Saturday, December 03, 2005

NYT: Texas redistricting

I never ask members their locations (or other details). Some like Alabama, Durham Gal, Portland, Oregon, etc. use nicknames that make their locations obvious. But usually it comes up in e-mail exchanges over time. Billie, Eddie, Dallas, In Dallas, Nat and others had shared their locations in Texas due to an issue coming up that they wanted covered so I knew we had a lot of Texans in the community. And, like everyone else, I've followed the member profiles that Gina and Krista have done in the gina & krista round-robin. All of that did not prepare for the e-mails this morning. I'm estimating at least eighty members are from Texas. All who wrote brought up the issue of the redistricting in Texas and probably thirty highlighted one of two (sometimes both) articles in this morning's New York Times.

So this entry is for all members but consider it in honor of our Texas members. Whether you're longterm like Billie or a more recent member, you are appreciated. There's no way to note every point in the e-mails (nor did all members give permission to be quoted) but I have read all on Texas this morning and will try my best to cover the issues and facts you raise.

The article most cited in the Times by Texas members is Ralph Blumenthal's "Little Surprise at Redistricting Document From Democrats Who Lost 2004 Race." This article may be the most cited because it quotes from Texans (including those reps who lost out due to redistricting) or it may be because a number of you wanted to weigh in and say that ____ was your rep and he (all quoted in the article are men) got it right. Carrie breaks from the pack to note Martin Frost. Frost offers his reasons for losing out in redistricting and then in the race. Carrie notes that a problem not mentioned in the article is that more yard signs were up in his former district than in the one he ran in for the 2004 race. She would walk her dog and if someone was in their yard, she would ask them if they knew that Frost was not going to be on their ballot (Carrie was redistricted into Eddie Bernice Johnson's district) and was surprised to learn that many did not know that. (Though Billie didn't note it this morning, she's been quoted here in the past noting that Frost's signs refused to acknowledge party affiliation. Frost, FYI, was put into a race against another incumbent, Republican Pete Sessions who won the seat they were both vying for.)

East Tex criticized an omission from the article. He wanted a quote from Ralph Hall who until recently was a Democrat (or that's how he labeld himself -- Nolanda, Barry and Joe Paul have written in the past saying he was a Democrat in name only so his switch to the Republican Party was only formalizing what already was true). East Tex writes that he would have enjoyed hearing "another lame comment from Hall for redistricting since he's the best argument for a mandatory retirement age for Congress."

Everyone who noted this article selected an excerpt. We'd have to reprint the article in full to honor all the requests.

For those late to the story, Texas was redistricted in 2000 by the court after the state legislature failed to do so. At that time, Rick Perry (the governor) had no problem with the redistricting. In 2002, it was suddenly a problem. (Tom DeLay was very active in that and we'll get to that in a moment.) There were two attempts by Democrats in the state legislature to stop redistricting. The first attempt found the Democrats in the state house leaving for Oklahoma to stop the voting from taking place; the second attempt found Democrats in the Senate (In Dallas says to mention his state senator Royce West) leaving the state for New Mexico. The house move was successful because the Democrats remained a single group, on the same page. The senate move was not as what Tina labels "turncoats" eventually caved.

At which point, there was no reason for the remaining ones to continue their stand, the state legislature voted, and the plan passed. (Which allowed Texas to redistrict twice in the same decade. Though Sissy swears she believes, if the Republicans remain in power in the state, they'll attempt a third redistricting before 2010 rolls around.)

Blumenthal's getting the reaction from the Democratic Party in Texas, the state's NAACP and the Democratic reps who were redistricted and lost their seats. East Tex, again, would like to have seen Ralph Hall squirm but otherwise no complaints from members on this article.

The same cannot be said for "New Twist in Texas Districting Dispute" (written by David E. Rosenbaum and Eric Lichtblau). Mayra is the nicest about the article noting that it attempts to provide perspective by tying in the fact that the Justice Department's own lawyers found the redistricting plan to be in violation of the Voting Rights Act with other ethical and legal issues (the failure of the FDA to listen to scientists re: Plan B; Kenneth Tomlinson's efforts to circumvent and violate the shield guidelines of the CPB). However, she has no sympathy for the fact that a key detail is not included in the article.

I'm counting thirty-one e-mails mentioning the same detail so it's obviously key to Texans (and I'll argue it's key to the issue as well), where in the article is any mention of Homeland Security?
Bud wonders if it's "down the memory hole" on Homeland Security which was requested to track the state legislatures that disappeared (some to Oklahoma, this was the state house members)? Homeland Security used for partisan reasons, in 2002 when we're still reeling from 9/11, is a pretty important detail.

Members also note that Tom DeLay was present for the attempts to force the state house to vote and they don't think the article makes clear how present he was. Eddie states that DeLay was "practically commanding the whole thing."

Where the issue stands now is that Democrats hope the Supreme Court will grant cert to their appeal. If not, the plan stands until the next redistricting (2010, though Sissy expects the Republicans to make another power grab). I can remember the media dismissing this in real time as though it were only a Texas issue. Not true. The plan was designed to add Republicans to the US House of Represenatives (and, in fact, that was the result). That effects the entire nation. But the media (mainstream) treated it as though it was comical. State reps "fleeing" to prevent a vote. Ha ha.

Here's what we know now (besides that Republicans did benefit from the plan). Homeland Security was contacted to track legislatures. (With a lie, that supposedly Republicans were worried something possibly tragic had befallen the missing Democrats.) The Justice Department's own civil rights staff found that the plan violated the Voting Rights Act. That while Bully Boy was saying publicly that it was a matter for Texas and not connected to the White House, that was not true.

The Washington Post knew it at the time. In their August 14, 2003 editorial entitled "A Texas Turnoff," the Post concluded:

The whole sorry episode, which has paralyzed the legislature, is being carried out with a wink and nod from the White House. The hands of presidential strategist Karl Rove are said to be all over the game being played down in Austin. The president can end the standoff, and he should. This bit of political ugliness could spread to other states where Democratic governors and state legislatures might elect to redraw their already redisctricted legislative maps during the same census cycle, just as the DeLay-and-Rove-led Texas Republicans are attempting to do.

(If the link to the editorial doesn't work, please e-mail. The web address was dictated to me over the phone just now and I could have made an error while typing it in. [Note: 12-04-05 As members have pointed out, the link did not work. Either you got an error message or you got the title of the editorial and nothing else. I've taken the link out. You can read the editorial here and here.])

Eddie notes that "the rocks are finally getting kicked over and we're seeing the underneath."
Let's hope so. Maybe, for instance, we can now look at the US House of Representatives' Committee on Resources (chair Richard W. Pombo) and their "Headline News" for March 15, 2004. Exactly what right did they have to inject themselves (on a government website) into an election? "John Kerry is dead wrong" weighed in Richard W. Pombo. "But is this just another flip-flop?" wondered the website. A congressional website, paid for with tax dollars from everyone, playing partisan?

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