Betting on Apathy


As of this writing, we are approaching the end of the second special session on redistricting. Remarkably, 11 Texas senators have held out in Albuquerque for more than three weeks now. The session officially concludes on August 26, but Governor Rick Perry has vowed to call additional sessions until Democrats knuckle under.

The recklessness with which the Republican leadership has pursued this issue is, at first blush, perplexing. Nearly every major newspaper in the state has editorialized against it. About 90 percent of witnesses testifying in field hearings have rejected it. There is no evidence that this is a pressing issue for the GOP grassroots. Many Republican legislators supporting redistricting are clearly doing so against the wishes of those who put them in office. An inventory of the correspondence received by the offices of three Republican senators—Senator Todd Staples (R-Palestine), Senator Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock), and Senator Kip Averitt (R-Waco)—indicates that their own constituents largely disapprove.

In this issue of the TO, we examine one reason for the headlong pursuit of redistricting. “The Rise of the Machine” details the financial muscle of Tom DeLay and his corporate agenda. The U.S. House Majority Leader can make or break a politician and redistricting is his number-one priority. He knows that what’s at stake is nothing less than Republican control of Congress for decades to come, and from there, the direction of the nation. DeLay may be able to threaten free-thinking Republicans with a well-funded primary opponent, but that probably isn’t the main reason for the devil-may-care attitude of GOP leaders. Instead, it’s likely they feel safe in taking refuge in the public’s apathy. The pundits agree: redistricting only interests political partisans.

With his characteristic lack of grace, Perry recently gave the leadership’s view. “The blue-collar worker out in the state of Texas most likely can’t tell you a substantial amount about redistricting,” he informed reporters.

So why are the citizens of the Lone Star State missing the importance of one of the most significant political standoffs in Texas history? It’s certainly not because they aren’t smart enough. Partly the press is to blame. What a disinterested citizen likely sees—filtered through the media in its typically incomprehensible he-said, she-said fashion—is just a bunch of politicians bickering.

But the rot goes deeper than just what is or isn’t in the news. For decades, the public has been told that government is worthless. Our politicians are only capable of producing taxes and needless bureaucracy. And so Joe Voter shouldn’t be blamed for wondering what does a Congressman really do that matters anyway?

A partial answer to that question can be gleaned from the anti-redistricting letters those three rural Republican senators received. Many of them came from local officials. People like Angelina County Attorney Ed C. Jones who wrote Senator Staples: “I urge you to put party affiliation aside and to stand up for the best interests of East Texans.”

Or Mayor Ed Smith of Marshall, who begged Senator Duncan not to make a bad situation worse: “We are already at an economic disadvantage when it comes to economic development, competition for grants, and community interests with the heavily populated suburban areas.”

These men and women work every day to make their communities better. They know that government does in fact matter. A local Congressman with seniority—the Democrats DeLay wants eliminated—can have a meaningful effect on a community in federal assistance and problems solved.

If anything positive can come out of this redistricting mess, may it be that the “blue-collar workers” our elitist governor hopes will stay uninterested wake up and embrace the reality that government can make a positive difference in their lives. After that, it won’t be long before they elect candidates who truly represent their interests. —JB