Archive for the ‘Redistricting’ Category

Tuesday evening, the Texas special legislative session abruptly when the House gaveled out sine die signalling they were finished with the special session with one final day still available, leaving several items left undone on Gov. Greg Abbott’s to-do list for lawmakers.  Among them property tax legislation.

However, lawmakers may be back in Austin sooner than you think — but for an entirely different reason. A federal court ruled unanimously Tuesday that two of Texas’ 36 congressional districts are unconstitutional, and ordered that the political boundaries be redrawn ahead of the 2018 elections. The  three-judge panel in San Antonio ruled that Congressional Districts 27 and 35 violate the U.S. Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act. The judges found that Hispanic voters in Congressional District 27, represented by U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, were “intentionally deprived of their opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice.” Congressional District 35 — a Central Texas district represented by Democrat Lloyd Doggett of Austin — was deemed “an impermissible racial gerrymander” because mapdrawers illegally used race as the predominant factor in drawing it without a compelling state interest, the judges wrote.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has three days to decide whether he wants state lawmakers to draw a new map — which would inevitably lead to another overtime round at the Capitol — or if he wants to send the issue back to court. Regardless, two things still remain on the table: A new map could shake up multiple congressional races across the state, and the drawing of one could delay the next election cycle.

But for now, all of us who watched hours of cringe-worthy testimony and floor debates get a break from the legislature, but not from the heat.

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This election has broad implications for Texas, regardless of the outcomes.  With almost all of the statewide races expected to turn over due to the state’s governor stepping down after 12 years in that office, all of the statewide offices had incumbents and new candidates vying to move up the chain.  But some cities also have races and other measures on their ballots that will dramatically change things.

Austin, is moving from a 7 member council (including the mayor) with all members elected at large to a 10 member council with members elected within a geographical district and a mayor elected at large.  This means the entire governing body of the City of Austin will be changing after today and their voters are facing a slate of 78 candidates on their ballot.

Update on Denton Fracking Ban measure -in yesterday’s election the ban passed with nearly 60 percent of the vote.  The ban’s passage will almost certainly trigger litigation, with energy companies and royalty owners arguing that state drilling regulations trump Denton’s rights and that the city was confiscating mineral rights, which have long been dominant in Texas law.

Just as important is a measure on the Denton ballot.  In 2010, Denton citizens got the city to adopt an ordinance that required a minimum of 1,000 feet between a gas well and schools, homes, churches, parks and other “protected” land uses, but  just before passing the ordinance, the council added an amendment that allows new homes to be built within 250 feet of land platted for drilling, where companies can re-drill and re-frack existing wells.  Since the passage of the ordinance, Denton residents realized that increasing setback requirements wouldn’t be enough and started collecting signatures to force the City Council to vote on a fracking ban which then got kicked to the voters.  The referendum required  596 signatures from registered voters—or one-quarter of the number of people who voted in the last local election,  nearly 2,000 verified signatures were collected a full month before the deadline. If this measure passes today, Denton will be the first city in Texas to ban fracking.  This ballot measure will not only have major implications for the city of Denton is poised to have ripple effects throughout Texas and beyond the state’s borders. This is one to watch.

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Big Buy Poster

The Big Buy

October 28, 2014 at 8PM

When an elected Republican Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled earlier this month that Tom Delay’s flooding of corporate contributions into state elections for the purposes of manipulating Congressional redistricting was “wheeling and dealing (that) was a tad shady, but legal,” it brought to an end an almost decade-long criminal case, but it didn’t end the controversy surrounding the Former Majority Leader.

Prosecutors claimed the ruling undermines the fairness and integrity of Texas elections, while Delay said the verdict gives him fresh impetus to run for elected office again. An October 28th national online screening of the only documentary made about the Delay case will allow viewers to look at the original evidence and make up their own minds.

Filmmakers Mark Birnbaum and Jim Schermbeck are using the court decision to team-up with online screening room 2ndLine.tv to host an October 28th live internet screening of the “The Big Buy,” their 2006 investigation of the scandal that forced Delay to resign from Congress.  Viewers will be able to vote via a Google Docs link on whether they think Delay knowingly broke Texas law when his Political Action Committee solicited corporate donations for Republicans running in state House races.

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Guest Blog by Marion Mlotok

On Thursday, May 30, 2013, the Texas Senate held a public hearing on redistricting as a launch of the 83rd 1st special session.  The hearing started at 9:00 am and closed at 11:30 am after everyone had testified.  Testimony was for 3 minutes each. I arrived early to a nearly empty auditorium, and when the hearing started, the hearing room was far from packed.

A number of attendees at the hearing, including some of the Senators, pointed out that this was mighty short notice for a public hearing with such far-reaching consequences.  The announcement of the hearing was made Monday, May 27 at 5:30 pm, 62 hours before the hearing, according to Chair, Kel Seliger.  Also the hearing was set for 9:00am on a work day.  No field hearings were or will be scheduled.  It was also brought up that the minorities most affected by this redistricting were the least likely to be able to arrange and afford to take time off work, arrange and afford childcare and afford transportation to Austin.

There will be two more Senate redistricting hearings, Thursday, June 6 and Wednesday, June 12, both at 9:00 a.m. in the Finance Room, E1.036.  All amendments and alterations must be submitted by noon June 10 for consideration for the June 12 meeting.

Most of the testimony was opposed to the maps in SB1, SB2, SB3 and SB4 on the basis of disenfranchisement of minorities.

My testimony was about Austin being split into 6 US Congressional districts, one snaking to Houston, one to Fort Worth, two to San Antonio and one to Laredo.  I pointed that Austin would have no US Congressional representation in Washington.  Austin is big enough to have 7/8 of it as one Congressional district.  In a world that made sense, the other 1/8 of Austin would be in a compact district contiguous with the main Austin district.  Likewise, Travis County is big enough to be almost two US Congressional districts and shouldn’t be split into 5 districts, effectively disenfranchising Travis voters in Washington.

The only elected officials from Travis County or Austin represented were the Travis County Commissioners who registered opposition to the US Congressional map splitting Travis County into 5 US Congressional districts, each having less than 35% of the voters from the district living in Travis County.  The objection was that effectively Travis County would have no representation in the US Congress.

The maps in these bills are the interim maps that were drawn so we could have 2012 elections.  You’ll find interactive maps on the official Texas Redistricting website here: http://www.tlc.state.tx.us/redist/redist.html

You can choose cities and choose to overlay various maps that have been submitted as well as overlay the interim maps for US Congress, Texas Senate and Texas House.

Parallel to this, court is in session in San Antonio with various minority plaintiffs on our redistricting vis a vis the Voting Rights Act.

House Hearings
The House will be having hearings on the companion bills HB1, HB2, HB3 and HB4 tomorrow, Friday, May 31 and Saturday, June 1, both days at 9:00 a.m. in the Capitol Extension Auditorium, E1.004, opposite the cafeteria.

I would urge those who can to attend the hearings and record your opposition to these bills.  They disenfranchise the minority vote and they disenfranchise Austin and Travis County.  To that end,  I’ve reached out to a number of our City Council members and Texas House Reps from Austin and our Austin/Travis Senator Kirk Watson to please come to the hearings and get on record with their voice on this significant issue for the area.

Video of the hearing is at http://www.senate.state.tx.us/avarchives/ramav.php?ram=00006247

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Well, it’s official— and let the bloodbath begin.

Texas Tribune graphic of gains in congressional seats

Texas Tribune graphic of gains in congressional seats

Texas has been growing (this we knew), but by enough to mean that we will get 4 new Congressional seats.  Much of our growth has been occurring in suburbs and exurbs, and we’ve been losing relative population in rural areas, so it will be interesting to see how our Congressional and Legislative seats are reapportioned.

How these district lines will be drawn are now up to the Legislature, who will draw the maps that they, themselves, will run in.  Obviously, this creates a serious conflict of interest, as instead of having voters choose their representatives, we have representatives choosing their voters.

Some have guessed that the sudden party switch of the now-tilde-less Rep. Aaron Pena may be due to his desire to run for Congress– getting a seat at the table to carve up a custom-made Congressional seat would certainly make that tempting.  And this is exactly the kind of problem that we have when Legislators draw their own districts.

Given Texas’ troubled history with redistricting, including but not limited to the illegal redistricting plan forced through the Lege by Tom DeLay and the subsequent flight of Democratic lawmakers to Oklahoma, it is time for Texas to do the right thing and move to a system of independent redistricting.

Many states have adopted this vital reform, and Texas has considered this before, including bills in the last Legislative session by Rep. Mark Strama, a Democrat, and Senator Jeff Wentworth, a Republican.

The problem is, partisan politics is getting in the way of what is a bipartisan-supported reform measure.  Neither party wants to give up the possibility of being able to control redistricting, as Democrats believe demographic changes are moving in their favor, and Republicans think they can maintain control over a traditionally conservative state.  As to who is right and who is wrong, I don’t care.  But both parties need to be less like the partisan animals they so often can be, and more like Frodo.  (please forgive my nerd birdwalk here, but it illustrates an important point)


Frodo didn’t want to get rid of the ring of power, and it corrupted him, but he needed to get rid of it.  Unfortunately, when faced with the choice and standing at the precipice, he failed to make the right choice.  He had to have the ring forcibly taken from him, and cast into the fire.  I hate to compare “the people” to Gollum, but that’s what we have to do– bit the ring of power off of our leaders’ fingers and destroy it forever, so they can deal with more important issues, like, oh, say, $20-$25 billion dollar deficits and such.

Whatever bloodletting occurs over the upcoming redistricting fight (and there will be a fight), it ought to be accompanied by a bipartisan support for an independent, non-partisan redistricting plan.

And for a little bit more fun:


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