Not Quite 'Dead, Dead, Dead' Yet

The Senate plays Chicken over congressional redistricting.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, at a press conference last week, said he wanted to see a fair redistricting map -- but that, if the Senate were called back for a new special session next week, he'd abandon the chamber's rule that requires at least some Democrats to agree to bring a map to the floor.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, at a press conference last week, said he wanted to see a fair redistricting map -- but that, if the Senate were called back for a new special session next week, he'd abandon the chamber's rule that requires at least some Democrats to agree to bring a map to the floor. (Photo By Jana Birchum)

"Duh."

That was the eloquent response of Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, to the revelation by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst that Democratic U.S. Reps. Chet Edwards of Waco or Charles Stenholm of Abilene are vulnerable to Republican candidates under the current Texas congressional map, and that one or both men might even lose their seats in 2004, when President Bush is at the top of the ticket. The admission had been Dewhurst's incisive answer to a question wondering whether it made sense for the Legislature to proceed with the Republican plan to redraw the districts in such a way that Texas might lose as many as six or seven senior U.S. House members.

"Duh," said Van de Putte afterward. "That is what we have been saying all along. Under the current map, Republicans have 20 seats. It's just that in some of those Republican majority seats the constituents prefer the Democratic incumbent." In other words, all of this fussin' and fightin' and all of this taxpayer money and all of this official time and energy being spent on redistricting by Dewhurst et al. -- said Dewhurst -- is in search of a "fair" map that will enable "19 or 20" Republicans to get elected to Congress.

Just like the current map.

As of Wednesday, that's where matters stood in the Senate, while the House adjourned Monday in the fond and foolish hope that it might have actual business to attend to by Friday. (Some members got to run off to San Francisco for the National Conference of State Legislatures, some Killer D's traveled back East to raise money, and no doubt some did both.)

Although the Senate Jurisprudence Committee continues to hold hearings on yet more redistricting maps (see "Cutting Up Travis County," below, left) -- and approved one Wednesday morning -- the senators on record as "unalterably opposed" to any map (now 11 of 12 Democrats, plus one Republican, Bill Ratliff) continue to insist that they will not allow suspension of the rules to allow the full Senate to consider any map at all. Dewhurst and Gov. Rick Perry (who made the threat explicit this week) say that if the Legislature cannot devise a "fair" map in this special session, Perry will immediately call another one ... and another one, until the cake is done.

Until then, the public game is chicken. Dewhurst is telling Senate Democrats that if they want to have any input on the map, they'd better seize their chance in this session, or Perry will call another, and the lite guv will then invoke "the Bullock precedent" and dispense with the two-thirds rule currently keeping a map from the floor. (In 1992, under a court order, the Senate drafted a map by simple majority -- and neither Republicans nor Democrats objected to Bullock's dropping of the two-thirds rule.) In response, the Senate minority says it will either refuse to appear again or break the quorum should Dewhurst try to force the issue. That's one reason why Jurisprudence Committee member Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, told reporters this week the Republican plan "is dead. It's dead, it's dead, it's dead."

We don't know yet if all that is false bravado. Meanwhile, the private game -- among Senate Republicans -- is where the real action is right now, as Todd Staples, R-Palestine (to whom the map-drawing task fell when Chris Harris, R-Arlington, abandoned it in a mysterious huff), attempts to come up with a map that can even win a 16-vote majority in the Senate. The public committee testimony has been all about racial minority retrogression -- but the real, backroom struggle is for a Republican map that can please Harris, Staples, Lubbock's Robert Duncan, Waco's Kip Averitt, maybe even San Antonio's Jeff Wentworth, who has proposed his own map to accompany his perennial proposal to turn the whole job over to an independent commission. (What? And give up show business?) The Republicans (except for Ratliff) are playing NIMBY -- they all say, "Yes, I support redistricting 100% -- but leave my congressman alone."

So that's where we are. The latest state poll numbers on redistricting -- trending hard against -- might give Gov. Perry pause, but they are unlikely to raise goose bumps on Tom Craddick or Tommy "the Sugar Land Hammer" DeLay. This weekend looks to be more fun than a knife fight in a coal bin -- and come August, you can get your tickets for a seat at the real dog days.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle