Breaking News: Primaries This Sunday!
Just when you thought Texas politics couldn't get any weirder
In a stunning turn of events, the D.C. federal district court has thrown out the latest of endless versions of the state House, Senate, and congressional redistricting maps. Instead, the court is turning Texas over to an "at-large" system – the same system used by Austin's City Council – and declared a new and immediate primary date: this Sunday, April 1. Announcing its decision just as the Chronicle went to press Wednesday, the court wrote, "We're sick and tired of all the partisan foolishness that is Texas political business-as-usual, and we're instituting a one-size-fits-all system that puts the party line-drawers out of work once and for all."
So what does this mean? Every district is now exactly the same size – the size of Texas. That means anyone, anywhere in the state, can run for any seat, and every registered Texas voter can vote in every legislative race – and they won't need voter IDs (see below). In their opinion, the judges wrote, "while there may be some practical and logical conundrums raised by this new system, it is no more nor less based in electoral reality or established law than the maps proposed last session."
Attorney General Greg Abbott applauded the plan and argued that the new map ensured that all districts would be of exactly equal population. When asked how this new model would comply with the Voting Rights Act, Abbott replied that "minority voters will count exactly as much under these maps as they did under the last ones I drew."
Candidates are now scratching their heads about having to fight primaries across districts measuring 268,580 square miles in less than a week. Multimillionaire Austin Congressman Michael McCaul offered to loan his private jet to GOP primary candidates hoping to attend endorsement meetings, but warned them that they would be walking home if they spilled anything on the upholstery. "That's albino giraffe skin, not Naugahyde," he told the assembled press corps before telling congressional hopeful Michael Williams to "get [his] feet off the damn mahogany." Meanwhile, Democrats are working on a carpooling system to cut costs. However, Texas Democratic Party Chairman Boyd Richie announced that the shotgun rule will be suspended during primary season after Tracy King and Jerry Garza – both running in House District 80 – simultaneously "called it." Said Richie: "We'll have to take turns. To select one over the other would have been tantamount to an endorsement. And Trey [Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio] kept refusing to share his jerky."
Under the court's decision, the only district not following this statewide-seat model is Congressional District 25, currently held by Congressman Lloyd Doggett. His new-look seat will run straight from Gov. Rick Perry's bedroom in his $10,000-a-month rented mansion, down through Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst's office, and then in a straight line down to Congressman Ron Paul's kitchen. In a statement, Doggett exclaimed, "Jeez, you guys. Really?"
This latest development has left election officials in high dudgeon, greatly confused and frankly terrified over how they are supposed to orchestrate a single, statewide election for every seat. Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir has already forecast that the expense and complexity of the process will be crippling. "The ballot will be over 200 pages long," she said. "How are we supposed to staple that together? And don't get me started on the cost of mail-in ballots. Do you think we have that many stamps around the office?"
The new statewide seats were settled upon after weeks of increasingly inconclusive negotiations. During that period, several other models were suggested, including using a checkerboard pattern and throwing darts at a board. There was a brief period when it appeared likely that districts would be created by cutting the state into long, thin strips running from state line to state line: However, that plan collapsed when lawyers from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the League of United Latin American Citizens failed to agree on whether the "fajita strips" should be vertical or horizontal. Austin Democratic activist Alfred Stanley reintroduced a plan he first proposed in 2011: that the state simply be divided into wedge-shaped slices, "with every district converging on the Capitol rotunda like a giant pinwheel." Stanley had originally proposed the plan for congressional seats during last session's redistricting debate (see "Riding the Pinwheel," Aug. 26, 2011). During testimony before the court, he told the judges: "Ha! And they thought I was kidding. Do it. I dare ya."
In related news, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that, since there is still no ruling in the voter ID preclearance trial – in which state Republican leaders testified they now intend to personally confirm the identity of every Democratic voter – Texans will only be allowed to take part in November's general election if they can provide a handwritten note signed by both (biological) parents.
House of Representatives
Republicans are now expected to pull in a 150-seat supermajority in the Texas House, but due to dissatisfaction with the party leadership, every member will be a freshman. Seniority and committee picks will be decided by a round-robin thumb wars tournament.
Like the House, all 31 senators are expected to be freshmen. However, due to the anticipated high turnout of Dallas County tea partiers, the entire Senate delegation is expected to come from Highland Park.
The new-look congressional maps also throw out the idea of districts. In an unprecedented step, former Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams has announced he will be running in every one of the state's 35 U.S. House districts.