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A Federal Court Ruling Makes the Future of Joe Straus a Little More Interesting

Three-judge panel says Texas House map intentionally discriminates, and that leaves the speaker in an interesting position.

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Texas Speaker of the House Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, calls the House of Representatives to order in Austin, Texas on Tuesday, July 18, 2017.
Photograph by Eric Gay/AP Photo

A federal court ruled on Thursday that the Texas House’s district map intentionally discriminated against Hispanic and black people in parts of Texas. Although redrawing the map won’t dramatically overhaul the makeup of the 150-member body, it will make the moving parts of next year’s elections and the future of House Speaker Joe Straus a little more interesting.

Unlike other statewide leaders, the House speaker is not elected by the voters at large. Instead, the speaker is chosen from among the House members by a vote of the sitting legislators. At present, the House has 55 Democrats and 95 Republicans. Straus—known for building cross-party coalitions—can count on the Democrats for his re-election, but he needs support from 21 Republicans to win re-election this year.

Depending on how the maps are redrawn, Democrats may pick up four seats in next year’s elections, still leaving them short of a majority. But for Straus, redrawn maps might cost him two supporters and win him two opponents.

The court found that in Nueces County, the district maps discriminated in the placement of minority voters in a way that favored the re-election of Representative Todd Hunter, a key Straus Republican ally and chairman of the House committee that sets bills for debate on the daily calendar. To make his district safe, the court said Hispanic voters were packed into the district of Representative Abel Herrero, a Democrat. Redrawing the districts won’t automatically guarantee Hunter’s defeat, but it will make it more difficult for him to win re-election.

The court also ruled that the Legislature intentionally split a minority community in Killeen to guarantee the election of two white Republicans in Districts 54 and 55, Scott Cosper of Killeen and Hugh Shine of Temple. Both have backed Straus in the past. Putting the minority community in Killeen back together probably endangers Cosper’s re-election, and may put a Democrat in that rural district. Either way, this likely is a wash in the politics of electing the next speaker.

In Dallas and Tarrant counties, the court ruling likely would help Straus win re-election. In declaring that five districts in those two counties discriminated against minorities, the most likely losers in any redrawing of the district maps will be Republican Representatives Rodney Anderson of Irving and Matt Krause of Fort Worth. Anderson was among nineteen House members who voted against Straus in one election for speaker, and Krause is a member of the Freedom Caucus, which has been trying to force a speaker vote in the caucus instead of on the House floor, where Democrats also have a say.

The court is giving the state an opportunity to hold a special session to redraw the maps before it draws maps of its own. However, Attorney General Ken Paxton said he will appeal the court’s ruling. But if the districts are redrawn, Straus’s next session could be more contentious than the last.

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  • WUSRPH

    Thanks for the thorough analysis and especially for tying it into speaker politics….if Straus loses a couple of Republican votes from the redrawing of the districts….he should be able to pick up the difference from the new Democrats (although perhaps not “for free”)…..but it he loses a couple of leaders from this AND a couple more (such as Byron Cook) at the hands of MQS/Partick/Abbott it might encourage the Freedom Caucus (even possibly minus the Great Listener Krause) to really push for the (se)election by the Speaker by the GOP Caucus…Add in the fact that his enemies are likely to push their resolutions condemning him thru more GOP County EX-Coms thru the precinct conventions right thru the State GOP Convention and things could get a little interesting…..which places even more emphasis on the need to find some way to get JJ’s semi-mythical “moderate/business conservatives” and some of the “November Republicans” to understand the vital need for them to participate in the primaries AND the various conventions and not limit their involvement to voting the straight R ticket in November of 2108…which they still will be able to so since the ban on straight ticket voting does not go into effect until 2020, But that is why politics…as distinguished from the pursuit of good public….can be interesting to watch (and be involved in)….

  • WUSRPH

    Going a bit off the thread:

    Off and on somebody mentions a poll, usually to make a point for or against someone….And, just as often someone condemns ALL polls, and particularly those with which they disagree. The problem with both is that, in many cases, the poster has not read of the poll than the simple statement of the numbers and, especially in the case of those who condemn all polls and rely on their experience and anecdotal information, do not understand how polls are conducted or how to read one in order to judge the possible validity of its findings….I think I remember that when political season was getting started again someone (I think it was Paul Burka) would post an item explaining how polls worked and how to read and interpret them…..If it was the BB, it would be nice if someone could dig up that old post and rerun it. In the meantime, this article from the New York magazine might help those who do not understand what polling is all about:

    http://tinyurl.com/yb58or22

    Talking about the “validity of polls” forces me to confess to the time back in 1972 when a political; consultant and I sat in a bar drafting a fund raising letter for a race in which I was involved and, to add emphasis for the need to send money now, kind of “invented” our own poll..(The only defense I have at this late date is that it was never released to the media or used in anything but that single fund raising appeal which was going only to a select group of potential contributors who would probably discount it anyway)

    In-house at the campaign we called it the “Red Label Poll” in recognition of the fact that he was drinking Johnny Walker Red Label at the time…(Not being a high-paid consultant but only a lowly campaign worker I was nursing a beer.)… The fact that such things happened then–and still do today—is only another reason why when you see a poll–even one you like—you should carefully analyze it. Of course, nothing will stop a unethical candidate or political committee from misusing a poll…but you can protect yourself from being mislead by learning about polls.

    What you should always remember about polls (or virtually any other alleged factual claim) is that when dealing with them—to perryphrase Ronald Reagan’s statement on the approach he took to the nuclear arms deals he made with the Soviet Union:
    “Trust, but always verify.”

    • WUSRPH

      P.S. Before THE TROLL leaps in with his stock damnation of all Democrats as liars and thieves and worse, I should point out that all the people involved with the Reb Label Poll were REPUBLIANS and that the candidate was running against one of the most liberal Democrats in Texas at the time. Sorry, JBB but purity is not the sole possession of GOPers. Trump and Richard Nixon are more than proof of that.

      • John Bernard Books

        have you had a senility test lately?

      • SpiritofPearl

        Ignore him.

    • José

      I poked around BB archives and couldn’t find a post matching your description. Maybe someone else will succeed.

      The team at Five Thirty-Eight have done the best work around with rigorously evaluating polls. I’ve been following them for years. They have a tough challenge, not just fighting the crummy and slanted polls that get undue attention, but also fighting critics who don’t understand the math. In 2012 it was that fellow who published his “unskewed polls” that showed how Romney was going to win. He was decent enough to admit his errors after the election. Then in 2016 they caught it from both sides. Before the election they were heavily criticized for saying that Clinton had a real chance of losing, and afterwards they caught heck for not solidly predicting the Trump upset. In fact Five Thirty-Eight did a nice job. They described how Trump could thread the needle to a victory in the EC and they gave him a decent chance of doing so. Anyone with a passing knowledge of math will understand that 27% odds do in fact occur regularly, about one time in four.

    • WUSRPH

      Speaking of polls…here is an analysis of how “I Alone” is doing….

      http://tinyurl.com/y9ppfz2h

  • SpiritofPearl
    • WUSRPH

      Sorry, we don’t do that in Texas…We elect them to office.

      • SpiritofPearl

        Our day will come . . .

        • Donald Baker

          It certainly will. It is called judgement day. Bring asbestos.

          • SpiritofPearl

            There is no afterlife. Live every day to the fullest.

      • Donald Baker

        Best example of that was Lyndon Johnson.

    • Donald Baker

      Just as we should punish severely those committing voter fraud.

      • SpiritofPearl

        There are few fraudulent votes, but many who would suppress the vote.

        • Donald Baker

          Actually that is an outright lie from liberals who want to continue stealing elections through fraud.

          • SpiritofPearl

            You are foolish.

  • John Bernard Books

    dems say there is simply no voter fraud as they vote in two or more places…..
    “A Maryland Democratic candidate quit her congressional race Monday after her own party told state officials that she had committed fraud by voting in both Maryland and Florida in recent elections.

    Wendy Rosen, a small-business owner running against freshman Rep. Andy Harris (R) in the Eastern Shore-based 1st Congressional District, released a statement saying that “with great regret, and much sorrow” she was resigning from the contest.”
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/maryland-politics/post/maryland-democrat-quits-congressional-race-amid-vote-fraud-allegations/2012/09/10/d0ff9b1e-fb73-11e1-b2af-1f7d12fe907a_blog.html?utm_term=.d0ac4207d937

    I will concede WASSUP is right all dems are liars…..

  • WUSRPH

    There is apparently little chance that there will be a special session to fix either these districts or the US House districts the same court struck down last week as that might involve the State actually having to do something which, as you note, might have some impact on the outcome of elections…..It is much easier to just appeal and appeal and appeal and drag it all out until the Legislature draws up new districts in 2021…..at which time it can do the same thing and force another round of litigation.

    There is, of course, no chance that the Republican dominated legislature will fess up to its repeated sins and stop deliberately trying to suppress the ability of Democrats (and particularly blacks and brown democrats) to elect someone who actually represents them….Instead, it will continue to twist and turn, yielding only as far as it absolutely must to comply with the court rulings, while coming up with even more new techniques to draw districts that make it hard (if not impossible) for their power to be challenged.

    However, with four election connected rulings against Texas in less than a week, one has to believe that the federal courts may get just a little tired of this on-going struggle and take a step to make it even harder to suppress voting in Texas by putting Texas back under the “preclearance” requirements of Section 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act…

    Of course, Texas will appeal such a ruling, but with even the Fifth Circuit finally showing some recognition of what appears to be a deliberate pattern of discrimination, there is a fair chance that it would lose at least at that level….What might happen at the SCOTUS is more uncertain….After all, when it struck down the VRA (by a 5-4 vote) it did so on the grounds that there was no longer any evidence that Texas and other covered states were, as they had in the past, systematically discriminating and it might be reluctant to have to admit it was wrong…but, it there was ever a poster boy for the need for the VRA, Texas seems to be it…

    With Sessions as Attorney General and Trump in the WH this probably would not have much immediate impact as at least while they remain in office the US Justice Dept. is not likely to be that interested in using the VRA against Texas…BUT that could all change by 2021 with we hope someone else in the WH and at the DOJ.

    • Donald Baker

      What you arrogantly call a sin I call a virtue, and it appears we will prevail in the supreme court.

  • Donald Baker

    That court ruling has now been struck down. The present maps will prevail for now, and probably will win in the supreme court