No more, it seems ...
The great loss in Aaron Peña is that in choosing to depart from one party on the grounds that one-party rule in the Rio Grande Valley, he opted to remain totally silent on the one-party rule of the State of Texas. At least, as a Democrat, he was a viable voice against the corruption that exists in the Valley. That's a topic that needs more discussion. But Peña removed himself from that. And now, a non-partisan drawing of State Rep districts removes him from having any impact on the matter entirely.
Full story at The Monitor.
Feel free to compare the original map from December with the finished product. The proposed HD40 even manages to avoid pairing Peña with Veronica Gonzales. So the only question is whether the final Congressional map offers Peña the opportunity to make a run for Congress. My money's on re-election. If you notice the map in some detail, you'll notice that they even split Aaron's home precinct in order to shoe-horn him into the district.
The blue & red are White v Perry results. Since outlining districts with a lot of twists & turns like this gets tricky, I opted for some shading trickery.
Map in the expanded view. From initial appearances, Aaron Pena has a good chance of being re-elected as a Republican if he so chooses.
Thursday is the Texas House Redistricting Committee's hearing on Congressional seats. I'm planning on staying here in H-town, but I'll be live-blogging the festivities. In the meantime, here's a breakdown of some redistricting legislation that is floating around the lege. Thus far, everything is sitting in committee.
» SB 196 (Sen. Jeff Wentworth - San Antonio) ... the grand-daddy of redistricting bills. The creates a 9-member commission to draw Congressional districts.
» SB 1556 (Sen. Jose Rodriguez - El Paso) ... This is AJ Pate's Redistricting Proposal. What it does differently from the rest is that it codifies the principles of redistricting for the legislature to follow.
» HJR 95 (Rep. Mark Strama - Austin) ... Establishes a 7-member Redistricting Commission, with responsibility for drawing Congressional, State Senate, and State House districts.
» HJR 20 (Rep. Aaron Pena - Edinburg) ... this limits the time a redistricting plan can be acted on to the regular session during which a Census is released.
And one that's tangential to redistricting ...
» HB 3255 (Rep. Mark Strama - Austin) ... this bill nudges the State Demographer's Office to include fuller demographic reporting. Primarily, the effect is to add Asian counts where appropriate.
The redistricting reports are produced by the Texas Legislative Council. Those report "Other" in addition to Anglo, Black, and Hispanic. Generally speaking, "Other" is between 80-90% Asian. But as several districts have Asian populations reaching a critical mass, that bit of information gets muddled over. And sometimes ignored. The information produced by the State Demographer's Office goes into health and human service needs as well as official population projections. Ignoring substantial populations in areas where they have a critical mass of population can mean more important things like life and death. So getting good, accurate, useful info in those reports is a good thing.
If Aaron Peña is looking to create himself a Congressional District, here's how it might be done (click 'em to big 'em on the photos) ...
The green monster in the middle of South Texas is 53-46 McCain and 60% Hispanic. There's a lot of game theory into what it might take to pull this off. I think the biggest are selling Blake Farenthold and Ron Paul on shifting their districts east of their respected bases (Nueces County and Brazoria). For the safe construction of a GOP seat, I see two critical elements of it and one very likely element of it. The critical ones are: a) dip into the most GOP friendly parts of Hidalgo & Cameron and not much further; and b) sidestep Jim Wells County. The very likely seems to be that you'd want the district to pick up some of the swing-GOP areas along the southern rim of Bexar County. That may blunt the possibility of another southern San Antonio district being created that allows for another run by Ciro Rodriguez. The fact that the district is sufficiently Hispanic in population should mean that it would pass muster through the courts.
A closeup of the Hidalgo-Cameron portions show what's needed to gerrymander this one:
The remainder of Hidalgo-Cameron (the purple district) is 73-26 Obama and 90% Hispanic. I'm not sure if that'll represent a problem with packing, but it's sufficient to keep re-electing Ruben Hinojosa for a long time to come. Ironically, the real loser in this situation would be McAllen since it gets split three ways. It loses at the expense of the smaller towns around it being represented by Peña (Edinburg), Hinojosa (Mercedes) and Cuellar (Laredo).
I obviously didn't map this out to a full 36 districts and there's several open questions about what this fragment of a map would mean mostly for Quico Canseco (though the NW Bexar area is left for him). The other tangential districts, I think, have easier solutions. But where a NW Bexar district goes without bumping into Lamar Smith (the delegation leader) and the West Texas districts which will look to add territory as they move east, I don't pretend to have an answer for yet. Like I said, there's a lot of game theory involved in terms of defining what's possible and that means a lot of variables to solve for.
This is just a hypothetical to show what's possible if Aaron Peña were to want to draw a GOP-favored Congressional District. To say the least, such a district could still lure in a strong Democratic challenger who could make up the 5-or-so points needed to win the district. From a Republican side, there's only one person who I think could pull off a win: Aaron Peña. Anyone else risks that 5-point margin that local Hispanic Dems are known to make up in a normal year.
It's hilarious seeing where GOP bloggers see "media bias." Case in point:
First, notice that liberal bloggers have made it a point to always use Pena instead of Peña. What word did Slater use repeatedly?
Before a standing room only, packed house of reporters, officeholders and party officials, RPT Chairman Steve Munisteri today led off a press conference announcing that State Rep. Allan Ritter and State. Rep. Aaron Pena were switching to the Republican Party.
In fact, the Texas GOP site goes on to use the tilde-less Peña in the title and four instances within their post. I guess we've once and for all proven the liberal bias of the Republican Party, now?
Personally, I use the tilde version when time permits (example) and tend not to sweat it being omitted when I'm trying to crank something out in a hurry (example) on my gringo-only keyboard. It just strikes me as typically inane to see the GOP types looking for bias where there isn't any.
Two coincidental posts on the recent bout of party-switching State Reps:
Wayne Slater posts a theory that Pena's switch is a prelude to a Congressional run. It's a theory with merit, but there are two problems with it: 1) It's hard to do that while being faithful to keeping Hidalgo Co. as whole as possible; and 2) There are already Hispanic districts held by the GOP now.
Granted, none of those precludes the possibility of a gerrymandered ugly duckling connecting the GOP parts of Hidalgo with the GOP parts of Cameron and moving north to capture GOP-posslble turf there. There's also no given that newly-elected Congressman Farenthold out of Nueces County is a priority for the map-makers (one of whom is Pena himself). But for all that work, it's not like you end up with a safe district. You still end up with a competitive district in a Presidential year (bringing out the Dem voters). In short, I think if this were tried, there's a high risk of it being a losing proposition for both Pena and Farenthold. That said, I'm open to seeing them try to pull it off.
» Rio Grande Guardian: GOP: Peña party switch alters redistricting equation
» Beaumont Enterprise: Ritter's switch helps him, but may benefit region in redistricting too
It's marginally comforting to know that I'm not the only one who reads political stories these days and asks "What does this mean for redistricting?" In particular, Aaron Peña's party switch really forces the issue for two reasons: a) he's on the redistricting committee - and I wouldn't be shocked if he's chairing it in January; and b) it's not hard to draw a GOP-leaning district in Hidalgo County. That said, I'm a bit skeptical that even Peña could draw two districts that remain in GOP hands through the next decade. Doing so would put Peña at severe risk of being unelected in his first "re-election campaign" as a Republican. That's possible because more low-propensity voters tend to come out for Presidential campaigns and the issue set for those voters in South Texas is likely to favor Dem candidates a bit more.
Ritter's situation is very different. His district is already GOP-leaning. So his switch just means that the map-makers won't have to distort Jefferson County to make way for more Republicans. Had he not switched, in other words, you might have seen another district slice through Jefferson County, limiting the amount of friendly real estate for Ritter to peel off swing votes. The remainder of Ritter's district might then have headed north to include an already GOP-leaning county full of new voters who aren't familiar with Ritter and might be less willing to give him a personal vote. Now, none of that matters. They can pretty much scratch Jefferson County off their list of things to worry about.
Back to Hidalgo, there are two poorly kept secrets available to one and all: the two districts referenced in the Guardian are heavily Democratic; and they both contain some large pockets of GOP growth. In other words: the reason they're so Democratic is because they mask the GOP growth within the county. Hard to blame gerrymandering on that, too. The main reason for the change has been development during the decade. So the visibility of GOP possibility wasn't entirely clear as the LRB drew the lines in 2001, though they did seem to make a slight effort to make Veronica Gonzalez' HD41 as GOP-tilting as possible. You can see from the election results that it gave a slight nod to two GOP statewides in 2002 and trended even more GOP friendly over the decade. Here's the 2010 red/blue map of White-Perry results for Hidalgo County, with the residences of Aaron Peña and Veronica Gonzalez pinpointed:
The northern GOP precincts are more sparsely populated (4 precincts with a combined total of less than 1,000 Registered Voters) and I'm doubtful that they can even be the basis for which the county GOP bases its dream scenario of two GOP seats in the county. So don't let the size of them mislead you. The core of the population is in the lower third of the county. This is merely to show how the GOP precincts of Hidalgo County are obfuscated by the overall district boundaries. Factor in population growth, and you can suddenly build a district in a more compact manner. This means those GOP boxes are now likely to be enough of a population for Republicans to elect Peña in 2012.
What would that end up looking like? The district you see below went 55-44 for John McCain in 2008 and 51-48 for Bill White in 2010. Basically, it takes the GOP-friendliest portions of Veronica Gonzales' district and reaches into the Precinct 14 that Aaron Peña resides in. Granted, it's not out of the question that he can plan a move in order to stave off that addition (the precincts needed for including PCT14 are more Dem-friendly). Based on the current census estimates, it doesn't look as if this draft is far from being the basis of Peña's dream district. If anything, I suspect there may be a precinct or two that can be shed from this outline if the population growth turns out to be big enough.
So, for all the talk about ideology and being taken for granted, what party switches really come down to is personal protection. It's clear from the 2001 map that the LRB wanted to make the most GOP-friendly district they could and came up just short. This time around, everyone knows it's possible. And that includes Aaron Peña. It's faulty to look at his existing district and conclude that there's no way he can get re-elected. It's equally faulty to assume that, just because it's South Texas, that any GOP candidate it toast. For all the self-interest involved, Peña was seeing the red-blue situation above from a ground level and acted on that, together with the likelihood that either he could get drawn out, or Veronica Gonzalez would get drawn out. Right now, Gonzalez is the first victim of redistricting unless she plans to move somewhere else in the county. As for Peña ... he'll be looking at getting re-elected to the Legislature as a Republican for the next decade. And probably being quite successful at it.
» Rio Grande Guardian: Peña: Texas Democrats face decades in the wilderness
There's no telling how fast the impending round of party-switching will make this article old news, but it's worth reading regardless of which party State Rep. Aaron Peña considers himself a representative of today or tomorrow. The reason is that Peña's criticisms of the party are as valid today as they are from several years ago. And they should still be heeded even if Peña does switch.
Honestly, when I initially read the story, my reaction was along the lines of "well good luck to all of that." There's nothing particularly new about the critiques raised by Peña, save for the context added by the November 2 shellacking that should certainly raise doubt about any great demographic save in the works. So my thought was that nothing eventful would happen in the following week as an offshoot of it.
The only thing that makes sense for Peña to switch is that perhaps a Redistricting chair is being dangled as a carrot for doing so. Hidalgo County is set to be the core of a new Congressional District. And while the Valley is not monolithically Democratic, it is possible to draw something that may be under 65% Dem, and at least viewed as competitive by someone a current officeholder.
For years, I've pointed out that rural Hispanics aren't the same as urban Hispanics. My sense is that Aaron would have a hard time getting elected as a Republican in Hidalgo County in 2012. But it's not as far-fetched as it used to be. And for precisely the reasons that Pena highlights.
These things come in threes, apparently ...
» Chron: QB Broadway, defensive coach Jeffcoat depart from UH
» Rio Grande Guardian: Peña responds to party-switch speculation
» Burka Blog: Will Ritter be the next D to switch?
More on the Peña stuff as time frees up. Quite frankly, I'm more worked up over losing Broadway at this point, but I'd thought that he might transfer if Piland looked like the wave of the future.
UPDATE: Ritter is apparently all-but-official as the 100th Republican in the House. And he's the least shocking party switch on the board for what's left of the Dem caucus. Not sure how much of Peña's decision hinges on Ritter's action. My hunch is that redistricting is more of a factor there.