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Council to study Congressional maps on Wednesday

Tuesday, July 18, 2006 by

When the Austin City Council meets in special session on Wednesday, they will be able to look at the various Congressional proposed maps filed last week with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. That court is charged with deciding how to remedy the Voting Rights Act violation that occurred when the Legislature redrew Texas’ Congressional maps.

The Council will then be able to directly instruct its lawyers on how to respond to the maps—in one day—since responses are due in Marshall on Friday. They will not be able to draw a new map since the deadline for submitting maps has passed, but they will likely respond strongly to the proposal submitted by Attorney General Greg Abbott on behalf of Gov. Rick Perry.

Council Member Brewster McCracken had not made a decision about what map to support when contacted Monday but he said of Abbott’s map, “It appears to single us out for political retribution, and there’s no way that could be right.” McCracken noted that such a plan would make Austin, “the biggest city in the United States without representation.”

The Council will also be taking a particularly hard look at the maps submitted by Travis County and by incumbent Congressmen Lamar Smith, Henry Bonilla and Henry Cuellar. And they will also need to take a careful look at a map filed by a group of interveners known as Jackson.

The Supreme Court ruled only one district – the 23rd– to be illegal, primarily because it splits a cohesive voting bloc of Hispanics in Webb County. That’s a violation of the Voting Rights Act. However, to put Webb County back together – what most observers consider to be the obvious solution – will affect anywhere from four to six Congressional districts. But the map filed by the Republican officials (not an official submission of the State of Texas) does not restore that voting block so there has been a lot of speculation behind the scenes about whether submitting that map was a tactical error.

That map splits Travis County and the city amongst three Republican members of Congress, two of whom live in San Antonio. Congressman Michael McCaul is from Austin but most of the district’s population lives outside of Travis County.

The two maps filed by Travis County affect Districts 10, 15, 21, 23, 25 and 28, resulting in more compact districts in both Central and South Texas. In both maps, District 25 would be anchored in Austin and Travis County in a substantially more compact district including portions of Bastrop, Caldwell and Hays counties, all in the Austin media market. Under the current plan that the Court found illegal, Austin/Travis County is the only major Texas urban area that does not make up the majority of a congressional district.

Various maps offer other advantages and disadvantages. Travis County's first map placing Webb County entirely in District 28 would probably increase Democrat Cuellar's hold on his district, given that he is from Webb and Bonilla is from San Antonio. Travis County’s plan compacts the Hispanic districts south of Interstate 10, gives the majority of Travis County to Lloyd Doggett and the balance to McCaul. It also pushes Smith to the Hill Country. Austin, which has a good relationship with Smith, declined to support the county’s map but will offer a response to the remedial maps.

Those responses are due this Friday, with arguments in District Court on August 3. But how would local Democrats react if the Congressional lines proposed by Perry win court approval? Would it discourage participation in down-ballot races in Travis County?

Travis County has long been considered the most Democratic urban county in the state in the new era of a two-party system in Texas. As Chris Elliott, chair of the Travis County Democratic Party points out, not a single Republican holds a countywide office. Travis County is one of the few counties in the state that picked John Kerry over George W Bush two years ago. Even in state house seats that were drawn for Republicans, Districts 47, 48 and 50, Democrats have won two additional seats And Republicans have failed to field a Republican candidate in the open Senate race, Elliott says.

Some long-time political consultants who take a more partisan view, like Peck Young, say that such a side-swipe by the Republican-dominated state government could do more to mobilize an active Democratic base than cow them. Local Democrats are both sophisticated and active, especially when they are disenfranchised, Young said.

“They could end up outsmarting themselves by drawing these lines,” Young theorized about the possible approval of the Republican map. “Republicans may find themselves wishing they hadn’t turned the Democrats mad and mean, in this case.”

Young said that when political parties turn greedy and stupid, there’s always a chance for them to shoot themselves in the foot,. That’s possible in Travis County, too.

Political strategist Kelly Fero, who has counseled more moderate Democrats such as Reps. Donna Howard and Mark Strama in decidedly split districts, predicts less of an impact if the up-ballot candidates in Travis County are Republican.

Fero says voters are fleeing highly partisan lawmakers on both sides of the aisle – witness the potential defeat of former Congressman Tom DeLay – and that candidates with a more moderate voice are winning the battle. Constituents want politicians who can solve problems, not make political statements. It is the new era of the moderate, what Fero calls the “missing middle” of both parties, where many voters are in the current election cycle.

He cites the Howard and Strama votes on the Republican business tax. Both earned the ire of the most partisan Democrats, but Fero says such a move was a smart one because it more closely reflected the views of their districts, which are equally balanced between Republican and Democratic voters. These voters want solutions, not politics, Fero said.

In Fero’s mind, the presence of an up-ballot Republican neither helps nor hurts in the minds of educated Travis County voters, who are willing to cross party lines. This new breed of politician is pragmatic, not political.

“Both Howard and Strama have committed the sin of insisting upon some amount of independence,” Fero said. “They’re always gong to put their vision of what their district needs above their party bosses, and that’s what voters in the missing middle – that majority of voters that haven’t been heard from in a while – want to hear,” he said.

Martinez, May both loaned campaigns funds

If there’s anything clear about running for the Austin City Council, it’s this: those who are serious must spend their own money just to play the game.

Victorious Place 2 Council candidate Mike Martinez made a $15,000 loan to his campaign in the final week before the election. His opponent, Eliza May, loaned her campaign $40,000.

His campaign reports taking in just over $10,000 and spending more than $15,000 in the days leading up to the election. His report at the eight-day mark prior to the election showed the campaign had nearly $4,000 cash on hand and had spent $34,000 during the previous reporting period.

Martinez's largest expenditures came prior to the eighth day before the election. He spent $18,000 on advertising routed through Fero Hewitt Global, with another $5,000 going to that same company in the week before the election. Mark Nathan’s Krypton Communications received $9,000 from the campaign in mid-April for consulting. The campaign also purchased several ads in the Austin Chronicle and spent $2,200 for automated phone calls.

May's campaign was largely self-financed. She loaned her campaign $40,000 on May 4. That same day, the campaign wrote checks totaling more than $36,000 to a Denver-based company for its media buy. The campaign wrote a separate check to an Austin firm for TV production services.

May did receive contributions from several individuals including developer David Vitanza, attorney Roy Minton, and PR guru Don Martin, The Martinez campaign also received a contributions from Laurie Limbacher, Perry Lorenz, and Dick Rathgeber.

Mayoral race spending report holds few surprises

Austin Mayor Will Wynn out-spent Mayor Pro Tem Danny Thomas by a margin of nearly three to one in the final days of the mayoral campaign. The final campaign reports show Thomas raising and spending just over $15,000 in the period just before election day. Mayor Will Wynn raised just over $8,000 in the week before the May 13 election, but his existing campaign reserves allowed him to spend $42,000. The largest single expenditure in that period was the repayment of a loan that Wynn himself made to his campaign fund.

Thomas used the bulk of his campaign funds for supplies, gasoline, food for his volunteers, and business lunches. His wife, Janis, was paid just under $800 for her work as campaign manager, while Mary Aubry received a salary of $1,200 as campaign treasurer.

Mayor Wynn’s campaign staff and outside advisors were paid considerably more. David Butts received a $1,500 consulting fee. Krypton Communications, owned by Mark Nathan, received $9,000 for political consultant services. The campaign also paid mayoral aide Matt Curtis $3,000 for campaign consulting.

By the final week leading up to the election, both sides had already done the bulk of their advertising. Wynn’s campaign paid just over $700 to the Austin Chronicle for an ad, while Thomas bought $300 worth of advertising in the Spanish-language newspaper La Prensa. Thomas also paid another $600 to Worley Printing for advertising.

Thomas’ final report lists a zero balance, with the campaign spending the same amount as it took in, while Wynn’s campaign listed an ending balance of $20. Both campaigns received most of their contributions in the final week from individuals. Thomas received some donations from individuals in Round Rock, Del Valle, Cedar Park, Fort Worth, and Baton Rouge. Wynn’s donations came from within Austin, including one from restaurant owner Marc Katz, who challenged Wynn during his first mayoral campaign.

©2006 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

MetroRail Preview . . . Capital Metro is giving Austin riders a preview of its planned 22-mile commuter rail service, which is scheduled to debut in 2008. The Commuter Rail Service will operate on Capital Metro's existing freight tracks, with the line from Leander to downtown providing service for both suburban and central city passengers. The meetings begin today at 11:30am at the Hilton Hotel, 500 E. 4th St. Today's focus will be the Downtown Rail Station. Other meetings will be: Plaza Saltillo Station, Wednesday, 6:30pm at Capital Metro Administration Annex, 624 Pleasant Valley Rd.; MLK Station, Thursday, 6:30pm at David Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, 2211 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.; Howard, Lakeline and Braker Stations, Saturday, 9am at The Commons Center at UT Pickle, 10100 Burnet Rd., Bldg. 137; Lamar and Highland Mall Stations, July 25 at 6:30pm at the Norris Conference Ctr./Northcross Mall, 2525 W. Anderson Ln.; and the Leander Station, July 26 at 6:30pm at Pat Bryson Municipal Hall, 201 N. Brushy St., in Leander . . . City meetings. . . The Zoning and Platting Commission meets at 6pm in Council Chambers at City Hall . . . The Robert Mueller Municipal Airport Plan Implementation Advisory Commission meets at 6pm in room 105 at Waller Creek Center . . . The Environmental Board, SOS Draft Ordinance Subcommittee meets at 4pm in room 240 at One Texas Center . . . The Urban Transportation Commission, Ground Transportation Subcommittee meets at 7pm on the 8th floor of One Texas Center . . . The Mexican American Cultural Center Advisory Board meets at 6pm at the headquarters of the Parks and Recreation Department at 200 S. Lamar. . . Branch library design preview . . . The Austin Public Library will hold a community design review meeting for the construction of the new Twin Oaks Branch at 6:30pm on August 1. The Library invites the public to attend to review and provide feedback to the architects of the proposed features included in the design of this new branch library, which is being called an "Eclectic Circus" because of its function as a gathering place for people of various cultures from the communities it serves. The community design review meeting will take place at the Friends of the Austin Public Library Monster Bookstore located at 1800 S. 5th St. (former South Austin Post office site). This is the third public meeting on this new library construction project. For more information, contact: John W. Gillum, Library Facilities Planning Manager, at 974-7495 or email at john.gillum@ci.austin.tx.us. . . . Water Education . . . Eight organizations will host the first Groundwater to the Gulf: Summer Institute for Educators on July 19 and 20, 2006. The two-day field trip program will provide hands-on experiences with local water experts for 40 educators, with a focus on grades 4 through 8. Participants' training will follow the path of water in Central Texas from its origins to its final destination in the Gulf of Mexico. Activities will focus on hydrogeology, groundwater, urban watersheds, water quality, water protection and water conservation during field trips to Barton Springs, Sheffield Education Center's Splash! Exhibit, Hornsby Bend Biosolids Management Facility, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and McKinney Falls State Park. The Institute is hosted by: Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District, Keep Austin Beautiful, Parks and Recreations' Sheffield Education Center, Texas Cave Management Association, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Lower Colorado River Authority, and the City of Austin Watershed Protection Development Review. Climbing into caves, studying limestone layers and open faults, visiting wetlands and river gravel bars, playing at the coastal expo and coastal wetlands trailer are all part of the experience. For more information, contact the Sheffield Education Center, 481-1466.

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