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Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Hasta la vista for truant Texas Dems?

I've already blogged (complete with .wav files) with my impressions of Arnold Schwarzenegger's race to replace Gray Davis as Governor of California.  But Ahh-nuld's new gubernatorial campaign website (still very much under construction at the same URL as his prior website for Proposition 49 last year) has a spiffy big heading with a nice pithy quote under a snazzy picture of him and Maria:

There comes a point when we the people must demand more of our elected officials than just showing up!

It's probably not meant to be an ironic statement, but you'll have to forgive Texas Republicans if we collapse into a fit of giggles when we read it.  Here's why:

For the first half of my life, Texas, like the rest of the "old south" states, was a "yeller-dog Democrat" state.  ("Why, I'd sooner vote fer a damned yeller dog than some gat-damned Republican!").  The Democratic primary was the only election that counted because the Democratic Party's nominees generally ran unopposed or with only token opposition. 

The shoe is now on the other foot, however.  Republicans now dominate this state nearly as thoroughly as the Democrats once did:

  • In the 2002 elections, Texas Democrats were unable to capture a single one of the twenty-nine state-wide offices. 

  • Texas voters re-elected in his own right Gov. Rick Perry — who'd become governor in 2001 as the successor-by-resignation to our state's presidential "favorite son," Dubya (pun intended).

  • Texas voters also took the lieutenant governorship — from which powerful office a minority party member could execute an extremely effective rear-guard stalemating action (if he so interpreted his mandate from the voters) — out of the hands of the Democrats. 

  • And even more significantly, Texas voters in 2002 gave majority control of both houses of the Texas Legislature to Republicans for the first time since Reconstruction.

  • A solid 56 percent of Texas voters chose the Republican candidate for the US House of Representatives in their respective districts in 2002.

  • And if you had any other doubts about how the Lone Star State is trending, Texas voters elected Republican John Cornyn to replace retiring icon Phil Gramm in the US Senate.  Cornyn joined Texas' second senator, Kay Bailey Hutchison, also a Republican.

So there is no way in which Texas voters could have sent a clearer message that they trust their Republican state executives and the Republican majority in the Legislature to perform all their constitutional tasks — and very high on that list, of course, is the duty to establish US Congressional district boundaries.

Elected from districts established by unelected federal judges acting in 2001 under the Voting Rights Act, however, the current Texas delegation to the US House of Representatives comprises 17 Democrats and 15 Republicans.  That 17/15 Democratic Congressional majority does not remotely reflect the will of the voters of this State as of today! 

The 2001 map imposed by court order was drawn with minimal changes from a 1991 map that was based on 1990 census data.  But even that 1991 map wasn't a fair one.  Rather, it was created at a time when Texas Democrats democracy vs anarchy were still clinging to small majorities in both legislative Houses as well as the lieutenant governorship, and they used that power to artificially manipulate district boundaries so as to pack more Republicans into fewer districts.  That in turn meant that there were more districts where Democrats could win because of the diluted Republican voting strength. 

Demographic changes since 1991 — as revealed by the 2000 census, which the US Constitution intended would be used by state legislatures to redraw fair congressional boundaries every ten years — have made the 1991 map even less fairly representative and more biased.  Thus, the current map is an obsolete and increasingly undemocratic vestige of cynical partisan gerrymandering — a remnant left from the glory-days of a party that a majority of the state's voters have thoroughly and repeatedly repudiated, an encrustation that smells worse and worse with each passing year.

But now, the attempts by Texas Republicans to do what they were elected to do — including to establish new and fair US Congressional boundaries — are being held hostage by a stomach-turning political stunt on the part of eleven anti-democratic Democratic state senators. 

Defying the second special session called by Gov. Perry to finish the task of redistricting, these eleven have fled to New Mexico for the admitted and sole purpose of thereby preventing a quorum in the Texas Senate — and thereby preventing a final vote on redistricting.  It's not just a case of "I've gonna take my ball and go home," it's a case of "I'm gonna steal your ball (and your ball and your ball) and make damn sure nobody can play at all!"

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 still applies to Texas.  If, for instance, the Republican majorities in the Texas Legislature passed and Gov. Perry signed legislation that created new district boundaries with the intent — or even the effect (since we're all still presumed by federal statute to be racial bigots here in Texas) — of unfairly diluting minority representation, then such a map would doubtless be thrown out promptly by the federal courts.

Actually, however, the various congressional maps that the legislators still in Austin are now debating continue the gerrymandered protection of the districts previously created as "minority strongholds" — meaning this isn't about unseating minority Democratic incumbents.  In fact, the maps that are being discussed do no more than make the ratio of seats thought likely to be won by Democrats roughly proportionate to the statewide percentages that Democratic candidates got in the 2002 elections — which will still mean a large plurality, but something less than a majority, of the Texas delegation to the US House of Representatives.

The truant Texas Dems fled to New Mexico to ensure that contrary to the expressed will of Texas voters, Texas' congressional district boundaries will retain their current manipulated shape so that incumbent white male Democrats remain over-represented in the Texas Congressional delegation

The closest to a principled defense mounted by the truants has been a press release arguing that "11 Republican Senators broke a quorum in 1993 to, ironically enough, stop a redistricting bill."  duty calls, run away! But look closely at the AP story appended to the bottom, or for that matter to the careful choice of words in the press release.  The Republican state senators didn't flee the state for weeks at a time — rather, they missed one quorum call, on one day, because they were in closed-door session in the Capitol building.  And the issue then wasn't gerrymandering US Congressional districts, but possibly reforming the badly broken system for partisan elections of Texas judges.

This is, very simply, a question of democracy versus anarchy.

Which finally brings me back to Arnold's website and the source of my giggles:  It remains to be seen whether Gov. Perry can somehow induce the truants to return to Texas with fines or court proceedings.  But I couldn't read Arnold's slogan without suddenly getting a mental image of The Terminator cruising into Albuquerque on a big chopper, shades reflecting the New Mexico desert sun, and rounding up our little lost lambs for us.  Would that it could be so.  After all:

Doesn't there come a time when we the people can demand of our elected officials that they at least show up?

Posted by Beldar at 10:35 PM in Texas Redistricting | Permalink


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(1) rich made the following comment | Sep 12, 2003 2:34:44 PM | Permalink

This is outrages, but let the good times roll

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