The Best and Brightest
If you were wondering last week whether the Republican-dominated Legislative Redistricting Board's newly adopted district maps for the House and Senate are illogical and unfair, all you had to do was ask a Republican. "I was disappointed with my own party," San Antonio Sen. Jeff Wentworth told the San Antonio Express-News. Wentworth, chair of the Senate redistricting committee, had drafted a workable Senate plan while the Lege was in session -- but his fellow Republicans blocked it. That also killed the approved House plan, handing the job to the LRB.
At the final frantic LRB hearings, the Board was voting on backroom amendments that hadn't even been reviewed, and Wentworth warned them against repeating the "greediness" and "partisanship" of the Democrat-led redistricting 10 years ago. Attorney General John Cornyn, Land Commissioner David Dewhurst, and Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander apparently weren't listening.
Not to Wentworth, nor to Sen. Jane Nelson of Flower Mound (that fountain of creeping liberalism), who accused the board of "taking a Veg-O-Matic" to her district. Nor to Dallas Republican Rep. Tony Goolsby (heretofore unsuspected of leftist deviationism), who referred to the map as version H: "H as in Hell." Nor to Sen. Robert Duncan of Lubbock, who denounced the board for reneging on an agreement he had already worked out with fellow Republican Teel Bivins.
Not exactly a bunch of happy campers. On the dais itself sat Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff -- theoretically the GOP's legislative standard bearer -- who could not bring himself to join Cornyn, Dewhurst, and Rylander in cementing the hold the state's hard right (and hard right money) has on his party. Ratliff's more moderate plan gave the GOP a working majority, and when it was rejected he joined Democratic Speaker Pete Laney in dissent, putting an electoral target on his own back should he run for Senate re-election. (In retrospect, Ratliff's decision not to run for Lite Guv was prescient: His colleagues clearly suspect him of insufficient enthusiasm for the coming jihad.)
But my favorite GOP line came from our old Austin chameleon Rylander, who summoned her best hypocritical smile to declare, "The best and brightest future for Texas is our only interest." To catch the full implication of that sentence, recall the comptroller's résumé and just substitute the word "Rylander" for "Texas."
Turning to those other complainants -- you remember, the Democrats? -- it was left to a normally placid Laney to summarize angrily the majority's intentions. "Let's at least be honest ..." the Speaker said, "and admit that the Cornyn plan is based on partisan politics -- not fairness, not voting rights, not legal requirements -- just partisanship." The new maps -- should they survive numerous court challenges in progress -- would give the GOP not just majorities in both houses but nearly two-thirds majorities: neither demographically nor politically justified. Laney himself, the unofficial voice of conservative rural Democrats, will have his own district gutted, although he might survive. The Cornyn bloc knows their maps will be most vulnerable in court if they dilute minority representation -- hence they've tried to pack minority districts and savage the rest by "doubling" Democratic incumbents into single districts.
Whose Ox Gets Gored?
The media punditocracy has generally fallen back on "sauce for the gander" explanations: That is, the Republicans are doing to the Democrats what was done to them in previous redistrictings.
You might think that in the last decade, because of Democratic majorities the Lege was a hotbed of revolutionary change just this side of the Paris Commune. In fact, we've seen radically pro-business "tort reform," gutting of workers' compensation, endless undermining and delay of environmental protection, an explosion of prisons, backsliding on tax reform, defunding of social services, and continuing rivers of corporate welfare. The incremental positive changes -- health care expansions, criminal justice reform, border initiatives -- have come about because of a relatively small group of dedicated, smart, hard-working progressive Democrats, who patiently build cross-party coalitions on issues of major concern to ordinary Texans. That's what the state's permanent government -- major business interests -- cannot stomach, and why the new Republican majority, largely funded by those same interests, wants to pour more political concrete at the Lege.
Who shows up on the Cornyn target list, or what Laney called "the incumbent punishment plan for Democrats"? Among the most wanted are Sen. Mike Moncrief in Fort Worth, Reps. Debra Danburg, Fred Bosse, and Scott Hochberg in Houston, Patricia Gray, Craig Eiland, and Zeb Zbranek in the southeast, Juan Hinojosa and Roberto Gutierrez in the Valley, Harryette Ehrhardt in Dallas, and here at home, Reps. Elliott Naishtat, Glen Maxey, and Ann Kitchen. (They took a swipe at Dawnna Dukes, then backed off for fear of a legal challenge.)
Naishtat and Maxey are fierce partisans -- of ordinary citizens -- and doggedly effective at finding small but substantive legislative ways to improve the lives of everyday Texans. Freshman Kitchen shows signs of being cut from the same mold. The GOP plan writes all three into the same district, hoping to be rid of one or two of them, to be replaced by suburbanite Republican spear-carriers disciplined in the trendy rhetorical school of "All Government Is Bad."
That's what Cornyn, Dewhurst, and Rylander promise as "the best and brightest future for Texas."
In last week's "Postmarks," Texas Monthly pundit Paul Burka informed us that he is neither a Democrat nor a Republican, but a conservative Democrat who now regularly votes Republican -- because their team is winning.
And He Roots for the Yankees, Too
Thanks for clearing that up, Paul. All this time we thought you were just confused.