Jeff Archer of the Lege Council shows up as this is going on)

Senfronia follows up with Davis, asking about communities of interests in Davis' plan, beefing up the Sec. 2 argument for her plan. Raymond also follows up with Davis, asking about further amendments, such as Vo's. This is to confirm that they do not conflict with anything she proposes.

TMF turns his attention to Archer, asking if there are legal issues seen in Davis' map. Archer notes that the plan is within the committee's "discretion." This is pretty much what TMF wants to hear. Senfronia has some questions for Archer, affirming his redistricting bona fides, which leads TMF to follow up with questions to affirm his legal bona fides re: redistricting. He then turns his back & forth with a point that it is the Att. General that ultimately defines those legal points on behalf of the state. He's trying to back Archer up to a point where Archer can't offer the answer TMF is fishing for. Archer says he's "not trying to pass the buck ...", but he seems to realize the corner TMF is trying to paint him into. TMF notes that there is a limit to the advice that Lege Council can give, which builds from Archer's own statements. He's building the new court case for MALC pretty well. There are points in this line of questioning that are pure genius to observe. Archer is doing his best to just not break down and say: "Yeah, you need to talk to the Att. General's office about that."

TMF is done with Archer for now. Davis follows up by asking Archer about Sec. 2. This is going to be her strongest case for her plan being "legally required." Ultimately, that definition comes down to the mood of the chair, the barometric pressure, and a number of other issues having nothing to do with law. But it's a good marker for her to put down on this plan. Davis is exasperated with his analysis, saying he's not being helpful to the committee by not giving any solid yesses and nos. The nut of this is that Archer's position with the Lege Council isn't an advocacy position, it's a non-partisan role. With that, Davis picks up on TMF's bigger argument - that this isn't helping the committee determine what is legally required. It's coming across as picking on Archer a little (something that TMF avoids in his questioning). But this is aimed at the court, not Jeff Archer.

For the record, Davis' HD54 is identical to the San Antonio court's initial HD54, seen here with 2008 and 2010 election data. And on two unrelated sidenotes: the battery on my Kindle just gave out, so I'm switching my viewing to the laptop ... and I clearly made the wrong decision to wait until after the committee hearing to have lunch. TMF's inquisition almost makes up for the latter, however. (Followup: I have no clue why this is, but viewing RealPlayer video on my laptop is a million times worse than on my Kindle or my phone.)

Villalba takes a turn with Archer now, touching on some friendlier topics to the majority. He's putting his own marker down that the courts already looked at a lot of the information that Davis is looking to fix. Villalba also posits a weird bet - that the courts would have more issues with new fixes involving Sec. 2 in a House map. This is what separates Villalba from TMF ... the latter got Archer to say what TMF wanted him to say - Villalba just raises a polemic point and hopes that Archer will agree with it. Of course, Villalba's understanding of the legal decisions on the 2011 plan or redistricting law in general may not be helping. Fortunately for him, he's got more friends elected to the House than TMF. That's kinda where all this ends anyway. Also a point of difference between TMF and Villalba - Archer concludes by stating that Davis' plan highlights where some of the legal vulnerabilities of the existing map are. Not exactly ending on a high note.

Rep. Keffer tries to turn Villalba's trainwreck into something more positive. His point is that whatever passes the House is going to go through DOJ and the courts anyway. So there will be a more determinative answer to the question of whether any voted-on map is legal or not. It's a simpler point, but one that Darby wishes his folks came out with instead of Villalba's shot in the foot.

TMF picks up his opening from Villalba's questioning, asking again whether Archer is the best person to testify. Let me repeat: Villalba not only extracted testimony from Archer that wasn't helpful to his side, but he also allows TMF to work in a further point about the inadequacy of Lege Council to be the ones offering legal advice to the committee. He also asks whether Archer would advise that there should be more minority-opportunity districts. Archer begins by answering that he "sees opportunities" but concludes with a "no." TMF is also asking more questions that sidestep whether or not he thinks Lege Council is the appropriate resource for the committee. This is some more impressive TMF-ery. If the state wants to make the case that Lege Council is perfectly valid and fine, then expect comments like "sees opportunities" to come back around in the courts. This is the grand pitfall of the Lege Council not being in a position to advocate for anything - Archer is obviously trying to be neutral to all sides, but the flipside of that approach is that they aren't going to say that the interim map is a solid slam dunk that doesn't need tweaking. It gives TMF the ability to take Archer's comments to court and get some kind of win (major or minor) regardless of whether the Att. General's unwillingness to testify is ruled significant. Seriously, this is better than Perry Mason reruns. Along the same lines as above, TMF asks Archer to clarify his comment about "minimizing risk" and "insulation of risk" by taking more legislative action on the map. This won't be the last time we hear those terms.

Raymond follows that up with some clarity on whether a plan passed by the Lege would have to get preclearance from the DOJ (Yes, it will). Raymond then replays some history by noting that the AG's office took the preclearance route of the DC Circuit court rather than DOJ last time. Archer notes that the AG has the same discretion of where to take preclearance this time around. Bottom line: I think we can expect this to go back through the DC court.

Davis moves adoption of her amendment. Darby doesn't give any instruction, as Seliger had done, just let's the committee decide. The amendment goes down 6-11 on party lines. Davis asks Darby that if the amendments are just going to go along party lines and no serious effort to determine "legally required", then why waste everyone's time. Senfronia "answers" this by noting that "we're here because the Attorney General wants us to be here." Davis is basically piggy-backing on her own argument that the process is a sham.

On to Amd. 2 (Menendez). Menendez is a no-show, so this is shelved.

Amd. 3 (Vo) - Plan H318. This is the SW Houston repair. Vo is laying it out, thanking Jeff Archer for his help on the plan. This is pure neighborhood cleanup. We would lose two precincts from Alief (503, 508) that are more Vietnamese than they are Chinese. We would gain part of the monster Pct. 620 and all of Pct 727. That's a mix of electoral performance for us to take on, but there are parts of those pickups that I really like. Hubert would also give Pct. 711 to Murphy, which aligns more closely to ISD and Super Neighborhood lines. It's not the biggest deal in the world, but a good demonstration of how serious the committee will consider "community of interest" amendments that don't substantively change a district's performance or demographics. The changes are fully agreed to by all affected Representatives.

Rep. Clardy leads off by questioning Vo about the desire by neighborhoods affected to see these changes. Darby asks about the number of affected residents. Vo goes into the deviations, instead. My ballpark is that there maybe not much more than 10k people impacted by the change. The beauty of this amendment is its simplicity. If Darby doesn't want this, he's going to have to state a rationale this time. If he wants to see it pass, it may end up being a good datapoint for him to show that they did take some ideas seriously. We'll see soon enough how this unfolds. There are some questions by other GOP members, but they don't seem to have a legal hook to grab onto yet.

Senfronia notes that this is a "language" amendment, as it brings in some of the Vietnamese population fracturing (Pcts. 503, 507). She asks if those voters had been part of his district. They were not - they were previously in HD133 in the 2001-era maps.

Keffer gets into a negative rationale - that if we did this change, we would have to do it for more districts. He also says "we need to look at the call", stating that it goes against Perry's intent to come away with a predetermined map. This is similar to what took down Sen. Garcia's plan to swap four precincts to make Jacinto City whole in the Congressional map.

Thompson picks this up with Jeff Archer, stating that there are always a number of small pct. swaps to improve continuity. She says that this is not anything "out of the ordinary" in this amendment. She's laying down the legal marker on this. And quite well. Huberty chimes in to suggest that Murphy hasn't "completely" signed off on the change. Vo says that he had the conversation on the floor of the House with Murphy. This is basically the pushback. Vo withdraws the amendment, presumably to revisit the convo with Rep. Murphy. Wait and see if we see this again on the floor.

Senfronia does not know "what the hell the Governor/Att. Gen. was thinking, what the hell this call means ..." Keffer's comment is coming back around in record time.

Amd. 4 (Cortez) - Plan H320. This is aimed at adding Hispanics to HD117, which has been a swing district for at least since 2001. This is going to get some objection due to the number of districts impacted, albeit in a small way. And sure enough, Darby raises that point. There's also a question on agreement, to which Cortez notes that he distributed to the entire Bexar delegation and that it received no objection. Cortez is hanging his hat on the notion that interim maps aren't intended to be a permanent fix and that this is a fix to "help that along." Darby asks if he wants to bring the amendment down and get full consensus from the Bexar delegation. The amendment is withdrawn. I'll be a little shocked if it comes back on the floor, but HD117 is a big enough area that Dems would like to fix that maybe there will be something new to address it.

Darby is asked about amendments on the floor and Darby isn't shutting that option off. The initial question is over Yvonne Davis' amendment. TMF picks up on this to ask Darby to state his objection to the plan, which he spells out (namely: coalition districts). There's a motion to reconsider the amendment and Davis withdraws it in order to let it live for the floor fight.

Now we're getting to a big fight: TMF's Amd. 5 - Plan H321. The big changes I see on this one are Bell County, eastern Dallas County, Fort Bend's HD26, and some modifications to western Harris County (that looks to strengthen Hispanic population in HD132/HD135, a Coastal Bend tweak, as well as a West Texas district fix for Hispanic residents). TMF touches on his motif about getting good legal information by noting that the recent SCOTUS ruling on the National Voter Registration Act which lead to a 7-2 ruling that went against the opinion of the Att. General who had signed off on supporting Arizona's opinion that citizenship should be proven in order to register to vote.

TMF also takes aim at the objection over the scope of the call. He notes Jeff Archer's own words at the Houston hearing that the call does not limit the legislature (see how that's done!). He sets his marker on having a vote for this amendment here in committee. If it gets voted down, he'll have other amendments that do different things.

Villalba opens up the questioning for TMF, asking if it addresses "all" of his concerns. TMF notes that this is more of a compromise than he might prefer. There's a question over whether TMF would vote for the map if this amendment were attached (he would) and whether it would cease or prolong litigation (more complicated).

After a further exchange with Raymond over litigation, Clardy picks up on the map to review some of the details. In particular: the county line rule. This is an issue with West Texas. TMF notes David Hanna's presentation (which I blogged about here). That was truly a fascinating presentation. Worth noting:

Some great examples that Hanna offers: Hays County’s population warrants 93.7% of a full district, based on the ideal population size. If you combine it with Blanco County, you get within 33 people of an ideal district population. I think he just redistricted HD45. Ellis County needs to add population, but by adding any contiguous county, you go over the 10% deviation. Therefore, you need to cut any county added. He suggests that Dallas or Tarrant are not sacrosanct from being carved out to add to Ellis. That could be VERY interesting to see.

I think there's ample evidence from that presentation for someone to make a very substantive argument for overturning - or at least watering down - the county line rule struck down. Smaller jurisdictions routinely have "redistricting criteria". Those criteria typically are noted in the ways that they can conflict, not be allowed if they conflict with a federal law, etc... But the county line rule in Texas has thus far been treated more sacramentally. And there's no good reason to do so. It's a remnant of when southern states tried to work around one-person, one-vote. The district at issue in TMF's plan is HD81, which he draws to have a SSVR majority among 2012 registered voters and a near-majority in 2010.

Darby reviews TMF's rationale for change, noting HD26, HD54, HD74. He mistakenly notes a pairing of Craddick & Lewis in the West Texas tweak, but there's no such pairing. Darby recovers by objecting to the "impact" of incumbent Republicans. Bohac's HD138 is raised as a further example. TMF goes over some Spring Branch-area neighborhood definitions like a pro to demonstrate how this is a neighborhood cleanup issue.

TMF makes a motion for approval. It goes down 6-11 on party lines. Keffer interjected the roll call by noting some low-key outrage over the violation to the county line rule, which led to some copying of his approach. I just note that as a curiousity.

Helen Giddings addresses the committee, noting that while the initial instruction was for amendments to be offered if they met a "legally required" threshold. Giddings said that she had a more minor community of interest fix that deals with Balch Springs. It sounds like a late entry since there's no map that I see for it. This sounds like a smaller version of what Yvonne Davis did with Dallas County in her amendment. Darby essentially instructs her to go get agreement from affected Representatives.

Darby makes a motion to approve HB3, which happens along a 9-5 party line vote. TMF notes that this is less than a majority of the committee. Raymond says that he would gladly leave it for a point of order on the floor (with much laughter). Davis notes that the motion failed. It sounds as if things are just going to chug along without clarifying that question. I'm doing my own check of the House rules.

We're up to 4pm and just beginning the Congressional map part of the discussion. And from the looks of it, there are enough amendments on this to warrant enough discussion to really make me regret the lack of lunch right about now.

Amd. 1 (Davis) - Plan C236 or C249, not sure. Biggest issue is a new minority-opp district in DFW and includes a SE Travis + Hays district to address the Austin issue. Not sure if I missed something, but there doesn't seem to have been a vote that I noticed (could be a tech issue). Either way, I missed something.

Darby makes a motion to approve HB4. The bill passes, 11-6. Darby makes a motion to stand at ease for five minutes.

In the meantime, here are some relevant rules that the House operates under:

Section 27. Vote on Motion to Report — Motions made in committee to report favorably or unfavorably must receive affirmative majority votes, majority negative votes to either motion being insufficient to report. If a committee is unable to agree on a recommendation for action, as in the case of a tie vote, it should submit a statement of this fact as its report, and the house shall decide, by a majority vote, the disposition of the matter by one of the following alternatives:

(1) leave the bill in the committee for further consideration;
(2) refer the bill to some other committee; or
(3) order the bill printed, in which case the bill shall go to the Committee on Calendars for placement on a calendar and for proposal of an appropriate rule for house consideration.

If I'm reading this correctly, it basically suggests that the floor can decide in this instance. Then again, we might see a reconsideration of this once they reconvene in order to remove any uncertainty.

Upon reconvening, we get a different move by Darby - he lays out HB1. Senfronia is asking some questions about what this move means. I'm curious if this is aimed at making it more difficult to get amendments on the floor since this is a separate measure. My thinking is that any amendment could be argued as "gutting the bill" since HB1 is significantly cleaner and simpler than the individual component bills. So maybe Darby could bring HB1 up instead of the individual plans for Senate, House, and Congress. Senfronia's point seems to be bigger: that this represents a constitutional problem with bringing up the same measure. This definitely appears to be a power play on Darby's part. What it fully represents may just be a point that we get once this lands on the floor. It's worth pointing out that the Senate did not pass their version of the "approve them all."

Darby ramrods a motion to approve, where the bill passes 11-6 on party lines. Darby announces a formal meeting on the floor tomorrow at 9am to consider Senate bills. This meeting is adjourned. There definitely seems like some issues will have to be sorted out before then.

It's Darby's contention that HB1 is a distinct and different bill than HB2, HB3, and HB4, then I don't see how his passage of this can work with SB2, SB3, and SB4. At a minimum, the House can work around their majority vote issue by approving SB3 tomorrow. Expect some clarity on all of this tomorrow. There's more to unpack from this hearing than I anticipated.

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