LEGISLATIVE REDISTRICTING BOARD ADOPTS DISTRICT MAPS
AUSTIN - The Legislative Redistricting Board (LRB) met in the Capitol Extension, Tuesday, July 24, 2001. Members include Comptroller of Public Accounts Carole Keeton Rylander; Lieutenant Governor Bill Ratliff, Speaker of the House James E. 'Pete' Laney and General Land Commissioner David Dewhurst. Attorney General John Cornyn chairs the board.
At Tuesday's meeting the board voted out plans that would redraw district lines for both houses of the Texas Legislature. Both plans are expected to be challenged in court.
Attorney General Cornyn called the meeting to order just after 2:15 p.m., with public testimony on amendments to plans that the board was considering. Cornyn began stating that he was amending his existing plan for the House, to place Representative Dawnna Dukes residence of Travis County within her current district and to create a new district within the city of Irving. Lt. Governor Ratliff said he opposed taking a vote today on any plan or amendment that the public has not been able to see and that even members of the Texas Senate were having trouble keeping up with all the changes.
Speaker Laney said that he intended to lay out the plan that had already passed the House of Representatives in the 77th Regular Session, saying that it is the will of the legislative process. Comptroller Rylander said her Senate plan has been public since last Wednesday and unlike others, does not split Hidalgo County twice. Commissioner Dewhurst said his plan was based on the map proposed by Senator David Sibley during the regular session, with changes suggested by Lt. Governor Ratliff.
At that time, the board took public testimony. Mayor Phil Esquivel, Jr., from Kingsville, said that separating Kleberg and Nueces counties was a mistake, since the two share a common interest, that Kleberg County should remain in District 20. Stephen Damiani, President of the Clear Lake Republicans spoke in favor of the Dewhurst and Rylander plans. Dave Welch, Chairman of the Harris County Republican Redistricting Committee, said that many of the proposed plans centered around the old district lines that he considers unfair. Of all the plans, he favors the original Cornyn and Rylander plans, saying that Texas needs compact, contiguous districts.
In other testimony, Alan Sager of the Travis County Republican Party, said that Travis County is unique in that this is where the seat of government is and that Senator Wentworth of San Antonio should be representing the central corridor of Austin, not just the western part of the county. Phillip Mangus, of the Harris County Republican Party called for changes in Senate District 15 to allow Republicans a chance to win that seat. Representative Warren Chisum submitted an amendment to the Cornyn plan that moves Childress County back into his district. Mayor Pat Steed of Childress seconded that, saying they needed to be included with the Panhandle House districts.
Next came Beaumont Senator David Bernsen, saying that Southeast Texas should not be broken up into several Senate districts and that despite extended testimony from local residents and many exhibits, that was exactly what the board has done, ignoring the people's wishes. He said, "Your sense of right is wrong. Our state thrives on bipartisanship." For the first time, Jefferson County would be divided into two districts. Under one current plan, Senator Bernsen's home is now in Senator J.E. "Buster" Brown's district. Senator Brown is from Lake Jackson, far down the coast. Bernsen said, "My plea today is to stop this mindless partisanship...you are compromising what is best and fair for the constituents that we serve."
John Gordon from Williamson County told the board that whole counties should be the basic definition of a community of interest.
Senator Jeff Wentworth chaired the Senate Redistricting Committee during the regular session. He questioned a release from the Republican Party of Texas which insisted on 95 Republican seats in the House and 22 Republican seats in the Senate. He said today's Republicans should "resist the temptation by radical Republican partisans to gerrymander this state in favor of the Republican Party." He said Republicans do not have a two-thirds majority in Texas and should not impose that kind of a legislature on the state. He called the Ratliff plan the most fair of all before the board.
Houston Rep. Harold Dutton told the board that a court challenge is 100 percent certain, that someone will have to defend whatever plan comes out. He says he's sure of that because he has been retained as legal council for the Legislative Black Caucus. He said the current path will cause serious harm to whatever plan the panel approves.
Angel Abbitua, the first vice-president of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly of Texas, said that Hispanic Republicans have not been given a fair opportunity to compete. Morris Overstreet, representing the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats, said he was opposed to some of the plans for both the Senate and House, but could accept the plans from Lt. Governor Ratliff or Speaker Laney. He said that splitting the black community in Travis County, such as was done in the Cornyn and Dewhurst plan, was wrong and that similar problems existed in the Panhandle. He criticized what he called partisanship in the redistricting process, saying "you've got to be fair."
Rep. Tony Goolsby said "I'm really not glad to be here, because if you hadn't done what you've done, I wouldn't be here!". He liked Cornyn's original plan, saying it was a true community of interest, but that later versions spread him across five cities, keeping his home in the district by only one precinct. He also wondered why he had been paired with another Republican just this morning. "What were you thinking?" he insisted. "I don't know what happened to you and your staff. It's not being fair. It's not being honest."
Rep. Paul Moreno of El Paso said he supported the original House plan, but that Attorney General Cornyn had "dissected" the state and that he would personally be a plaintiff in any lawsuit. "You are looking bad in the eyes of those people who follow politics...this case might even go to the Supreme Court." He also called the plan unconstitutional and "totally, totally, wrong....Hurting (minorities) all over the state. Don't do it. Don't do it."
El Paso Rep. Joe Pickett did not support any of the plans put forward for the House, besides the one authored by the Speaker. He asked that El Paso be allowed to draw its own boundaries, not to have them dictated by people who do not live there.
Next up was Senator Jane Nelson of Flower Mound. Her district is overpopulated under the current boundaries and she expects it to shrink in size. She criticized the separation of southern Denton and northern Tarrant counties, saying that area is a community of interest. Given the growth, she testified that many people in Denton County expected to have their own district, but that's not the case in any of the board's plans. She said the Cornyn plan splits cities that do not need to be split, "it is not right, it is just not fair...do not take a Veg-o-matic to the constituents I represent and chop them up!", she pleaded.
Dallas Rep. Helen Giddings spoke to what she called a loss of seniority for African Americans and for women under the original Cornyn plan, saying the current plan was better.
Senator Robert Duncan of Lubbock said he had worked with Senator Teel Bivins of Amarillo on a plan that would serve West Texas, one that would combine Midland and Odessa in the same Senate district. That plan went through the session unchallenged. But he told the board today that perhaps Midland wants out of it. He also criticized the inclusion of Howard County with Senator Bivins' district and Dawson County in with Midland. He said the Ratliff plan most accurately reflects the desires of the people in that area, not "ignoring the voices of people in rural Texas."
Abilene Rep. Bob Turner spoke about House districts in the Hill Country, asking that Brown County not be placed with Kerr County, saying they are two very different areas. He recommended that Brown and Coleman counties be placed back together.
Finally, Roger Setler then testified that the best districts keep communities of interest together and are contiguous. That closed public testimony.
Lt. Governor Ratliff presented his plan which, he said, was fair as he could make it to all 31 members of the Senate. This plan was laid out July 10th and Ratliff contended that it stood a better chance of withstanding a court challenge than anything else the board had considered. "I realize this plan is not as 'Republican' as some of my supporters would like.", Ratliff said. "If we are truly to be fair, then this is the proper plan." But the board disagreed, refusing to adopt his plan by a 2-3 vote, with Speaker Laney voting with Lt. Governor Ratliff.
Commissioner Dewhurst then laid out his plan, which he said was fair and balanced. Comptroller Rylander said this had truly been a difficult task and offered an amendment adjust the count in District 31. A Ratliff amendment to this amendment to move Howard county from District 31 to District 28 failed. Attorney General Cornyn offered yet another amendment to the Dewhurst plan, saying that making certain changes to Tarrant County, changes opposed by local Senators, would make the plan "legally superior". The amendment passed, 3-2, with Speaker Laney and Lt. Governor Ratliff in opposition.
Upon questioning by Speaker Laney, Attorney General Cornyn admitted that he recently had meetings with federal Department of Justice officials in regard to trying to ensure that whatever passed was legally defensible. However, Cornyn insisted that no Justice Department official had any input as to what kind of plan Texas should adopt.
The board then adopted the Dewhurst plan for the Senate, 3-2, with Speaker Laney and Lt. Governor Ratliff dissenting.
After a short break, the board came back to discuss the plan for the Texas House. Speaker Laney introduced the same plan passed by the House during the regular session. The plan failed on a 2-3 vote, with Lt. Governor Ratliff voting with the Speaker. Attorney General Cornyn then laid out his plan, which he said provided for compact districts that did not violate communities of interest. Lt. Governor Ratliff then presented an amendment that would allow two representatives in his Northeast Texas district to not have to run against each other. Cornyn opposed the amendment and denied that his purpose in opposing it was to pair the two representatives. It failed 2-3, with Speaker Laney voting with Lt. Governor Ratliff.
Cornyn then laid out an amendment affecting Travis County, to adjust districts 51 and 46. The amendment passed 4-1, with Speaker Laney dissenting. Other amendments passed affect Hidalgo and El Paso counties, along with several others which made major changes to Laney's own district.
Before the vote on the final plan, Speaker Laney said his plan was approved by the House and was the only one that had been. "The plan passed by the House tries to be fair, our plan paired an equal number of Democrat and Republican incumbents...Your plan is an incumbent protection plan for Republicans and a incumbent punishment plan for Democrats....it goes beyond belief that incumbency was not a consideration in your plan.... Let's be honest with the people of Texas and admit that your plan is based on partisan politics."
In response, Attorney General Cornyn said that he could understand why Speaker Laney was concerned and that the overriding responsibility was not to protect incumbents. "I regret the difficulty this process has caused...I understand why you would be unhappy."
The Cornyn plan for the House passed 3-2, with Lt. Governor Ratliff and Speaker Laney dissenting.
The Legislative Redistricting Board recessed until 9:00 AM Wednesday, at which time it is expected to adopt the legal descriptions of the plans that were passed Tuesday evening.
The public can access the maps using Internet Explorer, at the web site http://www.capitol.state.tx.us, then by clicking on Redistricting Information and then RedViewer.