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September 24, 2003

Map Passes Senate, Republicans Fighting

By Byron LaMasters

The Texas Senate passed a new congressional map tonight by a vote of 18-13. The House and Senate Republicans still remain deadlocked over the west Texas question. Rick Perry said today that if the situation isn't resolved this session, he'll.... call another session. The Houston Chronicle reports:

Here is the map passed by the House.

Here is the map passed by the Senate.

As the Senate tentatively approved a Republican congressional redistricting plan after almost eight hours of debate Tuesday, Gov. Rick Perry raised the specter of a fourth special session if the bill fails because of GOP infighting over West Texas.

The legislation passed on a mostly partisan 18-13 vote. The only Republican to vote against the map was Sen. Teel Bivins, of Amarillo, who favors creation of a new congressional district around Midland. The Senate map does not create such a district.

Democratic senators entered the debate admitting Republicans have the votes to pass legislation redrawing the state's congressional district boundaries. They spent the debate building a future federal court challenge to the legislation, accusing the Republicans of a partisan power grab that will harm rural and minority voters.

"The Republicans want to cancel our vote just because they didn't like who was elected," said Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, noting five congressional districts vote Republican in statewide elections but choose Democrats for the U.S. House.

"Changing the maps by merging rural Texas counties and districts dominated by straight-ticket Republican suburban voters literally steals the votes of the independent and minority voters who chose those five congressmen," Lucio said.

But Sen. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, sponsor of the Republican plan, said his proposal preserves existing minority districts that are protected under the federal Voting Rights Act.

Staples said there are no proposed changes in seven predominantly Hispanic districts and one black district that already have been upheld as legal by the U.S. Supreme Court. He said it made minor changes in the predominantly black district of U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, and two minority-influenced districts held by Democratic U.S. Reps. Martin Frost of Dallas and Chris Bell of Houston.

I wonder if FOX News will sue Todd Staples now:

"I present this map to you today as a fair and balanced map," Staples said.

Staples' map would all but guarantee the Republicans three additional seats after next year's elections and would enhance the ability of GOP candidates to capture three others. A map approved last week by the state House would give the Republicans a 21-11 majority after next year's elections.

The article then goes on to explain further details of the Republican divide, including some more on Rick Perry's non-compromise "compromise:

The major roadblock to passage of a bill now is a dispute between West Texas senators and House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, over how their part of the state should be drawn. Craddick wants a congressional district for his hometown of Midland, but drawing that district could have a negative impact on congressional districts now built around Lubbock, Abilene and Amarillo.

Perry on Monday offered a proposed compromise that aligned him with Craddick in the debate. Tuesday, the governor said he would call a fourth special session if the Republicans failed to reach an agreement.

"The issue of drawing the maps, the specificity of drawing the lines, is the Legislature's responsibility," Perry said. "If we can help work through any hurdles that are out there, we're happy to do it."

In the Senate, the Democrats tried several times Tuesday to derail the debate by using Senate rules, but Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst turned them down.

In one attempt to use the rules to delay debate until today, Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, challenged Dewhurst's ruling, forcing a rare vote on the presiding officer's authority. Republicans voted to back up Dewhurst while Democrats voted to overturn his ruling.

"Are we being governed by the rules of engagement, or are we making it up as we go along?" West asked.

Dewhurst of course had time to leave his duties as presiding officer of the senate to raise money, as the rest of the debate turned to Democrats building their case for a court challenge to the eventual map:

After that, Dewhurst turned the Senate gavel over to a variety of senators so he could fly to Nacogdoches for a Farm Bureau speech and a fund-raiser.

Because federal court challenges on redistricting revolve around minority voting protections under the Voting Rights Act, much of the Senate debate focused on that issue.

Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, rejected the notion that Democrats are playing "the race card." He said it is Republicans who are playing racial politics.

"Some would say they want the only remaining Democrats to be black or brown," Barrientos said.

He had hinted that he would filibuster the bill but did not.

The Democrats built a case that in seven districts, minority voters provided the margin of victory for Democratic candidates. They said those districts should be protected under a new Supreme Court ruling in Georgia v. Ashcroft.

One of those districts -- District 9 -- is held by U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson, D-Beaumont. West and Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, said the 234,582 black and Hispanic residents in Jefferson County and Galveston have provided Lampson his margin of victory in past elections. But in Staples' map those minority residents would be split into two new Republican districts.

"Minority voters in that district are replaced by predominantly white voters from Clear Lake to make that district more conservative," West said.

Gallegos said the plan diluted minority voting strength. Staples said if that is true, it will be turned down when reviewed under the Voting Rights Act by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The Fort Worth Star Telegram confirms Rick Perry's intention to call a fourth special session on redistricting if Republicans can't get their act together:

Gov. Rick Perry promised Tuesday to call lawmakers back to Austin for a fourth special legislative session if his own political party fails to reach agreement on congressional redistricting.

Meanwhile, a former SREC (Senate Republican Executive Committee member has called on Texas GOP chair Susan Weddington to resign:

A longtime Republican financial contributor, recently forced out of a party leadership post in a controversy over confidential phone calls, Tuesday called on Texas GOP Chairwoman Susan Weddington to resign.

Thomas Whaley, a businessman from Marshall who stepped down from the State Republican Executive Committee under pressure from Weddington, said the chairwoman's leadership was "hurting" the state party.

"I believe it is time for her to resign or be replaced," he said.

Posted by Byron LaMasters at September 24, 2003 01:51 AM | TrackBack

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