Deal Prospects Dampen In Texas Redistricting Case

Published February 14, 2012 7:27PM (EST)

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — If Texas can still hold an April primary, now is when the state likely finds out.

A federal court in San Antonio that has spent months refereeing a clash over bitterly disputed Texas voting maps reconvened Tuesday, and Republicans and Democrats were hoping to learn when the state's primary elections will finally take place.

April 3 is the currently scheduled date, but that no longer seems realistic since not even temporary maps for the 2012 elections in Texas are settled. Another weekend of court-ordered negotiations between the state and minority rights groups, meanwhile, ended with little to show for it.

Yet despite the attention surrounding the primary date, the court didn't immediately address whether Texas can still hold one in April. The Texas attorney general's office and minority groups instead spent Tuesday morning laying out obstacles to a compromise on voting maps for the 2012 elections.

David Mattax, an attorney for the state, suggested that differences on one map that draws four new congressional seats in Texas can't be resolved.

The stalemate doesn't yet spell doom for the chances of Texas holding primary elections sometime in April. But the continued deadlock further dampens prospects of a deal, which the three-judge panel in San Antonio favors over drawing the maps themselves.

At stake is the political balance of power in both Texas and Congress. Texas was awarded four new congressional seats following the 2010 census, and whether they go Democrat or Republican could affect the balance of power in the U.S. House.

The 2010 census shows that the population boom in Texas was driven by nearly 3 million new Hispanic residents over the last decade, but minority groups and Democrats say those numbers weren't reflected in how the Legislature redrew districts statewide.

Rather than inch closer to a resolution over the weekend, both sides might have dug in their heels further. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott told the court that one deal-breaker is carving up the district currently held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, which would in turn help make Republicans more electable in heavily Democratic Travis County.

Abbott wrote in a filing Monday that his office was reviewing new proposals to other changes on the map. But he also acknowledged that Doggett's district alone could prevent any chance of a breakthrough.

"The State cannot compromise on this district and that may prevent a global compromise on the Congressional map," Abbott wrote.

The Texas NAACP, one of nine parties suing the state, urged the court Monday to wait until another federal court in Washington rules on the separate issue of whether the original maps drawn by the Republican-controlled Legislature violate the Voting Rights Act.

Waiting, however, could push the Texas primary into May or June. When the San Antonio court ordered both sides Friday to continue negotiating over the weekend, the judges made clear that an April primary was the goal.

Texas NAACP president Gary Bledsoe said for a quick settlement to be reached, the state would have to do better than the 11 minority-opportunity congressional districts he said is being offered now.

Under a partial compromise reached last week, the state agreed to make two of the four new congressional seats Hispanic-opportunity districts. That, combined with other adjustments, was good enough to satisfy Democratic U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

But the majority of the plaintiffs involved in the lawsuit said the offer wasn't good enough. One expert analysis filed by the Texas NAACP read that "while the revised map corrects some of the most egregious problems in the enacted plan, it still has major flaws."

One of the major legal disputes is over so-called crossover or coalition districts, places where members of no single group dominate. The groups suing want current coalition districts maintained in the interim maps, while the attorney general's office argues that a recent Supreme Court ruling forbids a court-drawn map from having coalition districts.

Two of these districts appear to be the major stumbling blocks in drafting compromise maps: Doggett's district in Austin and Texas Senate District 10 in Fort Worth.

The staunch defense of the two districts reflects the political reality of the redistricting battle, groups on all sides draw these lines to increase or defend the political power of one party.

Doggett, who's been targeted by Republican mapmakers in the past, currently represents a diverse population in central and eastern Austin as one of three representatives from Travis County. The map drawn by the Legislature divides heavily Democratic Travis County into five districts, with white Republicans dominating four seats and a San Antonio-based Hispanic most likely winning the fifth seat.

State Sen. Wendy Davis represents Senate District 10, and as one of the most vocal and liberal voices in the Texas Senate, Republicans hope to force her out by redrawing her district. But since both Davis and Doggett are white, protecting their seats before the court could be difficult.

By Salon Staff

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