Monday, February 13, 2012

HCRP and RPT Dueling Emails Continue Re-Districting Confusion

Seems there is some extra confusion about the re-districting battle going on around the lawsuits and the three judge panel re-drawing the maps. Saturday, I received an email from the Harris County Republican Party chairman Jared Woodfill asking me to contact the Austin offices of Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and Republican Party of Texas chairman Steve Munisteri and tell them I don't want Harris County to lose two districts in the fray.

Sunday I received an email from Republican Party of Texas chairman Steve Munisteri to clarify issues he is being asked about, thanks to Woodfill's email. Note that Munisteri states that Woodfill didn't contact him or his staff about his concerns before sending his email out to those of us in Harris County.

First, the email from Woodfill:

Maps currently being discussed in the San Antonio court will cost Harris County at least two Republican House seats.

On the heels of the greatest election cycle in the HCRP's 61 year history, coupled with the fact that we are the largest Republican county in the state, these proposed losses are unacceptable.

I applaud Attorney General Greg Abbott and RPT Chairman Steve Munisteri for their efforts to ensure Republicans are well represented in this process. That said, they need to hear from you, please email them today and urge them not to accept any map which costs Harris County Republican House seats:

Attorney General Greg Abbott:
RPT Chairman Steve Munisteri:

Thank you for your prompt attention,

And, the email from Munisteri trying to clarify the role of the Republican Party of Texas in the process:

The email that was sent out yesterday by Chairman Woodfill has resulted in my receiving several dozen emails regarding the potential loss of Republican house seats. These responses indicate a great deal of confusion and misconception about the RPT’s role in the redistricting process and how that process is unfolding. Since Chairman Woodfill did not contact me or any of my staff prior to sending out this email, I thought I would take the opportunity to thoroughly explain the situation to everybody so as to avoid unnecessary effort to send out additional emails.

The first thing that everybody should know is that the Republican Party of Texas is not even a party to the lawsuit regarding the Texas House seats that Chairman Woodfill has referred to. Thus, the RPT does not even have standing to object to any maps. In addition, the RPT has not been included in any negotiations involving district lines and will not be. To understand the Republican Party of Texas’ role, one must understand the purpose of our involvement in the redistricting lawsuits in the first place.

Various Democratic and minority groups wish to prevent the implementation of the Texas legislature’s maps pertaining to Congressional, Texas House and Texas State Senate seats. These groups sued the State of Texas and the parties that drew the maps in order to have the maps thrown out. These parties also sued the Republican and Democratic Parties’ Chairmen individually, to seek an injunction against the State Parties from holding primaries. The Republican Party of Texas filed a motion to dismiss because the RPT would go by whatever maps were legally in effect at the time of the primary anyway. Some plaintiffs’ groups opposed this dismissal, presumably to run up the RPT’s attorney’s fees (which they did.) It should also be noted, that the plaintiffs were seeking reimbursement of attorney’s fees from defendants, which the press has reported as much as potentially $2 million dollars, so it was important for the State Party to get dismissed from a suit which it was not a necessary party to in order to prevent even the theoretical possibility of any costs in Court being apportioned to the RPT.

The Court did not grant our motion, so the RPT proceeded to trial on the Texas House, Senate and Congressional maps anyway. Ironically, during the trial – the plaintiffs dismissed the Republican Party from the Texas House and Congressional lawsuits. At this time, we are no longer a party to those lawsuits, and therefore – do not have standing to object to the Texas House or Congressional maps. The plaintiffs’ groups suing over the State Senate maps, did not dismiss the RPT and we are still a party to that lawsuit.

The Attorney General of the State of Texas is charged with the duty of defending the legislative maps, thus it is Attorney General Abbott’s office which is in complete control of the defense of the maps, and handling all negotiations regarding maps. The Attorney General has taken the position that it would be inappropriate to discuss the specifics of the negotiations with parties that are not involved in the negotiations. Consequently, the only information that I get is to whether or not negotiations are ongoing or not – I do not receive information on the details of proposed maps. Recently, proposed maps were filed regarding the Texas House which combined Beverly Woolley’s seat and Jim Murphy’s seat. This map also reduces the percentage of Republicans in Representative Ken Legler’s seat. I presume these are the two seats that Chairman Woodfill is referring to. Consequently, I have received emails asking that no Republican seats be lost in the new map. As previously noted, whether or not that occurs is not within my control. However, I will do my best to explain why it may occur that Texas Republicans lose House seats, including a potential loss of a seat or two in the Harris County area.

The San Antonio three-judge panel will determine what interim maps are used for the Texas House in the upcoming election. There is a misconception that the RPT (which is not even involved in negotiations) and/or the Attorney General, is somehow bargaining away State House seats in return for avoiding an inconvenience or cost of delaying the Texas Primary Election further. From my point of view, this is not what is happening. Rather, the Attorney General is presumably trying to preserve as many Republican House seats in the state as possible. Unfortunately, the three-judge panel previously drew a map under which Republicans could be expected to lose a significant number of seats statewide, including potentially as many as three districts in Harris County. The panel completely redrew the Texas legislative maps.

The Attorney General (who is fighting for the legislative map which contains many more Republican seats, including at least two more in Harris County) filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out the three-judge panel’s maps, and reinstitute the legislative maps. The Supreme Court did throw out the three-judge panel’s maps but did not reinstitute the Legislature’s maps. Instead, the Supreme Court issued instructions as to the criteria by which the three-judge panel would draw a completely new set of maps. It should be noted that the Supreme Court tasked the three-judge panel to draw the maps, which means these maps will in fact be drawn by this panel, even if there is no agreement between the two sides on the lawsuits. The Supreme Court indicated that the three-judge panel can redraw district lines if there is a reasonable probability that there is a violation of the Voting Rights Act in some of the districts.

Presumably, at least two of the three judges of this panel think there are violations of the Voting Rights Act or they would not have issued new maps in the first place. Consequently, it is expected if there is not an agreement between the Attorney General and the plaintiffs, there will be a loss of Republican seats anyway, including some in Harris County.

I trust that the Attorney General is taking this into account as he negotiates with the plaintiffs, and is trying to salvage the best deal that he can in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling. On the positive side, the Supreme Court has indicated that creating new coalition minority districts is not allowed (as opposed to protecting single-majority ethnic group districts.) The Court also indicated that redrawing lines for other reasons, such as the “public good”, is not permissible. What all this means is whether there is an agreement or no agreement – I predict that the three-judge panel will issue maps which are better for Republicans than their last maps, but not nearly as good as the original maps which were drawn by the Legislature.

This conclusion is based in part by a statement the Court issued on Friday, which ordered the parties to continue negotiations and indicated that the Court wished to issue new maps for an April primary. They signaled how they would rule by noting the Supreme Court ruling gave them flexibility to draw new lines but also limited them from creating coalition majority-minority districts. Consequently, the choice facing General Abbott is not between supporting the legislative maps and the proposed maps. The choice for General Abbott is between the proposed maps and what the Attorney General expects the Court will issue if there is no agreement. I presume that Attorney General Abbott will not support any maps which stray farther away from the legislatively-drawn maps, than what he thinks a court ruling will do anyway. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I believe there is a significant chance that there will be a loss of Republican seats, no matter if there is an agreement or not.

Rest assured that I have been an advocate at the Legislature for drawing maps that create the most Republican seats possible while also complying with the Voting Rights Act. I also publicly and privately advocate that no more seats be given up than necessary. However, I need to reiterate that I have no control over what the final maps will be.

There is a final misconception that I wish to clear up that is apparent from these emails. There is not another Court that will issue interim maps. Some emails have suggested that we file suit someplace else to prevent the San Antonio three-judge panel from issuing maps. Only the U.S. Supreme Court has the power to put a stay on this three-judge panel. If the Court follows the criteria handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling, which allows for the altering of lines – it would be expected that any appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court would be futile.

I pride myself in transparency and frank talk. Hopefully, this lengthy explanation of a very convoluted situation will answer all the emails I have received and questions that you may have. If for some reason I have not – I will be in my office in Austin at approximately 1:00pm to 8:00pm on Monday, February 13th and you can call me with your questions at 512-477-9821. The following days, I will be in court in San Antonio as the RPT is included in discussions concerning the Texas Primary Election schedule and the deadlines associated thereto.

RPT Chairman Steve Munisteri

So, the confusion continues for us mere voters. I happen to live in the district re-forming to create a new one from retiring Rep. Woolley and my current Representative, Jim Murphy. Depending on the ruling on the new map, I may be in the newly created district.

This bit of non-communication between the local level and the state level of the Republican Party is not a good thing. I hope it will improve so that we may all be better served.

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