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Congressional Redistricting: Solomon & Seliger’s Map

Solomon-Seliger propose a map. If it goes through DOJ at all, it’s a complete non-starter based on the treatment of the DFW region. Whether there’s possibility of getting the map out of the Special Session starting today or whether it’s just another plan to show a judge, we’ll have to wait and see.

Goog-ifying the map now. You know what to expect during the day.

Congressional Redistricting: As the Clock Ticks

» Statesman: Barton files lawsuit over Lege inaction on redistricting

Interesting things abuzz underneath the pink dome …

U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, says late this afternoon in an e-mail to supporters that he has filed a lawsuit over inaction by the Texas Legislature to redraw the district boundaries of the state’s congressmen.

In the message, Barton, a Republican from Arlington, said he expects to present his own map to a court in Navarro County where he filed the suit.

The litigation was expected to halt an already stalled legislative move to approve redistricting for Texas’ U.S. representatives, and likely means that the Legislature will take no further action on congressional redistricting during its regular every-other-year session that ends next Monday.

This meshes a bit with the conspiracy theory increasingly rational theory that I commented on yesterday. Maybe the lege won’t draw Congressional maps and Barton’s longshot bet is that he can talk a judge into enacting his map as the remedy since the lege isn’t getting anything done. The key word there is longshot. But it may be the best bet going for folks who want better than a 2-2 split among the new districts on top of finding a way to protect the two most vulnerable GOP freshmen.

I’ll amend yesterday’s prediction that maybe there’s still time to get an identical Congressional map voted on by both houses of the lege before the end of this weekend. But if there’s nothing posted by the end of today, I’d have to think the clock has run out. If nothing else, it would be relatively easy for whatever band of anti-map folks exists to run a prevent defense. That there’s no map moving forward and Barton v Smith seems to be a very real divide, my hunch would be that there’s no real consensus among House Republicans on whether to draw the new districts as 3-1 GOP or 2-2.

Otherwise, the only logic left is that Solomons & Seliger are convinced that there’s nothing they can pass through the lege that won’t get kicked out of Obama’s DOJ. So if they think there’s a chance of a new administration in two years, they’d be better off trying this again in 2013. It certainly seems odd that they’d want to leave it up to the judges even for 2012, though. That seems like a guaranteed kiss-off for Farenthold and Canseco and likely lead to a 2-2 split among new seats at best for the GOP. And it makes new VRA seats such as a second Houston-area Hispanic seat all the more likely since a judge may take the VRA more to heart for creating new districts. Granted, it starts with “which judge.”

Never let it be said that this lege wasn’t all hunky-dory with gambling.

Congressional Redistricting: So, Where’s the Map?

» TX Tribune: A Winding Route to New Texas Congressional Map

With sine die quickly approaching for the lege and a grand total of zero maps produced for Congressional districts as of this morning, you’ve really got to be wondering how the process is going to unfold. Ross Ramsey hints at the lege (and Gov. Perry) leaving it for the judges to draw. I’ve been skeptical of that happening, but time is certainly getting critical now.

Outside of the fact that allowing judges to draw the districts being the total opposite of what it meant to be a Texas Republican in 2003, I’m still not sure how a judge draws a district favorable to the prospects of freshmen like Quico Canseco and Blake Farenthold. It could be that that’s the very point of letting them draw districts for all I know.

But even though time is short, it’s not like the Redistricting Committees haven’t been pulling fast ones on the schedule in order to limit debate over maps that have already been approved by both houses of the lege. Conceivably, they could still lay it out on Tuesday, hold hearings on Wednesday and vote for it as soon as time allows. That, or maybe there’s just been no eagerness to talk about a special session yet.

It’s House Redistricting Day

April 27, 2011 2011 Redistricting 1 Comment

Today’s the day that we’ll have the State House debate their own redistricting plan. I’ll be all over that once in the office. In the meantime, I’m still trying to catch up on all the maps. As time permits during the debate, I’ll be google-izing those that are relevant for discussion. It’s a very good problem this time around that there are so many plans introduced for consideration. If there are any plans of interest, feel free to drop a comment or an email my way.

Here’s the working list of maps that are likely to be debated at some length today:

Plan H153 – The House Redistricting Committee Plan. This is basically the starting point for consideration … and probably the plan that makes it through the finish line.

Plan H212 – The infamous “Nixon/Traynor” map. The “Nixon” in the duo is former Houston State Rep. Joe Nixon. The plan will be offered as a substitute by State Rep. Erwin Cain, who’s among the paired (and hence, unhappy) GOP incumbents. It’ll be curious to see if the plan gets any more votes among the un-paired GOP members.

Plan H226 – Carol Alvarado’s Statewide Substitute

Plan H232 – Garnet Coleman’s Statewide Substitute

Many of the plans submitted are for individual counties, or subsets of the major urban counties. If they come up in the convo, I’ll get to ‘em then.

Closer to home, the Democratic locals in the lege have opined that Harris County warrants 25 seats based on historical precedence. And Kuff notes that Mayor Parker and County Judge Emmett are in agreement on this one.

Redistricting Harris County State Reps: First Draft

File this under “Ain’t Gonna Happen,” but this is the first semi-reasonable basis of a plan that I landed on after doodling around with Harris County State Rep districts. The assumption here is that there will still be 25 seats. But the dicier assumption is that Beverly Woolley draws herself out. For that reason, I don’t see this as being likely. At least not until I hear her retirement announcement.

But this draft accomplishes the tasks of protecting Legler and Bohac and a Baytown-based district. What’s new about this district is a Willowbrook-area district. That’s the way this map factors in the population growth on that side of town. What’s curious is that if such a new district were to sprout up in that area, it would mean that another Rep would have to go. I don’t see a way of mapping it out so that each of the incumbents’ homes are included in some magical tortilla strip to remain safe. The likelier target for this would seem to be Legler since dropping his district makes it easier to add population to Alvarado and Hernandez. As this draft stands, several of the Dem districts on the north side of town are woefully under-populated. I think that’s an inevitable bump in how the map-making proceeds in Austin. So it’ll be interesting to see how the ultimate, final map deals with it all.

Politically, this is drawn to be somewhat realistic in that I don’t see the GOP leadership in the county delegation drawing anything that has less than 13 GOP seats. But in a 2006/2008 style election, the map could easily become a 16-9 Dem map. What makes that possible, if the map were to sail through and become reality, is that Sarah Davis has a hard time being drawn significantly more safely than the current District 134 really is. Likewise, I think Districts 126 and 132 would look pretty interesting in a good Presidential year. 2010 is the GOP high-water mark for each district and the demographics are still changing in each of them. 132 could be drawn stronger, splitting the growing Democratic vote on the west side of town. The only thing working in favor of keeping 126 red is that Patricia Harless is on the Redistricting Committee.

But all of that raises one question in my mind: would it not be the smartest thing the GOP could do if they drew 12 pretty darned safe seats instead of shooting for 13? The demographics of Harris County are going to push the GOP out in some significant ways this decade.

Legally, there’s an issue with Farrar’s district. She’d have no problem being elected out of that district. But after her, the growing Anglo population in the Heights makes it less likely that Hispanic voters have a strong enough situation to elect a Representative of their choosing. It’s not dissimilar to the results seen in the City Council District H special election in 2009. It’s also symptomatic of the decrease in Hispanic population seen in the current iteration of Farrar’s district. The challenge is this: does this mean that the Heights is going to have to be drawn in with Bohac’s district? Coleman’s Afr.-Am. numbers are already on the low side, so it’s unlikely that you could add Montrose to his district.

There are two drivers that I see making the drawing a challenge … the diffusion of minority voting age population places a bind on the GOP’s ability to do another HD133/HD126 drawing in the present map. Those minority populations are now too valuable and necessary for VRA districts in order to keep a redistricted map VRA-compliant. But the same phenomenon also places Hispanic and African-American boundary lines at risk due to a large number of precincts being roughly 40% Hispanic and 40% African-American. In other words, it’s not hard to draw an appropriate number of Hispanic districts in theory … but the political realities that go along with redistricting are likely to make it more contentious.

Anyways, here’s the draft map. Number for Voting Age Population and 2010 Governor election math is below.

Perry   White                     Population  Dev.   Hisp.   Anglo   Afram   Asian
59.7%   38.6%  126  Harless     R   166,301  -0.80%   25.9%   46.7%   18.0%   7.9%
63.9%   34.2%  127  Huberty     R   163,413  -2.52%   19.4%   64.0%   12.1%   3.0%
59.8%   38.3%  128  Smith       R   161,991  -3.37%   30.6%   55.1%   11.7%   1.3%
56.2%   41.9%  129  Davis       R   167,855   0.13%   19.7%   62.8%    6.8%   8.9%
64.9%   33.4%  130  Fletcher    R   168,764   0.67%   24.6%   54.3%   11.8%   7.9%
20.6%   78.2%  131  Allen     D     174,564   4.13%   42.7%    9.1%   40.2%   6.9%
59.5%   38.6%  132  Calegari    R   169,641   1.20%   39.6%   38.1%   14.0%   6.8%
62.3%   34.9%  133  Murphy      R   165,313  -1.39%   18.4%   58.0%   11.3%  10.4%
51.7%   46.9%  134  Davis       R   166,183  -0.87%   12.4%   71.4%    4.0%  10.6%
56.8%   41.5%  135  Elkins      R   171,150   2.10%   44.1%   36.9%    8.2%   9.5%
60.1%   38.4%  136  Bohac       R   166,362  -0.76%   35.9%   51.4%    5.7%   5.7%
39.3%   58.8%  137  Hochberg  D     173,074   3.24%   53.6%   18.7%   15.9%  10.3%
63.5%   34.7%  138  OPEN        R   164,240  -2.03%   23.6%   52.9%   11.8%  10.1%
19.6%   79.3%  139  Turner    D     147,490 -12.02%   39.1%   12.4%   42.9%   4.7%
37.5%   60.9%  140  Walle     D     157,662  -5.95%   79.2%   11.6%    7.8%   0.8%
37.9%   60.7%  141  Thompson  D     151,869  -9.41%   38.3%   12.1%   44.7%   3.7%
20.0%   79.1%  142  Dutton    D     145,031 -13.49%   30.8%   14.1%   52.9%   1.2%
42.1%   56.5%  143  Hernandez D     163,235  -2.63%   61.6%   20.1%   15.7%   1.7%
52.8%   45.3%  144  Legler      R   165,181  -1.47%   58.3%   34.4%    4.3%   2.1%
29.6%   68.7%  145  Alvarado  D     170,005   1.41%   85.9%    9.4%    2.8%   1.3%
24.7%   74.0%  146  Miles     D     168,300   0.40%   20.6%   23.8%   45.9%   8.3%
26.5%   72.1%  147  Coleman   D     164,426  -1.92%   34.7%   19.5%   37.0%   7.5%
34.2%   63.7%  148  Farrar    D     146,877 -12.38%   38.8%   45.4%   11.0%   3.2%
42.5%   56.1%  149  Vo        D     170,821   1.90%   35.6%   15.1%   25.7%  22.0%
68.4%   29.7%  150  Riddle      R   162,577  -3.02%   17.5%   67.3%    7.5%   6.1%

Having Fun Storming the Castle, Wish You Were Here …

I’m in Austin today doing some work around the redistricting hearing in the House. That kicks off at 9am. I’m not sure how much time I’ll have for live-blogging it, but that’s the dream for the day. In the meantime, here’s some recent events that may or may not be of interest …

» Statesman: Emotional voter ID bill debate ends in passage

The big news of the day, of course, is that the House GOP has now voted for the single most authoritative restriction on citizen rights of this session. So far. Wait and see if the Obama DOJ approves it.

Also … remember all those times our friends on the right would claim media bias anytime there was a photo of some anointed GOP elected because they swear the shadow was too eerie for their liking, or that they used a photo of the elected with too much 5 ‘clock shadow (male or female), or it was during a certain astrological period while the elected had a hangnail, or if it was just a Tuesday and there was nothing better to do? Yeah, take a look at the contrasting photos of Harless and Dukes in this story and tell me why all I hear from them now is crickets chirping.

» Chron: Dairy Queens but no DPS offices (Gary Scharrer)

Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine represents a sprawling district that covers 38,000 square miles and includes plenty of Dairy Queens.

Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, represents a dense district covering about 14 square miles of Houston.

There are no Dairy Queens in his district…..just an occasional Sonic, Hochberg told Gallego during debate on the Voter ID bill.

I’m not sure how you go about operating “an occasional Sonic,” but the absence of a Dairy Queen in HD137 has been a central guiding principle of all my complaints with the area. I may be the only native born Houstonian or Texan in the district … and probably one of a small handful of native-born Americans. But I have a pretty strong record of keeping certain dining establishments operating on a profitable basis on the strength of my disposable income alone. I want a gosh dang Dairy Queen within at least a 10-mile radius of where I live. That is all.

» Chron: Will Parker get a tough opponent? (Rick Casey)

The things those crazy bloggers say …

“At end of the day a credible Republican can get 35-40 percent of the vote and an African-American maybe 30-35,” said Greg Wythe, an excellent political numbers cruncher, although he cautioned that some think his estimate of the black vote may be high.

He noted that this was the dynamic 20 years ago when businessman Bob Lanier and state Rep. Sylvester Turner squeezed out incumbent Mayor Kathy Whitmire, another former city controller presiding in tough economic times. That forced a runoff between Lanier and Turner, which Lanier won.

» Chron: Tactical approach can keep scorers in check

Elite scorers can be a coaches’ worst nightmare. Whether it’s a great ball-handler, a dead-eye shooter or a force in the paint, guys who pile up points give opposing coaches headaches. How do you diminish the impact of scorers such as Jimmer Fredette or Kemba Walker? We asked Houston Cougars coach James Dickey for his thoughts and strategies.

You’re kidding me, right?

The Voter ID Debate

March 21, 2011 Texas Legislature 1 Comment

Word for the day: microchub.

The “Voter ID” bill is due up on the floor of the State House today, but was initially postponed by Patricia Harless in order for a bill that Rick Hardcastle had on the original calendar for the naming of a highway.

It’s 12:13 and Harless is up, reading the initial argument for the bill. I’ll throw in an update here or there as things unfold. But elections have consequences and more Rs showed up than Ds last time. So the 100+ GOP members shouldn’t have much problem passing an authoritatively restrictive bill to inhibit the ability of people to cast their most democratic right. Next time, Dems … get out to vote. If you can.

Rafael Anchia now up to question Harless about voter impersonation. She says she’s “not advised” on how often impersonation happens. She says we don’t have the tools to detect voter impersonation. After some back & forth on how the current law penalizes voter impersonation, she says she doesn’t want to get into Anchia’s point about whether fraud is scalable if one vote is likely to cost someone prison time and a few thousand bucks in a fine. Harless brings up the 2-vote margin that Donna Howard won by, but as Anchia points out, there were no instances of voter impersonation noted in that contest. Anchia then turns into the administration of elections, referencing Harless’ words that election administrators are “helpless” in the face of voter impersonation. Anchia then reads current law to her, which grants an election official the ability to arrest someone. I have to admit – I knew that, because I would have loved to have some need to arrest someone when I’ve run an election in years past. Anchia asks if someone is granted the ability to carry out the law to this extent, who’s fault is it if voter impersonation takes place. Harless blames the lege.

Anchia shifts a bit, asking why this bill doesn’t address mail-in ballots. Harless has no example of voter impersonation, yet is very concerned about the integrity elections. Anchia notes that mail-in ballots do have numerous examples of problems. It’s a good argument that scores points. But at the end of the day, this one’s about the votes on the floor. It’s a very lawyerly back & forth that Anchia is engaged in. It won’t move a vote, but it at least captures the inanity of this bill.

Anchia’s next argument is about voting rights. The fiscal not has over $2M being spent on voter education. There are $43M in HAVA funds left over from the last sessions. So there will be a request put in to the DOJ in order to use those funds for this purpose. Anchia focuses a bit more on the amount spent on educating Hispanics particularly. Harless runs down the ad budget – $1.5M ($750k for TV, $300k for radio, $300k for print, $150k for internet). Harless points out that there is no designated amount to Hispanics, African-Americans, and Asians. Anchia jumps on this while Harless sticks to talking points … repeatedly. After the third effort, she gives in and notes that there is nothing designating particular outreach advertising. After a bit of evasiveness, Harless notes that there was committee testimony that the Secretary of State would look at “best practices” of other states for outreach efforts. It’ll be interesting to see what the DOJ says about this, in particular.

Anchia then turns to academic studies on the impact of requiring an ID for voting. Harless says they (academic studies) all look alike to her, but she’s not aware of any. Yeah, I know … weird. She “believes with all my heart” that turnout will increase because of Voter ID. She notes the increase in turnout in the two states that have already enacted Voter ID. True. Kinda. Indiana and Georgia both saw large turnouts in 2008. You might have heard about a Presidential election going on about then.

Time is called after (IIRC) one extension of time. Anchia moves for an extension of Harless’ time, which Harless objects to. It’s now amendment time and Anchia once again leads on this front. He references the history of this debate, going back to the Heflin-Vo contest in 2004. He points out that there was one example of the Norwegian voter in that election. I believe Anchia left out that the man voted for Heflin in that election. He goes over the numerous examples, one by one, of the various quests for fraud that others have tried in years past. In each one turns up no instances of voter impersonation.

Anchia still talking, me still reading/searching. Here’s Anchia’s amendment. You’ve gotta love the simplicity of it. Here’s the link for the bill being debated (SB14).

In laying out his amendment, he notes that Texas ranked 42nd (2000) 46th (2004) and 48th (2008) in terms of turnout. In the last one, Texas was 50th. His point: there’s not a crisis of too many people voting in Texas … but there is one of too few people voting. Van Taylor looks to be first up to question Anchia.

Taylor notes that he was an election observer in Anchia’s district, noting that he witnessed a voter attempt to vote with an ID, yet was told that she had already voted. Essentially … he’s offering an example of voter impersonation. Anchia asks if the case was turned over to the local DA. Taylor can’t really nail down that what he saw was fraud, or the result of other errors that take place in the administration of elections. He offers an “Unknown.”

There’s a point raised by Taylor about Voter Registration cards, which gives Anchia the opening to point out that the state could put a photograph on Voter Registration cards now, but they don’t. Voter Reg cards would be redundant under enactment of SB14. So much for small government. Anchia withdraws his amendment at the end of it all.

Amendment 2 is by Helen Giddings of Dallas. Her amendment essentially allows people to sign an affadavit if they have a police report that they are a victim of identity theft. It’s a smart amendment since it essentially mirrors the process for casting a ballot provisionally. Patricia Harless moves to table the amendment. Scott Hochberg now up to question Harless. He asks for clarification about why someone who has had their ID stolen should be allowed to have their vote stolen, as well. Harless suggests that police reports can be faked. Harless notes that such a voter could cast a vote provisionally, but they would have to show up in 6 days with their ID for thier vote to count. Unfortunately, DPS doesn’t work that fast. So, according to the letter of this bill, all you have to do to prevent someone from voting is steal their purse or wallet during late October.

Mando Martinez raises a point of order over whether the bill should read “business days” instead of “days” in reference to how much time you have to get back to the downtown election office to prove you were who you (provisionally) said you were on Election Day. Unless Gidding’s amendment passes, it won’t matter to victims of identity theft in October. They’re just out of luck.

The Trib’s Julian Aguilar tweets: Point of order by Armando Martinez, D-Weslaco. Alleges bill violates House rules because it does not properly define a “business day.” Welcome to “Sonogram 2.0.” Things are slowed to a crawl now while they figure out the meaning of “business day.”

More newsie reading while the House stalls. TX Observers’ Abby Rapoport notes that the necessity of the bill going through pre-clearance with DOJ. That’s what makes this debate so critical – demonstrating the possible alleviations that the House GOP could have taken, but aren’t willing to.

Straus is back up to clarify the point of order. It’s sustained. That kicks the can for another day on this bill.

Sen. Lucio on “Pro-Life”

» Texas Tribune: How About a “Pro-Life” Budget? (Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr.)

Pro-life <> jumping up & down, screaming about judges …

According to Glenn Stassen, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, abortion rates have risen along with poverty rates and cuts to assistance programs. According to the research, many impoverished mothers are more inclined to seek an abortion when they feel that no means exist to help them take care of their child.

This research doesn’t make the decision about whether or not to keep a baby any less grave. But as a lawmaker, I am chilled by the thought that there are mothers who are too scared to go through with a pregnancy because governments choose cuts over compassion.

We need a budget that encourages people to choose life — from conception to natural death. Texans need medication, hospital treatment, protective services, quality schooling, a stable home environment and a safe border. I believe their ability to individually afford these things should not be the deciding factor governing their delivery.

Great to see Sen. Lucio adding his voice here. It’s not an argument you hear very often in most pro-life vs pro-choice discussions, but it fits very well within the views of former Pennsylvania Governor Robert Casey. If what passes for the “pro-life” today are people only concerned about whether raped victims are shown a sonogram versus people who understand that economic factors is a bigger determinant of someone considering an abortion, I’ll side with the latter every time.

Belated News Coverage of the Budget Shortfall

No time like the present. At least they go to a good source of information for detail rather than zippy talking points.

Bill White’s Opinions on Budget Crunch: MyFoxHOUSTON.com

The Education Cuts Are Coming

February 21, 2011 Texas Legislature No Comments

From KXAN’s Sunday newscast, an interview with my State Rep on Education funding in Texas this session …

Session ’11: Rep. Scott Hochberg: kxan.com

Kuff also has a nice overview post on how to get involved in this issue. As noted in the comments of that post, HISD will be airing “HISD and the State Budget Crisis” tonight from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. If you’re Comcast-enabled, Channel 18 is your source. AT&T aficionados will do with Channel 99, and those of us who live on the intertubes can see the live webcast at houstonisd.org.

The Charter School Bailout

February 21, 2011 Texas Legislature No Comments

» Chron: An entrepreneurial model of education (Robert Maranto)
» TX Tribune: Texas Charter Schools Eye Permanent School Fund

Two great bookends if you want to catch a glimpse of the two sides of the mouth that the charter school debate happens from. On the one side, we’re told that competition is what makes charter schools thrive. But on the other, we’re told that they can’t compete unless they have the state guarantee loans issued to charter schools. The result, of course, is that private enterprise has higher costs which means more money goes to people not involved in the classroom. The idea to back loans isn’t new – the SBOE started the ball rolling in the midst of their Crazypalooza 2010 World Tour.

Sonar Tarim, Superintendent of Harmony Public Schools (the state’s largest network of charter schools), features prominently in both items. And I’ve not read the specific bill being introduced to put the Permanent School Fund on the hook for private entities, but I’d hope that there is a strong accountability element to it that only allows it for borrowers who have demonstrated themselves to be good fiscal stewards, as well as those who get the best results in the classroom. It’s one thing to think this might be warranted for KIPP or YES, but there’s a much “longer tail” of charter schools that should be concentrating more on their core mission than facility expansion. If there’s no room to distinguish between charter schools with a record of success and those who are solely propped up with political help, I have a sneaking suspicion that we’ll be reminded of this move when the PSF is on more treacherous waters than it already is.

If the rhetoric – nay, talking points – about charter schools is to be taken at face value, then the tradeoffs they’re willing to make in order to receive what amounts to a single-industry stimulus plan deserves some attention as well.

Let the Lawsuits Begin!

» Texas Tribune: Texas Redistricting Lawsuit: Count Citizens Only

Seems early for this, but I guess there’s no time like the present:

Attorney Michael Hull of Austin, representing three North Texas voters, sued the state and a bunch of others, alleging that counting undocumented immigrants in political districts has an unfair and illegal effect on voters in districts with smaller numbers of non-citizens.

The logic goes this way: If two districts have the same populations and one has more non-citizens than the other, it takes fewer voters in that district to swing an election. Fewer citizens means fewer voters means a smaller number makes a majority. Each vote is, compared to the district with more citizens, worth more.

There’s a variety of ways that I think that either the lege or rightwing legal activists will test redistricting this year and this was one of the expected routes. As protective as GOP electeds have been of the judiciary during years of Democratic administrations, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a 3-judge panel move this along. Where it ends up, though, may be more of an open question. Either you accept that representation is determined by population, or you start whittling away at what the Constitution considers an American population.

So what’s left to run through the courts in terms of abstract arguments like this? I haven’t dived deep into the legal side of redistricting yet, but I don’t seem to recall there being something that really challenges the Voting Rights Act – namely Section 5. That should be expected somewhere, if not Texas. But the more impactful challenge will be to see which entities attempt a judicial bail-out of preclearance. That one, I’d expect the lege to try with our maps here in Texas. Whether that is accompanied by any significant regression in minority representation remains to be seen.

HD48: Where the Wave Crested

February 11, 2011 Texas Legislature No Comments

Burka passes on the news from Will Hartnett’s findings: Donna Howard won by four votes.

I’ve never been a fan of the selective recounting that the House does in it’s determination. But whatever, take the win. Now to see what they do to Howard & Strama in redistricting.

House Committees Named

February 9, 2011 Texas Legislature No Comments

Something of a surprise with the Redistricting Committee, in that Todd Hunter was the presumed pick to chair it. Turns out he got a nicer gig chairing Calendars. Here’s the full House Redistricting committee:

Chair: Burt Solomons
Vice-Chair: Mike Villarreal

Speaker Appointments:
Roberto Alonzo
Carol Alvarado
Jimmie Don Aycock
Dan Branch
Rob Eissler
Charlie Geren
Patricia Harless
Harvey Hilderbran
Todd Hunter
Jim Keffer
Jerry Madden
Aaron Pena
Larry Phillips
Joe Pickett
Marc Veasey

Solomons isn’t quite Tarrant County, but between his chairmanship and Charlie Geren being on the committee, I suspect that the folks in Tarrant worrying about their kind being equipped with pens and crayons are a bit more at ease.

Closer to home, my own State Rep, Scott Hochberg, continues his run on Public Education and Appropriations. Nice to see. And on the unfortunate side, there’s nobody from Harris County on the Higher Ed committee.

Still No Committees?

January 25, 2011 2011 Redistricting 1 Comment

I would have thought that Straus returning to the role of Speaker would have led to quicker Committee assignments than we’re seeing now. Burka starts the drinking game over who might get what and which possible chairs he likes and doesn’t like.

Naturally, my main interest this session is Redistricting. The previous chair had been Delwin Jones of Lubbock. Jones was instrumental in 2001 for developing a State House plan that had the backing of Democrats and West Texas Republicans. The plan won on a floor vote. But it got punted to the Redistricting Board, which ended up with a map that looked much closer to Kenny Marchant’s alternative map.

Burka suggests that Todd Hunter is the likely chair of the committee and I tend to agree. Hunter’s been engaged in the process, he had Straus combine his prior committee with the Redistricting Committee to the off-season House hearings around the state, and prior to the 2010 election, it wasn’t much of a secret that he wanted to draw a GOP Congressional seat for Corpus Christi, possibly for himself.

But Burka adds this tidbit in his analysis: “I don’t think it will be that important, because the leadership is likely to kick the can to the Legislative Redistricting Board.”

We’ll see, but if I were a betting man, I’d bet against this. The 2001 State House plan made its way to the LRB because Democrats controlled the House and the LRB was 100% Republican. So it was nothing to have the Senate squash the House bill in order to get a “better” plan by GOP standards. This time around, I think there’s just too much self-interest involved to leave the map to someone else. Of the 101 House Republicans, I suspect that upwards of 90 of them can end up pleased with the final map put on the floor for a vote. More specifically, of the roughly 10 West Texas State Reps, something like 8 of them will be pleased with the final House plan and the other 2 won’t. Those 8 have absolutely zero interest in resetting the game.

It might be in the interests of the losers in the process to gum up the works and see if they have better luck with the LRB. But in order for that to happen, you’d have to have 1/3 of the Senate displeased with the House plan. And I think the math needed makes that unlikely.

Maybe something more egregious happens. Maybe things fall apart in committee or Hunter’s leadership comes into doubt by the urban/suburban GOP members who aren’t losing seats. Anything’s possible. But I think a punt is the least likely scenario at the outset of the game.

Freedom’s Just Another Word For Nothing Left to Lose

January 17, 2011 Texas Legislature No Comments

» FW Star-Telegram: Grapevine-Colleyville district leaders urge supporters to lobby Legislature

Kuff covers how some of the big school districts are bracing themselves for their impending cuts (interesting that they know what a cut is and the Texas GOP doesn’t). Here’s how one of the wealthier suburban Fort Worth districts is doing it …

Grapevine-Colleyville school district administrators are pushing a grassroots effort aimed at inundating state lawmakers with messages from constituents demanding changes in how the state funds schools and a hands-off approach to further education funding cuts.

A series of community forums kicked off last week at Grapevine Middle School, drawing a crowd of about 150 parents, teachers and other community members.

Another meeting is scheduled for Tuesday.

While much of last week’s “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” program was a Grapevine-Colleyville-specific report on the district’s budget and state school finance, the rallying call to parents, teachers and community members was clear: Let the Legislature hear concerns, and keep education issues from being drowned out by other state business.

Did I mention that this was one of the wealthier districts? Well, it goes hand in hand that wealthy residents usually beget wealthy school districts. And the Grapevine-Colleyville area is pretty solid in it’s support of Republican candidates. I mention that since it’s pretty plain and clear that the current budget wreck is not a victim of some media-inspired false equivalency of Democrats and Republicans behaving badly. The current mess you see before you has one and only one author: the Texas GOP.

As much as I wish the parents & teachers luck, I’m not sure their talking points are going to get any further with their elected officials than Rick Perry’s mantra of “Budget shortfall? What budget shortfall?” Something to think about the next election.

One final point of convergence from this report …

Audience members said they were concerned by what they heard.

“I’m worried about the effect of all this budget-cutting on our school’s students,” said Colleyville Elementary School teacher Julie Gigowski.”It’s never been this dire.”

Administrators warned that staff layoffs and program cuts would eventually be needed if the situation doesn’t change.

“It’s been eye-opening for me,” Grapevine High School choir director Pat Antinone said as he left the forum. “It’s really not just Robin Hood that’s the issue. There’s a much bigger picture here, and it’s far more complex than I thought it was.”

Pat Antinone was a classmate of mine at Trinity High. The memory fades, but I believe he was a year ahead of me and ended up marrying a classmate from my class. Apparently, he’s had quite the career as a choir teacher in the Mid Cities. Good to see!

Strama on the Sidelines

» Impact News: Rep. Mark Strama opts out of ‘redistricting game’

Interesting approach …

Austin Democratic Rep. Mark Strama announced on Jan. 13 that he’s “not going to play the redistricting game,” saying House District 50 is likely to be redrawn with or without his participation in the process.

Strama said he’s not going to draw any maps, he’s not going to lobby his neighbors for specific borders, he’s not going to participate in any redistricting committee hearings, and he said he may not even vote on the final redistricting bill in the coming months.

Feel free to speculate wildly about Strama’s motives here. My initial reaction was that it was a dare to be drawn out of a district, with a possible excuse to use that as a statewide run in 2012 (either RR Commish or US Senate).

I’d have to look around for my map with Travis County State Rep residences plotted out, but as I recall, not many of them lived very far from Elliot Naishtat’s central Austin district. So it’s not hard to pair up any number of the remaining Democratic incumbents.

Possibly related to this point is that, with one GOP incumbent in Travis County, do the 149 other members who will be involved in redistricting opt to make that one member as safe as can be, or do they get over-ambitious like they did in 2001? But even without considering the partisan makeup of the county, it’s not difficult to pair up two or three of the incumbent Dems together. So even if that didn’t impact the partisan balance, it’s not unheard of to use that as a means of expressing affection for one another on the floor of the House.

The Voter ID Push Begins

January 15, 2011 Texas Legislature No Comments

» TX House: Hilderbran files bill requiring voters to show photo identification

Interesting to see that people from Kerrville feel their election outcomes are skewed by all those illegal voter impersonations. But considering that some form of codified voter intimidation will pass through the GOP-run lege, here’s another tidbit that I suspect would make elections far more interesting in close election outcomes:

The bill will also allow individuals not carrying photo identification to cast a provisional ballot. Voters must then provide proof of their identity within six days in order to have their vote counted.

So, the next time there’s a Vo, Howard, or whatever close election contest, people will have 6 days to game the contest to maximum affect. It could be made even more curious if the list of provisional voters is released by local election officials, which would have the affect of an additional 6-day campaign to get those people back to the polls, so to speak. If that provision were in the last session’s bills, I wasn’t aware of it. But it strikes me as a curious bit of campaign law to include.

At present, the onus is on local election officials to do a certain amount of work on provisional ballots. If there are any readers who have worked on those boards, I’d love to hear more details of what goes into approving/disapproving those ballots and what the ratio of each looks like. But from a foggy memory of election trainings past, I believe the first step is that they make sure nobody else signs in for you in the election books and that the ratio of those votes approved is some low number (wanna say 10-25%).

One provision in Hilderbran’s bill that was in the bill pushed last session is that a state-issued photo ID will be offered at no cost. That should remain one of the lines in the sand before Dems figure out if there’s a Plan B if chubbing is no longer allowed in the rules. Of course, I’d argue that a second line in the sand be same-day Voter Reg (at least during early voting). If you’ve claimed to have found a way to solve the highly under-reported crime of voter impersonation with that ID, then there’s no reason to prevent someone from registering from registering on the spot. Unless, of course, the real motive is just to prevent people from their legitimate right of voting.

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Belatedly, it’s worth noting that I’m back in Austin for the legislative session. Theoretically, that would mean a slowdown in blogging. But given the pace over the past several months, who knows. For the sake of making myself feel better, the work product over this span of time seems to be about 568 pages of […]

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