Governor calls special legislative session on Redistricting

Governor Rick Perry issued a call for a Special Session of the Legislature to start June 30. The only item on the agenda is the Redistricting of congressional boundaries.

This contentious issue was the reason that 51 Democratic legislators fled from Austin to the safety of Ardmore, Oklahoma during the regular session, a tactic that kept the legislature from having a quorum and being able to take a vote on the issue.

Republicans, under the leadership of U.S. Congressman Tom DeLay, are pushing for redistricting because the legislature in the last session did not agree on new boundaries, which are required every 10 years when there is a new census count, and the issue was decided by the courts instead. If the Republicans can get a vote on new lines, they believe that it will create more Republican districts for the next congress, at the expense of the Democrat’s current seats. Thus, the issue is highly political as well as constitutionally questionable.

Democrats at this session are not expected to disappear, because Perry could keep calling special sessions until they agree to show up. Instead, they are counting on the Texas Senate, where rules say that a 2/3 majority is required to bring the issue to a vote, and the Republicans do not have that many seats. However, swing votes could alter the outcome when votes are counted.

To prepare for the special session, Representative Joe Crabb, Atascocita, who is Chairman of the House Redistricting Committee, has scheduled public hearings in six cities around the state of Texas prior to the June 30th call.

Congressman Gene Green says:
“Expressing Disappointment that Governor Perry calls Special Session”

“By calling for a special session today on Congressional Redistricting, Governor Perry has shown that he is more interested in playing partisan politics like in Washington. A special session will cost at least $1.7 million when the state is reducing health care for seniors, children and education funding.

“We have a Congressional plan that has been approved by a bipartisan three judge panel, it has been ruled by the U.S. Supreme Court to be constitutional and in compliance with the Voting Rights Act, and elections have been held using these lines. While the districts created by the court elected 17 Democrats and 15 Republicans in 2002, statewide Republican candidates carried 20 of the 32 Congressional districts. Democrats have prevailed in these districts only because they can and do win the votes of ticket-splitters.

“The main premise for redrawing Congressional Districts is that Republican candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives receive more votes than their Democratic counterparts. Their argument is wrong and is unconstitutional. Districts are drawn based on population, not on voters.

“After the 2000 Census, each Congressional District in Texas has a population of 651,620. Among the 32 districts, the number of registered voters, as well as those who exercise the right to vote, varies.

“Some districts, for example the 29th Congressional District, has a little more than 223,000 registered voters with about 72,000 having participated in the last election. By contrast, the 8th Congressional District has about 368,000 registered voters and more than 157,000 voted in the last election. Both districts have equal population.

“The United States Constitution requires that states establish congressional districts that are equal in population, under the ‘one man, one vote’ principle. This means that everyone, regardless of whether they are registered to vote or actually vote, deserves to be represented in the United States Congress.

“Redistricting is a serious constitutional matter. It is not a childish ‘do-over’ when it does not meet your partisan whims. In a democracy, voters should choose their representatives; representatives should never choose voters.”

Republican State Chair S. Waddington says:
“We commend Governor Perry for showing courageous leadership”

“We commend Governor Perry for showing courageous leadership by calling a special session and not allowing Democrats to continue to disenfranchise Texas voters.

“Texans have elected their lawmakers to do a job, including the task of congressional redistricting. Texans want their elected leaders to live up to their responsibilities, not abdicate them to appointed federal judges.

“The legislature has failed to fulfill its constitutional responsibility to draw new congressional districts for the past two legislative sessions. The federal court admitted that the interim map it imposed was not intended to reflect Texans’ voting behavior or minority growth across the state. In fact, the court stated that creating additional minority or Republican districts, in accordance with population and electoral changes since the last census, is ‘a quintessentially legislative decision.’

“There is a critical public need for lawmakers to draw new congressional districts that can be implemented before the next election. The current congressional map drawn by the federal court does not accurately reflect the will of Texas voters. Fifty-six percent of Texans voted for the GOP congressional candidate in the 2002 elections, yet Republicans received less than 47% of the seats. In effect, 10% of votes cast by Texans in congressional races are being thrown away.

“The only responsible course of action for lawmakers to take is to return to Austin immediately and do their job by passing a fair redistricting plan that respects Texans’ votes, their will and their views.

“Democrats have stifled Texans’ voices for their own political gain for too long. Democrats refused to pass a fair congressional redistricting plan in 2001, and they ran away to Oklahoma to prevent one from passing in 2003. To allow Democrats to continue to disenfranchise Texas voters would be an absolutely irresponsible travesty of our democratic system. The legislature must enact a fair redistricting plan now, before the next election, so that Texans’ voices are finally heard and respected.”