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September 05, 2003

On Whitmire and Re-Redistricting

By Andrew Dobbs

Many of my Democratic colleagues have taken to slamming John Whitmire's return to Texas. While I am dissapointed that he felt that this move was necessary my source of consternation comes from his unwillingness to inform his colleagues that he would be returning and apparant collusion with Republican senators, namely Florence Shapiro, in his actions. Aside from that though I feel that it might be time for the standoff to end.

First, let's take a look at Whitmire and his district. Whitmire is the "Dean of the Senate"- its longest-serving member. He has been a state senator since 1982 and was in the Texas House for 10 years prior to that. His district is about 2/3 Black and Hispanic but large sections of North Houston make it less comfortable than it should be. A Republican challenger was able to get 40% against him and several Republicans carried it in congressional races. Whitmire is a moderate Dem, with a 33% lifetime rating from the Young Conservatives of Texas (the only group that currently tracks voting records for legislators that I am aware of). For comparison, the aforementioned Shapiro has a rating of 92% and Austin's own Gonzalo Barrientos has 9%. So Whitmire is a safe, but not too safe, moderate from a minority-dominated district. Could he afford to stay in NM? I think that the answer is yes, but a minority Dem sucking up to the leadership (a la Ron Wilson) could move into that district and take him out in a primary perhaps, though it is unlikely. He is pretty safe in his district, he went about it the wrong way and so people are upset that he left.

But at the same time we have to realize that his main concern, the lack of an exit plan, is a very valid one. What can the Democrats do? If the Dems came back to Texas one day before the March 2 primaries the GOP could ram through a bill moving that date back, extending the filing deadline and passing redistricting. They could concievably wait until March 2, but that would preclude them from running in their own primaries, meaning that they would all be gone after that day. Additionally, Perry would call a special session that also addressed school finance and could claim that they were letting our schools fail while they took a 7 month long vacation. Finally, the strain on families and finances would be far too great for such a retreat. Frankly, it is impossible to wait out until Perry loses so we have to decide what to do.

The answer is to let the GOP fight it out on their own and utilize the courts. A big battle is brewing at the moment between Speaker Tom Craddick (R-Midland) and Sen. Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock) over their West Texas congressional districts. For some reason Tom Craddick wants to give up what is possibly the second most powerful position in state government to enter Congress, where he would be a meaninngless junior member. To do so, he needs a district centered on Midland. Duncan is looking out for his constituents and wants a Lubbock-based district. You can't have both so something's gotta give. Duncan must know that any map that passes will be redrawn in conference committee by Craddick so passing any map is probably a bad idea for him. Add anti-re-redistricting Republican Bill Ratliff to the 12 Democrats and you have 14 no votes, just two short. When Ratliff came out against re-redistricting in the early summer he suggested that there were several other Republicans opposed to the plans. These senators are probably alienated by the Democratic break and would be hounded by their constituencies for daring to side w/ the Texas 11 now. Still, if East Texas Republican Todd Staples (whose district would be particularly damaged by redistricting) and perhaps moderate Republican Jeff Wentworth were to be convinced we could win. That's a big if, but maybe good ol' politics is what we need.

Finally we have the courts. Any plan is sure to be a violation of the Voting Rights Act and perhaps illegal on other grounds as well. If this is so, injunctions keeping the old lines in place for now and perhaps victories could win it for us. There is no guarantee and in fact some skepticism if this would work or not, but it will have to be done.

We cannot hold out forever and it seems that we cannot even hold out until this bill would die. As a result, we must look beyond the quorum-break to other tactics. Horsetrading and politics to swing a few more Republicans and the courts are our only options. I think that Whitmire left in the wrong way, but makes a point about the wisdom of continuing this tactic. I'd appreciate your thoughts on the matter and suggestions as to what Democrats could do to hold off this effort.

Posted by Andrew Dobbs at September 5, 2003 12:28 AM | TrackBack


The article in today's Houston Chronicle by R.G. Ratcliff concerning Whitmire is very interesting -- check it out. When you stop to think about it, it is more than interesting. It's amazing.

Posted by: Preston at September 5, 2003 08:57 AM

Byron, I don't think Craddick wants to be a Congressman. But he and Karl Rove want Mike Conaway, who lost to Randy Neugebauer in the 19th, to have his own Midland-Odessa-San Angelo based district.

Posted by: pc at September 5, 2003 09:40 AM

pc - it was Andrew who wrote that, so you can direct the comment to him.

Posted by: ByronUT at September 5, 2003 03:37 PM

For Kos readers, and anyone else, I respectfully disagree with Andrew.


Posted by: ByronUT at September 5, 2003 11:50 PM
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