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County names five to health care board

Wednesday, July 21, 2004 by

City selection expected next week

Completing what was obviously a tough task, Travis County Commissioners yesterday selected five men to serve on the Health Care District Board of Managers. In announcing their choices, County Judge Sam Biscoe expressed the hope that the Austin City Council would be able to agree that one of those five could be the consensus appointee. Otherwise, he said, they would have to inform one of the five that he would not be chosen.

Commissioners named Clarke Heidrick, Carl Richie, Tom Young, Frank Rodriguez and Dr. Donald Patrick. Three of those selected are Anglo, one Hispanic and one African-American. Commissioners expressed the hope that the city would balance out the board by selecting some female appointees.

Contacted later, Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman, who serves on the City Council health care subcommittee, said she thought it would not be difficult for the city to agree on a consensus appointee from among those five. She pointed out that Heidrick, Richie and Young were on the city’s short list.

Heidrick and Richie are attorneys and Young is a retired healthcare administrator. Rodriguez, who currently heads his own company, is a former Assistant City Manager and budget director for the City of Austin. Patrick has both medical and legal degrees. He is vice chair of the Austin/Travis County EMS Advisory Committee and is executive director of the Texas State Board of Medical Examiners.

Heidrick is best known for his work as chair of the steering committee for the health care district campaign. As a lobbyist, Richie represented the city in securing passage of the legislation that authorized the creation of the district. Young was executive administrator for the Austin Regional Clinic from 1994 to 2002, when he retired. He is currently a part-time health care management consultant.

Commissioner Karen Sonleitner said, “It was heck getting it down to 11 names,” which was the process the produced the short list. “There was a lot of talent left on the cutting room floor. I don’t think there was any possibility of having any wrong choices among the 11.” Sonleitner noted that the appointees had the breadth and depth of experience commissioners were seeking: legal, legislative, medical and financial. In addition, she said some of the appointees have experience working under a hospital district regime and one is a former elected official. She also pointed out that Heidrick would remember the campaign to create the district and the promises made to voters.

The City Council subcommittee has completed its interviews and is expected to make a recommendation to the entire Council for action at next week’s meeting.

Redistricting expert says Kennedy is justice to watch

SALT LAKE CITY – If the US Supreme Court grants a hearing on the Democrats’ lawsuit over redistricting it will likely be because of Justice Anthony Kennedy, an expert on redistricting cases told a session at the National Conference of State Legislatures yesterday.

Nate Persily, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, has served as either advisor or counsel in redistricting cases in New York, Maryland and California. Persily says Kennedy is the one to watch when it comes to the Texas case—he was the justice on the split court in the recent Pennsylvania case that left the door open to consider the issue of partisan gerrymandering in the future.

"He's the critical vote to say, 'Is what happened in Texas over the line?'" Persily said.

Sen. Leticia Van De Putte (D-San Antonio) called the push to redraw the Congressional lines in Texas the result of post-election unhappiness on the part of Republicans. Only after the 2002 elections did Republicans decide that the maps drawn by the courts were not good enough, she said, especially when Republican-dominated districts voted for Democratic incumbents.

"When the outcome doesn't go as proponents planned, they decide they've got to do it again," Van De Putte said. "It wasn't about the numbers, it was about the results. We were having a process where instead of the voters choosing their representatives, the representatives were choosing their voters."

Mid-decade redistricting is one of three big points the plaintiffs will argue in the Texas redistricting case, and it's probably the strongest argument before the court, one that allows the justices to intervene without weighing in on partisan issues, Persily said. This is an argument that could sway Kennedy, said the professor.

But plaintiffs can’t celebrate yet. Even if the justices find the argument against mid-decade redistricting compelling, they may not strike down the new map, Persily said.

The recent Supreme Court decision on Colorado did not rule out a hearing on the Texas issue, Persily said. He reads that decision as very narrowly defined with the main question being whether the Colorado Supreme Court acted according to its mandate under the state constitution, so as to prevent its legislature from redistricting.

The second issue in Texas is partisan gerrymandering. This is, by far, the most complicated of the issues. In the Pennsylvania decision, the Supreme Court spoke with five voices, Persily said. Four said the courts should stay out of gerrymandering. Another four were more open to the concept, but the justices offered different standards to meet. Kennedy voted to affirm the Pennsylvania map, but indicated he was open to further discussion.

Kennedy alluded to a possible First Amendment argument in his opinion. That free speech—which protects a worker from being fired because of an expressed affiliation with a particular political party—could stretch to election year politics is a complicated and still rather murky issue, one that Kennedy may be looking to clarify through the Texas case or others, Persily said.

At one time, the bar for partisan gerrymandering was incredibly high. The Supreme Court has never struck down a map. Now the door is slightly ajar, with the liberal justices on the court asking plaintiffs to present their best cases for striking down gerrymandering. Persily says one thing is clear: If the Supreme Court votes down the partisan gerrymandering issue in the Texas case, it clearly closes the door on further discussion of the subject.

The third issue relates to influence districts under the Voting Rights Act. The plaintiffs in the Texas case have argued that African-American voters who can sway an election in a district, but are not the majority—such as US Rep. Martin Frost's district in North Texas—should have standing to challenge a Congressional map under the VRA.

"My guess on that issue is that the Court is not going to side with the plaintiffs," Persily said of the argument. "If we start allowing Voting Rights Act challenges on districts that are 30 or 40 percent African-American, where does it stop? It's opening a Pandora's box."

The idea of appointment of independent non-partisan redistricting commissions, a concept Van De Putte clearly preferred, was also discussed. Persily said the independent redistricting commissions are rarely independent, pointing to both Kenneth Starr and Katherine Harris as those expected to be independent during their investigations. Elected or appointed, it's almost impossible to make redistricting a non-partisan process, Persily said.

Encore performance . . . The Zoning and Platting Commission re-elected all of its officers by acclamation last night. Betty Baker will continue as chair; Joseph Martinez is vice chair . . . Meetings . . . Travis County Commissioners will hold a budget hearing at 6pm tonight in their meeting room in the Granger Building at 11th and Guadalupe. Even though there is not even a preliminary budget yet, citizens are invited to speak their mind on what’s important to them. There will be a budget work session from 1-5pm Thursday . . . The Environmental Board is scheduled to meet at 6pm tonight in Room 325 of One Texas Center. A subcommittee of the Environmental Board will talk about replacing the Barton Creek lift station at 11:30am in Room 240 of One Texas Center. The Downtown Commission will meet at 5:30pm at Waller Creek Center.

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