Tag Archives: Bill Sarpalius

A rigged election? Yes, but not the way Trump calls it

Texas house of reps

Donald J. Trump likes issuing dire warnings about a “rigged election” on the horizon.

He means, of course, that the presidential election will be rigged and that the Republican nominee will lose only because of “crooked” politicians seeking to grease it for Democratic nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton’s election to the presidency.

Trump is mistaken, but only partially so.

Yes, the election at another level will be “rigged.” The rigging occurs in the election of members of Congress.

The culprit is the tried-and-tested method of gerrymandering, which the Republicans in charge of Congress and in many state legislatures around the country have fine-tuned to an art form.

David Daley writes in a blog for BillMoyers.com that the rigging will allow the GOP to maintain control of the House of Representatives, even as the Senate could flip to Democratic control — and as Clinton is swept into the White House in a landslide.


Yep. The GOP has done well with this totally legal process of apportioning House congressional districts. It’s done every 10 years after the census is taken and ratified.

They have gerrymandered the dickens out of the House districts, drawing lines in cockamamie fashion to include Republican-leaning neighborhoods and to shut out Democrats.

Now, to be totally fair and above-board, this isn’t a uniquely Republican idea. Democrats sought to do it, for example, in Texas when they ran the Legislature. As recently as 1991, the Democratic-controlled Texas Legislature monkeyed around with congressional districts, seeking to protect Democratic incumbents in the U.S. House.

Amarillo became something of a testing ground for that experiment. The Legislature divided the city into halves, with the Potter County portion of the city included in the 13th Congressional District, while the Randall County portion was peeled off into the 19th District. Potter County contained more Democratic voters and the idea was to protect then-U.S. Rep. Bill Sarpalius of Amarillo, a true-blue Democrat, from any GOP challenge.

Randall County, meanwhile,┬áis arguably ground zero of the West Texas Republican movement and its┬áresidents┬áain’t voting for a Democrat to any public office.

The tactic worked through the 1992 election, when Sarpalius was re-elected. Then came the 1994 Republican wipeout, led by that firebrand Rep. Newt Gingrich of Georgia. Sarpalius got┬áswept out by the GOP tsunami that elected a young Clarendon rancher and self-proclaimed “recovering lawyer”┬ánamed Mac Thornberry.

The Republicans would wrest control of the Legislature from the Democrats after that and they have perfected the art of gerrymandering. Sure, the Democrats tried to gerrymander themselves into permanent power.

Republicans, however, have proved to be better at it.

You want a “rigged” election? There it is.

The GOP presidential nominee, quite naturally, isn’t about to call attention to the real rigging of the U.S. electoral system. Instead, he’s going to fabricate suspicion in a scenario that will not occur.

An end to gerrymandering? Sure, let’s do it


The Democratic Governors Association wants to back President Obama’s call for an end to gerrymandering.

I’m all for it. However, it’s not because the Democrats are for it. The practice has been used for political purposes since the beginning of the Republic. By both major parties.

The president was correct in his final State of the Union speech to demand an end to the practice of drawing districts to create a desired political outcome.

It’s just that Republicans who control most state legislators these days have turned the practice into an art form. Some of the congressional and state legislative districts in Texas, for example, simply defy all forms of logic.

There used to be a term used to describe how these districts should be constructed. It’s called “community of interest.” It means that all the residents of a particular district should have issues in common. They should be primarily rural or urban in nature. That’s how it’s supposed to go in theory at least.

But some of the districts in this state snake their way around street corners, winding their way from, say, Austin all the way to the Rio Grande Valley. What does someone living in, say, Laredo have in common with someone living in suburban Travis County?


There once was a time when Democrats ran the show in Texas. The 1991 Texas Legislature, thus, redrew congressional districts and created something of a monstrosity right here in the Panhandle. They split Amarillo in half, putting the Potter County part of the city into the 13th Congressional District and the Randall County portion into the 19th Congressional District.

The Legislature’s purpose? It was to protect Democratic U.S. Rep. Bill Sarpalius’s seat in Congress. The Legislature peeled off enough Republicans living in Randall County and put them into a district served by Republican U.S. Rep. Larry Combest, who lived in Lubbock.

The notion worked through one election cycle; Sarpalius was re-elected in 1992. Then came the 1994 Contract With America election. Sarpalius got beat by Republican Mac Thornberry.

There went the notion of protecting a Democrat.

The principle of gerrymandering really does stink, no matter who’s doing it.

There ought to be some rhyme or reason to the districts we create after every census is taking. The way it’s done now is meant to keep power in the hands of whichever party is in control.


C-SPAN worked miracles with this spot


I want to share a moment regarding my one direct contact with the Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network . . . aka C-SPAN.

I’ve already sung the praises of Brian Lamb, the founder of the one national network that covers politics and policy without a hint of bias.

Take another look.

But the folks who put together their video presentations are masters of editing, cutting, pasting and making subjects look a whole lot smarter than they really are. In my case, that’s not all that difficult.

I arrived in the Texas Panhandle in January 1995 to take my post as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News.

That spring, C-SPAN embarked on a project called the “School Bus Tour.” It was sending a yellow bus to every congressional district in the United States. All 435 of them would get a visit from the C-SPAN school bus. Its intent was to educate viewers on the members of Congress representing their constituents living in each of those districts.

The 1991 Texas Legislature had gerrymandered the congressional map in Texas to give Amarillo two House members. The 13th Congressional District comprised the northern portion of the city; the 19th District comprised the southern portion.

The lines were drawn that way to protect the Democrat — Bill Sarpalius — who represented the 13th District. Democrats controlled the Legislature back then, so they sought to rig the lineup to protect their own. The tactic worked until the 1994 election, when Republican Mac Thornberry upset Sarpalius.

But the 19th District remained strongly Republican and was represented by U.S. Rep. Larry Combest of Lubbock.

C-SPAN called one day and wanted to know if I would be willing to be interviewed by the network about the 19th District. I was to talk about Combest and the district he had represented for the past decade.

Holy crap! I thought. I didn’t know much about the district, or about Combest. I was brand new here. I’d lived for the 11 previous years in the Golden Triangle region of Texas, which was represented in the House by Democrats Jack Brooks of Beaumont and Charlie Wilson of Lufkin.

I accepted the offer, then cracked the books to learn more about the 19th Congressional District and about Rep. Combest.

C-SPAN’s school bus crew met me at the newspaper office one Saturday morning and I talked for about 30 minutes or so with a camera rolling. I stuttered, stammered, paused, stopped-and-started my way through it. Hey, I’m not a TV guy.

I was frightened by the prospect of how it would look on TV. The producer assured me, “Don’t worry. You did just fine. We’ll take good care of you.”

Well, they shot their B-roll video, showing scenes of feed lots, ranch land, wind mills and such from around the sprawling district, which stretched from Amarillo all the way to Lubbock, about 120 miles south of us.

They told me when the segment would air.

I waited for it. Sure enough, they managed to make me sound a whole lot more polished than I really am.

What’s more — and this is the real beauty of this kind of skill — they preserved the essence of every comment I made. There was not a single phrase that was aired┬áduring the three-minute segment that was out of context or didn’t convey my intended message.

I would have a similar experience later, during the 2008 presidential campaign, with National Public Radio. NPR wanted to interview two journalists about the state of that campaign between Barack Obama and John McCain. I learned once again about the talent and skill it takes to edit someone’s spoken words while preserving the integrity of what one says.

Believe me, it’s a remarkable skill, indeed.