Gerrymander at will: An expensive new rose in the political landscape
By D S Gands
Jul 3, 2003
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The Texas redistricting debate opened June 30th, and the battle over making a case for 2004 begins, although not much was done about it on the floors of the Senate or House.  House Democrats were swimming the Red in May over this. 

Now it is ‘blockers’, Sessions ‘At Ease’, and recesses until the hearings around the State are concluded on Monday, July 7th.   Many bills have been filed for consideration in the Senate, and all have been referred to Committee.  There was a tense moment in the Senate when one Senator clarified that another Senator had filed twenty of the twenty-one or so bills read for referral to Committee.  It seems that they were to go to Jurisprudence, and Jurisprudence is on the road for the redistricting meetings.  The querying senator wanted to know whom the author senator thought was going to review them.  The exchange was a bit pointed, but no figurative blood was shed.

There has been much said about possible gerrymandering by the Democrats on redistricting following the 1990 Census.  I don’t recall any lawsuits filed over it.  It is a difficult suit to bring.  Gerrymander is a term in politics describing the rearrangement of voting districts so as to favor the party in power. The objective is to create as many districts as possible in areas of known support and to concentrate the oppositional strength into as few districts as possible. Extremely irregular boundary lines are sometimes necessary to obtain the results desired. The U.S. Supreme Court in 1964, however, placed the vague limit of “compact districts of contiguous territory” on such schemes.

The term origin, though by no means the origin of the practice, was in such an arrangement made by the Massachusetts Jeffersonians during the term of Governor Elbridge Gerry.  Elected governor of Massachusetts in 1810 and reelected in 1811, his party wanted to retain control of the state.  They rearranged the election districts in their favor and drew the districting in a grotesque salamander-like shape, a political maneuver named by the opposing party and since known as gerrymander (from the name Eldrige Gerry and salamander). Gerry was defeated for reelection as Governor of Massachusetts in 1812.  He was immediately nominated by the Jeffersonians for Vice President on the ticket with James Madison and was elected.   (Voting and elections were a bit different back then.)

Nathaniel Persily of the University of Pennsylvania is a leading expert on redistricting and Constitutional law.  He testified before Congress regarding H.R. 1173 (Federal Bill) in 1999.  If you are interested in an expert opinion on redistricting and Constitutional Law, visit the link and read his comments. They are remarkably clear regarding the law and the impacts of redistricting. (   

Though it has been said that there is no way to predict the impacts on an election from a redistricting, it must have some favor or it wouldn’t be pursued outside the standard.  I wrote to Mr. Persily and asked him for a quote.  This was his reply:

The causes and consequences of redistricting Texas along the lines proposed is not a mystery.  Tom Delay has said that he is pushing this plan so that Republicans can maintain their majority in the U.S. House. He and others also make a representational argument -- namely, that there is something wrong about a Republican state having a majority of its representatives be Democrat.

“While partisan gerrymandering is quite typical in decennial redistricting, rarely, if ever, has a partisan gerrymander been performed in between the censuses.  Should this become the rule, rather than the exception, we can expect redistricting to become a permanent part of the political landscape rather than a sporadic event every ten years.”

Precedent setting gerrymander is being visited across the nation.  Texas is not the only state with this concern.  Colorado recently sued itself over redistricting, according to some news articles of late.

However, in light of the fact that the standard is being tested for partisan politics, how can anyone, including Tom Delay, think that this is anything other than manipulation of the system for benefit of this (and possibly a future) administration?   It just so happens that most of the system worked in 2001.  I still have a little trouble swallowing the waiver of the residency requirement of the Texas Constitution for the 2002 race.  If the Department of Justice determined that the districts were to be drawn according to law and the Census of 2000, given under the law and by fair and equal standard, losing one’s district boundary gives them the opportunity to run for office in the new District, some of which is still familiar territory, in some cases.  Waiver of the Texas Constitution seemed to be a tactical maneuver.  It did beg the question ‘Is the law the law?’

The order1 on a waiver was signed regarding the Texas Constitution residency requirement for the 2002 elections to oblige current incumbents seeking re-election.   The judge was one of the three federal judges faced with the arduous task of redistricting just two short years ago.  Temporarily waiving the Constitution is dangerous precedent, as well.  Under certain circumstances, all the members of the Texas Legislature could claim they lived in Austin more than they did their home Districts. Theoretically, they can all run in Austin, giving Texas one district for State elections.

Governor Perry would not call a special session in 2001, and that ignited a series of lawsuits ending with the Federal Courts implementing the last issues on redistricting.  In his letter calling for the Special Session of June 30, 2003, he stated that he believes that the elected officials and not the judges should draw district lines.  But, they did not, and it had to be done.

The Districts were drawn to comply with the law, and the standard would be not to redistrict until another census is taken.  If there were some necessary or emergency reasons for the people, some hard evidence for example that districts have shifted so drastically in their resident populace since 2001, or something viable other than simply attempting to preserve a Congressional House majority in 2004, then I would say yes.  I have not heard another viable argument for this, to date.

The court’s involvement is the law.   The courts have to address the matter if the legislature cannot agree and suit is brought, unless there is a Special Session and it passes.  From what I can read on the subject, the Senate didn’t have a majority for the House Bill and visa versa.  School District plans died in committee.  Besides, the Federal Judges were mandated to reconfigure the House District Plan because the Department of Justice would not approve it as submitted. 

The Senate and School District plans, submitted during the aftermath of that session, were approved by the DOJ and ruled upon.  All the judges did was what the federal Department of Justice imposed for the House Redistricting to comply.  The judges did not arbitrarily scribble some lines on a map. 2  They followed the law.  Governor Perry is operating within the law, as well.  He has the power to call a Special Session, add to it, or call another one. 3  He intends to do all three, from the information disseminated recently.

It was noted on the floor of the Senate Chamber this week, that Special Sessions cost the taxpayers $1.7M, each.  We are in the midst of what will be two.   School Finance Reform is said to be the focus of the second.

On top of that, after a challenge by Comptroller Strayhorn to the State Budget, a lawsuit was discussed against her for her objection and refusal to approve the budget, and Perry cut approximately $200M in funds from the comptroller appropriations by vetoes.  She approved the budget in a gracious announcement.

These activities have saved us $200M on the budget without raising our taxes and placed School Finance Reform second to Redistricting.  We have at least one Special Session underway, and a second in the wings at $1.7M, each.

That’s not fuzzy math.  That’s a waste.  If the Legislators get this resolved by either leaving it alone or hammering it home, we might get a cost effective ‘short session’.  It still boggles the mind.  If that much money is available for the alleged Delay agenda, it should have been budgeted for needy children of this state, or for School Finance Reform issues, again for children, and the property owners. Various representatives, and many citizens, are offering their opinions on where the new found funds should be spent, not to mention the incredible costs and constant turmoil of redistricting for political advantage every other year.

Ladies and gentlemen, just keep your boots on and put your foot down.  There’s a lot more at stake here than just the lines on a map. 4  If this situation becomes the standard for political election favor, I do not see much standing in the way of a single party democracy.  Public policy demands that we preserve and protect our children, set good examples for them, and lead them to greatness.  This is not the way.

It is not attributable to any one source, but many say ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions.’  So it would seem.  The Texas House Democrats took up battle positions in Oklahoma, during the last session to ‘kill’ this legislation, which was the only option available to them given the circumstances.  A river of nasty events ensued, such as arresting a member of the House, sadly comparing Texas Representatives with the bad boys of Iraq with snide displays of playing cards, and the unbecoming allegations of misuse of Homeland Security resources.  The D’s did not sling any mud, kept their figurative guns in their holsters, and achieved a victory, however brief.

I thought John Wayne said ‘The law is the law, mister.’, and he may have.  Lots of folks have used that phrase.   I looked it up.  I traced it to Paul in Romans 8.  It seems that he was talking about sin and death. 

This redistricting of Texas is just good for a Presidential election year or two.

It won’t kill anybody, but the sin part is still up for grabs.

Residency waiver – Altering the Texas Constitution for the 2002 elections


Tx Legislative Council redistricting of 2001 (Site updated 2003)



Copyright 2003 by D.S. Gands – All Rights Reserved