Thursday, March 25, 2004

Texas Community Futures Forum

by Louise Sanders

Cooperative Extension (used to be Agricultural Extension. associated with A&M) is having a brainstorming session with 30 - 50 community leaders to create a list of priorities about issues affecting families and individuals in Lubbock County. They do this every 5 years.

Next Tuesday, March 30, 2001, 6:30 pm
916 Main Street (Bank of America Building)
Free Meal at 6 PM (Beans & Cornbread)--Call if you want to eat with them
775-1680 for a reservation.
Format--persons attending will be randomly divided into small groups. Each group will hash out their list of priorities. Groups will reassemble and put together a list of 4 or 5 that all can agree on.

Every county in Texas is doing this sometime next week. It's a statewide thing. When I talked to Kay Davis, the county agent who called me about this, she said they usually draw a fairly diverse group of people.

South Plains-Texas Democratic Women

South Plains TDW holds its second meeting tomorrow, Friday, March 26, noon, Furr's Family Dining, Slide Road near the mall in Lubbock. On the agenda: by-laws approval, elect assistant treasurer, local candidates, and break out groups to focus on action items. It's not too late to join as founding member. Be there!

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Texas Redistricting: Here Comes the Judge

by Ralph Brock, Attorney-at-Law

Courts get involved in Texas congressional redistricting in only two instances: when the legislature fails to redistrict and when it does.

In 2001 the legislature failed to redistrict for congressional elections after the 2000 census. Gov. Rick Perry decided not to call a special session because, he explained:

Although I expect Texans will be disappointed with the inability to accomplish this task, I believe Texans would be even more disappointed if we expend considerable sums of taxpayer money to call the legislature into a special session that has no promise of yielding a redistricting plan for Congress. I, therefore, have decided that it is not in the best interest of our State to call a special session at this time.

When the legislature fails to draw new congressional districts, courts -- state or federal -- will step in and do so. Federal courts will defer to state courts but only for a limited amount of time. That is what happened in 2001, when a three-judge federal court approved a new redistricting plan. The media seldom mentions this, but the 2001 map was rigged to give Republicans a substantial majority in the Texas delegation. However, in at least six districts that otherwise voted Republican, the pesky voters went ahead and elected conservative Democrats. Thus, in the 2002 election, the Texas delegation maintained a 17-15 Democratic majority.

Tom Delay Moves In

This was a significant affront to Tom Delay, the Sugar Land bug-stomper turned U.S. House Majority Leader and Speaker wannabe. So in 2003, after the regular session failed to pass a redistricting plan, Delay decided it was now necessary to expend considerable sums of taxpayer money to call the legislature into a special session -- Actually, Three Special Sessions.

This time, the Texas legislature didn't take any chances with giving voters competitive districts. Republicans themselves arrogantly admit that their new districts were drawn to guarantee a Republican majority.

Democrats Go to Court

Democrats took the case to federal court. A state trial court could have decided the questions that were presented, but before the case could go to the U.S. Supreme Court, it would have to go through two appellate courts in the state system. Even on an expedited schedule, this is time-consuming, and state courts usually are not as familiar with the federal constitutional questions that arise in this kind of case.

On the other hand, a special federal statute gives federal trial courts the authority to convene a three-judge court when an action is filed challenging the constitutionality of the apportionment of congressional districts. Such a court consists of two federal trial judges and one judge from the federal circuit court of appeals. An appeal from such a three-judge federal court is straight to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Democrats and others challenging the 2003 redistricting map opted for the three-judge federal court. They presented four issues:

1. Can Texas redistrict in mid-decade?
2. Does the plan unconstitutionally discriminate on the basis of race?
3. Is the plan an unconsitutional partisan gerrymandering?
4. Do various districts dilute the voting strength of minorities?

After piously questioning the wisdom of the blatant Republican gerrymandering, the two Republican judges on the panel, nevertheless, upheld it. The 2004 election will go forward under the Delay plan.

One Last Chance for Justice

An appeal is being taken to the Supreme Court, but the Court does not have to take the case. A similar Pennsylvania case involving partisan gerrymandering is already before the Court; nevertheless, the Court refused to stay the order in the Texas case pending appeal. A number of experts have said this is a signal that the Court is not going to reverse the three-judge court. It may be, but then, if the Court had stayed the order, it might have been construed as a signal about the Pennsylvania case, something the Court would not want to do.

The only thing certain at this point is that this is a case from the President's home state, and this is the Supreme Court that decided Bush v. Gore.

A Closer Look at the Territory

by Pam Brink, President

Welcome to all of our new members. Thank you for your commitment to The West Texas Coalition of Democrats. We are a Texas PAC eager to build the broad regional network of human and financial resources to elect progressive Democrats to office.

We represent the concerns of Texans who live west of I-35 to New Mexico and from the Oklahoma border to the Edwards Plateau, plus El Paso and the other communities of far West Texas. In Texas political terms, this vast region comprises Texas Senate Districts 19, 28, 29, 30, and 31, a strong community of interest defined by our semiarid environment, our rural-based economy, and our social values.

What follows is a list of the counties that comprise our Coalition, as of now! Who knows what the Republicans will try to do to us next! PLEASE NOTE: The West Texas Coalition of Democrats is shaped by Texas Senate Districts, because the Executive Committee of the Texas State Democratic Party is comprised of one woman and one man elected from each Texas Senate District. The counties comprising the Senate Districts are not to be confused with the latest Congressional redistricting contrivances.

Senate District 19 (State Senator: Frank Madla - D, San Antonio)

Bandera, Bexar (part), Brewster, Crockett, Culberson, Edwards, El Paso (part), Hudspeth, Jeff Davis, Kinney, Loving, Maverick, Medina, Pecos, Presidio, Real, Reeves, Sutton, Terrell, Uvalde, Val Verde, Ward, Winkler.

Senate District 28 (State Senator: Robert Duncan - R, Lubbock)

Armstrong, Borden, Briscoe, Carson, Castro, Childress, Coke, Collingsworth, Concho, Cottle, Crosby, Dawson, Dickens, Donley, Fisher, Floyd, Foard, Garza, Gray, Hale, Hall, Hardeman, Haskell, Hockley, Irion, Jones, Kent, King, Knox, Lamb, Lubbock, Lynn, Mitchell, Motley, Nolan, Reagan, Runnels, Schleicher, Scurry, Sterling, Stonewall, Swisher, Terry, Tom Green, Upton, Wheeler.

Senate District 29 (State Senator: Eliot Shapleigh - D, El Paso)

El Paso (part)

Senate District 30 (State Senator: Craig Estes - R, Wichita Falls)

Archer, Baylor, Clay, Collin (part), Cooke, Denton (part), Grayson, Jack, Montague, Palo Pinto, Parker, Shackelford, Stephens, Throckmorton, Wichita, Wilbarger, Wise, Young.

Senate District 31 (State Senator: Teel Bivins - R, Amarillo)

Andrews, Bailey, Cochran, Crane, Dallam, Deaf Smith, Ector, Gaines, Classcock, Hansford, Hartley, Hemphill, Howard, Hutchinson, Lipscomb, Martin, Midland, Moore, Ochiltree, Oldham, Parmer, Potter, Randall, Roberts, Sherman Yoakum.

Crisis in Rural America
by Tommy Fondren

Redistricting -- never in our time span has there sprung an uglier, meaner, more ill-advised effort to destroy the balance between rural and urban Texas and America. This effort shows a complete disrespect for the food and fiber system that makes us the envy of the world for our ability to supply the nation's needs and a large sector of the international population with products in abundance -- foods monitored for safety and nutrition and natural fibers engineered for serviceability, style, comfort, and dependability.

I offer the following as an example of the deterioration of the rural sector, deterioration that has recently been escalated and will increase its rate of decline in the event this redistricting effort envisioned by the questionable leadership of the state is actually accomplished:

Here's a view of a rural community of 1,372 residents, with 428 utility connections. The business district has more boarded and locked buildings than buildings with ongoing businesses. The town is twenty miles from a metropolitan area. A long-time major church has locked its doors, offering no services for over a year now. The parsonage has been rented in an effort to generate maintenance funds. A school built for 650 students now accommodates only 302. City government includes a state mandated bonded debt of $787,000.00, with a payoff completion date of 2019. Of the population of the town, 493 individuals or 35.6% live below poverty level. The remaining 64.4% are not rich. This population generates funding for the current debt load and a $600,000+ city operating budget. This community with many abandoned, substandard, and marginal houses is supported by a weak agricultural economy that faces markets flooded with imports priced in competition with third world countries.

This rural community is a mirror image of the large number of small cities that surround our metropolitan complexes. Media sources have no interest in stories that reflect the decay of rural America, leaving both rural and metropolitan populations with extremely limited knowledge of a huge problem important to all segments of America's "shifting population."

As our rural economy deteriorates, the people drift to urban locations, often causing housing and job problems. No one wins with a forced population migration. The rural sector will struggle until our leadership corrects long-term farm, trade, and monetary policies. Muting the voice of rural America with redistricting is not the solution. We have been told in the past, "decent respect to the opinion of mankind" encourages strong government. It applies today, as well. America's rural voice must be included. United, we are a strong nation.