You have to say this for our leaders: They don’t mind generously opening the state’s coffers to a Yankee if it will help secure their futures.

As the Texas Tribune disclosed last week, our legislative leaders rather stealthily hired a top gun from Wisconsin to help them draw the new maps for the U.S. House of Representatives  and both chambers of the Texas Legislature. 

According to the Tribune, Adam Foltz is listed in state records as being employed as a “legislative professional” by the Texas Legislative Council, a nonpartisan state agency used by members of both parties to draft and analyze bills. 

But Kimberly Shields, the council’s assistant executive director, told the Tribune in an email that Foltz is reporting to Rep. Todd Hunter, chairman of the Republican-controlled House Redistricting Committee. 

In her email, Shields told the Tribune, “While Mr. Foltz is on the legislative council payroll, he is considered an employee of the House Redistricting Committee, and his hiring and duties are entirely within the purview of Chairman Hunter.” 

Foltz comes with quite a pedigree. Ten years ago he was a key player in drawing legislative maps for Wisconsin, maps that are widely regarded as among the most aggressively gerrymandered in the nation.

Foltz worked out of a law office but as an employee Jeff Fitzgerald, then Republican speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly (equivalent of the Texas House). Foltz worked side by side with Tad Ottman, who reported to Fitzgerald’s brother Scott, who was majority leader of the state Senate. 

By all accounts Foltz did a bang-up job for Wisconsin Republicans. John D. Johnson, an elections expert at the Marquette University Law School, measured the impact of the Wisconsin maps drawn 10 years ago. He noted that in 2012, Barack Obama won 53 percent of the state’s votes. He beat Mitt Romney in 55 of the Assembly’s 99 districts as measured by the previous map. But under the map that Foltz helped draw, he beat Romney in only 43 Assembly districts.

Johnson calculated that under the post-Foltz map Democrats would have to carry the state by about 8.2 percentage points in order to squeak out control of the Assembly, up from 3.8 points under the map used in the 2000s.

In 2018 Wisconsin Democrats narrowly swept every statewide office on the ballot, including for governor, but Republicans won 63 of the 99 Assembly seats. 

Foltz appears also to have been instrumental in what we might call the strictly disciplined procedures used for redistricting. The maps were drawn at the law offices, not at the capitol. Only Republicans were allowed to come in to inspect them while they were being drawn, and they were routinely required to sign non-disclosure agreements about what they saw.

Foltz also reportedly prepared “talking points” for Republican legislators, stressing that anything they said might become an issue in lawsuits over the plan. The talking points also said that “Public comments on this map may be different than what you hear in this room. Ignore the public comments.”

In other words, the truth was spoken not in public to the citizens but behind law office doors and protected by secrecy agreements.  

The comments of those involved in creating the new plan are especially important in the wake of U.S. Supreme Court decisions declaring that while deliberately diluting the power of minority voters is not permitted, it is permissible to gerrymander aggressively to help your political party even if it results in “unintentional” diminution of minority power. 

The reputation Foltz gained from his work in Wisconsin has enabled him to raise his rates. The taxpayers in that state paid him at a rate of $50,000 a year. We Texan taxpayers are on the hook for $120,000 a year. This in spite of the fact that, according to the Texas Tribune, Chairman Hunter on Monday admitted he hired Foltz but said, “I do not know what happened in Wisconsin and did not even inquire.” 

Are Texas Republicans following Foltz’s Wisconsin playbook? It certainly looks like it. 

Rep. Ina Minjarez, a Democrat and the only member of the Bexar County delegation on the redistricting committee, said the delegation was invited to submit its recommendations for this region’s lines, which it did.

She said she hasn’t met Foltz, but her impression is that he is drawing the maps, which were not shown to her or other Democrats before being released last week.

“A Republican member called me yesterday and he mentioned that he went to speak to the chairman and met with Adam Foltz instead,” she said Saturday.

Texas population grew so much over the past decade that it was the only state in the nation to be awarded two new Congressional seats. Census figures show that people of color accounted for 95 percent of the growth. Yet the proposed new map for the Texas House of Representatives manages to increase the number of majority white districts and decrease the number of districts with Black and Hispanic majorities.

Although the Census shows white and Hispanic populations to be almost equal in Texas (41.2 percent white, 39.7 percent Hispanic), the current map is tilted heavily white. Of the House’s 150 districts 83 are majority white. Only 33 are majority Hispanic and seven majority Black. (Twenty-seven districts have no majority racial group.)

The proposed new map tilts the playing field even more. It increases the number of majority White districts by six while reducing majority Black and Hispanic districts by three each.

How did Foltz and his Republican bosses manage that? The best explanation I’ve seen is here in the New York Times.

Chairman Hunter has said that the released map is just a draft and will probably change, but Minjarez is skeptical that it will improve much.

“I think it will be hard,” she said. “Changes will have to be agreed on by the affected parties. If a Democratic member goes in with an amendment that will affect a Republican member, it will not pass.”

What’s more, Hunter is moving the bill with lightning speed. He held a hearing on it Monday, just four days after the public, and his Democratic committee members, were allowed to see the proposed maps. And according to the Texas Tribune, he announced that he planned to vote it out of the committee for consideration of the full House at the end of the hearing.

This was despite the fact that 116 people had registered to speak against it and only six for it. The hearing began in the morning and went past 1 a.m.

Rick Casey

Rick Casey's career spans four decades of award-winning reporting on San Antonio. He previously worked as a metro columnist for the former San Antonio Light and, later, the San Antonio Express-News.