Thursday, June 23, 2011

Redistricting Musical Chairs - The Appeal

When last we heard from the Dallas County Commissioners Court, lame duck Commissioner Maurine Dickey was quacking over a new district map. I said then, "Presumably, she was upset that the Democrats, newly holding a majority on the Commissioners Court, were drawing a new map that might result in one of the two previously safe Republican seats ending up in Democratic hands."

After the jump, some further thoughts on the subject.

Unfair Park has copies of the maps in question as well as Dickey's appeal to the state attorney general to overturn the new district map. All of which are causing me to rethink my initial inference about the cause of Dickey's temper tantrum. Dickey was apparently content with another proposed map that also would have resulted in a loss of one safe Republican seat. But in that map, it was fellow Republican Mike Cantrell who would be at risk of being without his seat.

The new map puts Cantrell in the safe Republican district. Since Dickey herself is leaving no matter what, why should she care that redistricting will save Cantrell's seat instead of leaving an open seat (hers) in the only remaining safe Republican district? One logical explanation would be that Dickey already had her successor chosen. Now that person is left without a chair when the music stops. And that's enough for Dickey to lose her cool. (Anyone who knows who that successor might be, please speak up.)

Ignoring the personal issues involved in this one case, there are still some practical issues about redistricting in general that pose interesting challenges.

The US Senate faces none of these because the US Senate has never been fairly apportioned. It's immune to the census. Each state gets two senators regardless of size. Residents of California, Texas, and New York are all under-represented whereas those in Wyoming and Montana are all over-represented. If you claim to be a principled defender of small "d" democratic government, this should bother you.

In the House of Representatives, which is proportional to population, each state's representation grows or shrinks every ten years with the census. Congressional districts get ripped up and redrawn every ten years. Representatives serve two year terms, and every representative has to face the voters, in whatever new districts might exist, in the first election after redistricting.

It's the same situation in the Texas House of Representatives. New districts, new elections for all at the next opportunity. But the Texas Senate is an odd beast. New districts are drawn here, too, but Texas state senators are normally elected to four year terms. Except that, in the first election after redistricting, all state senators, even those elected just two years before, must run again. After the election, the newly elected state senators draw from a hat to decide which ones will serve four year terms and which will have to run again in two years. After which, all terms are again for four years, at least until the music starts again with the next census and round of redistricting.

That brings us back to county elections. Dallas County Commissioners Court members serve four year terms. Districts 1 (Dickey) and 3 (Price) will be on the ballot in 2012. Districts 2 (Cantrell) and 4 (Garcia) in 2014. Apparently, the Commissioners Court doesn't force all members to face the voters in new districts in the first election after redistricting, no matter how much the district boundaries might have changed. So, some lucky county residents who voted in, say, District 2 in 2010 might find themselves living in District 1 in 2012 and get another vote only two years later. Unlucky voters who lived in District 1 in 2010 (when County Commissioner was not on the ballot) might find themselves living in District 2 in 2012 (when County Commissioner again won't be on their ballot). They'll have to wait six years before getting another chance to vote for their county commissioner. There may be no perfectly fair way to hand this, but I prefer the way the Texas Senate handles this situation.

Maurine Dickey, in an appeal to the state attorney general challenging the county redistricting map, cites this unfairness to some voters. But the unfairness existed in the earlier proposed map, the one Dickey didn't lose her temper over. The unfairness exists in any redrawn map that doesn't also require *all* county commissioners to run again in new districts at the next election. Dickey's already ceded the principled high ground in this argument. Again, the most plausible explanation for her outrage is that she wanted to throw Mike Cantrell under the bus and run her own candidate in the safe Republican seat that she is leaving. And now she can't. That's just how the game of redistricting musical chairs is played.

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