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Senators encourage colleagues to return

By J. Lyn Carl

Austin, Tx – "Redistricting is a process that makes no one totally happy and everyone partly disappointed," said Sen. Todd Staples (R-Palestine).

But that process is delegated to the legislature by the State Constitution, said Staples, "a constitution which every single member of the Texas Senate swore to uphold."

Staples was joined by other Republican members of the Senate at a press conference Thursday, encouraging their Democratic counterparts to return to Austin to conduct Senate business.

Those Democrats, dubbed the 'Texas 11," fled Austin for New Mexico on Monday, busting the Senate quorum to prevent action on a congressional redistricting bill. Without a quorum, Senate business is put on hold.

"The situation we face today is not uncommon," said Staples of the volatility of the redistricting issue. "The history of Texas is ripe with redistricting battles." However, he said what is uncommon is "walking off the job."

Staples and his Republican colleagues offered redistricting maps from previous legislative efforts, some from 1991 when Democrats were in the majority. He said the maps are the most egregious maps ever drawn and were referred to by public policy organizations as "the most effective partisan gerrymander for congressional elections in the nation" in 1991 and "the shrewdest gerrymander of the 90s."

"Where was the outcry by our colleagues then? Where were the trips to Oklahoma? The trips to New Mexico? There were none - because these maps, later struck down by the courts as unconstitutional, satisfied their (Democrats') political objectives.

"We're here today to draw a fair and balanced map."

The Republican majority did not break quorum when those maps were drawn, said Staples. "Those opposed did not walk off the job and stop the process. They stayed...and fulfilled their oath of office."

The Palestine Republican said Republicans have no other intentions than to "work out a fair and balanced map" and not "like the illegal, gerrymandered maps" drawn by Democrats in 1991.

Staples said in 1991, there were enough members who could have walked out in the House and shut down the redistricting process by breaking quorum. "But the minority stayed and worked," he said. Staples said the message being sent by the Democrats is not the signal the legislature wants to send and "not the road we want to go down" for the future.

While Texas Democrats in New Mexico insist that the maps being proposed in the Senate violate minority voting rights, Staples again pointed to the 1991 maps. "If this is not an example of disenfranchisement of voters, I don't know what is."

He said there are at least five different levels of scrutiny aimed at protecting voter and minority voter rights - review by the Texas Legislative Council attorneys, Senate Jurisprudence Committee attorneys, attorneys with the Texas Attorney General's Office, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Supreme Court. That review is designed to "make certain that minority voting rights are upheld and that retrogression does not occur."

Staples, author of the Senate version of a congressional redistricting plan (SB 1), said he is continuing to work on his map. Until the Senate has a quorum, he said there is little need to "get too far advanced in the process." Staples said he is continuing to try to incorporate things heard in hearings across the state with regards to counties and cities and communities of interest.

The House earlier this week passed its own congressional redistricting bill (HB 1), but Staples admits he has not studied that map. "I want to get something that reflects the will of the Senate," he said, "Then we can work out a compromise version."

"Millions of Texans go to work every day...they face tasks they find objectionable...but the do the right thing. They show up for work and they don't walk off the job.

"We're here to do the job for the people of Texas and we encourage our colleagues to return."