Citizens Not Invited

A Redistricting Process Of, By, and For the Politicians

Citizens Not Invited
Illustration By Doug Potter

During the past few weeks, while you've been patriotically devoted to vigilance and consumerism, the folks in charge of Texas politics have gone right on fussing and fighting over which established faction gets to represent you for the next decade. It's called "redistricting": re-drawing political boundaries to reflect census-determined demographic and historical changes.

The last time we visited the redistricting process ("The Best and the Brightest," Aug. 3), the (right-wing) Republican-dominated Legislative Redistricting Board had just imposed a map making political mincemeat of the state House and Senate. (Or so said the moderate Republicans; what the Democrats said was mostly unprintable.) That dogfight is entering the middle rounds in the courts. The state Supreme Court is scheduled to issue a ruling or two in the next week -- including whether or not to depose the LRB members on the backroom deliberations that magically produced Attorney General John Cornyn's final map.

In the meantime, since Gov. Rick Perry refused to call a special session to redraw the deadlocked U.S. Congressional districts, both state and federal judges have been trying to come up with new lines. Last week featured the entertaining diversion of Democratic state judge Paul Davis initially establishing new congressional lines so dramatically favorable to the Republicans that the Dems were stunned. The GOP leadership immediately declared it would defend this Democratic Daniel-Come-to-Judgment in subsequent litigation.

In the immortal words of Dinah Washington, "what a difference a day makes." The parties to the lawsuit were invited to submit revisions, and after a last-minute confab with House Speaker Pete Laney (or more precisely, Laney's lawyer) and just before his own deadline, Davis abruptly redrew the lines. Shazam! -- the new districts would speculatively deliver an 18-12 congressional majority to the Dems. It was the elephants' turn to weep.

Gov. Perry and AG Cornyn are now advancing on several judicial fronts, including whether to depose the Dems on the backroom deliberations that magically produced Judge Davis' final map. The immediate upshot: Rather than the joint federal/state hearing on the maps that had been expected in Tyler, the U.S. district court judges ruled Oct. 11 that a solely federal proceeding will consider the matter -- with Judge Davis' map as its starting point -- beginning in Austin on Monday, Oct. 22. Rather bemusedly, the judges wrote, "We intend no criticism of the conscientious efforts of our able State colleague." Uh-huh.

Cornyn Throws a Tantrum

The best thing about this most recent turn of events is that it made John Cornyn so apoplectic he pulled an Alexander Haig, momentarily declaring himself the Emperor of the Lone Star Universe and asking the state Supreme Court to rule the Davis map illegal. When the LRB issued its map (in fact authored by Cornyn), Cornyn says, that map became the legal state map because the AG (i.e., John Cornyn) is the state's lawyer. (Published reports did not indicate whether Cornyn intends to stamp his feet and hold his breath until the federal judges issue their response to his novel exercise in constitutional revisionism.)

Meanwhile, state Senator David Sibley accused the beleaguered staff of the Legislative Council (who physically "drew" the maps on Capitol computers to Judge Davis' specifications) of engaging in a sinister collaboration with House Speaker Pete Laney. That's like blaming the elves for taking orders from Santa Claus.

One could feel a wee bit more sympathetic to the Repubs if they hadn't eagerly and willingly brought this (likely temporary) outcome down on their own heads. This year's Lege session, specifically charged with redistricting, managed to dither, moan, and labor mightily for six months, and then delivered not a mouse, but nothing at all (no small thanks to Sibley's direct sabotage in the Senate). Then Gov. Perry blithely refused to call a special session for congressional redistricting (although considering the stakes, the prospects were admittedly dim). Now the GOPers are outraged that the court hasn't yet danced to their tune -- a tune composed more than a year ago, when state Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, told the Austin American-Statesman's Dave McNeely that the Democrats "have a choice. They can be for a Republican plan for Congress, or no plan. It's either Republican or the courts." Surprise, surprise.

Didn't You Get the Memo?

It is tempting to dismiss or even take comfort from all this grandiose chest-beating ("fronting," they call it in the 'hood). But most importantly, ordinary citizens should note that the process whereby Texans shall choose our admittedly unrepresentative representatives has once again been hijacked by the courts, the pols, and the parties, while the rest of us look on (as intended) in bewilderment. African-American and Hispanic voters are the public political footballs in this game (while "pack 'em or crack 'em" is the working GOP motto, the Dems are using them to protect Anglo incumbents), but we are all excluded from the owners' skyboxes where the players are purchased and the rules decided. "Once it goes to the courts," one minority analyst told me, "the only way to be able to participate is either to be a lawyer or to hire a lawyer."

"In terms of the public," said Leslie Fields of the NAACP, "this process has been totally foreclosed, and it shouldn't happen again. This is not about political personalities or even parties. The issue is disenfranchisement ... and a process that's constricting instead of expanding as it should be. Redistricting has become a matter for inside specialists -- and it's not a democratic process."

As the November election looms, it's a thought worth pondering.

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Legislative Redistricting Board, redistricting, John Cornyn, Rick Perry, Paul Davis, Pete Laney, David Sibley, Legislative Council, Mike Krusee, Dave McNeely, Leslie Fields, NAACP

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