Originally meant to be a quick and dirty adoption of the court drawn interim maps used last election cycle, (since you know, the maps the Republican supermajority drew last session were struck down by the courts as illegal) this special session is now going to last for weeks. Weeks!
Gone are the leisurely summer days of reflection of all the chaos past. Now the Republicans face the chaos within their own party right before their eyes, well that is if they are not on vacation (Lt. Gov. Dewhurst, who urged the call of the special session, as Quorum Report is reporting, is in Europe).
The House met briefly today. Just enough time for the Chairman of the House Select Committee on Redistricting, Drew Darby to announce that he plans to meet in Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio to get input from citizens all over the state.
This special session was meant to be quick because the governor's call was so specific. The governor can call a special session but has to note what items or subjects are relative to the special session. The call read:
“Legislation which ratifies and adopts the interim redistricting plans ordered by the federal district court as the permanent plans for districts used to elect members of the Texas House of Representatives, Texas Senate and United States House of Representatives.”
This adoption was supposed to happen fast. The Senate met only hours after they adjourned Sine Die, and the House met the very next day. Yet the committees that were announced to hear the bills of the interim maps sparked a lot of outcry from progressive leaders, noting that if people wanted to give their input (which is what is technically supposed to happen for redistricting, these court drawn maps were only meant to be temporary, not meant to adopted by the Legislature to be in place for the next eight years) they had no time to because there was hardly any real notice given to the public. There was hardly any real notice given to the Legislators themselves.
So oddly responsive to the outcry, the Republican leadership (those that are in Austin anyway) are giving citizens that chance.
The Senate meets later this week. Last week when they met briefly Senator Watson of Austin asked if the legislature was obligated to solely to consider the maps and nothing more (ie. no amendments, no changes to districts that have shown growth from updated census data etc). The concern was because the governor's call was so specific it could jeopardize alternatives to the maps. The response to Watson was, “We are not bound to only consider the court drawn maps.”
So now, this special session is anyone's ball game. It is not a clear political win for Republicans. If the Legislature had just adopted the maps quickly, it might have pleased some the of the judges, which was unlikely to begin with. Whatever happens, it should be noted that the Legislature will have to start all over again depending on the courts decision regarding the Voting Rights Act.
So lots of questions remain. Can the democrats who have filed alternative maps prevail? Chairman Darby noted that he was working with Reps Coleman and Davis, both have submitted alternative maps for consideration. Is the Governor going to expand the call to other maps, or even other issues, to make the session a promising partisan parade? Will the Legislature adopt any maps at all, after spending taxpayer money traveling around the state listening to how wrong they got it two years ago? (arguably money well spent).
If you are in the cities of Houston (6/12) Dallas (6/6) or San Antonio (6/10) plan on attending the days announced. To see more details on the hearings when they post (they are not officially posted yet) click here.
For more much detailed information please reference Michael Li's exceptional blog on this very issue, TXRedistricting.org.