By Lynn Ashby 15 Feb. 2016
THE ABACUS – Let’s see. One point one million divided by 34 million, or is it the other way around? Oh, hi. I am figuring up how much money each of us will be billed by Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton, our official state panderers, for their latest expensive grandstanding waste of our tax dollars. And it’s high time we low-tax, low-spend conservatives rise up as one and shout: “You two give hypocrisy a bad name!”
It’s all very complicated, but began in 2011 when the Texas legislators redrew the state’s maps for the state Senate and House and U.S. Congress. Texas needed approval from the feds, and sued to get it. But Democrats charged the new boundaries favored the Republicans, i.e., gerrymandering. As state attorneys general, Abbott and later Paxton, defended the new district lines — and lost. The Dems were declared “prevailing parties” in the case, and their lawyers were awarded $1.1 million, billed to the taxpayers of Texas. The state appealed paying the legal fees, and now the U.S. Supreme has ruled for the Dems. That $1.1 million will be shared among three sets of attorneys. Wait. This just in. Lawyers in the case say the final figure owed by the state will climb once fees for the appeal process and Supreme Court briefings are tallied. So the meter is still running even though we got out of the cab.
Does all this ring a bell? Sound familiar? Abbott and Paxton lose, we get stuck with the bills which reached a cool $13 million as of last December. If you voted for either Abbott or Paxton, please pay my share of these enormous legal fees for which we are getting nothing in return but more bills. Actually, in Paxton’s case, the taxpayers of Collin County are paying an additional $100,000 to prosecute our attorney general on felony fraud charges.
Wait! Another case. A Harris County Grand Jury has refused to indict Planned Parenthood for that video tape fiasco about selling baby parts, and has instead indicted the two tricksters who tried to ensnare Planned Parenthood. The stingers were stung. Nevertheless, Abbott and Paxton say they will continue with their attempts to indict the organization – at our expense. When will these taxpayers’ friends and watchdogs of the state treasury stop wasting our money?
In the heat of this latest million-dollar dud lies the undeniable fact that Texas Congressional lines are terribly gerrymandered to favor one party – guess which one? Don’t take my word for it. None other than Abbott, then our attorney general, said in a court brief, he wrote: “In 2011, both houses of the Texas Legislature were controlled by large Republican majorities, and their redistricting decisions were designed to increase the Republican Party’s electoral prospects at the expense of the Democrats.” That’s not a smoking gun, that’s an H bomb (H for hypocrite). He added that this tactic is still constitutional, despite “incidental effects on minority voters.” If “incidental effects” means “your vote doesn’t count,” then he’s right.
How bad is Texas gerrymandering? In an effort to dilute the liberal vote in Travis County, it is divided into five different Congressional districts, including one that runs from Austin to Houston. Even outside studies find that Texas has some ridiculously gerrymandered districts. Each Congressional district in Texas has an estimated population of 698,488 people. However, using computerized maps, Democratic voters are bunched into a few districts and dilutes the rest. That gives the GOP a thumb on the scales. Both Buzzfeed and the Washington Post have branded two Texas Congressional district as among the worst gerrymandered areas in the entire nation: One bunches together the liberal parts of San Antonio and Austin, the other is Congressional District 33 which connects liberal areas of Fort Worth.
While Texas may be worse than most, some other states do the same. Estimates find only 15 of the 435 House seats are considered truly competitive this year. One of the worst examples was in New York where, in the Republican-controlled Senate, Sen. Guy Velella, a Bronx Republican, managed to redraw the house of a former challenger out of his district. Alas, Sen. Velella lost his seat after 18 years, but only when he was convicted of bribery.
In the on-going, and expensive battle over redistricting in Texas, some knotty questions arise. Do you count prisoners and college students who come from elsewhere? This last case has been fought over for years in Waller County, which contains the mostly black enrollment of Prairie View A&M. In any event, Texans are real wussies when it comes to redistricting, unlike the people of Arizona. In 2000, they used the state’s voter-initiative process to amend the state constitution, largely stripping redistricting power from the Legislature and giving it instead to a five-member independent commission. It’s worked so beautifully that the state’s unhappy legislators have sued. When will Texans be that brave?
All this time, you have been wondering, how much is one point one million divided by 34 million? No, actually you have wondering why this shell game is called gerrymandering. The term comes from Elbridge Gerry, a signer of the Declaration of Independence (the only signer to be buried in Washington D.C.), a drafter of the Constitution, House member, governor and vice president under James Madison. As governor of Massachusetts in 1812, he signed into law a state legislative map that included a strangely shaped district obviously drawn to benefit his party. A cartoonist for the The Boston Gazette added a head, wings and claws to make it look like a salamander. An opposition newspaper editor named Benjamin Russell said, since the monster was hatched by Gerry, “Better say a gerry-mander.” Gerry’s name was pronounced with a hard “G” like in gag or grasp, but the term has been softened to be pronounced “jerrymander.”
The next U.S. Census will give Texas at least two more Congressional seats. Get out your checkbook.
Ashby borders on firstname.lastname@example.org