Redistricting bill defuses tension
Though not widely reported, one important piece of legislation passed through the Texas Senate last week.’
Senate Bill 315 mandates that Congressional redistricting plans must be created by an independent bi-partisan panel rather than the state Legislature.’
Currently, state Legislature is in charge of redrawing Congressional house district boundaries. This process is required every ten years after the federal census in order to accommodate population growth, decline and movement within the state.’
As the second largest state in the union, Texas will be faced with one of the most important redistricting processes. This is mostly because the state is likely to gain between three and four new members to its Congressional house delegation.
This process is never an easy one and in recent history has made Texas the center of national attention during the controversial and time consuming 2003 redistricting fiasco.’
Texas Republicans had gained complete control of the state government and sought to reverse the Democratic advantage in Congressional house delegation. A heavily partisan effort lead by former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom Delay pushed a redistricting map designed to turn the 17-15 Democratic advantage to a 22-10 Republican advantage. The effort drove partisan tensions so high that 11 Democrats in the Legislature left the state twice in order to prevent quorum on the bill.’
The Democrats were not successful in their venture as the redistricting plan ultimately went through and led to Republicans gaining six seats in 2004. The ordeal left bitter partisan tensions and wasted time our legislators could have spent on state matters.
State Sen. Jeff Wentworth, (R-San Antonio), introduced his bill in hopes of avoiding a similar situation after the 2010 census. The bill creates an eight-member board, four Democrats and four Republicans, to draw up Congressional boundaries. In the event of a deadlocked board, the Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court is given the authority to appoint a tiebreaker.
With the divisive partisan fighting over redistricting, it is important that legislators take this first step in creating a fairer and more practical system. The bill would take out of the hands of lawmakers one of the most contentious political issues at the state Legislature that appears every ten years.’
If lawmakers are able to avoid large drawn out struggles like the one most Texans remember just a few years ago, they are able to focus more on issues that need to be addressed.’
Congressional redistricting affects few people outside of political circle, spending large amounts of time and energy on the highly partisan process every ten years is a waste. The process needs to be changed and this bill is one of the best ways to initiate that change.’
As the legislature only meets every other year, it is important that it spends time not on partisan power grabs, but on the issues that affect every day citizens.’