Answering the Redistricting Questions
The answers are mostly, no, no and May 29
By Richard Whittaker,
4:53PM, Thu. Feb. 16, 2012
So after the latest two days of judicial hearings in San Antonio, the primary season is getting a little more settled: There is now a new potential date, and a handshake deal on a Senate map. After that, the news is not so good.
Senate: Yes, we have a map – well, a compromise map that still needs agreeing to by the court, but it's better than nothing. The big news is that the state folded on Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, and have reinstated the same lines she won under in 2008. That's a big bitter pill for them to swallow, because there was little secret of the fact that the GOP viewed her as the prime target for removal. However, the redrawing only hits Tarrant County, so the Travis County four-way split remain unchanged.
House: The final report from yesterday's hearings is that the court was starting to get a little testy that the parties could not even agree on how many minority-majority and coalition districts they were talking about (50, 51 or, as Judge Orlando Garcia suggested, more than 52.) The court is now asking all parties to prioritize the districts that are most contentious.
Congress: The hold-up remains Congressional District 25, as currently held by Travis County's own US Rep. Lloyd Doggett. The state has said this is the pivotal district required to fulfill the rest of their plan, but LULAC general counsel Luis Vera hit the nail on the head when he told Attorney General Greg Abbott's people, "You cannot totally destroy communities of interest to get Congressman Doggett." The Department of Justice says CD25 is not a protected district, but the plaintiffs argue that it is protected under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act as a crossover district (one in which minority voters account for less than 50% of the population but, with the support of the majority population, get their choice of representative.) Judge Jerry Smith posited that Hispanic voters in Travis County would be better served by the gerrymandering that creates CD-35, the district that draws Doggett into a primary with Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio. Renea Hicks, who represents Travis County and the city of Austin at the hearings, told Smith that Hispanic voters in CD-25 have chosen the candidate 75% of the time, and regularly outweighed the Anglo majority.
And now the big one:
Primary Date: With April 17 now looking as dead as the original March 6 date, Smith told the parties that they probably should be looking at May 29 at the earliest. Now that's not set in stone, but it looks the most likely date. That was originally planned for the beginning of early voting in the re-scheduled primary run-off (back when the primary was April 3) but creates an interesting new problem for local election officers who will also have local limited elections (like the Austin council race) on May 12.
The issue is how long it takes to organize an election. In between drawing precinct maps, printing and mailing ballots, procuring ballot boxes et al, the state estimates that it takes 77 days to put all the pieces together. In court, local officials were saying it was closer to 88 days. However, this all creates big problems for the political conventions, and Republican Party of Texas chair Steve Munisteri is already saying that they may have to ask the courts for a ruling that will allow them to change the way the parties pick presidential delegates.