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Friday, September 05, 2003

Beldar asks a question

Friday's Fort Worth Star-Telegram has this quote from US Representative Martin Frost (D-Texas), one of Leticia's children:

"This is a national issue," said Frost, who saluted the Texas senators for their stand. "The Republicans are trying to overturn the results of the elections two years ago. This cannot be permitted to happen."

I assume he means the elections of 2002, since there were neither statewide nor national elections two years ago in 2001.  I assume he's not talking about the California recall election either, even if he thinks that it and the ongoing Texas redistricting fight are part of some sinister master plan. 

Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas)Please:    Would someone who's left-of-center — or at least very familiar with their arguments — leave a comment to identify for me (a) what "elections" Frost is referring to, and (b) in what sense the Republicans are attempting to "overturn" their results?

This is a sincere question.  I genuinely have no idea what point Rep. Frost is trying to make other than the sort of general "Republicans are bad" meme.  My best current guess as to the answer to part (a) is that he's referring to the election of 17 Democrats (including himself) as part of the Texas delegation to the US House of Representatives, but I'm not confident that is what he means, and whether it is or not, I have utterly no clue about part (b)'s intended meaning.

UPDATE (Sat Sep 6 @ 12:30pm):   Edward Still at Votelaw offers an articulate response to my question on his own blog.  He too assumes that Frost was referring to the 2002 Congressional elections, and has this to say:

The Republicans are seeking to "overturn" the elections by redrawing several congressional districts where the voters split their tickets and vote for Republican candidates most of the time, but continue to re-elect Democratic representatives.

One of the pithy little sayings about redistricting is that it is an opportunity for representatives to choose their voters. This applies to a body redistricting itself, but in this case it refers to the Republican Party — from Karl Rove and Tom DeLay to Rick Perry and David Dewhurst and the Republicans in the Legislature — to rejigger the election results till they get the "right" result.

I will admit that most redistricting has the goal of determining in advance the composition of the body to-be-elected. But usually we restrict ourselves to once a decade.

Overall, this is so commendably honest, it makes me want to give Mr. Still a big hug. 

I agree with him entirely that accomplishing a legislative redistricting once a decade is enough; it's just right, in fact.  We still haven't had ours in Texas yet for this decade.  Instead, we had a court-imposed redistricting that — for reasons I've previously blogged (here and here, for instance) — not only gave no opportunity for the new majority party in the state to express the democratic will of its people, but instead actually had the self-acknowledged effect of further entrenching incumbent Democrats who were artificially protected by the 1991 pre-Democrat gerrymander.  This is why I continue to insist that yes, this is a battle about democracy — but the Democrats are on the anti-democratic side of it.

I also expect that Mr. Still's polite formulation is about as good a job at defending Rep. Frost's word choice as can be done.  But it's still off the mark — trying to make square words fit in round holes, so to speak. 

The Republicans whom Mr. Still names — and add "Beldar" to that list, along with the millions of other Texans who voted in 2002 to put both legislative chambers and both top executive offices into Republican Party hands — are indeed trying to accomplish a different result for future elections "by redrawing several congressional districts where the voters split their tickets and vote for Republican candidates most of the time, but continue to re-elect Democratic representatives."  We're being very candid about it — we think that especially since 9/11 and the overt beginning of the War on Terror, Texans want a Congressional delegation that supports our native-son President — and the publicly announced goal of redistricting is to do that.  We'd probably reformulate the description to say that we're trying to redistribute loyal straight-ticket Republicans who were disproportionately packed into a few districts by the 1991 pro-Democrat gerrymander, but I don't even quibble much with Mr. Still's description of the means being used. 

I do, however, strongly object to Rep. Frost calling this the "overturning" of past elections.  That is simply an untruth — indeed, from someone as experienced and knowledgeable as he is, I have to conclude that the choice of those words makes it a lie.  And it's a particularly powerful one because it accuses the Republicans of trying to do something politically illegitimate, instead of politically routine.  Yes, redistricting a/k/a gerrymandering is indeed "rejiggering" something until you get the "'right' result."  But you aren't rejiggering the results of past elections, you're rejiggering district boundaries to try to get a different result in future elections.  The latter is (ugly) small-d democracy in action; the former is an anti-democratic coup d'état. 

Rep. Frost and MoveOn and the Ten Truant Texas Dems™ want Texas redistricting to be about coups d'état and "stolen" elections because it fits their overall theme against the Bush administration.  I understand the theme.  But to make it fit here in the Lone Star State, you have to tell lies, and that's simply shameful.

Posted by Beldar at 01:12 AM in Texas Redistricting | Permalink


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(1) leftofcenter made the following comment | Sep 5, 2003 4:57:57 AM | Permalink

Is this just a very pointed way to snipe that Frost made an error by alluding 2001 instead of 2002? Sort of petty, eh? You're likely the only one in the state who's not aware "what 'elections'" the redistricting flap is allegedly over...

As for the overturning, I'm sure you'll have a lovely lawyerly way to show why you are right and the Dems are wrong, but I'll have a go anyway. DeLay claims that the 2002 election in which GOP state officials were elected proves that he deserves more 'Pubs, while conveniently forgetting that the same Texans in the same election voted 17 Ds into Congress, providing the majority.

Maybe instead of "overturn," it would have been more accurate for Frost to say negate, rescind, nullify, void, ignore, reverse, undo or deny?

(2) Mark Harden made the following comment | Sep 5, 2003 7:21:31 AM | Permalink

Maybe instead of "overturn," it would have been more accurate for Frost to say negate, rescind, nullify, void, ignore, reverse, undo or deny?

No. More accurate would be to say correct. Frost is the petty one here, as his word "overturn" has implications that the Congressmen elected in 2002 will somehow be thrown out of office outside the normal electoral process...whereas, the fact is, they will be thrown out of office in the next election in 2004.

forgetting that the same Texans in the same election voted 17 Ds into Congress, providing the majority

It does not take a lawyer to recommend you do some very basic and/or remedial reading on the concept of gerrymandering.

(3) Beldar made the following comment | Sep 5, 2003 8:45:29 AM | Permalink

Thank you for commenting, leftofcenter!

Yes, it would be petty to snipe that Frost made an error by saying "two years ago" instead of "one year ago"; he obviously misspoke and the error is trivial, meaningless, and not at all my point in posting, but rather a small distraction.

popeye.gifAs for my "lovely lawyerly ways," in the words of Popeye the Sailor, "I yam what I yam." I'd be the first to agree that law school somehow rewires the basic neural pathways associated with speech, in ways that are sometimes for the better but sometimes not.

It's obvious that overturn, negate, rescind, nullify, void, ignore, reverse, undo and deny all more or less fit as descriptions of what the ongoing California recall effort is attempting to do. Or I could see how those terms might be argued to apply to the Florida recount of 2000 if your premise is that a majority of Florida voters intended to vote for Al Gore.

I'll also grant you that it is extremely significant — whether you're arguing for or against Texas redistricting in 2003 — that in seventeen Congressional districts, Democrats won in 2002:

  • If you're arguing the Democrats' side, you want to stop with that datum and say, "Look, there's the majority will and it shouldn't be frustrated!"

  • If you're arguing the Republicans' side, you want to start with that datum and say, "Yes, but why? What accounts for that given all the other results of that same election?" And then you get into whether, as the Democrats argue, there was intentional ticket-splitting to preserve cherished incumbents and their seniority as ranking minority party members, or whether, as the Republicans argue, these isolated district races turned on the fact that Republicans were disproportionately packed into the fifteen districts where Republican candidates won as a result of the 1991 gerrymander (as slightly modified by the 2001 Balderas panel).

From either side, those are all good subjects for spirited and principled argument, and I think I understand the basic arguments of both sides.

But I still don't grasp what Frost meant when he chose the term "overturn" to refer to his own 2002 election; nor would substituting any of the terms you suggest make more sense to me. In stark contrast to Gray Davis' situation, no one is trying to do anything that will prevent Martin Frost from serving out his remaining term, or from voting between now and January 2005 in whatever manner his conscience and his understanding of his mandate from his constituency may dictate. Even Tom DeLay — who I'll grant you is hyperpartisan with all the subtlety of an attack dog (but I hope you'll grant me also that there are such men and women on both sides of the aisle) — isn't trying to prevent Martin Frost from casting his votes in the current Congress, and indeed Martin Frost's vote counts exactly the same in the Congress as Tom DeLay's.

Surely Rep. Frost can't mean that because he won in 2002 (or 2000 or 1998, etc.), he's somehow necessarily entitled to win again in 2004, 2006, 2008, and 2010, can he?

I can understand it when the Democrats claim that the current redistricting is an effort to "rig" or even "steal" the 2004-2010 elections. And I'll grant that there's something to that — the Republicans want to do our own gerrymander, to do for the next set of elections exactly that which the Democrats wanted to do, and succeeded in doing, in 1991. Whichever party does it while in the majority, gerrymandering by definition involves packing opponents disproportionately into a few districts with the net effect of diluting the impact of said packed voters. It is a raw, ugly, partisan process, a long-running bloodfeud that exemplifies small-d democracy at its very worst. (I'd grant you this while simultaneously pointing out that any of the maps proposed for Texas would be a far less extreme counter-swing to the right-of-center for the gerrymandering pendulum than that which was carried out by the Florida Legislature in 2001, for example.)

But I continue to see a logical disconnect between any of that and what Rep. Frost was arguing. I can't come up with any logical explanation for how anything in the current Texas redistricting efforts amounts to an attempt to overturn (or negate, rescind, nullify, void, ignore, reverse, undo or deny) Martin Frost's own 2002 election to the US House.

What I'm left with, then, is the conclusion that Rep. Frost is making this pitch because he's trying to trigger the same extremely powerful American sense of fair-play that is implicated by the "changing the rules in the middle of the game" argument that's also being made by the Dems. When that argument is made by someone like a Democratic state senator — who presumptively knows what the actual Texas Senate rules are, and how the blocker bill tradition has worked, and therefore that the blocker bill tradition which Lt. Gov. Dewhurst abandoned for the second session is actually a longstanding tradition of manipulating the written rules to give a minority of senators a blocking power that the rules, as written, never contemplate — then I have no trouble characterizing that as a lie. Not an innocent mistake; not even a careless falsehood. But a deliberate distortion.

Why shouldn't I draw that same conclusion about Rep. Frost's comment about "overturning" his own 2002 election? I know that he knows that even if a redistricting bill is passed by the Texas Legislature tomorrow (and signed by the Governor, precleared by the DOJ, and withstands Voting Rights Act of 1965 challenge), Martin Frost will still have exactly the same rights as a US Congressman that he has today. In contrast to what's obviously a slip of the tongue about "two years ago" instead of "last year," the selection of the phrase "overturn the results of the elections" isn't an innocent bit of misspeaking, but rather a widespread new theme for the anti-redistricting campaign.

So why isn't this a lie?

(4) Beldar made the following comment | Sep 5, 2003 9:00:25 AM | Permalink

Thank you also for your comment, Mr. Hardin, which dramatically illustrates the benefit of not being a crusty, long-winded trial lawyer.

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