San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas
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June 10th, 2009
Take redistricting away from partisan interests


This Martian Life: A Column
By SEAN WARDWELL
Managing Editor 

One of the real tragedies to come out of the recently ended session of the Texas Legislature is the failure of State Sen. Jeff Wentworth’s (R-San Antonio) bill to create a bipartisan redistricting board.

Granted, reporters tend to have a soft spot for Wentworth because of his efforts to establish sunshine laws, but one doesn’t have to look very far back to see just how ugly redistricting battles are.

If anyone recalls, in 2003 Democrats left the state to break quorum after Tom DeLay (R-Good Riddance) decided to unleash chaos in order to pick up a few more seats for his party in congress. In the process, districts were created that made no geographic sense, or really any sense of any kind.

Wentworth’s bill would have taken the process out of the hands of partisan interests and, instead, entrusted a citizen’s commission, equally divided on partisan lines, to handle the process.

Like many things in Austin, however, a good idea encounters a lot of prejudice, especially from one’s own party. Eleven Republicans banded together to kill the bill in the senate for the second time.

This column isn’t going to bash Republicans though. Honestly, I find both parties equally worthless and that’s the real problem. I really don’t believe either side cares about the people, the state or the country in general. They just care about winning. You? You’re just a prop to be used in a campaign ad.

Redistricting and representation is too important to be left to people whose sole ambition seems to be screwing their opponents. Ideally, it should never have been left in the hands of people who need to get re-elected. That’s like giving the fox the combination to the henhouse lock.

Hypothetically, they are the representatives of the people and should be trusted as such. When push comes to shove though, its not hard to see where their loyalties truly lie.

If all this sounds cynical, it’s probably because it is. I wish it weren’t so. I’d love to live in a world where our elected representatives, in masse, could be trusted with something that is technically within their purview. Individually, many of them are good and decent people. Get them together under a partisan banner though and it all becomes a very different scene.

What’s even worse are the justifications for such poor, childish behavior. The partisan rhetoric surrounding the most recent redistricting debacle had all the subtlety of the “two-minutes hate” from Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. The parties spoke and their minions eagerly took up the chants. The truth is that Republican’s weren’t standing up for the will of the people and the Democrats weren’t the victims they made themselves out to be.

It was never about the people. It was about saving their own hides to preserve a meaningless majority. No matter who drives the car, it goes to the same place anyway – a place where real problems go unheeded while marquee social wedges ensure enough people keep drinking the partisan Kool-Aid.

Wentworth’s bill should have been passed. It was a good bill that could have addressed a very real problem. San Marcos, in the last ten years, has been in three congressional districts. It’s difficult to establish a relationship with your representative when they have to keep changing the phone numbers.

Instead, I suppose we can go back to the “real issues,” like gay marriage, voter identification and welfare mothers. As the bard once said in Macbeth, “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

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0 thoughts on “Take redistricting away from partisan interests

  1. Very good editorial, Orwell’s “1984” has pretty much come true over the last 50 years. Thank you for your insight.

  2. And who do you suppose will select redistricting maps if our pompous legislators don’t do it? Who, I wonder, will get selected or appointed by the governor?

    Sen. Jeff Wentworth has done little for the people of Texas. You mentioned one of his special interest concerns and another one highlights Texas attorneys.

    What has Wentworth done in the past several years for the benefit of the majority Texas community? He is another one of those pompous Texas legislators, “my way of the highway” types, who have been at their positions for too long to remember the real reason they are there — to work in the best interests of the Texas community. Texans need to vote for anyone running against Wentworth.

    As for your concern re: redistricting, you are correct; however, Texas politics is so bogged-down in partisan special interest muck that it is impossible to set up a real INDEPENDENT committee to review and map redistricting without special interest ties.

    Good luck with that!

    Only by developing and approving laws that prohibit private campaign contributions, perks and gifts will we ever get away from special interest driven laws and redistricting maps — and since lawmakers get those “goods” from wealthy lobbyists who then give them jobs after they retire from the legislature — that’s just not going to happen.

  3. “Wentworth’s bill would have taken the process out of the hands of partisan interests”, yet the commission redrawing districts would be “equally divided along partisan lines”.

    So are partisan interests involved or not?

    I think if you asked Sen. Wentworth, he recognizes anyone on the redistricting commission would likely act in a partisan fashion. So, besides the provision that commission members not be seeking office themselves, the only substantive difference in his commission proposal is that the two top political parties are given an equal vote, no matter how politically one-sided Texas voters might be.

    Why not just let members of the Libertarian and Green parties draw the districts?

  4. libertarians and greens, that is the least intelligent thing I have ever seen here. Do they even know how to count or draw a line on a map. Redistricting would be best done by someone familar with maps and digital mapping techniques. Put in the data and actually use science to draw the lines. Let the computer make the decision based on logic. There actually are responsible technocrats who can be relied on to do this impartially. You wont find them in the ranks of the elected We dont let politicians design bridges, why do we let them draw maps ?

  5. One of the ideas I’ve heard is called “shortest splitline algorithm”. I can’t post the link, but it would put most of Hays County (except for the NE corner) into a district going west and covering the northern fringes of San Antonio and Austin west of Mopac up to Georgetown

  6. Of course my reference to the Libertarians and Greens was tongue-in-cheek — for those who want to remove “partisan interests” from the process. Let’s just take it out of the hands of the Republicans and Democrats altogether!

    Regarding computers making the decisions, don’t forget that computers must be told what to do — by humans. So what do you actually suggest? Here’s an image of Texas divided using the “shortest splitline” computer algorithm is at rangevoting.org/TxNewSplitline.png. Look at the districts in the Metroplex. Is that what we want? Look at the way Lubbock, Midland, Laredo, Corpus Christi, Bryan / College Station, and most of the larger urban areas are split. I don’t think we really want districts quite like this. Any other ideas?

  7. Part of the problem with representing big cities is the “one person, one vote” principle. Purely urban districts are about the size of one county, while as it stands right now there’s a almost completely rural district (I think the 23rd) stretching from just east of El Paso to western San Antonio. There really isn’t a way to solve this problem except cracking urban areas among rural areas, and then you have the “fajita strip” all over again.

    I’ll admit the shortest splitline looks odd, but the mathematical formula only looks at population and location, so at least it can’t be gerrymandered and if the formula is public districts can be easily double-checked.

    Any “redistricting committee” is going to be influenced, no matter how it is selected and the rules re partisanship.

  8. yes, population, demographics, there are a large number of ways to draw the maps. What we got right now with the Hilliardbillies isolated in a tiny piece of a district dominated by Dripping Springs is not very fair or sensible these days. back when, they wanted everyones district to come to San Marcos in some way. It is more a example of what you dont want. I would like a way that divided the county up into 4 equal areas based on population numbers, keeping the major centers with their adjacent areas togather. That people on Lime Kiln and Hilliard roads are not represented by the same rep as the rest of the San Marcos area is just plain wrong. to give a smaller number of people in the western part of the county more say than the large population centers along the corridor is also wrong

    yeah Hilliardbillies a word that has it origins at the Showdown in San Marcos ( thats a bar, for all you folks out there in the rest of the county )

  9. I agree that the “let’s all dip into the county seat” doesn’t work for Hays county. In the past, county commissioner districts have been thought of as representing four quadrants, San Marcos, Buda/Kyle, Wimberley, and Dripping Springs. With so much growth in the Buda/Kyle area, district 2 will become a lot smaller. Next time around, I think Dripping Springs and Wimberley should be combined and the eastern half of the county divided among the other three districts. The “Hilliardbillies” should be put in with San Marcos, if possible. Don’t forget that at least one district, as district 1 is now, will have to maintain a certain level of Latino representation. That will be one of the main complicating factors to district shape.

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