Behind Closed Doors
As the Feb. 6 redistricting deadline gets close, what cost unanimity?
By Richard Whittaker,
1:17PM, Mon. Jan. 30, 2012
Monday, Feb. 6. That's the deadline set by the San Antonio redistricting panel for all parties to agree on interim House, Senate and Congressional maps, or they'll miss the deadline for the April 3 primary. But what will the minority voting rights groups want from those maps, and can they stay on the same page?
There were rumors floating around all weekend that there could be a deal struck as early as today, but with all parties heading to DC to catch closing arguments in the preclearance hearing tomorrow, Jan. 31, that seems unlikely. The Mexican American Legislative Caucus told the Chronicle this morning that a deal is not imminent, even though they are all working towards some kind of agreement.
MALC (and particularly chair Rep. Trez Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio) and MALDEF are clearly most interested in creating the largest number possible of Hispanic opportunity districts. However, that could clash severely with both the interests of the other plaintiffs (many of whom are looking for more Democratic opportunity seats) and the historic coalition between African-American and Hispanic groups. Throughout this process, LULAC and the NAACP have been very much on the same page, and have not always been in complete agreement with MALC and MALDEF.
It would not be too surprising if MALDEF backed something closer to the legislature's maps than the other plaintiffs would be comfortable with: After all, they were fine with a map that would split Travis County four ways and draw Congressman Lloyd Doggett into a Democratic primary with San Antonio's Rep. Juan Castro.
And what about the time table? The problem with any deal is that the San Antonio panel ordered that there has to be unanimity between the parties, or all contested districts have to be submitted to be redrawn. The state's seeming desperation to avoid shifting the primaries again might add some strength to the plaintiffs' side of the table, as they can extract more as the state keeps clock-watching to hit that Feb. 6 deadline. As Martinez-Fischer told the Associated Press, the state is willing to negotiate and "something’s motivating that."
The time crunch means the plaintiffs can dangle the equal representation terms of Section Two of the Voting Rights Act over the assembled heads of Attorney General Greg Abbott's team. However, the DC District Court is expected to rule this week on whether the legislature's maps violate the preclearance terms of Section Five of the VRA. There are undoubtedly voices in the room suggesting that the plaintiffs would be in a much stronger negotiating position – and that the state would have little legal wiggle room – if they just wait a couple more days.
Most importantly, as one source close to the negotiations put it, all the parties should be more concerned about ensuring true representation for all Texans that holding on to the arbitrary April 3 primary date.
ADDENDUM: Just got an email from LULAC attorney Luis Roberto Vera, Jr. who confirmed that his clients (who are still pushing for coalition districts) are still pushing to wait for the DC ruling, and that was the stated position of all plaintiffs to the San Antonio panel before this weekend. "As to negotiations," he wrote, "they have totally broken down as of now. I am sure they will resume but I doubt an agreement if at all by this Monday so I don't expect an April 3rd election."