Around the U.S. in 50 Days: Texas, Part 1

Texas gains four seats in the House bringing their total to 36 (and thus 4 electoral votes raising the total to 38). With approval ratings consistently well below the national average, Obama stands little to no chance of winning their 38 electoral votes. Additionally, some of these votes come at the expense of states that Obama carried in 2008: Ohio and New York (2 apiece), New Jersey, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Doing the math from the reapportionment of electoral votes, the GOP adds a net total of 4 electoral votes off the get-go which, ironically is what Texas gains. That is why in 2012, some smaller states take on added importance to Obama. However, for our current discussion, the eventual GOP nominee takes the 38 electoral votes from Texas.
Kay Bailey Hutchison is retiring from her Senate seat leaving this an open race. Normally, this would represent an opportunity for the opposition party, but then again, this is Texas! Originally, the Democrats thought they had their man, but that elation soon turned to despair. Looking ideally for a Hispanic with military experience, they turned to and recruited retired General Ricardo Sanchez. However, he has since withdrawn, barely a blip on the radar screen. Of course, his home in San Antonio did suffer extensive fire damage and he cited this, among other things, as his reason for withdrawing. The real reason is that his ability to raise funds was simply dismal- only $120,000 in the full quarter of his candidacy compared to his Republican counterparts who were raising about $2 million to add to their already-$2 million war chests. In a state the size of Texas, winning statewide office is an expensive proposition and Sanchez was at a huge disadvantage here. Instead, as it stands now, Paul Sadler- a former state representative- looks to be the likely victim, er…candidate.

Among the stable of possibilities the Democrats have are former Congressmen Chet Edwards and Chris Bell with Edwards being the better known among the two. The Liberal/Democratic blogosphere is all ga-ga over the possibility of former state comptroller John Sharp entering the race (more on him later). There is also the rumor that actor Tommy Lee Jones may enter the fray and some polls show him competitive in a general election. Once it comes to policy, solutions, and issues, he would most likely be just another Hollywood hack with political aspirations. But then again, the Democrats do have Al Franken in the Senate so you never know.
On the GOP side, it would appear to be a three way race. A very excellent possibility (in my view and a perfect fit for Texas)- Elizabeth Ames Jones withdrew and will instead run for state senate. Formerly the Texas Railroad Commissioner (don’t let the title fool you; they have a lot of power in Texas controlling the energy industry), some polls showed her gaining ground on the front runners at the time before she officially withdrew, as well as gaining attention from some national conservative publications and websites.
With her out, that leaves former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, former State Solicitor Ted Cruz, and current Lt. Governor David Dewhurst. At this point, this is Dewhurst’s race to lose. He starts with the most statewide name recognition and a personal fortune to tap besides an existing large war chest. His biggest competition will come in the primary, not the General Election. Standing in his way is first, Leppert. However, as popular Houston Mayor Bill White proved not too long ago, because you area popular big city Mayor, it does not guarantee you electoral success statewide. Regardless, he does have some civic accomplishments to tout. The biggest opposition, however, will come from the unabashedly conservative Ted Cruz. He has already received favorable press coverage from the likes of The National Review, George Will, and others. Additionally, although there is no outright endorsement, the Club for Growth recently began running advertisements assailing the record of Dewhurst. In reality, Dewhurst is considered a right-of-center Republican, more akin to the elder Bush, or even Mitt Romney. While Cruz certainly presents a contrasting option (he openly embraces the Tea Party activism), one needs to look at how Hutchison often fended off more conservative challenges to her candidacies. She managed to win over the so-called “suburban Republicans” by appealing to their fiscal conservatism. Although socially conservative in general, they place less emphasis on the social issues. This was her formula for success. Cruz will certainly appeal to the rural vote and those areas most often viewed as the Bible Belt sections of Texas. However, it looks difficult for him to win these suburban Republican votes. Put another way, it is just easier for Dewhurst to win them.
Should John Sharp somehow enter the race, there is some electoral history. He was the Democratic nominee for Lt. Governor in 1998, but lost that race by two points to Rick Perry, who then became Governor when George W. Bush resigned to run for President. What a different chain of events would have occurred if Sharp had won. In 2002, Sharp again ran as the Democrat for Lt. Governor, again losing this time by 6 points to David Dewhurst. He would be an interesting candidate and one that could stand toe-to-toe with either Dewhurst (as he proved in the past) or Ted Cruz, but would most likely lose in the end because this, after all, Texas. Additionally, he would have to leave a job he currently seems to like, chancellor of Texas A&M University. Admittedly, if I were a Texan, I would give him a good look. As the state comptroller, his businesslike approach to the state’s finances and his audits saved $350 million for taxpayers in educational expenses and directed more money into the classrooms, he basically locked in cheaper college tuition costs for over 80,000 Texas families, reformed welfare through a partnership between the state, the private sector and charitable organizations, and he reformed the Food Stamp program using the model adopted nationally. If one did not know any better, you would think this guy is Republican.
Before addressing the House races in part 2, it is best to dispense with the redistricting morass currently before the Supreme Court. I have previously written about this (see: Roberts vs. Obama and Holder, part 1: Texas Redistricting). To summarize, the state gains 4 seats thus necessitating changes to the congressional districts. Over the past decade, Texas saw a large population increase. However, 89% of that growth was attributable to the non-white population- Hispanics and blacks. For example, today Hispanics comprise 37.5% of the population of Texas. According to some people, 37.5% of their new district total of 36 should be Hispanic majority, or at least minority-majority (or 13-14 districts). However, only 24% of the Hispanic population is of voting age. Using this formula, it would require 8-9 Hispanic majority districts. Currently, 10 of their existing 32 districts are minority-majority (or 31%). Under the maps drawn by the state legislature, which must be approved by the Federal government under the Voters Rights Act, Texas would still have 10 minority-majority districts and this is what the Federal Court in San Antonio intimated, without a full explanation, said was prima facie evidence of racial animus is redistricting. That is: how can a minority population increase so much, yet the number of minority districts remain the same? Part of the answer is that Texas was already one district over to start with from the 2000 redistricting. On its face, some of what the court intimates at makes intuitive sense. However, how can one’s voting rights be violated when the representation of voters, not population, is actually overstated at ten districts? And then the court just drew a new map, without a full explanation, and adds three minority districts. This is forcing the actual physical area of a confined space (the state) into some preconceived statistical configuration that allegedly guarantees racial diversity and fairness.
There are quite a few ways the Supreme Court can go here. Actually, they are three cases involved. Texas is arguing that the will of their people, through their elected representatives in the state legislature, is being negated by a heavy-handed federal court. They argue that the map drawn by the legislature should go forward. Some of the problem is that, knowing they would need clearance from the federal government, Texas opted for that clearance through the DC Court rather than the Justice Department. This is understandable given Holder’s reverse prejudice. However, their request for summary judgment from the DC Court was denied and what even caused the San Antonio court to get involved was the timing of the maps and the March primary (since moved back to April 3rd) and filing deadlines. The best argument for the state would be to (1) allow the map they derived to get the benefit of the doubt until the DC Court rules on it and then (2) make adjustments based on their recommendations. Instead, being Texas, some aspects of their court brief filings tend to intimate that they may take a broadside attack on Section 5 of the Voters Rights Act. Many Court watchers, myself included, believe that this redistricting case is not the best vehicle for attacking Section 5’s constitutionality and that other cases in the pipelines, especially one out of South Carolina, may be the better chance. And because redistricting cases are rare, there are a couple precedents to support the more limited, narrower view of Texas. Additionally, I believe both sides seem to agree that the San Antonio court did not fully explain itself for either drafting the map or how they drafted it. That would lead one to believe that the Court may play Solomon and direct the DC Court to rule on clearance ignorant of the court map, and for them to remand to San Antonio for the actual tweaking.

What the courts fail to understand is that any minority population tends to cluster in particular areas, probably due to familiarity. For example, San Francisco’s large Asian population lives there not by coincidence, but by choice. Likewise for blacks who live in urban areas. These tendencies are natural. They are not racist. How can the decision of someone to voluntarily live somewhere be racist? And that is a problem when drawing these districts. It would be great if the 37.5% of Hispanics in Texas were evenly spread out over 36 distinct political geographical areas. If that was the case, we would not be having this discussion. And that is where this damned if you do, damned if you don’t conundrum enters the conversation. If you concentrate them in one or two districts where they may actually live, you are accused of lessening their political power by decreasing the number of districts. If you then spread them out, you are accused of diluting their voting power. The result is strangely drawn districts that gerrymander based exclusively upon racial considerations. Does it make a difference whether the legislature does it or a federal court? Apparently, it is OK if a court does it. And that unfairness is what Texas is essentially fighting here.

This case was taken on an expedited basis after Justice Scalia referred it to the whole Court and after staying implementation of the court maps. Until this case is settled and district boundaries accepted, there will be confusion. In part 2, I am going to prognosticate on a preliminary basis and with a lot of conjecture. However, it is possible that with the legislature’s maps, the placement at risk of certain incumbents did not know party lines. If the majority of your delegation is Republican, changes to any district can affect that incumbency. The larger the delegation, the greater the risk and the greater the number of targets for the opposition party. Choices then have to be made where a Republican incumbent, in the case of Texas, may be put at risk. As we shall see, that was the case here.