Tag Archives: redistricting

Gerrymandering? Holy cow!

By John Kanelis / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Wow! Take a gander at this Houston-area congressional district.

The caption atop the map says it clearly: gerrymandering is a serious problem.

I don’t blame Rep. Dan Crenshaw for it; he merely was elected to a district redrawn after the 2010 census.

Texas legislators who have worked on this issue have told me the alleged “goal” always is to create districts where residents share what they call “common interests.” For the ever-lovin’ life of me I cannot envision common interests between residents living in the far reaches of Crenshaw’s district.

I generally avoid a “both sides do it” argument on issues, but I cannot do so this time. Democrats have done the same thing to congressional and legislative districts that Republicans do now in Texas. When Democrats controlled the Legislature after the 1990 census, they drew a line separating the 13th and 19th congressional districts through the middle of Amarillo, which from 1991 until 1995 was represented by a Democrat elected in Potter County and a Republican elected in Randall County.

The Democrat, Bill Sarpalius, had a vastly different legislative view than the Republican, Larry Combest … which put Amarillo in the middle of a political tug-of-war that didn’t do the city much good.

That changed in 1994 with the election of Republican Mac Thornberry in the 13th District, which includes the Potter County portion of Amarillo.

The Legislature is going to make another run at redistricting again. The 2020 census has established that Texas will get two additional congressional seats. Will the Legislature find the wisdom to redraw the congressional boundaries that do not look as hideous and ridiculous as the Houston district represented by Dan Crenshaw?

Hah! I am not holding my breath.

Legislature set to ‘eat its young’

By John Kanelis / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Show me a legislator from any state in the Union who enjoys a particular task that awaits them and I will show you a certifiable masochist.

That task has to do with redrawing the boundaries of the congressional districts that lie within that state as well as the state senate and house seats.

Such a task lurks just around the corner for the Texas Legislature, which is mandated by the U.S. Constitution to redraw those boundaries. It is, to put the kindest face on it, arguably the most arduous task that legislators have to perform. Here, though, is the good news: They only have to do it once every 10 years, when the Census Bureau counts every resident of every state in the nation.

Texas’ count of residents has produced two additional congressional seats for the Lone Star State, giving the state 38 members of the U.S. House of Representatives. The House delegation count plus the two U.S. Senate seats gives Texas 40 electoral votes for the next presidential election.

I want to accentuate a term: that would be “resident.” The Constitution stipulates in clear and concise language that the census must count every person who lives within our borders. It doesn’t limit that count to just U.S. citizens, card-carrying Americans.

But what lies ahead for the Legislature? I once knew a Texas state senator, the late Teel Bivins of Amarillo, who told me that redrawing these congressional and legislative boundaries, hands down, was his least favorite legislative duty. He hated doing it. Bivins, though, resisted any change to the way it is done, preferring to keep it in the hands of legislators. Bivins said that redistricting gave Republicans the chance to “eat their young.”

I asked Sen. Bob Hall of Rockwall, a fellow Republican, what Bivins might have meant by that. Hall said that the GOP primary usually is much bloodier than the general election, given that “Texas is such a Republican state.”

The 2021 Legislature will be charged with doing what the U.S. Constitution requires of it. Reapportionment won’t be any prettier than it has been in years past. Which brings me to this: What do legislators expect from a process that is supposed to produce two additional U.S. House seats, bringing the state’s electoral vote count to 40, second only to California, which is going to lose one House seat.

None of the Northeast Texas legislative delegation was on duty during the most recent redistricting effort, done after the 2010 census. The delegation, though, does have legislative experience, which I trust will stand the region in good stead as the process goes forward.

Sen. Hall, serving his second term in the Texas Senate, and who represents Senate District 2, said he has not been assigned to any relevant committee that will work on redistricting, but added that he would “serve on any committee the lieutenant governor wanted me to serve on.” He will get to vote on whatever the Legislature decides when it meets, as expected, in special session once the regular legislative session concludes at the end of the month.

Hall does not yet know what will occur when the Legislature reconvenes, but he believes the Senate district he serves well might expand a bit to the west into Collin and Dallas counties to make up for an expected population loss of around 3 percent. “The best I can tell is that we’re going to change our physical size,” he said. The eastern and western parts of the state are likely to expand geographically, Hall said, while the urban centers will shrink. Why is that? “That’s where the growth is occurring, along the I-35 corridor in the middle of the state,” he said.

This redistricting effort figures to be as cumbersome and potentially controversial as previous efforts, Hall acknowledged. “I cannot imagine how it won’t be,” he said. Hall noted that the Legislature must meet many requirements to assure that minorities get proper representation. “We need to present something that is fair and reasonable for everyone,” he said.

I would say that the upcoming effort at redistricting is “why we pay ‘em the big money,” except that Texas legislators – along with the lieutenant governor – get paid very little for doing the people’s work. I will hope they find the fortitude their predecessors always seem to have summoned to get this tedious and clumsy work done.

For now, all 31 state senators and 150 House members need to hold on with both hands.

NOTE: This blog item was published initially on KETR.org.

High court to settle redistricting dilemma?

I don’t expect the current U.S. Supreme Court to decide that Texas’s legislative and congressional boundaries were drawn in a manner that discriminates against people of color.

Why not? Because its ideological composition would tilt toward those who dismiss such concerns.

The court will decide Abbott v. Perez sometime this year. It involves the manner in which several districts were drawn. Critics say that Hispanics were denied the right to choose a candidate of their own because of the way a San Antonio-area district was gerrymandered.

I’ll set aside the merits of the case that justices will hear. I want to concentrate briefly on the method the states use to draw these districts.

They are done by legislatures. The Texas Legislature is dominated by Republican super-majorities. The custom has been that the Legislature draws these boundaries to benefit the party in power.

Legislators don’t like being handed this task at the end of every census, which is taken at the beginning of each decade. The late state Sen. Teel Bivins of Amarillo once told me that redistricting provides “Republicans a chance to eat their young.” I’ve never quite understood Bivins’s logic. To my mind, the process allows the party in power to “eat the young” of the other party.

The 1991 Texas Legislature redrew the state’s congressional boundaries in a way that sought to shield Democrats, who controlled the Legislature at the time. The Legislature divided Amarillo into two congressional districts, peeling Republicans from the 13th Congressional District to protect then-U.S. Rep. Bill Sarpalius, a Democrat. Sarpalius was re-elected in 1992, but then lost in 1994 to Republican upstart Mac Thornberry.

Gerrymandering not always a bad thing

My own preference would be to hand this process over to a bipartisan commission appointed by the governor and both legislative chambers. I favor taking this process out of politicians’ hands. Their aim is to protect their own and stick it to the politicians — and to voters — from their other party.

Perhaps the Supreme Court’s decision might include a dissent that spells out potential remedies to what I consider to be a political travesty.

One can hope.

Redistricting really and truly matters to us

Redistricting is an issue that usually appeals to policy wonks, political junkies and perhaps nerds who have nothing better to do than think about this stuff.

I’m not really a wonk; I don’t consider myself a nerd. I am a bit of a political junkie.

But the redistricting mess is something that ought to concern everyone who’s affected by state and national government.

That means, um, everyone.

http://www.texastribune.org/2015/07/06/analysis-redistricting-reformers-hopeful-pessimist/

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on its last day of his latest term that Arizona can allow someone other than the legislature to redraw congressional lines. The 5-4 ruling means that the state can appoint a special commission to do the job left normally to partisan politicians.

So, what does that mean for Texas?

Probably not as much as it should, according to the Texas Tribune.

http://www.texastribune.org/2015/07/06/analysis-redistricting-reformers-hopeful-pessimist/

The late state Sen. Teel Bivins of Amarillo used to say that redistricting provided Republicans the “chance to eat their young.” I never quite understood what he meant by Republicans eating their young. Democrats do the same thing.

The Texas Legislature redraws legislative and congressional boundaries after every census is taken. It’s done a horrible job of gerrymandering districts into shapes that make zero sense. It’s a bipartisan exercise in political power retention.

After the 1990 census, Democrats who controlled the Texas Legislature managed to split Amarillo in half in an effort to protect Democratic U.S. Rep. Bill Sarpalius. It worked through one election cycle, as Sarpalius was-re-elected in 1992. Then came 1994 and Sarpalius got tossed out when voters elected Republican Mac Thornberry.

Some of the congressional districts downstate snake along streets and highways. They make zero sense.

As the Texas Tribune reports: “The Arizona case opens the door for voters to take the map-drawing away from the people who are occupationally dependent on the lines on those maps. That’s a fancy way of saying the lawmakers have a conflict of interest when they draw. They’re picking their voters instead of drawing the lines as if they had no interest at all.”

Did you get that? Legislators who draw the lines are the actual beneficiaries of their very own work.

They shouldn’t be involved. The Constitution doesn’t require legislators to do this task; it says only that states must do it.

If legislatures pass that duty to specially appointed commissions, then they are entitled to do so.

So, Texas legislators, what are you waiting for?

No love for Hillary from White House

The late state Sen. Teel Bivins, R-Amarillo, once told me that the Legislature’s decennial redistricting effort gave Republican lawmakers a chance to show how they “eat their young.”

It’s a cutthroat business, carving up a state into equally sized legislative and congressional districts. It has to be done once the census is taking every decade.

Well, it’s good to point out that Republicans aren’t the only ones who “eat their young.” Democrats do it, too.

http://nypost.com/2015/03/14/obama-adviser-behind-leak-of-hillary-clintons-e-mail-scandal/

A New York Post columnist reports that sources tell him that White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett leaked to the press Hillary Clinton’s use of a personal email account while she served as secretary of state.

Where’s the love from the White House? Not with Jarrett, apparently. It remains to be seen if the Post article can be verified by other, independent sources. A part of me isn’t surprised by what the columnist is reporting.

Remember ol’ Willie Horton? He was the murderer whose prison furlough was approved by then-Democratic Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, who was his party’s presidential nominee in 1988. Then-Vice President George Bush, the Republican presidential nominee, hammered Dukakis mercilessly over that furlough, as Horton went out and killed someone during the time he was set free.

Do you remember who introduced that issue into the 1988 political campaign? It was a young U.S. senator from Tennessee, Democrat Albert Gore Jr., who was seeking his party’s nomination along with Dukakis. Gore ratted out Dukakis in a Democrat vs. Democrat game of insults.

I’m certain my friend Teel Bivins would enjoy watching this latest bit of political cannibalism.