07.15.14

Texas Redistricting – Smoking Gun

Posted in Around The State, Redistricting at 12:07 pm by wcnews

Salon has an article up telling us what most everyone already knows, Texas GOP’s secret anti-Hispanic plot: Smoking gun emails revealed.

Two years and seven months after that email exchange — and one year ago on June 25, 2013 — the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5-4 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder,which struck down a provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that had allowed the federal government to “pre-clear” redistricting maps proposed by Texas and other states with a history of discriminating against minority voters.

In a follow-up email on Nov. 19, 2010, Opiela explained to Interiano that he called his proposed strategy: “OHRVS” or “Optimal Hispanic Republican Voting Strength.” Opiela defined the acronym-friendly term as, “a measure of how Hispanic, and[,] at the same time[,] Republican we can make a particular census block.”

Lawyers for the African-American and Hispanic voting-rights plaintiffs consider Opiela emails “a smoking gun.” The correspondence will play a starring role at a trial scheduled to start today in a San Antonio federal court in a redistricting case, Perez v. Perry. The litigation pits the plaintiffs, who have been joined by the Obama administration, against Texas and its Republican state leaders, including Gov. Rick Perry in his official capacity.

[...]

Clare Dyer helped gather that data for Interiano. She serves as a mapping and redistricting researcher for the Texas Legislative Council, a state agency, which provides, according to its website, “nonpartisan research” for all state players in the redistricting process.

When MALDEF’s Perales asked Dyer at her May 15, 2014, deposition about the emails, the state researcher said that Opiela appeared to be asking for “metrics,” which Interiano later sought from her office. Her interpretation of Opiela’s meaning in his emails: “[H]e’s trying to shore up — well, he says that — shore up districts so he can get — have them appear to be high Hispanic, but low Spanish surname registered voters. … You could give the appearance of having a Hispanic majority district, but it wouldn’t have the capability to elect — for the Hispanics in the district– to elect the person of their choice.”

David R. Richards, who also represents Perez plaintiffs and shares a notion or two about Texas politics as the ex-husband of the late former Democratic Texas Gov. Ann Richards, said about Opiela’s emails: “I think everyone sees them as a smoking gun.” The emails show a clear attempt “to switch out Hispanic precincts with high voter turnout and substitute them with low voter turnout” — knowing that the Hispanic populations traditionally vote Democratic — but, at the same time, wanting to meet then obligations of the Voting Rights Act, which, at the time, still were in effect, Richards said. “You look like you preserve the vitality of a Hispanic district because of the raw numbers but the reality is you have — because of substituting out the high turnout with low turnout — hollowed out the core of the district and weakened the Democratic component of the district,” Richards said.

MALDEF’s Perales believes the Opiela emails “reveal a strategy that was very much similar to the redistricting strategy of Texas struck down by the Supreme Court in LULAC v. Perry in 2006, an attempt to create sham Latino districts to prop up incumbents not preferred by Latino voters.”

In other works, the Texas GOP rigged the redistricting process.  For what to expect from the trial Michal Li has an FAQ, Texas Redistricting Battle Begins.

Kuff has much more, What else is at stake in the redistricting trial.

07.09.13

Texas could still be subject to preclearance, aka “bail-in”

Posted in Around The State, Redistricting at 4:01 pm by wcnews

Because the Texas GOP passed such discriminatory legislation in 2011 Texas could still wind up being subject to preclearance, Will Texas’ History Of Intentional Race Discrimination Come Back To Haunt It?

Texas is on the front lines of an important test case about whether a centerpiece of the Voting Rights Act can be salvaged after the Supreme Court struck at the heart of the law.

The ruling in late June freed up the Lone Star State, and all other covered jurisdictions, to change their voting laws without federal pre-approval for the first time since the 1970s. But now civil rights advocates have filed a case urging a federal court to once again subject Texas to the preclearance requirement, invoking a lesser-known provision under the historic 1965 law and pointing to the fact that a federal court blocked the state’s 2011 redistricting map after concluding that it deliberately discriminated against minorities.

Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act lets courts add a state or local government to the preclearance requirement if it is found to have enacted intentionally discriminatory voting measures. The Supreme Court left that part of the Voting Rights Act intact; it invalidated Section 4, which includes the formula that Congress established to determine which state and local governments are to face that extra scrutiny automatically.

“Commonly called the bail-in mechanism or the pocket trigger, section 3 authorizes federal courts to place states and political subdivisions that have violated the Fourteenth or Fifteenth Amendments under preclearance,” explained a 2010 article in the Yale Law Journal. Judges have discretion to decide which jurisdictions are covered and for what period of time. [Emphasis added]

The solution seems simple. The Texas GOP should just stop intentionally discriminating and then they won’t have to worry about the Voting Rights Act.

Further Reading:
Texas Redistricting has a link round up on this issue, Press round up: Maneuvering on Texas redistricting & voter ID.

06.12.13

Redistricting deal, probably not, just political posturing

Posted in Redistricting, Special Session at 3:46 pm by wcnews

Came across this last night and It’s hard to understand why this report got as much play as it did, Texas redistricting-deal outlines emerge. Mainly because of the sourcing in the article.

A Republican lawmaker and an attorney for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus said there was a consensus that minority groups would accept maps that create one to two more congressional districts in which Texas minorities hold sway and five to seven more seats in the state House.

[...]

Some on the committee seemed frustrated that Attorney General Greg Abbott — a driving force in the redistricting process — has not attended any court hearings or hearings by the Legislature.

“Why wouldn’t Attorney General Abbott let us know what he’s thinking?” asked state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, head of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus.

Abbott’s office said last week that that the attorney general believes the interim maps are constitutional. The chairman of the redistricting committee, state Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, on Monday said he has no plans to call Abbott to testify.

Garza, the lawyer for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, said that if the Legislature does what Perry and Abbott want, it would make a charade of the fact-finding process that’s going on now. “It would be evidence of intentional discrimination,” Garza said.

In other hearings, state Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, has posed tough questions to witnesses advocating maps other than those supported by Perry and Abbott. But on Monday, he seemed more interested in what the price of peace with minority groups would be.

“We’re in 98 percent agreement,” Villalba said.

Garza said one to two additional seats in Congress and five to seven in the state House could be the basis for a deal.

“We’re not advocating maximization,” he said. “If we were talking maximization, it would be a much higher number.”

Some observers have said it’s in the interest of Republicans to make a deal with minority Democrats because if they leave map drawing to the courts, it will be done without regard to who is an incumbent.

I’m with Kuff in being skeptical of this. The article points to a deal and quotes a freshman GOP house member and the lawyer for MALC. Those are not really big players in the Texas GOP. And the plan seems very generous to Democrats.  Perry and the wing nuts didn’t want a special session to give away House and Senate seats to the Democrats.

Burka’s take is much more realistic.

I suspect Perry is furious with Abbott about this ham-handed redistricting play, which is rapidly developing into a fiasco. It really makes one wonder whether Abbott knows what he is doing and whether he is adept at the law. The triangulation among Perry, Abbott, and Dewhurst has turned in Dewhurst’s favor; it looks as if Abbott has been isolated and Dewhurst has Perry’s back now. This reinforces my belief that Perry wants to run again, but it won’t be any picnic if he has to face Abbott in a Republican primary.

Why would Perry want to run again? The answer is simple: It’s the lifestyle, stupid. He lives the life of an Oriental potentate — even as I write, he is off in New York living a life of luxury, the best hotels in New York, the best restaurants, the kingpins of Wall Street, and don’t forget that state pension. By running again, he extends his ability to lead the Good Life for four more years, plus run for president on the taxpayers’ dime. Nice work if you can get it, and he’s got it.

Texas is ruled by one party. It’s unaccountable and arrogant and see the state government as it’s playground. None of what happens in this special session will do anything to make the lives of Texans better. But it will allow those who run our state to score political points.  Especially as the Senate Redistricting Committee rubber-stamped the interim redistricting plan today.

06.03.13

Special session looking foolish

Posted in Around The State, Bad Government Republicans, Redistricting, Special Session at 4:39 pm by wcnews

The House came in for a very short time today and then recessed for two weeks.  While they were in Redistricting Committee Chair Rep. Drew Darby announced three committee hearings in the next two weeks.

Any hope of getting out of the current special session in short order has now evaporated.

State Rep. Drew Darby, chair of House’s redistricting committee, told members of the House on Monday that he has scheduled three additional redistricting hearings around the state.

Originally, the San Angelo Republican had planned on just two days worth of hearings last week in Austin.

Darby also said last week that he hoped to have a committee vote on redistricting maps by Friday. But with hearings now scheduled in Dallas on June 6, in San Antonio on June 10 and in Houston on June 12, the committee won’t be able to kick bills out for a while.

The whole House isn’t scheduled to convene again until June 17 at 10 a.m.

Darby didn’t give a reason for the new hearings, but since Texas still needs the blessing of the federal government before it can pass redistricting maps — or any other change to election law — Darby could be trying to minimize any federal interference in the process.

State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo and chair of the Senate’s redistricting committee, has scheduled hearings in Austin on Thursday and on June 12.
Soon to be posted, are additional hearings in Corpus Christi on Friday and in Houston on Saturday, his staff said.

@PhilipMartin on Twitter said the reason the House recessed instead of adjourning was:

so they recessed instead of adjourned so if items are added to the call, committees could meet

Harvey Kronberg at QR posted this, Special Session Unhappiness—Have Wheels Come Off?

Dewhurst in France, lawmakers in unanticipated field hearings, no one clear on end game

Today we heard grumbling that Lt. Governor David Dewhurst forcefully advocated for a special session on redistricting and subsequently wrote a letter to the Governor seeking a catalog of red meat Republican issues be added to the call.

He then left for Europe on Saturday for a D-Day commemoration just as the wheels were coming off the redistricting effort. If the Governor did add Dewhurst’s laundry list of items to the Call went the grumbles, the Lite Guv would have to be notified overseas.

Spokesman Travis Considine told QR, “”Lt. Governor Dewhurst has chosen to honor his father’s memory and heroics during D-Day by visiting the Normandy Museum he has helped build in remembrance of those brave men who gave their last breath in service to our country during World War II. Those in the Senate who feel that he should not honor his father or our World War II veterans have not expressed this sentiment to Lt. Governor Dewhurst.”

This hastily called special session is starting to look hastily called. It looks like our so-called leaders didn’t think this through. Oh well, what’s $2 million to our elected leaders?

05.31.13

Redistricting session won’t be quick, or keep state out of court

Posted in Around The State, Redistricting, Special Session at 9:45 am by wcnews

A special session on redistricting that was supposed to be a quick “rubber stamp” by The Lege of the current “interim” districts and get the state out of court will likely fulfill none of those aims.  On Wednesday in San Antonio there was a hearing on the upcoming court case regarding The Lege’s discriminatory maps from 2011. At that meeting it was determined that any new districts approved by The Lege will still have to go through the court.

Today’s redistricting hearing in San Antonio was largely procedural but did have the court wrestling with some key threshold issues.

Indeed, much of the hearing centered the possible legal consequences of the Texas Legislature making the interim maps permanent.

Hispanic and African-American plaintiff groups took strong issue with the State of Texas’ argument that the case would essentially begin anew.

Jose Garza, counsel for the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus, told the three-judge panel that, if the Legislature were adopt the interim maps as permanent, the plaintiffs would be amending their pleadings to include claims based on those maps – and that case law supported the court’s retention of jurisdiction in those circumstances.

And they argued that because the new legislative maps would not really be new maps but rather a variant of the legislatively enacted maps that the court previously considered, the court’s work would essentially pick up where it left off when the interim maps were adopted.

At various points in the hearing, the narrowness of Gov. Perry’s special session call came into question.

Although the state’s lawyer David Mattax said that he could not say whether the call would restrict consideration of alternate maps, lawyers for plaintiff groups – and Circuit Judge Jerry Smith – suggested that it did – and plaintiff groups said that was further evidence that not only were the maps not new, but that Republican leaders had predetermined the outcome – and once again excluded meaningful input from minority groups.

This session won’t be a quickie as was originally thought and the redistricting process in Texas likely won’t end soon either.

Kuff has a few items of interest on the session so far:

- If the Lege slows things down and allows amendments, alternate maps, and public input at other hearings around the state, it’s almost certainly because the Republicans have come to realize that to do otherwise would be to repeat some of the behavior from 2011 that got them cited for discrimination. First Reading discusses how Democrats are setting them up for this (scroll down to the section that begins “Stop. Don’t. Come Back.”), and it’s clear from the questions at the Senate hearing that they’re laying down a paper trail for future litigation. We’ll see if the Republicans can avoid the trap – the Senators appear to be at least somewhat aware of the danger – or if they come under pressure to just get it done and leave all the worrying about the legal stuff to Greg Abbott.

- As Greg notes, if the floor is open for amendments, it is also possible that the Rs might want to tweak the Senate map, which is now acceptable to Sen. Wendy Davis. However, if that happens, it seems likely that they would all have to run for re-election in 2014; Sen. Royce West brought that up in his questioning. If so, that could put a damper on some Senators’ plans for the future, since at least three of them are thinking about running statewide – Hegar and Williams for Comptroller, Dan Patrick for Lite Guv. Hegar and Williams drew four year terms at the start of the session, meaning they could run for something in 2014 without putting their seat at risk if nothing changes, while Patrick drew a two year term and would have to make a choice.

- It’s not clear to me if the longer timetable for redistricting makes it more likely that Rick Perry will add to the call of the session, as Trail Blazers suggests, or less likely. Arguably, since there will be empty days between the committee hearings and the votes, Perry could add other items that could fill in the voids. Against that, the session is 30 days long, and we’ll be well past the halfway point by the time the maps are voted on at the current pace, which is almost two weeks later than originally projected. If the Rs do put more effort into taking public testimony, especially if they hold field hearings around the state, they’ll be hard pressed to do much else while redistricting is on the menu – and remember, Perry has basically said not to ask about anything else until redistricting is done – and they’d have a short horizon for anything else afterward. Not impossible, of course, and Perry can always call a second session if he wants – it’s all about what he wants, after all – it’s just not clear which way is more conducive to an expanded call for anything remotely controversial. As always, we’ll know when he wants us to know.

It looks like, at this point, that the intended purposes of this special session are already out the window, and we have Attorney General Gregg Abbott and Gov. Rick Perry to thank for this.

05.28.13

Goodbye and hello, regular session ends and special session begins

Posted in Around The State, Redistricting, Special Session, The Lege at 10:22 am by wcnews

Yesterday was the last day of the 83rd regular session, Sine Die! While the only thing they have to get done did get done, the budget, many things did not. As Kuff points out, Wrapping up the rest of the regular session.

The things that did not get done in regulation time are redistricting, about which we know what happened; transportation funding, which just sort of quietly slipped off the radar once Perry stuck a shiv into a bill that would have raised vehicle registration fees; and all of the wingnut wish list items like abortion and gun rights and what have you. This as I’ve said before is simply a matter of what Rick Perry wants to do. There’s plenty of speculation about what Perry may do and what may or may not be good politics for him to do. All I know is we’ll know when he tells us. Rick Perry does what he thinks is best for Rick Perry, and that’s all there is to it.

The worst kept secret of the last week was that there was going to be a special session of the Texas Legislature called as soon as the regular session ended. Perry orders special session on redistricting.

In a statement announcing the special session, Perry praised the Legislature for its work to put in place a $2 billion plan for water infrastructure, cut business taxes and create a new mega university in South Texas.

“However, there is still work to be done on behalf of the citizens of Texas,” he said.

Perry placed only redistricting before lawmakers initially, but he was peppered with requests to add a list of conservative issues and could do so. Only Perry can call lawmakers into special session, and he sets the agenda.

“I expect the governor to add more topics to the call” as lawmakers make progress on redistricting, which is the subject of a Thursday hearing by a special Senate committee, said Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. He has asked Perry to add issues including anti-abortion and pro-gun measures to the agenda.

Perry specifically assigned lawmakers the task of making permanent a set of interim redistricting maps drawn by a three-judge panel in San Antonio.

To get up to speed on what the redistricting issues are there’s no better place to go then to TxRedistricting and this, Texas redistricting tip sheet. And he has a press round up on redistricting too.

The Senate Select Committee on Redistricting will hold a hearing on four bills at 9 AM on Monday, which will include public testimony. The current maps were drawn by the courts and the public never had a chance to comment on them. Obviously, Perry and Abbott believe that the current membership, elected under these maps, will be quick to ratify them.

But Dem disagree.  They may also be making the calculation that the longer the redistricting process takes, the less time there will be for the governor to add items to the special session. The laundry list of items the wing nuts wants taken up in a special session, at least for now, Perry won’t be add until redistricting gets done. Which is another reason for dragging the process out. That’s if you trust Rick Perry to stick by that.

There’s still questions of how the Senate will run during a special session.

The key question in redistricting is whether the 2/3rds rule will apply in the Senate; if it does, then the 12 Democrats can block intentionally discriminatory maps from coming to the floor if they stick together.

Initially, Dewhurst told reporters that the 2/3rds rule would not be in effect for a special session. During tonight’s floor discussion, Senator Kirk Watson attempted to determine if that was indeed true.

Watson asked specifically about “blocker bills,” which are meaningless, silly bills passed out of committee quickly to occupy the top spot on the calendar and thus force Senators to suspend the rules to bring up any other bills out of order, which requires 2/3rds of the Senators to vote for the suspension.

Dewhurst claimed that there would not be blocker bills and that there hadn’t for 10 years; Watson countered with actual historical examples of blocker bills in previous special sessions.

If there is no blocker bill, then there is no need for the 2/3rds rule to be used to bring a bill (such as redistricting) up for a floor vote.

Having a blocker bill is purely at the discretion of the Lt. Gov. Even if the entire Senate wanted to put one on the calendar, Dewhurst could remove it. And even if he did let a “blocker bill” come up, he could remove it later anyways.

WIthout a blocker bill, legislation is considered in the order it comes out of committee. Dewhurst indicated tonight that there will be no blocker bill. If that is the case, there will be no 2/3rds rule and a simple majority could pass a redistricting plan.

And as Burka wrote yesterday about Perry, Dewhurst, Abbott and a special session.

There is a missing person in this report, and that is Rick Perry. No one, perhaps including the governor himself, knows what he is going to do. Perry has fashioned the modern Texas Republican party and changed Texas politics forever by driving the state GOP to the far right. The betting around the Capitol is that he won’t run for a fourth term as governor, but I didn’t think he would run again in 2010. There is also the possibility that he will run for president, but he would have no chance to win. Maybe he doesn’t care; his goal may be to show that he is still a formidable politician and one who might have been a serious contender in 2012, had it not been for the limitations imposed by his back surgery.

Perry’s immediate future, however, will include a decision of whether to call a special session of the Legislature. Greg Abbott wants a session on redistricting, but it is hard to see what advantage Republicans can gain. They are already facing a ruling that the interim maps represent intentional discrimination; at some point Abbott is going to have to come to grips with that finding. If, as David Dewhurst wants, the special session agenda will be a smorgasboard of uberconservative social issues, that could turn ugly for Republicans. They are on the wrong side of a lot of the social issues, especially gay marriage. The world is going in one direction, and the Texas Republican party is going in another. I think Rick Perry is smart enough to figure that a special session driven by social issues is a non-starter these days. On that point, we’ll know soon enough.

Perry had to call a special on redistricting to take the issue off the table in case he does run again, and against Abbott. Whether he needs to bring up the wing nut laundry list as well we will just have to wait and see. We should assume that the GOP House leadership, aka Straus’ team, still doesn’t want anything to do with the wing nut laundry list.

And Democrats, for their part, should just make sure to highlight how the so-called “conservatives” are again wasting taxpayer money for their own partisan political gain. None of the issues that are likely to be taken up in this special session will have any positive impact on the lives of poor, working, and middle class Texans.

Further Reading:
From the Legislative Reference Library of Texas, What’s Next? Post-Regular Session FAQs.

 

09.24.12

How the Texas GOP lost redistricting and nominated Mitt Romney

Posted in Around The Nation, Around The State, Bad Government Republicans, Elections, Money In Politics, Redistricting at 2:42 pm by wcnews

Robert Draper wrote an article for The Atlantic on the post 2012 Census redistricting process,  The League of Dangerous Mapmakers.  A good portion of it is about what went on in Texas.  It points out, as does this Trailblazers post, National GOP’s redistricting gurus paint Texas’ mapmakers as blundering know-it-alls, that Texas did what many, even those experienced hands inside the national GOP, warned them against.

Still, legal battles have been the other major factor in diminishing the Republican Party’s success. Given that blacks and Latinos tend to vote overwhelmingly Democratic, Republicans have often taken pains to maximize their control of the districts in a way that does not violate the terms of the Voting Rights Act. But the new census results have presented the GOP with a particularly confounding puzzle—one that lies at the center of this cycle’s redistricting controversies. On the one hand, the biggest gains in U.S. population over the past decade have been in two Republican-controlled states: Florida, which thereby received two new congressional districts, and Texas, which was granted a whopping four.

But on the other hand, most of each state’s new residents are African Americans and (especially) Hispanics. In Texas, the population has swelled by 4.3 million over the past decade. Of those new residents, 2.8 million are Hispanic and more than half a million are African American. While those groups grew at a rate of 42 percent and 22 percent, respectively, the growth in white Texans was a meager 4.2 percent. In other words: without the minority growth, Texas—now officially a majority-minority state—would not have received a single new district. The possibility that a GOP map-drawer would use all those historically Democratic-­leaning transplants as a means of gaining Republican seats might strike a redistricting naïf as undemocratic.

And yet that’s exactly what the Texas redistricting bosses did last year. Shrugging off the warnings of Tom Hofeller and other Washington Republicans, the Texans produced lavishly brazen maps that resulted in a net gain of four districts for Republicans and none for minority populations. The entirely predictable consequence is that the Texas maps have spent more than a year bouncing between three federal courts, including the Supreme Court. The legal uncertainty has had national ramifications. It meant, for example, postponing the Texas primary from March 6 until May 29, which cost Texas its role as a prominent player in the Super Tuesday presidential sweepstakes—a very lucky break for the eventual nominee, Mitt Romney, who likely would have lost the state to Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum.

But the chaos produced by the overreach in Texas isn’t anomalous. Rather, it is very much in keeping with the new winner-take-all culture of redistricting, an endeavor that has somehow managed to grow in both sophistication and crassness, like an ageless strain of cancer that inhabits a host body for so long that the two seem inseparable, even as the former quietly destroys the latter from the inside out.

[...]

This amateur-hour dynamic presaged the Texas re­districting fiasco. My native state has a long heritage of bellicose gerrymandering, which began with pronouncedly racist maps drawn by Democrats more than half a century ago and continued with Tom DeLay’s knee-capping of Democratic incumbents in his notorious mid-census redistricting in 2003. But no one ever accused the DeLay machine of being out of its depth. In 2011, by contrast, the individual principally responsible for drawing the state’s congressional district maps, Ryan Downton, was a lawyer and co-owner of a medical-­imaging firm. The seemingly random hiring of a relative novice like Downton (who was defeated in May 2012 as a Republican candidate for the state legislature) was in keeping with a willful ignorance embraced by the state legislature’s two appointed redistricting chiefs, neither of whom had the slightest experience in this arcane field. (Downton says he was hired because of his litigation expertise, since so many redistricting cases end up in court.) As the veteran Texas Democratic redistricting strategist Matt Angle told me, “People who actually have an understanding of the Voting Rights Act—like Hofeller, who’s 10 times more competent than the people who drew these maps—they wouldn’t have been part of this.”

According to one of the Texas Republicans intimately involved in the map-drawing project, “Tom [Hofeller] and [Republican National Committee counsel] Dale Oldham created an adversarial relationship with the leadership here in Texas. Incredibly brilliant people who tend to think they’re right, and if you don’t agree with them, they don’t put much effort towards convincing you. And that rubbed raw with the leadership here in Texas.”

Whether through personality conflicts or out of hubris, the Texas Republicans decided to do things their own way, with no guidance from Hofeller or other Washingtonians. When I asked Lynn Westmoreland, the House redistricting vice chair, to describe his role in the state’s redistricting process, he replied in a weary voice, “Well, the Texas legislature basically told me, ‘We’re Texas, and we’re gonna handle our maps.’ You know, I’m just saying that when you have a population increase of 4 million, and the majority of that is minority, you’d better take that into consideration.”

These statistical realities left the Republican-controlled state legislature and Governor Rick Perry with three choices when it came to redistricting. They could bow to the demographics, draw three or four new “minority-opportunity districts”—­in which Latino and/or African American voters would have the opportunity to elect the candidate of their choice—and then set themselves to the task, as Governor George W. Bush once did, of appealing to the state’s fastest-growing population. Or they could opt for the middle ground and create one or two such districts. Or, says Gerry Hebert, a lawyer who has handled numerous election and redistricting cases for Democrats, “they could use the redistricting process to cling to what power they have and hang on for as long as they can.”

I think it’s awesome the the leadership of the Texas GOP is being blamed for Romney’s nomination by the national GOP because of their redistricting shenanigans. But, let’s not forget, that dragging process out and postponing the primary also cost Lt Gov. David Dewhurst the GOP nomination for US Senate. So he only has himself to blame, as he is part of the GOP leadership.

But other than the Texas blundering, there was an interesting take on what recent rounds of redistricting have done to moderates and therefore compromise.

During his last few years in the House, John Tanner of Tennessee pursued a lonely quest to interest his colleagues in a redistricting-reform bill. Tanner was a co-founder of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats, who were all but wiped out in 2010, the year Tanner himself decided to head for the sidelines. He had introduced his bill first in 2005, when the Republicans controlled the House, then in 2007 and again in 2009, when Democrats were in charge and Nancy Pelosi was the speaker. “She and Steny [Hoyer, then the majority leader,] said, ‘That’s a good idea, we’ll take a look at it,’?” he recalled with a smirk. “But the hard left and the hard right don’t want it.”

Tanner says that redistricting’s impact has evolved over time, from simply creating safe seats for incumbents to creating rigid conservative and liberal districts, wherein the primary contests are a race to the extremes and the general elections are preordained. “When the [final] election [outcome] is [determined] in the party primary—which now it is, in all but less than 100 of the 435 seats—then a member comes [to Washington] politically crippled,” the retired congressman told me. “Look, everyone knows we have a structural deficit, and the only way out of it is to raise revenues and cut entitlements. No one who’s reasonable thinks otherwise. But what happens? The Democrats look over their left shoulder, and if someone suggests cutting a single clerk out of the Department of Agriculture, they go crazy. Republicans look over their right shoulder, and if someone proposes raising taxes on Donald Trump’s income by $10, they say it’ll be the end of the world. So these poor members come to Washington paralyzed, unable to do what they all know must be done to keep the country from going adrift, for fear that they’ll get primaried.

“It’s imposed a parliamentary model on a representative system,” Tanner went on. “It makes sense for Democrats to vote one way and Republicans to vote another in a parliamentary system. It’s irrational in a representative form of government. So what that’s done is two things. First, it’s made it virtually impossible to compromise. And second, as we’ve seen in this past decade, it’s damn near abolished the ability and responsibility of Congress to hold the executive branch of the same party accountable. The Bush years, we were appropriating $100 billion at a time for the Iraq War with no hearings, for fear that [those would] embarrass the administration. Hell yeah, that’s due to redistricting! The Republicans in Congress and the Bush administration became part of the same team. We’re totally abdicating our responsibility of checks and balances.

It’s unlikely a commission or committee fix will de-politicize redistricting. It should be clear the only way redistricting gets fixed is the same way our elections get fixed, take the massive amounts of cash out of our political process.

09.23.12

My afternoon at the Texas Tribune Festival

Posted in Around The State, Elections, Redistricting, Taxes, Transportation at 1:05 pm by wcnews

I had the opportunity to spend the afternoon at the Tribune Festival yesterday and was able to attend three panels.

>>> The first was Paying For Roads: The Great Debate. It was moderated by Scott Braddock. The panel was dominated by former Senate and House Transportation Committee chairs Sen. John Carona (D-Dallas) and Joe Pickett (R-El Paso). [Blockquoted excerpts and quotes are from the Trib Fest Liveblog].

Pickett started out by stating that we have a funding crisis but the people don’t know it because no one is telling them. They see road construction cones and think everything is just fine. He then went on to say that, “No one wants to raise the gas tax…..This isn’t Democrat or Republican.” And then Carona made his first points.

Sen. John Carona agreed with Pickett that roads funding is at a crisis level. He said it not only causes traffic jams but damages air quality and scares off businesses from moving to Texas.

He said part of the problem is that the state’s leadership — specifically the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Speaker of the House — have not led the way on addressing the problem.

“If they’re not willing to lead on those issues, my 20+ years in the Legislature have taught me it’s very hard to move forward,” Carona said.

Carona also made the point that doing nothing has a cost as well.  What he’s saying, in my opinion, is that instead of voter ID and other nonsense, transportation funding is the real emergency item. And if the people understood that they would understand the need to raise revenue to pay for transportation needs.

The other point Carona made several times was that “choices” that localities are left with actually aren’t choices at all.  He was essentially saying that toll roads or no roads is not a choice or the “free market” at work.

Panelists got into a spirited debate about toll roads. [Mike Heiligenstein, executive director of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority] said the Austin area is warming to toll projects and dynamic pricing in which a toll road’s price changes depending on the time of day and level of congestion.

Carona strongly disagreed.

“I think they embrace it because there isn’t an alternative,” Carona said. He suggested that too many toll road projects may be in the works. If drivers don’t have a choice but to take the toll road, the toll becomes a tax, he said.

And a much more expensive tax then raising the gas tax several pennies. Carona also made the points that private equity is the most expensive way to pay for roads and he would not recommend it.

Carona said private equity money is “expensive” and that too often TxDOT leans on private equity money to fund a project when there are cheaper approaches. TxDOT is ignoring

For example taxes and selling bonds. But most of the fireworks came toward the end when Carona accused Gov. Rick Perry of politicizing TxDOT by appointing unqualified political cronies to head the agency. Before then he said the position was always held by a qualified non-pollitical appointee.

Things got personal at the end of the panel, as Carona accused Gov. Perry of politicizing the Texas Department of Transportation by appointing “cronies” to its leadership. He said Delisi, a former Transportation Commissioner, counts as one of those “cronies.”

Delisi said TxDOT’s record over the last decade speaks for itself.

“One of the reasons txdot is ranked by CNBC as the best economy in the country is because of our infrastructure system,” Delisi said.

I don’t think Carona’s attack was personal, he was just stating his opinion on the lack of professional qualifications of the most recent leaders of TxDOT. And Delisi’s point about CNBC’s rank of TxDOT says nothing about what the people of Texas – taxpayers and drivers – think about TxDOT, where their status has really taken a hit.

My impression from the panel was that we have a transportation funding crisis and there is no easy solution. Toll roads are not the answer, either are the “creative” financing solutions. The most logical solution, though unlikely in the current political climate in Texas, is a broad based tax increase with toll roads and creative financing used rare instances.

>>> Next I attended the panel Does Texas still need the voting rights act? with Julían Aguilar moderating. Attorney Chad Dunn, Rep. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburgh, VP of litigation for MALDEF Nina Perales, and Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton speaking.

This panel, if you can believe it, was less contentious then the transportation funding panel.  Solomons made the point over and over again that he didn’t think Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) was fair, since it doesn’t apply to every state.  It only applies to a select few states and localities with a history of discrimination.  Solomons also kept making the point that the decisions made in redistrcting were political and not racial.

Solomons: “I do think the Voting Rights Acts serves a purpose … there are some things that are very subjective.”

Solomons makes case that Section 5 needs to be modified. Said it’s not fair for other states not to be subject to it when Texas is.

Solomons about the 2011 redraw: “We had 101 Republicans and we asserted power.”

Solomons about redistricting: “It’s poltical, it’s not racial.”

Solomons: “redistricitng is inherently political”

Points made by Perales and Dunn were that there is a remedy for Texas to get our of Section 5.

Perales says TX has been repeatedly rebuked by courts for violating voting rights provisions. Says TX has “consistent record” of breaking rules: “Texas is the worst of all the states.”

Dunn says there are “bailout” provisions that allow states to get out of VRA’s Section 5, but you have to prove you can “behave” and he says Texas hasn’t done that.

If they show that they no longer discriminate, “break the law”, over a period of time that can petition to be removed from Section 5 oversight. But Texas being the worst at violating Section 5 will not help them achieve the “bailout” provision.

There was more agreement then disagreement on the panel. Solomons the point several times that even though the court said there was discrimination in redistricting, the decision were made for political reasons and were not racially motivated. Which is why Dunn kept stating that the VRA will continue to be needed as long as there’s polarized political voting along racial lines. And the panel thinks that close, but were not there yet.

Perales: “I think Texas is on the cusp of being even more diverse than it is now.” She says she hopes there won’t be polarized voting anymore. That will be time to get out of Section 5. “We’ll get there. We’re on this steady march.”

>>> Next I was able to catch some of Voter ID: The Great Debate featuring state Reps. Jose Aliseda, R-Beeville, and Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio. Moderated by Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, a political analyst and fellow at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.

Much of it was a rehash of both sides arguments. Republican – protect integrity of elections. Democratic – a solution in search of a problem. First Aliseda did not believe that almost 800,000 voters would be disenfranchised, even though, as Martinez Fischer (TMF) kept pointing out, those were AG Abbott’s numbers.

The interesting part was what seemed like Aliseda’s attempt to link the issue to those on government assistance (the so-called %47).

Aliseda doubles down on why the poor, who opponents say will be disenfranchised by voter ID, can get a birth certificate to get on welfare or social security benefits. Birth certificate is required to get Texas’ free ID card to vote

Aliseda: Who is this country does not have an ID? If they are on the welfare roles, they have to have an ID. Do you know anyone that doesn’t have an ID card? They don’t exist.

“The only person that I believe doesn’t have an ID is the Unabomber,” he says.

Aliseda’s contention is completely false. I have an aunt who lives in rural Texas, same town all her life, she never got a driver’s license. To force her to get an ID to vote, where everyone in the polling place knows who she is, is idiotic. Especially, as TMF points out, when almost one third of Texas counties don’t have a DPS office.

TMF also pointed out several times there were ways for the Voter ID bill to be made to pass legal muster but the amendments were shot down by the Lege, along party lines. And there were other things that could have been done as well.

This was an emergency item (according to our governor) yet you didn’t see Perry tapping Rainy Day Fund to pay for birth certificates or free IDs for poor voters. Says voter ID was no reprehensible in court’s opinion, it was “thrown out on the first pitch.”

The law was shot down because it was too restrictive, and disenfranchises too many registered Texas voters. Texas is unlikely to have a voter ID provision until a new law is passed.

For more on how bad this law is read this, A walk through hell: My experience obtaining an approved ID to vote.

09.06.12

The Voting Rights Act, still working as designed

Posted in Around The State, Bad Government Republicans, Elections, Redistricting at 9:47 am by wcnews

The Texas GOP may have set themselves up for failure on their big prize – taking down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.  By being intentionally discriminatory with their redistricting plan and voter ID bill.  From the DMN opinion section, Texas Republicans may inadvertently have saved Voting Rights Act.

“There have been growing arguments that the Voting Rights Act is obsolete and should be struck down,” says University of Michigan law professor Ellen Katz, a nationally recognized expert on the Voting Rights Act. “But [Gov.] Rick Perry and the state of Texas, through their overreach in these cases, may have just saved the law from extinction.

“It is amazing that Texas officials intended to kill the Voting Rights Act, but because of the evidence of intentional discrimination, they may have just resurrected it.”

The judicial panel in the redistricting case even pointed to emails and pinpointed details they said proved that Texas legislators intentionally discriminated against black people and Hispanics. That ruling, according to more than a dozen independent legal experts interviewed by The Texas Lawbook, is likely to encourage judges in other pending Voting Rights Act cases to be more aggressive in scrutinizing the motives and actions of state officials in election law-related matters.

Abbott filed legal notice Friday that he intends to appeal the redistricting case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Last week’s decision does not affect the November elections because a separate federal court in San Antonio has implemented a different voting map that it ruled meets the basic tenets of the Voting Rights Act.

Legal experts say the undisputed evidence and subsequent court finding of intentional discrimination make it more difficult for Texas officials to effectively argue that the Voting Rights Act should be struck down.

“I see no indication that the Supreme Court is itching to overturn the Voting Rights Act — especially not now,” says John Attanasio, dean and constitutional law scholar at SMU’s Dedman School of Law.

At the heart of the legal debate is a provision in the Voting Rights Act known as Section 5. It requires Texas and eight other states with a history of discriminatory conduct to get approval from either the U.S. Justice Department or the federal courts before making any changes to its election process.

Legal experts say that had Texas softened its voter ID law, or made a few accommodations and not taken such an aggressive stance, that the courts would not have reacted so harshly.

Katz and other legal experts point out that the voter ID and redistricting cases are distinctly different issues being handled by two separate courts.

The redistricting case involves the political maps as originally drawn by the Texas Legislature last year after the state added more than 4 million new residents between 2000 and 2010. As a result, Texas gained four new Congressional seats, which required redistricting.

State legislators created two new Hispanic congressional seats, eliminated one spot previously held by a Hispanic, and severely weakened the opportunity for a Hispanic to be elected in another district, according to the court ruling. The changes essentially canceled each other out.

“The federal court says that the Texas Legislature went out of its way to not create any new districts where minorities would be elected,” says Dallas election lawyer Michael Li, who has been following the case. “It was the equivalent of creating four new Anglo congressional seats, and in Texas that means four new Republican seats.” [Emphasis added]

In other words they could have used some nuance, or fairness, in their legislation but instead decided to just be blatant in their discrimination. And blatant discrimination is exactly why Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act was created, and was meant to stop. And from these two cases we can see that the Voting Rights act is still needed and is working as designed.

Further Reading:
The state of Texas has already proven the case for the Voting Rights Act.
Five Ways Courts Say Texas Discriminated Against Black and Latino Voters.
Democratic Leader: Speaker Led Mapping Discrimination.

08.28.12

Federal court rules Texas GOP purposely discriminated in redistricting

Posted in Around The State, Redistricting, Right Wing Lies, The Lege at 10:06 pm by wcnews

Via Talking Points Memo, Hispanic Outreach Fail.

Federal judicial panel blocks Texas Republicans’ redistricting plan for being purposelydiscriminatory.

To put a sharper point on this, most of the cases — the vast majority even — brought under the Voting Rights Act in the last half century have involved redistricting maps that have a discriminatory “effect.” It’s much less common for the courts to find discriminatory “intent.” But that’s what the courts found here, in the second largest state in the country, with a large and rapidly growing Hispanic population, whose Republican governor was running for president.

So it’s a big deal.

The Texas GOP drew redistricting maps that discriminated against Hispanic voters, on purpose!

The Texas GOP has wasted time, money, postponed the primaries and cost David Dewhurst a US Senate seat all to wind up in the same place we were in December 2011, with their illegally drawn redistricting maps tossed into the dust bin of history.

Texas Tribune has more with plenty of reaction from elected officials of both parties, Court: Texas Political Maps Don’t Protect Minority Vote.

Texas lawmakers didn’t comply with the Voting Rights Act when they drew new maps for congressional, state Senate and state House districts, a federal court in Washington, D.C., ruled Tuesday.

“Texas … seeks from this court a declaratory judgement that its redistricting plans will neither have ‘the purpose nor will have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color, or [language minority group]“, the judges wrote. “We conclude that Texas has failed to show that any of the redistricting plans merits preclearance.”

Texas Redistricting answers the burning question, So what happens now?

The big question following today’s Texas redistricting opinion is ‘what happens now?’

At the moment, that’s a bit unclear. Waiting for the redistricting opinion had become a bit like waiting for Godot – so much so that many folks had stopped thinking about redistricting. Most people, in fact, were expecting a ruling on Texas’ voter ID law to come first. And with a 154 pages of opinion and dissent, folks are still digesting the opinion and looking at options.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has taken the position that the opinion will not affect the November election, which he says will proceed on the interim maps put into place back in February.

On the other hand, it is certainly possible to see a move to adjust those interim maps in the San Antonio court. For example, CD-23 arguably could be restored to its full benchmark configuration fairly easily. Similar arguments might also be made with respect to HD 117 and 149, which are wholly contained in their respective counties (to the extent redistricting plaintiffs think that not enough changes were made to those districts in the interim maps).

Other changes would seem harder. But with control of Congress potentially on the line, lots of people are going to be looking at the opinion closely over the next few days.

Changes for this year – at least conceptually – are not out of the question. In 1996, for example, the three-judge panel ordered jungle primaries in a number of congressional districts which were held on the date of the November election, with a runoff a month later.

As for an appeal, Attorney General Abbott has already said that he will appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which could set the case for oral argument as early as this fall and likely would raise issues about the constitutionality of section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

Stay tuned. Things are getting interesting again.

Let’s hope Voter ID is close behind.

[UPDATE]: MALDEF statement on the ruling.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Earlier today, a three-judge federal panel issued a ruling in Texas v. United States denying preclearance under section 5 of the Voting Rights Act for three Texas statewide redistricting plans. MALDEF intervened on behalf of Latino voters to challenge the congressional and state House redistricting plans on the grounds that they that discriminated against Latino voters. Because Texas is a covered jurisdiction under section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the U.S. Attorney General or a three-judge panel must approve, or “preclear,” any redistricting plan before it can take effect. Texas sought a judgment from the court that its redistricting plans are not discriminatory and could be put into effect. Today’s decision denies preclearance and prevents Texas from implementing the maps, which were enacted in the 2011 legislative session.

In its ruling, the three-judge panel found that: the Congressional Plan reduces Latino voting strength and was enacted with discriminatory racial intent; the State House Plan reduces minority voting strength; and the State Senate Plan was enacted with discriminatory racial intent.

Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF President and General Counsel, stated, “The intransigent refusal of Texas officials to comply with the Voting Rights Act (VRA), particularly with regard to the state’s rapidly-growing Latino population, has once again resulted in the possibility that Texas will be grappling with congressional and legislative redistricting well into the decade. Texas should abandon this obstreperous path and work to quickly adopt maps that comply with all sections of the VRA.”

MALDEF Vice President of Litigation Nina Perales, added, “Today’s decision is yet another nail in the coffin of the redistricting plans enacted by the Texas Legislature. The State should stop wasting money on further litigation and focus on securing fair election maps for all Texans.”

In this case, MALDEF represented the Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force, a statewide coalition of Latino organizations including Southwest Voter Registration Education Project (SVREP), HOPE, the Mexican-American Bar Association of Texas (MABA-TX), William C. Velasquez Institute (WCVI), Southwest Workers Union and NOMAR.

Here’s a round up of media reaction to the ruling, Texas Redistricting Story Roundup.

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