Friday, February 17, 2012

Bettancourt: Three GOP Seats in Harris Co May Be Lost in Redistricting Battle

Paul Bettancourt sent out a good recap from the Republican Party of Texas concerning the latest in the redistricting drama and the actions of the three judge panel in San Antonio. Bettancourt is the Texas GOP redistricting representative. He confirms that Harris County will undoubtedly, at this point anyway, lose one GOP held seat and the Texas Democrats are trying mightily to take two others in the process.

On Tuesday, February 14th, the San Antonio three-judge panel hearing the redistricting court case held what is presumably a final hearing, at which all parties outlined their positions relative to proposed redistricting maps. The Republican Party of Texas has provided a general advisory (see link) which will give you a summation of overall events. However, this special joint advisory will focus on Harris County districts.

Republican Party of Texas Chairman Steve Munisteri attended Tuesday’s hearing in person, as did Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart. Also, as many of you know former Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector and Texas GOP Redistricting Committee representative Paul Bettencourt has been in regular contact with many of the parties involved.

To understand the court proceedings, it is important to acknowledge the 25 year Extension of the voting rights act during the Bush Administration in 2006 is at the heart of the conflict over Texas Legislative redistricting playing out in the San Antonio courtroom. The Legislatively drawn State Representative lines have five Texas State House districts being the sole reason that a U.S. Department of Justice representative testified Tuesday that the DOJ's position is the manner in which these five Texas State House districts were drawn, was in violation of the Voting Rights Act.

One of these five districts was Texas House District 149, in the southwest part of Harris County and currently represented by Democrat Hubert Vo. This assertion, combined with the DOJ's position that HD 149 is a majority-minority district, required that district to remain Democratic under the U.S. Supreme Court's guidelines that the legislative-drawn districts can be redrawn if the Court found there was a "not insubstantial" violation of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. In practical terms, this means that HD 149 was not a Democratic district which could have been eliminated from the Harris County Delegation under the auspices of the Federal Voting Rights Act.

Therefore this means that instead of combining Hubert Vo and Scott Hochberg’s districts, the only alternative being considered by all three court members is combining Beverly Woolley's district with Jim Murphy's. This means that under every anticipated scenario - Harris County will lose at least one Republican State House district.

Again, all of the plaintiffs' groups argued that Representative Ken Legler's district (HD 144) needed to be comprised of a majority of SSVR (Spanish Surname Voter Registration). Since HD 144 is majority-minority, it also is prohibited from retrogressing. This means that under federal law, you cannot reduce the minority population of the district, and it also means that the majority Latino population must have an opportunity to pick its candidate of choice (as that is defined under federal law). The legislative map drew lines which we believe gave Representative Legler a substantial chance of winning HD 144 this November. However, the San Antonio three-judge panel threw out the lines for HD 144 and re-drew it in such a way that the Democrats would be expected to win the seat. In addition, Judge Smith in a dissent from the other two federal judge’s ruling basically maintained the traditional area district lines in an alternative plan published online.

However, recently the Attorney General drew proposed lines for HD 144 which maintained the district as majority-Latino, and with an SSVR number of 48%. Under these lines, the district leans Democratic and there is the significant chance for the seat to be lost. However, it is at least theoretically possible in a good Republican year with major effort to retain the seat. Both the Harris County Republican Party and the State Republican Party are committed to providing resources to Representative Legler or whoever the GOP nominee is to retain HD 144 under this district configuration. However, during the hearing - one set of Democratic groups proposed district lines which would increase HD 144's SSVR to 50%, and the overall Latino population to 68%. Another set of plaintiffs proposed district lines with a SSVR of 55% and a Latino population of 75%. Under these map configurations, it would be extremely unlikely that Representative Legler could be re-elected. After consultation with Paul Bettencourt, Chairman Munisteri informed the Attorney General's legal team that if HD 144 numbers could not be improved, that at the very least it was both the Harris County GOP's and RPT's preference that their team fight to maintain the numbers that they proposed. Many other Harris County Republicans have expressed the same opinion, including Party Chairman Jared Woodfill, and the message is clear. If there is no agreement between both sides in the lawsuit, then the three-judge panel will make the final decision and it remains unclear at this time what their decision will be.

The bottom line is that the Democrats Plaintiffs are trying to eliminate THREE Republican Harris County seats in the Texas House including an attack on even Representative Bill Callegari’s HD 130 that has received almost no media coverage to date. Currently, the Attorney General's office is trying to limit the damage to one seat - the certain loss resulting from the Hubert Vo situation in HD 149, as described above. That means a tie or 12/12 split in the Harris County Delegation only if HD 144 can be held by Representative Legler or any future Republican Nominee.

Deputy Attorney General for Defense Litigation, David Mattax, did an excellent job in refuting the challenge to Representative Callegari's district and also outlined to the Court his belief that House District 144 (as proposed) is legally compliant and does already qualify as a minority-opportunity district without any additional changes.

RPT Chairman Steve Munisteri, in commenting on the hearing's events, said: "I applaud General Abbott's legal team for the excellent presentation they made Tuesday in trying to get lines drawn more closely to the legislative maps than the original maps put out by the three-judge panel. County Clerk Stan Stanart went the extra mile for all county voters - appearing as a witness at Tuesday’s hearing as the only County Election Chief in Texas that said a primary could be run as early as April 24th. Former State Party Treasurer Paul Bettencourt has been extremely helpful over the past couple of days in providing his redistricting expertise. I do not know if the ultimate result will be what we want, but it will not be for a lack of trying."

The hearing concluded on Wednesday. The Democrats continued to attempt to make House District 144 more Democratic, but they offered no new arguments.

No comments: