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With redistricting fight looming, Waco State Sen. Averitt wants to avoid rehashing voter ID


By Michael W. Shapiro
September 18, 2009

With what promises to be a politically charged debate over redistricting facing the Texas Legislature in the 2011 session, state Sen. Kip Averitt, R-Waco, expressed little interest Thursday in rehashing this year's hot-button issue — a bill requiring Texans to show ID before casting ballots.

After a town hall meeting at the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, Averitt said the voter ID legislation, which failed in the past session, would likely come up again in 2011.

"But whether or not we fuss over it, I don't know yet, because we're going to fuss over redistricting. That's enough," he said.

In his speech to a crowd of about 50, Averitt called redistricting "the only purely partisan thing that we do."

"It's Republicans vs. Democrats. Period," he said. "If you all can remember, a few years ago we went through that process here, and it was very emotional. It will be emotional again."

Redistricting typically occurs every decade after the federal census . Once U.S. Census Bureau officials determine the population of Texas and allot it a certain number of seats in Congress, the Legislature will draw up new U.S. House districts.

After the 2000 census , a state court redrew the Texas map with input from state lawmakers. But after Republicans gained control of the Legislature in 2002, the House districts were redrawn again.

Averitt said because of cultural and economic similarities, he wants to see McLennan, Coryell and Bell counties put in the same congressional district.

McLennan County is now in a district represented by Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, that stretches from the southern part of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex to the Bryan- College Station area, while neighboring Bell and Coryell counties are represented by Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock.

Edwards, who chairs the House appropriations subcommittee in charge of military construction, had represented Coryell and Bell county communities surrounding Fort Hood, where he drew strong support. When Republican legislators redrew districts in 2003, they targeted Edwards for defeat by splitting off those two counties and the Army base from McLennan County, where Edwards lives.

Redistricting isn't the only challenge before the next Legislature. Averitt said crafting a budget will be difficult given the recession.

"Sales tax revenues in August were down 12.5 percent over what they were one year ago," he said. "We know next time when we go into Austin and write our budget that we're going to have a huge hole to fill — a huge deficit."

But Averitt credited his colleagues for showing restraint by leaving untouched a $9 billion rainy-day fund.

Even with that money intact, if the economy doesn't pick up significantly, balancing the state's budget will be a tough row to hoe. Averitt, a CPA, said he nevertheless would jump at the chance to be chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, a position Bryan Republican Sen. Steve Ogden is giving up.

Averitt and a few other members of the committee have been mentioned as possible replacements for Ogden, who announced last week he wouldn't seek re-election.

When Averitt was asked about the opportunity to take over as chief budget writer, he crossed his fingers and smiled.

"I'd love to do that," he said, "if the opportunity should present itself."

(c) 2009 Cox Newspapers, Inc. - Waco Tribune-Herald