By Sean Wardwell
Killeen Daily Herald
Texas Republican and Democratic party officials reached agreement Friday on an April 3 primary election.
The deal was approved by a federal court in San Antonio later in the day.
"I think the April 3 proposal is the way to go," said state Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen. "It gives the court time to process the dilemma on maps and leaves Texas in a position to still be relevant to the national Republican and Democratic primaries."
The agreement caps rampant confusion and speculation after the Supreme Court last week issued a stay on maps drawn by three federal judges in San Antonio and made the original March 6 primary date unrealistic.
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the redistricting case on Jan. 9. At that time, the court can either approve the court-drawn map, instruct the judges to redraw the maps or order the Legislature-drawn maps be used until legal challenges are settled.
In the interim, some Republican leaders had been pushing the idea of two primaries - one in March and another in May. The proposal proved to be both
unpopular and expensive.
Coryell County Judge John Firth said this week the cost of split primaries - at $25,000 per election - would break the county's election budget.
Uncertainty over not having set district lines led the San Antonio court Tuesday to order a temporary extension of the candidate filing deadline. The order also lessened residency requirements for filing until a map is approved.
Friday's agreement extended the filing deadline to Feb. 1.
Claudia Brown, former Killeen councilwoman and Democratic challenger to Aycock, said having a single primary would help voter turnout.
"There's very low voter turnout in Texas, compared to other states," she said. "(A split primary) would not have helped an already existing problem."
State party officials released a joint statement, praising the deal. In it, Boyd Richie, Texas Democratic chair, said he was pleased the state would not have to bear the expense of a split primary.
Steve Munisteri, state GOP chair, said he was glad the agreement provided a timeline for local and state conventions, while giving the court enough time to rule on district lines.
"It's great we're having only one election," said state Rep. Ralph Sheffield, R-Temple. "(The court) has so many things to work out. There are some districts that could still change at these court hearings."
John Alaniz of Temple, who is challenging Sheffield for the District 55 Republican nomination, said the deal gives voters the time they need to choose.
"I'm happy the voters will have more time to study the candidates," he said.
The issue of when to have the primary was raised when the panel of judges in San Antonio last month ruled the maps drawn by the Republican-dominated Legislature were retrogressive, depriving minority voters of a choice in representation. The judges then drew their own district maps.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott asked the Supreme Court for a stay regarding implementation of the court's maps, which it granted, ordering a Jan. 9 hearing.
After the 2010 census, Texas gained four additional congressional seats, based largely on an expanding minority population. The maps approved by the Legislature sparked six lawsuits, which were consolidated into the case being heard in San Antonio.
That same legal battle also is being fought in front of a federal three-judge panel in Washington, D.C., which is expected to hear arguments Jan. 17.
Contact Sean Wardwell at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7552. Follow him on Twitter at KDHcity.
Filing deadline - Feb. 1.
Ballot placement drawing - Feb. 3.
Primary election - April 3.
Senate district and county conventions - Either April 14 or 21.
Runoff (if needed) - June 5.
Residency requirements: Candidates must be a resident of the district they seek to represent from Feb. 1, until the date of the general election. Candidates will be allowed to re-file, amend their previous filing or withdraw with a refund of the filing fee before Feb. 1. Any petitions submitted in lieu of a filing fee must contain the signatures of registered voters from the area the candidate wishes to represent.