Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Mr. Big and the Bag Man

It has the look of a full-length action thriller, and in this case, “full-length” understates it by a bunch.

The sweaty man, two arms around the bulging briefcase, steals away in the dark of night, his necktie swinging. Having evaded security, he hustles off, panting. Home free.

But wait. The camera zooms in on a thread from his pant leg, dangling from the barbed wire he thought he successfully scaled.

That thread means he’s about to be found out. But what about Mr. Big, who ultimately gets what’s in the bag?

First, the bag man and the plot. In the heist of six new congressional seats, Tom DeLay thinks he’s home free. But after a tale with more turns than a Quentin Tarantino flick, he gets taken down.

The incriminating thread is DeLay’s hook-or-crook efforts to elect Republicans to the Texas statehouse and the role of prohibited corporate money. The bag man’s goal: To redraw Texas congressional districts for a second time in a decade based on added GOP strength in the statehouse.

And Mr. Big? Throughout the Texas redistricting saga, which saw three special sessions and quorum-blocking exoduses by House Democrats and then Senate Democrats, George W. Bush appeared above the fray.

The White House said this was a state matter. It was staying out of it. However, when things got particularly dicey, Karl Rove reportedly started making calls to Republicans who thought governing Texas was more important than abetting a party power play.

Don’t believe the denials. The White House was in on the job from the start.

Unless otherwise demonstrated, one might make the same assumption about Republican efforts to torpedo the Voting Rights Act, parts of which expire next year. Appearing to be sympathetic to the concerns of black and Hispanic voters, Bush has said he’d sign a reauthorization.

This week the nine-member Texas Legislative Black Caucus called on Bush to put his weight behind the Voting Rights Act and to call on seven Texas Republicans blocking its reauthorization to back down.

This, one imagines, he could accomplish with the snap of his finger if in fact he truly wanted the Voting Rights Act to continue, with its protections of minority voting strength.

It’s not that one would be surprised if Bush looked the other way or Rove were actively pushing for the act to die. Its death certainly would make things easier for partisan schemers.

Were we speaking of threads? When the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the Texas redistricting plan in principle, it did find one problem that could cause at least one of DeLay’s finely knitted pant legs to unravel. The court found that one new district, the 23rd, violated the Voting Rights Act by diluting Hispanic voting clout through, among things, splitting up Laredo.

It’s unclear how this problem can be resolved without forfeiting one or more districts that were finely sculpted to guarantee a GOP seat. It could affect many.

So, like the full-length film this befits, the intrigue is not near the rolling of credits. The Texas Legislature will have to approve a new redistricting plan that suits the court.

Meanwhile, as that subplot continues to unfold (into the next decade?) we’ll be cutting to scenes from Tom DeLay’s criminal trial. We assume he will be wearing different pants.

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