A MESSAGE FROM LOIS W. KOLKHORST
I’ve sat down several times before, with the intention of writing an update on the current status and saga of Texas redistricting. Like most people who follow elections, it's been a struggle to even guess when this issue will ever be solved. The issue of redistricting has truly been a moving target.
While the following may be an oversimplification, here’s an attempt:
To recap, on the day before Thanksgiving, a three-judge Federal panel of judges in San Antonio released a court order that redrew most of the Texas Legislative and Congressional maps (two justices agreed on these substantial changes; the third justice strongly dissented). These maps were extremely different from the maps drawn by elected legislators. As a result, the State of Texas (through Attorney General Greg Abbott) appealed the panel's decision to the United States Supreme Court, asking for a “stay” of the maps. That stay was granted with written arguments due on Dec. 22 and oral arguments then heard on Jan. 9.
On January 20, the High Court unanimously ordered that the San Antonio federal court maps be “vacated” with instructions sent back to the San Antonio court to follow the Legislative-drawn maps as closely as possible in all cases, except when they believe the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965 was violated. Keep in mind that only nine states, including Texas, are still subjected to statewide adherence of the VRA, and many feel the act has morphed from its original intent years ago into something today that is closer to judicial or political activism.
After the Supreme Court ruled, those three judges in San Antonio have now asked the parties involved (plaintiffs being the Mexican American Legislative Caucus and the defendant being the State of Texas) to agree on a compromise map. On Monday, February 6, Attorney General Abbott released a compromise map which was accepted by many, and covered in the media. However, the plaintiffs were in disagreement among themselves and did not wholly accept that compromise.
On Friday, Feb. 10, the San Antonio court released another order stating that parties must continue to negotiate. “It is the Court’s desire to have redistricting plans in place for an April primary and all parties must continue their negotiations to assist the Court in accomplishing that task,” the Court wrote. “If the parties have ceased negotiations, they should resume with all due effort between now and the time of the hearing.” The next hearing is set for Feb. 14. The court went on to say that it was their intent to have the issue resolved by the end of that court hearing.
Meanwhile, the Federal Department of Justice (the agency in charge of enforcing the VRA) issued a brief on Friday night, Feb. 10, telling the San Antonio Court that it did not have authority to waive the requirement that counties obtain preclearance for new precinct boundaries, explaining that the current situation did not meet the definition of an "emergency" under applicable regulations and that counties had the option of requesting expedited DOJ review. The DOJ said that even if the court ordered an April primary “there is still enough time for [county] jurisdictions to submit their voting changes for preclearance.” (source: www.txredistricting.org)
So, clear as mud? Indeed. Many local candidates have asked me when the Texas primaries are going to be held. As the legal wrangling drags on, it's impossible to say. For House District 13, where I currently serve, the difference between the legislative-drawn map and the San Antonio map is a five-county swing. I have spent time in many different counties meeting wonderful people, but a consistent question has been, “when is the primary going to be?" and "what district, State House, State Senate and Congressional seat will we be in?”
For now, those decisions lie in the hands of those three federal judges in San Antonio. To make sure the water doesn’t become any clearer, there is also another pre-clearance trial going on in Washington D.C, separate entirely from the lawsuit that spurred the San Antonio court action. The Washington D.C. judges have said they may deliberate for at least another month. However, if the elusive San Antonio compromise does happen in the meantime, the D.C. judges eventual ruling may not come in time to impact this election cycle. If you get the feeling that some people want the process of re-drawing maps tied up in court for as long as possible, you are correct.
In my next message, I hope we'll have this entire redistricting drama far behind us. I'd like in the future to report on a recent Public Health hearing which I chaired that exposed significant Medicaid fraud. I'll also fill you in on a victory we had for rural Texas in regards to land takings and power lines in our area.
It is with great honor that I serve you and the people of Texas, no matter where these maps place our district.
Please feel free to call or email with your feedback and input.
Your dedicated servant,
Lois W. Kolkhorst