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Lt. Gov. sure fair redistricting map can pass

By J. Lyn Carl,

Austin, TX – If a fair map - a good map - is drawn, I think there will be support in the committee and in the House," said Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst today of the Texas Senate's attempt at producing an acceptable congressional redistricting bill.

"The pieces are in place to come up with a fair map," added Sen. Chris Harris (R-Arlington). He said, however, if after redistricting legislation is filed, it is not acceptable to him, he is prepared to wait it out. "I don't want something jammed down my throat," he said.

"We've had a week and a half of tough hearings around the state," said Dewhurst of the statewide redistricting hearings being conducted by the Senate Jurisprudence Committee. He commended the Senate committee members for their attentiveness and "respectful listening" to those who offered testimony.

The Senate hearings were in stark contrast to House hearings held prior to the House passing out its version of a redistricting bill, HB 3, on Monday.

The House hearings were marred by demonstrations, loud and unruly crowds, hearings held without a quorum of members, and some who registered to testify not being allowed to speak.

Sen. Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock), who chairs the Jurisprudence Committee, said he will announce a timeline for the committee's proceedings at its hearing today at 1 p.m.

"We still have to look at a map," said Duncan. "We've heard a lot of people talk about their concerns, their issues, their druthers, but it's our job to now take that testimony and look at maps and see how it all works."

Dewhurst acknowledged that the population in the state has shifted from rural to urban for the most part. "The Senate is very sensitive about that," he said, "and wants to see that rural representation (in Congress) is as strong as it can be." He pledged that the Senate would work toward a "balance" of representation for both rural and urban Texas."

Duncan said he is not willing yet to make any specific decisions about what happens in certain districts. "The process has to work first," he said.

Dewhurst noted a "well established tradition" in the Senate that "when we pass a bill out we mean for the bill to say what we said." He added that he believes the process and the work in the Senate thus will "be respected." The lieutenant governor said he met for more than an hour Wednesday with House Speaker Tom Craddick. " I believe that if the Senate passes out a bill (the House) will be appreciative of our work and we'll end up with a final bill that the Senate can be proud of."

He called his meeting with Craddick "very constructive."

The lieutenant governor said he is "optimistic" that when the Senate reaches a consensus on a fair map that reflects the state's voting trends, respects communities of interest and respects minority votes, it will pass that map.

"I feel good based on my conversation yesterday (with Craddick) that the House will give it a good, hard look to work with us on that plan."

Democratic Sen. Mario Gallegos (D-Houston) said he would not have an opinion on the map until he sees it. He indicated he is opposed to the legislature taking up the issue at all but said when the governor calls a special session, he is obliged to attend and participate.

"I didn't vote for him. But he's our governor and I respect him," said Gallegos of Gov. Rick Perry. "If he sees fit to call a special session, as a member of the Senate I've got to come to work."

Gallegos praised Duncan for the way the Senate Jurisprudence hearings were conducted. "We had to clearly set out that this was a Senate and not a House hearing," he said of the Senate gatherings. "Those people were mad. We had to completely separate ourselves from what happened in the House."

Harris echoed Gallegos' praise for Duncan. "The way in which Chairman Duncan handled the committee, he has my highest esteem and my greatest compliments," said Harris. He noted Duncan was able to "settle things down" and have "constructive hearings."