Texas Legislature junkies who’ve had nothing else to do but watch Rick Perry run for President since June’s special session ended finally got their fix on Thursday, when a panel of three federal judges in San Antonio released its proposed interim district maps. The big winner was Senator Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth), last seen filibustering on the last night of the regular portion of the 82nd session.
The panel had to draw interim maps after a different federal panel in Washington, D.C., denied Attorney General Greg Abbott’s request for summary judgment approval of the state’s maps earlier this month. That trial will continue—along with a pair of state and federal lawsuits filed by the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus challenging the maps—but candidates still have to file for office for the next election cycle starting November 28. (The filling period was postponed from November 12.) With the date quickly approaching, the interim maps are all that matter for the moment.
The San Antonio panel actually released a pair of maps: one by Judge Orlando Garcia, a Clinton appointee, and Judge Xavier Rodriguez, a George W. Bush appointee, that remarkably changes the landscape and an alternative proposal by Judge Jerry E. Smith, a Reagan appointee, that isn't as severely different.
Davis, who had seen her competitive—but winnable—district redrawn into one that would have been more favorable to a Republican opponent, got something resembling her original district back in both maps.
“She has a chance to replicate that  coalition in 2012 and probably will,” Matt Angle of the Democratic Lone Star Project told the Texas Tribune . “She clearly from a political standpoint is the winner here.”
Judge Smith’s map also lined up with the one drawn by his colleagues when it came to districts in the Rio Grande Valley, which in the view of the Monitor ’s Jared Jones, made the day “a complete repudiation of the Legislature’s proposals for the Valley, one of the few remaining strongholds for Democrats in the state.” (The original map came under attack from minority leaders, who questioned whether the Legislature's plan honored the Voting Rights Act and allowed for fair minority representation.)
A big watchword was “pairings.” Under the original map proposed by state legislators, a number of incumbent Republican representatives were going to be redrawn into different districts that they all could likely win. In the court’s map, twelve districts would pair two current Republican representatives, pitting them against each other in a primary. But as Michael Li of the Texas Redistricting blog noted, when you add the incumbents who already said they weren’t seeking reelection to the three who are possibly pursuing a new office, the number of “pairings” drops to four.
Conversely, Houston-area Democrats Hubert Vo and Scott Hochberg were unpaired, restoring them to separate districts that in the court's view better served minority representation. All told, Nolan Hicks of the San Antonio Express-News wrote, the Democratic Party could pick up half a dozen seats under the proposed map.
That prospect left Mexican-American Legislative Caucus chairman Trey Martinez-Fischer (D-San Antonio) jubilant. “This is significantly more than we were able to accomplish on the floor,” he told the Tribune.
Putting a more cynical spin on that was Karl Musselman of the progressive blog Burnt Orange Report. “TX Dems excited about #redistricting maps," he tweeted. "Will now be only somewhat irrelevent [ sic] instead of totally irrelevent [ sic]!”
Dallas County Republican Party chairman Wade Emmert was not pleased when he took to Twitter:
That talking point will no doubt be repeated by Republicans around the state.
As of late Thursday evening, Abbott’s office had not officially commented, instead telling the Express-News’ Hicks and other reporters that it was focused on preparing its required response, which is due to the court by noon today. The judges will consider all responses filed before making any map official.
And the saga will continue when they do this all over again for the U.S. Congressional districts.