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Redistricting Roundup: Texas session will end without Congressional map

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May 27, 2011

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Edited by Geoff Pallay

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Texas has often been held up as the poster-child for gerrymandering and political redistricting based predominantly on the events following the 2000 census. Once again, Texas redistricting is proving to be anything but simple.

From 2001-2006, the lone-star state became entangled in a gerrymandering controversy that prompted two separate legislative walkouts. First, 52 House members fled for Oklahoma in 2003 after Tom DeLay convinced the Republican majority to introduce legislation to redraw the 2001 Congressional maps. The "Killer D's" remained out of Texas until a promise was made that redistricting would remain untouched during the session. However, later that year, Governor Rick Perry called a special session to continue redistricting. This time, 11 Democratic Senators walked out and went to New Mexico in order to prevent a quorum. After a month, the situation was resolved after one senator returned and a new Congressional map was passed.

Prior to the 2004 elections, there were 17 Democratic and 15 Republican Congressional Representatives from Texas. With the newly-passed map in effect, in 2004 Republicans won 21 seats with Democrats only retaining 11.

This year, it has once again been a bumpy road for re-drawing the state's 150 House, 31 Senate and 36 Congressional districts.

The Texas Legislature passed redistricting plans for both the Texas House of Representatives and the Texas State Senate on May 21. Both maps are now awaiting the signature of Governor Perry. But as the 82nd Session nears its May 31 end date, the deadline to introduce legislation has already passed. Meaning the only chance the legislature can construct a Congressional map would be if Governor Perry calls a special session.

Already, five lawsuits have been filed over Texas redistricting, mostly relating to minority representation and prisoners. This week, U.S. House Representative Joe Barton (R) filed Texas's fourth redistricting lawsuit with District Judge James Lagomarsino in Navarro County on Sunday May 22, 2011 at 12:01 am. Barton is suing because the Texas Legislature has failed to produce a new map for Texas's U.S. Congressional Delegation.

A fifth redistricting lawsuit seems to be surfacing out of Travis County. The county announced it has plans in place to sue the state over redistricting. County commissioners authorized County Attorney David Escamilla to file a suit on Tuesday. The likely redistricting plans would split Travis County into four U.S. congressional districts.

If Governor Perry does not call a special session, the Congressional map will be drawn by the courts. But if history dictates anything, legislators will likely be back in Austin sometime this summer.

State news

Alabama

Yesterday the Senate and House approved a new Congressional redistricting map. Senator Roger Bedford (D) alleged that proponents had engaged partisan political tactics since the bill was only given several minutes of debate. Republicans said the bill is predominately similar to the one passed out of committee last week. The plan will need to be approved by the Justice Department under the Voting Rights Act.

Quote of the Week
"We have 100 delegates, but we don’t have 100 districts. It’s all an outgrowth of the original county system kind of morphing and it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. In fact, it doesn’t make any sense...One of the things this causes to happen is you can say 'how many delegates can live on your street?'"[1]

-- George Carenbauer, former chairman of the West Virginia Democratic Party

Arkansas

After a controversial Congressional map-drawing process that saw multiple maps drawn and altered by the chambers, Arkansas is now deep into the state legislative redistricting process. House and Senate maps will be drawn by the 3-member Board of Apportionment. The group is currently in the middle of a seven-city tour around the state to gather input from citizens. The Board of Apportionment is comprised of two Democrats (Governor Mike Beebe and (Attorney General Dustin McDaniel) and one Republican (Secretary of State Mark Martin). While Martin and the Board's director have released draft maps, Daniel and Beebe are still drawing their versions. This delay has drawn criticism from the state Republican Party, arguing that the maps should be released well in advance of the expected completion date of August 1, 2011.

California

As the California Citizens Redistricting Commission continues to hold public input hearings, citizen maps continue to be generated. Yesterday MALDEF -- the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund -- released draft maps for the state legislative and Congressional districts. Between the state legislative and Congressional maps, the MALDEF plan creates 16 additional majority-minority seats across California.

The final day to submit testimony to the commission was Monday, May 23. Now redistricting commissioners will begin drawing new maps, which will be available to the public on June 10. The general message expressed by public testimony has been to avoid splitting communities and counties as much as possible. Many of California's cities or counties are split among several different districts -- a gerrymandering practice that was a key factor in the passage of a ballot measure creating the independent commission.

Meanwhile, local redistricting in San Diego continues to be mired in controversy. The Republican Party chair of San Diego County -- Tony Krvaric -- has sued the seven-member commission for allegedly being improperly selected.

Delaware

Democratic leaders in Delaware held a public hearing last night on their newly-released state legislative redistricting maps. At the meeting, reaction was mixed as some criticized the map as partisan gerrymandering. Still others recommended that in the future, Delaware implement an independent redistricting committee. The minority Republicans introduced maps last week, which they say are fairer and keep more communities of interest in tact. The Democratic plan maintains the same number of majority-minority districts as current maps.

Redistricting Facts
Total States with Lawsuits filed: 19
Next state deadline? Alabama
June 13, 2011
Maps submitted for vote: 31 MS (2), LA (3), AR (1), VA (2), IA (3), NJ (2), MO (1), IN (3), OK (3), TX (2), MN (3), NV (3), NE (2), AL (1)
States that have completed Congressional Maps 5 (AR, LA, IA, IN, OK)
States that have completed State Legislative Maps 6 (NJ, LA, IA, VA, IN, OK)

Georgia

Although Georgia's Congressional and legislative maps require federal approval under the Voting Rights Act, state Republicans are looking to sidestep the ordinary Department of Justice review. As an alternative, the Voting Rights Act permits states to file a declaratory judgement action in the US District Court for the District of Columbia. A panel of judges would then review the maps. The move is intended to avoid what many state Republicans believe would be a Democratically-biased Department of Justice. Such a move would not be unprecedented since former Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes similarly bypassed the Republican-appointed Department of Justice in 2001.

Illinois

Democrats in the Illinois House of Representatives are racing to get their proposed maps approved before May 31, the last day of the regular session. The deadline for legislative approval of maps is not until June 30, but if it is completed after the regular session a supermajority is required -- which the Democrats do not currently have. House Democrats introduced new district lines just before 5 pm on May 20, but did not release demographic data until May 22, the same day they held a public meeting on the proposed maps. At the meeting Democrats were criticized from nearly all sides - Republicans were upset that the new districts pit at least a dozen Republican incumbents against one another, minority organizations argued that more minority-majority districts were necessary to comply with the Voting Rights Act, and a number of organizations complained about long snaking districts that begin in Chicago and wind their way out to the suburbs. All groups agreed that there should be more transparency and additional time to analyze the maps. Wasting no time, the House Redistricting Committee on May 24 voted 6-5 along party lines to send the map to the full House. Today, legislators began debating the bills on the floor.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, Republicans released their counter-proposal for redrawing House and Senate districts -- ones which they claim are more fair than the Democratic maps.

Michigan

The Michigan Democratic Party held a press conference this week where state Chair Mark Brewer unveiled a map for Michigan's 38 state Senate districts. Brewer described it as a "politically" fair map drawing eight swing seats and splitting the remaining seats evenly between the two major parties. The map has been officially submitted to the Senate Redistricting Committee.

Mississippi

Governor Haley Barbour (R), who leaves office next year, has said he will not be calling a special session of the Mississippi legislature to address redistricting. After the legislature ran out its regular session without passing maps, the matter fell to a federal court panel. Earlier this month, they ordered the 2011 off-year elections held under the existing maps, drawn in 2001. What comes after is up in the air. Barbour's decision comes over the protests of legislators, including some in his own party. Senator Terry Burton (R), who led much of the ultimately fruitless redistricting work, has publicly and repeatedly called for just such a special session. The GOP will likely benefit from putting off a second attempt at redistricting. Expected to gain seats this fall, waiting until 2012 to return to tackle the issue could make it much easier for them to pass their preferred districts.

Nebraska

The officially nonpartisan but realistically rock-solid Republican Nebraska Senate has shepherded their redistricting bills for the state's Congressional and legislative districts through the three required votes and sent the bill, LB 704, to Governor Dave Heineman. The first term Republican is expected to sign it. As the state's population shifts east, so state Senate districts have followed; this has left ranchers in the West, particularly the Panhandle, seething. Congressional tension has focused on Omaha. A left-leaning city, its electoral vote, awarded separately from the rest of the state, sits in the crosshairs. By adjusting boundaries, Omaha's district, the 2nd, is about to become far less likely to support a Democratic Presidential candidate. If Democrats indeed bypass Nebraska in Presidential races, down-ballot candidates within the state could suffer, and Democrats have been explicit in suggesting this is exactly what the Republicans want.

Nevada

Citing the effectively incomprehensible format of the population data included in the minority party's bill, Democrats refused to hold a hearing and claimed that the GOP had not truly made the data they used available. Republicans gave in and released the data in an acceptable format. Almost immediately, the hearings again collapsed, this time over refusal on both parties to agree to certain demands of their opposition. On Wednesday, the Senate voted 11-10 along partisan lines to send the Congressional and state legislative redistricting bills back to Governor Brian Sandoval (R). Since the bill also passed the Assembly along party lines, Sandoval is once again expected to veto the legislation. The maps are only slightly different than the originals. The belief that Nevada redistricting will wind up in the courts is so widely assumed that both sides have place-holder lawsuits already filed.

This Week's Redistricting Highlight
Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) has suggested that the state should again consider creating multi-member districts. Abercrombie argues that the system gives new, up-and-coming politicians a better shot at election since they could more easily capture the second or third-most votes in multi-candidate race. Hawaii used to employ multi-member districts, but that system was overturned in a 1981 federal lawsuit.

Oklahoma

Far ahead of schedule, redistricting for the House, Senate, and Congress is complete. Governor Mary Fallin (R) signed the bills concerning state legislative districts late last week. The Congressional plan had already been finalized.

Virginia

This week, as the Department of Justice continues its review of Virginia's legislative redistricting plans, it has requested interviews with several lawmakers active in the redistricting process. Members of both the House and Senate have called the request routine.

On May 10, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) sought pre-clearance for the state's legislative redistricting plan before the US District Court for the District of Columbia. While the state has also submitted the plans to the Justice Department, the District Court is also permitted to clear the maps. This avenue may prove quicker for the state as it faces looming elections in the new districts. The deadline for candidates to declare an intention to run is June 15, 2011.

West Virginia

The House of Delegates has announced its redistricting committee. The 30-member committee will begin work in June. One of the issues the committee is likely to address is the possibility of creating single-member districts.

This week, a Chamber of Commerce survey has revealed that 61 of the West Virginia's 100 delegates support shrinking or eliminating some or all of the state's multi-member districts. Currently, West Virginia elects 100 representatives from 58 districts. While 36 are single-member districts, the remaining 22 are split between 64 delegates. The multi-member system evolved from an earlier system of county-based districts. Several prominent legislators from both parties have expressed support for eliminating multi-member districts and creating 100 individual districts. In addition, the West Virginia Farm Bureau and West Virginia Chamber of Commerce have come out in support of single member districts.

In addition to the legislative route, Delegate Rick Snuffer (R) is considering legal action to ensure their elimination, arguing that the state's multi-member districts are unconstitutional.

Wyoming

Lawmakers will be conducting hearings across the state throughout summer 2011. Last week those forums started with two meetings in Rock Springs and Pinedale. Representative Pete Illoway (R) said the process this go around will likely be more difficult than after the 2000 census. According to the Legislative Service Office, 56 of the 90 combined Senate and House districts are outside of the legally required population size.

See also