Tom DeLay has been putting pressure on the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature to redraw the congressional district boundaries to make give more seats to the GOP, but given the work that will have to be done balancing the budget this session, state leaders have been resisting his efforts.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst called congressional redistricting as welcome as a "contagious flu" and did not even bother to appoint a Senate redistricting committee.
House Speaker Tom Craddick last year said he did not want to take up congressional redistricting if the issue was dead in the Senate. But when he appointed committees Jan. 30, he named a redistricting committee at the urging of DeLay, Capitol sources told the Houston Chronicle.
Rep. Joe Crabb, R-Houston, appointed to chair the committee, said then that it was "very likely" the Legislature would write a new redistricting bill. He said he hadn't spoken with DeLay.
Crabb said last week, however, that he is unaware of any contemplated legislation on congressional redistricting. He said he believes the committee will be dealing with minor changes in state House lines and a request by Texas Chief Justice Tom Phillips to redraw judicial districts.
The key argument that Democrats and some Republicans make against DeLay's push is that lawmakers do not need a partisan fight over redistricting while they also have to solve a $10 billion state budget shortfall.
"Redistricting is the most partisan matter the Legislature ever takes up," said Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, the Senate redistricting chairman in 2001.
"We've got the toughest session this year in the last 50 years. We don't need the added and unnecessary element of redistricting thrown into the mix," he said.
While no Republican target list is available, political insiders say that the GOP wants to change district lines to cause the defeat of Democratic incumbents Ralph Hall of Rockwall, Charles Stenholm of Abilene, Chet Edwards of Waco and Chris Bell of Houston.
They also want to change boundary lines for U.S. Rep. Martin Frost, D-Dallas, the state's Democratic congressional leader, hoping to make him more vulnerable to a Republican or even to a primary challenge from a Hispanic Democrat.
This article also suggests Max Sandlin and Jim Turner as possible targets. They got 56.19% and 60.85%, respectively, in 2002, but are in rural districts and are thus considered susceptible. It also suggests redrawing Gene Green's safe 29th District as well as Martin Frost's to encourage a minority primary opponent. Given that Hispanics have had their eye on the 29th District since it was first created, that could get ugly. The fact that it's considered insufficiently Hispanic due to a Republican lawsuit in 1994 that advocated "colorblind" district lines is an irony that's probably lost on the DeLay crowd.
One last thing to address is Jim Ellis, director of DeLay's Americans for a Republican Majority, who argues that state voting numbers are a good reason for redistricting:
"I went back and added up the votes, and 56.04 percent of Texans voted for a Republican for Congress, and Republicans have 47 percent of the seats. So they're out of line," Ellis said.
John Culberson - Incumbent REP* 93,180 88.96%
Kevin Brady - Incumbent REP* 139,574 93.12%
Lloyd Doggett - Incumbent DEM* 112,612 84.49%
Kay Granger - Incumbent REP* 122,493 91.82%
Larry Combest - Incumbent REP* 117,085 91.64%
Gene Green - Incumbent DEM* 54,619 95.13%
Rep total = 472,332
Dem total = 167,231
There's one final bit of irony in this whole thing, which is that the plan DeLay favored, a plan that would have given the GOP 20 seats, supposedly would have made DeLay's own district less favorable to him. If his pressure ever bears fruit - and there's no reason to believe this issue couldn't be brought up again in 2005 - there would at least be a small amount of poetic justice for Democrats if one result is DeLay's downfall.
UPDATE: When I first posted this, I somehow managed to overlook two other unopposed Democratic Congressmen, a fact I've just discovered. Thie votes totals:
Ruben Hinojosa(I) DEM 66,311 100.00%
Silvestre Reyes(I) DEM 72,383 100.00%