Legislators Testify in Redistricting Public Hearing
AUSTIN - The Legislative Redistricting Board (LRB) had its third meeting on June 26, 2001, to consider new and existing proposals and maps from state legislators. The board is in charge of redrawing district lines for the Senate and House of Representatives, a job that has to be accomplished in 60 days. If the deadline is not met, the courts will take over the job.
Every ten years, both chambers of the Legislature are supposed to draw new district lines for their own districts, as well as those of the Congress and State Board of Education (SBOE), all based on new U.S. Census numbers. Both chambers made efforts during the 77th Legislative Session to redraw their own districts. The House of Representatives approved a plan that never reached the Senate floor for consideration. The Senate Redistricting Committee approved a plan for its chamber, but it too never made it to the floor for debate. Redistricting is one of the most partisan issues in the Legislature, as well as the most challenged in the courts.
Attorney General John Cornyn was selected as chairman of the board. The other members include Lt. Governor Bill Ratliff, House Speaker James E. "Pete" Laney, Comptroller of Public Accounts Carole Keeton Rylander and Land Commissioner David Dewhurst.
Forty state representatives testified before the board, and some presented new maps to be considered. But most of them declared themselves as either supporting or against one of the three existing plans for the House. One of the most favored is House Bill 150, created by Representative Delwin Jones of Lubbock --Chairman of the House Redistricting Committee--and already approved by the lower chamber during the regular session. The other two already on the table are one penned by Representative Kenny Marchant of Carrollton, and the so-called "Republican Plan" created by the Texas Republican Party.
The senators providing testimony were Royce West of Dallas, Tom Haywood of Wichita Falls, Robert Duncan of Lubbock, J.E. "Buster" Brown of Lake Jackson, Mario Gallegos of Houston and Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio. As chairman of the Senate Committee on Redistricting, Wentworth is the author of the proposal approved by his committee but not allowed to reach the Senate floor. Promoting his plan once more, he said his proposal was the most likely to pass the review of the three-judge federal court because it protects minority districts, is in accordance with the five percent population deviation allowed and it complies with every statutory requirement. Wentworth ended his testimony by jokingly advising board members to simplify their lives and adopt his plan.
Senator Wentworth presented himself once more as an advocate for reform. Mentioning the unavoidable self interest, subjectivity and partisanship of legislators towards redistricting, he wants the citizens to do it instead. "We are the inappropriate people to be drawing these lines", he said. His proposed redistricting body would be made up of citizens chosen by legislators. Twelve states in the country already use this system.
The Legislative Redistricting Board adjourned until July 10 at 2:00 p.m., when it plans to present a redistricting plan. The tentative schedule is as follows:
July 16, 9 a.m.: public hearing about presented plan.
July 24, 9 a.m.: formal adoption of LRB plan.