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Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Poll shows Texans condemn Dems' flight from state, but lies leave some still confused about redistricting

The Scripps Howard Texas Poll released yesterday reflects a fair amount of confusion about reapportionment and redistricting.  On the one hand, there is an overwhelming disapproval of the Truant Texas Dems™ for fleeing to New Mexico:  "Only 29 percent of Texans agree with the Democrats' leaving the state to block redistricting." 

This surely reflects an intense public skepticism that fleeing the jurisdiction is a proper solution to any legislative problem.  The public expects to see Texas Senators at work in the Texas Senate — not dodging the sergeant-at-arms by fleeing to Albuquerque.

The Truant Texas Dems™ have to spin pretty hard to put a better face on this finding:

State Sen. Judith Zaffirini"We are very, very confident that people are opposed to redistricting," said state Sen. Judith Zaffirini from New Mexico. "I believe the people probably didn't understand the issue and why we left. It's a complex issue that is difficult to explain in sound bites. We didn't take this action on polls, but on principles."

I tend to believe, however, that such success as the Dems have had in making their PR campaign so far has been the result of three big lies they're repeating over and over — lies that do make good sound-bites:

  • The first lie is the claim that Texas has already had its normal redistricting for this decade. 

  • The second lie is the claim that the Republicans are "changing the rules" to try to pass redistricting in the Senate.

  • The third lie is the claim that this is a fight to protect minority voting rights (instead of to protect white male incumbent Democrats in the US House of Representatives).

The press has uncritically repeated these three lies until they've gotten some traction.  As a result, "[f]orty-six percent of Texans oppose the Legislature redrawing current congressional districts, while 40 percent support the effort." 

I'll bet those numbers would change dramatically if the poll asked the question this way: 

"Do you prefer that the Congressional district borders be drawn by the Texas Legislature as specified in the US Constitution, or by an unelected panel of three federal judges acting under the Voting Rights Act of 1965?"

And I'll bet the current two-to-one disapproval of the flight of the Truant Texas Dems™ would soar even higher if you polled on this question: 

"The Lt. Governor has decided to stop artificially manipulating the written Texas Senate Rules in a way that has permitted a minority of Senators to deadlock the Legislature.  Does this decision justify the actions of eleven Democratic state senators in leaving Texas to prevent the Senate from reaching a quorum?"

Because those are the real questions, friends and neighbors — they're just not the questions that the Democrats care to face up to, and they're not the questions that the press or the pollsters are asking.

UPDATE (Tues Aug 26):  Today's article in the Houston Chronicle entitled "Special legislative session ends without redistricting" almost gets it.  It refers to Lt. Gov. Dewhurst's announcement that he'd refuse to use a "blocker bill" to manipulate the Senate Rules as "doing away with a Senate procedure under which Democrats had enough votes to block redistricting."  That's not nearly so bad a lie as saying that Dewhurst "changed the rules," but it's still not right — calling the use of a "blocker bill" to manipulate the Senate calendar a "Senate procedure" still gives it more dignity than it deserves.  (The article also has a nice graphic with more details on the Scripps Howard poll.) 

The Austin American-Statesman actually comes quite close to getting it right about the non-rule, describing it thusly today: 

The Democrats object to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst's decision to abandon a Senate tradition, dating to the 1950s, that requires two-thirds of the Senate to agree to debate a bill.

The same story notes that "Dewhurst, a Republican who presides over the Senate, has cited examples of his Democratic predecessors abandoning the tradition in past redistricting controversies."

The Associated Press, however, continues to give nationwide repetition of this particular lie by referring to the "two-thirds rule" as having been "dropped for the second special session."

I've also run across three political blogs that are further promulgating the "rules change" lie:

  • Political State Report ("The Justice Department dealt a blow to State Democrat’s legal hopes on Thursday by ruling that the Texas Senate had the authority to eliminate a rule requiring a two-thirds majority of senators to agree to any legislative measures.")

  • Votelaw ("the state has requested preclearance for the rule change (dropping the usual 2/3 requirement for consideration of a bill in the Senate"); and

  • Cogicophony: A Zoo of Thoughts ("Attempts were made to declare the abolition of the traditional 2/3rds rule as somehow unconstitutional").

The last of these had this to say, which I think is a fairly clear-eyed argument from a left-of-center point of view — a principled argument that doesn't try to pretend that gerrymandering is an exclusively Republican warcrime against humanity:

[The Scripps Howard Texas Poll is] split on party lines for the most part, and most people don’t want the congressional lines re-moved; they just don’t like what the Democrats tried to do to break it.

Let’s face it: neither do I. They shouldn’t have had to. It’s highly poisonous to the democratic process. But then, so is the redistricting. This is a lose-lose position for the Democrats in Texas, and they are definitely going to have to come back eventually. At this point, I say: come back, and spend the rest of the campaign season, once the redistricting is past, highlighting exactly how the Republicans decided to sacrifice representation in the state for representation nationally.

The author also argues that the Dems

are no more “avoiding their jobs” than anyone taking a principled stand of civil disobedience. It’s not avoidance, it’s an active decision that in “doing their job”, they’d actually end up not representing those who voted for them.

Again, a principled argument — but I can't equate ordinary civil disobedience to the deliberate sabotage of the Legislature's performance of a duty assigned to it by the US Constitution.

Also today, the San Antonio Express-News again repeats the "rule change" lie in the process of reporting that the DOJ has quite sensibly recognized that Lt. Gov. Dewhurst's announced intention to stop manipulating the rules as written isn't a change in voting procedures that would require preclearance under the Voting Rights Act of 1965:

The Texas secretary of state's office had asked the Justice Department whether Dewhurst's plan to change the rules needed to be cleared by the Justice Department, as Democrats have argued.

Joseph D. Rich, the chief of the voting section of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, said in a letter to the state agency released today that no preclearance was necessary.

“If and when a new redistricting plan is actually adopted by the Texas Legislature, signed into law by the governor, and submitted to the Attorney General for Section 5 review, the attorney general will review the entire proposed plan and the process by which it has been adopted, to ensure that the submitted changes have neither a discriminatory purpose nor a discriminatory effect,” the letter states.

Yup yup.  This letter also thus reconfirms — not that there was ever any doubt — that because of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 preclearance requirement, minorities need not fear that any redistricting plan which does eventually make it through the Legislature will affect their voting rights.  "Disenfranchising minorities" or even diluting minority voting rights is not what this fight is all about!

The Austin American-Statesman quotes another key paragraph from Rich's letter that hits the nail right on the head:

"Our analysis indicates that the practice in question is an internal legislative parliamentary rule or practice — not a change affecting voting — and therefore is not subject to the preclearance requirement," Joseph Rich, chief of the voting section in the Justice Department's civil rights division wrote to state officials.

UPDATE (Wed Aug 27):  WaPo avoids the "rule change" lie in a story that is factually accurate and that makes an obvious attempt to present some of the best arguments from each side.  Sadly, the cross-town rival WaTimes repeats the lie ("[t]hat two-thirds rule was dropped for the second special session").

The Houston Chronicle is still sadly confused, continuing to state as a fact that "Dewhurst announced that the two-thirds rule would not be in place for the second session."  It's ... a ... LIE!  Someone give me some carpet to chew while I ponder the fact that the liberal-leaning newspaper of Woodward & Bernstein can get this right, while the only-a-bit-left-of-center newspaper of Jesse Jones can't. 

This same Chronicle story also makes this boneheaded assertion:  "The divided [77th] Legislature did not pass a congressional district map [in 2001], so a three-judge federal court panel drew districts that protected incumbents of both parties and gave two new districts to Republicans."  Nuh-uh.  That's not at all what the panel opinion in Balderas said it was doing with the two new districts (although it did expressly concede that it was protecting incumbents, most of whom at the time were Dems).  The panel put the two new districts where there had been the greatest population growth since the 1990 Census — Harris and Dallas Counties — but did not do so with any intention to create "Republican" districts.  RTFO, gang!  This isn't rocket science, it's just politics.

Posted by Beldar at 07:08 AM in Texas Redistricting | Permalink


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