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MOLLY IVINS Redistricting! You’re Gonna Laugh! We Promise! Rep. Delwin Jones of Lubbock, who is approximately the age of the earth’s crust, is once again chairman of the House Redistricting Committee, which is like reporting, “This just in: news still bad.” Once every ten years, when the only elected representatives we’ve got re-draw the lines of the districts from which they are elected, statehouse reporters vainly try to interest the public in this sleeper, in all senses, of a subject. I’m going to tell you a funny redistricting story, so don’t go to sleep. “Dell-win” as he . is pronounced in West Texas, was chairman of the House Redistricting Committee back in 1971 \(he was a Democrat then: weren’t they and Republicans rose in rebellion against a corrupt House speaker. The Speaker’s henchmen christened them “the Dirty Thirty,” and the redistricting bill was their chosen instrument of revenge. Even by the standards of the day, when “one cow-one vote” was the operative principle in the “rule-dominated” Lege \(that’s map was a classic of the gerrymandering art. There were districts that looked like giant chickens, districts that looked like coiled rattlers and districts that sprouted peculiar zits that popped out to include the home of one liberal incumbent in the district of another. In the process of screwing all the Speaker’s enemies, the redistricters inadvertently screwed a few of his friends as well, one of whom was Rep. Bill Finck, a ‘cigar manufacturer from San Antonio. Brother Finck rose to protest the butchering of his district. “Lookahere, Dell-win,” he began plaintively.”Look at what y’all have done to my dis-strict. You have drawn a great big, ol’ ball at the one end, then it runs in a little-bitty ol’ strip for 300 miles, and then there’s a great big ol’ ball at the other end. The damn thing looks like a pair of dumbbells.” Finck’s voice rose in pain. “Now the courts say the districts have to be corn-pact and contiguous. Is this your idea a corn-pact and con-tiguous?” Dell-win pondered deeply at the front mike. At last he replied, “Whale, in a artistic sense, it is.” Delwin Jones’ sense of the aesthetic is not to be underestimated. Texas is in precarious political balance: the Rs control the Senate by exactly one vote, and the Ds control the House by six. Our congressional delegation is 17-13 Ds over Rs, which means, among other things, had the Gore v. Bush contest gone on to the U.S. House of Representatives, Texas would theoretically have cast its only vote for Al Gore. Gives you some idea of how much is at stake in redistricting fights. Here’s the challenge: Dell-win and the guys have to draw a map that meets constitutional standards, including complicated legal requirements about racial representationa lasting legacy of our discriminatory past. Even though Jones is now an R, he wants, as all incumbents do, an incumbent-protection plan. When it comes to “rule” ID’s and R’s, who can tell the difference anyway? The Rs dominate enough politically to have carried every one of our statewide elected offices, plus they suffer from years of frustration over not getting their fair share, and from the humiliating sense that they have been out-smarted by canny Ds in these battles. Actually, it’s just Dell-win’s sense of the aesthetic \(he was out during the ’81 fight, back in ’91 as vice-chair and is The Rs’ blood is up. Should the Republican-dominated Senate and the Pete Laney-dominated House not be able to agree on a redistricting plan,.which is highly likely, the whole mess gets kicked over to a body called the Legislative Redistricting Board.This is comprised of the lite guy, the speaker, the attorney general, the comptroller and the land commissioner: hence, four Rs, one D, and we’re screwed. The Rs will be restrained in their own highly-aesthetic map-drawing efforts by the requirement that the results meet court standards. The last thing any winner on redistricting wants is for the plan to flunk the constitutional test, so the map ends up being drawn by federal courts, which notoriously have no sense of political aesthetics whatsoever. This is the three-dimensional chess of politics. To mix our metaphors, there are so many wild cards, it’s like push-tittle poker. Among them ‘ is the Democrats v. minorities theme. Since most minority reps are Democrats, this may strike you as odd, but part of the Ds’ fatein the sense of preserving their House majoritydepends on how selfish assorted minority reps want When, under federal court,pressure, we first started electing black and brown reps to the Lege and to Congress, it was so difficult to get minority citizens to vote \(actually, any poor citizen is hard to turn out, and since our poor folks are disproportionately minority, it frewas a rough rule that a district had to be 70 percent black or brown to elect continued on page 16 [ 14 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5/25/01 .M111fple~r..e.ftwortawassyroasaw. , W.I.legicyne.rolap \(..