The El Paso Tribune - El Paso Texas Political Commentary
Date: August 15, 2003

The Absent Texas Senators

When is comes to the missing Texas senators, the stories I read in the local paper and see on local television stations simply amaze me. The MAJORITY of the state and the MAJORITY of the city wants these senators to get back to work - now - yet all the reports available try to make it seem as though they are doing the right thing and that the majority of the city and state support them - even hinting that they are seen as heroes. Nothing could be further from the truth! Even the El Paso Times online poll shows that the MAJORITY of El Pasoans want the senators to get back to work - 57% - in a primarily democratic city! Why is the local media almost exclusively reporting this event as if they are doing the right thing? These senators are acting like spoiled little kids. They are wrong and they are embarrassing and hurting the city and the state. It's time for the local media to stand up, quit preaching what they want us to believe and start reporting the facts! Since the local media has not covered the recent letter from Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, I would like to quote a portion: “When Senate Democrats fled the state, they tried to claim that Senate tradition always requires a two-thirds vote on any matter. That's partisan spin. Tradition and precedent actually dictate that the two-thirds vote should not govern in redistricting, particularly in special sessions. In 1971, 1981 and 1992 special sessions on redistricting, Lt. Govs. Ben Barnes, Bill Hobby and Bob Bullock did not require a two-thirds vote on redistricting. In fact, the two-thirds vote was not used in at least 20 special legislative sessions in the last half-century alone. The situation facing a 1992 redistricting special session was almost identical to that faced by the Legislature this summer. A three-judge federal court in late 1991 had drawn a state legislative map that most Senate Democrats found objectionable. The court map, one publication said, dramatically shifts the balance of power in the Senate, creating at least the opportunity for a Republican majority. At a special session called by Gov. Ann Richards starting Jan. 2, 1992, Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, a Democrat, publicly announced that he did not have 21 votes, or a two-thirds margin, to change the court map. So he purposefully abandoned the two-thirds tradition, establishing what we now know as the Bullock Precedent. There were only nine Republicans in the 31-member Senate at the time, but three Democrats also preferred the court-drawn map. But none of the 12 senators refused to participate in the process. They didn't run away to New Mexico or Oklahoma. Instead, they stayed and fought for what they believed in. In the end, the majority approved its Senate map by an 18 to 12 vote, well short of the two-thirds usually required. Interestingly enough, with Democrats in the majority, there were no editorials written in 1992 demanding that the two-thirds vote be maintained. Congressional districts in Texas today are essentially those drawn by a partisan Legislature in 1991. At that time, a national publication called the Texas map the most outrageously gerrymandered redistricting effort in the nation, resulting in Democratic strength in our congressional delegation well beyond its representation among voters. Our congressional lines are even more outdated today. When the Legislature failed to draw new lines to accommodate Texas' two new congressional seats in 2001, the job fell to a federal court. The judges made the fewest changes possible to the existing 1991 map, in essence protecting incumbents. Democrats, now in a minority, understandably want to cling to that 1991 map for as long as possible. But the plan's integrity, always dubious, is now in tatters. It's even more unrepresentative today, thanks to population changes, voting trends and distortions caused by incumbency, including taxpayer-paid staff, free mailing privileges, fund-raising advantages and media coverage. The result is unfair representation. For example, a strong majority of Texas citizens support President Bush and his policies, while the majority of the state's congressional delegation does not. State legislators, elected representatives of the people, have a constitutional duty to draw legislative seats. Even the president pro tem of the New Mexico Senate -- a Democrat and one of our senator's Albuquerque hosts -- declared earlier this year that redistricting should be done by legislators, not by the courts.”

Jack C. Ansley

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