Political madness in Texas
11th-hour battle over districts leads to mad scramble, uncertainty as filingbegins for candidates
If you thought the race for the GOP presidential nomination was a big mess, just take a look at Texas politics this week.
The filing period has started for candidates who want to run for office in Texas, and this first week should have been marked — as it usually is — with an avalanche of triumphant-sounding press releases, a handful of retirement announcements and a light smattering of relatively surprising candidacies.
Instead, with the primary looming on March 6, this week is marked by a fat cloud of uncertainty, as some politicians file for election in districts they’re not entirely sure they’ll end up representing once the whole thing shakes out later this week.
Or next month. Or sometime in the new year.
Judges and politicos are still doing some wrangling this week over where to draw the new district lines, required every 10 years by federal law for state reps, senators and U.S. Congressional candidates — even with some legal maps finally put into play in the past 10 days.
But even if the Supreme Court decides to let Texas move forward with its political process and court-drawn districts, the 11th-hour battling over the district lines still leaves Texas with dozens of candidates who have wasted tens of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) in campaign contributions from the public to woo voters who, as of last week, are no longer in their districts.
“Literally, campaigns have been running since the maps were passed by the state House and Senate and signed by the governor,” said local GOP consultant Chris Turner, whose own clients in the Legislature are mostly unscathed by the issue. “People hit the ground running in that May-June time period, and in some cases, their campaigns are over now. You had people who put in dozens, if not hundreds, of hours of work running in districts that were pulled out from underneath them.”
As the population grows and new Census figures come out each decade, the state Legislatures must adjust their political districts to accommodate the growth and make sure that minorities’ rights are represented.
Texas gained four new Congressional districts this time around, based on the addition of nearly 4.5 million people since 2000, two-thirds of whom are Hispanic.
In Texas redistricting years, the maps are usually drawn during the legislative session in the first half of the year and set pretty much in stone when filing starts in November.
This year, however: The House map was in flux until Nov. 18. The Congressional map didn’t get released until the day before Thanksgiving. And the court was still tweaking the Texas Senate districts as late as Friday.
The GOP-controlled Legislature earlier this year passed maps that sparked more than a dozen lawsuits.
Among the local critics was Austin Democratic Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, who objected to Travis County and Austin being busted up into five Congressional districts — all but eliminating any influence Austin would have in D.C.
Others believed that the map disenfranchised minorities by refusing to create new districts that represented minority strongholds, or by other means they said violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
A panel of three judges — two Republicans and one Democrat — decided they were right, and set about drawing new maps.
But while candidates began filing for office on Monday with the new maps in mind, all of that could change if Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican, and other state leaders, including Gov. Rick Perry, have their way.
This week, Abbott asked SCOTUS to stay the court-drawn maps and restore the Legislative districts.
Thursday is the deadline given by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia for Texas civil rights groups to respond before he decides whether to overturn the maps or let Texas move ahead with its election process.
It’s considered highly unlikely that Scalia, even with his level of conservatism, will grant Abbott’s wish.
But even if he doesn’t, we now have a mad scramble by the candidates still left in the game to either start their campaigns in earnest or to make up for lost ground.
Democratic state Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth was waiting to see if judges created Congressional District 33 before deciding whether to run for Congress or re-run for his seat in the state House.
“Everybody had to wait to see what they were going to,” Veasey said Tuesday. “While I was determining whether I was going to run for Congress or state House, there were other people that had the freedom to pretty much to be able to run just in case. I didn’t have that freedom, and a lot of people were in that same sort of limbo, particularly Texas House members, not really knowing exactly what the next day was going to hold.”
Veasey planned to formally file for CD-33 on Tuesday.
Here are more examples of the chaos:
- In the Mid-Cities area between Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas GOP Rep. Kelly Hancock was campaigning for voters in Democratic Sen. Wendy Davis’ district after the Legislature’s map eliminated her chances by redrawing it to be more Republican. Hancock campaigned all summer for voters in that Fort Worth district, only to see Davis win them back last week when her district was restored.
- Travis County Congressman Lloyd Doggett, a Democrat, has been running all summer in preparation for a bruising primary against Texas Rep. Joaquin of San Antonio. Now they’re not facing each other at all.
- On the other side of the aisle, Republican Michael Williams, formerly of the Texas Railroad Commission, is now at loose ends because the new Congressional map leaves him without a district to run in. The same goes for Roger Williams, former secretary of state, who has been running for higher office for years. “They didn’t just have their opportunity impacted,” Turner said of both men. “They were basically vaporized.”