Today is Governor Perry's preferred deadline for getting a redistricting map approved by the bicameral committee, but they're still bogged down in the same West Texas dispute, and now they've got a new dispute over how to apportion seats for minorities.
The dispute is about whether to approve a map that would eliminate the seats of Mr. Frost, D-Arlington, and U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, in exchange for districts that minorities are sure to win. The new disagreement pushed to the back burner a feud among Republicans over the creation of a West Texas district and imperiled the GOP's self-imposed Wednesday deadline for reaching a deal.
"We're still days away, I think," state Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, author of the House map, said late Tuesday.
The House has demanded a plan that not only would bolster GOP strength in Congress, but also eliminate a number of incumbents who are white Democrats, even if some are replaced by minority Democrats and not Republicans.
The new disagreement among Republicans over minority seats is mainly about how many white Democrats to try to take down.
Republicans in the Texas congressional delegation support the House's late-hour quest for an "8-3 plan," or one that would have eight safe Hispanic seats and three safe seats for African Americans.
But the Senate and its presiding officer, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, prefer keeping the state's 11 minority districts the way they are now – with seven likely to elect a Hispanic; two likely to elect a black; and two where blacks and Hispanics together form a majority. (Mr. Frost and Mr. Bell now hold the latter two seats.)
Retaining that configuration is the surest way to win quick approval for a new map from the federal Justice Department, Mr. Dewhurst said last week.
"We're willing to take a look at an 8-3 map," Dave Beckwith, Mr. Dewhurst's spokesman, said Tuesday. "We haven't seen a map yet that was better than the Senate map, but we're going to give the latest [House] maps a hard look."
The House's latest push slowed Republicans' internal deliberations and obscured progress they had made toward a West Texas solution. On Monday, Mr. Dewhurst and the Senate signaled they would find a way to accommodate Mr. Craddick's call for a Midland-dominated congressional district, although no deal has been reached as to exactly how.
A different approach to this issue comes from another new map, this one proposed by State Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth. Her map would also remove Martin Frost's seat by splitting Fort Worth into two districts.
"My primary concerns were making sure that my county, Johnson County, was contained wholly in [one district], and that we don't split up cities in Tarrant County," Wohlgemuth said. "My plan accomplishes those goals, with the exception that Fort Worth has to be split because it's so large."
A spokesman for Frost said the map would not withstand a legal challenge, chiefly because inner-city minority neighborhoods that are currently represented by the 24-year congressional veteran would be appended to a district dominated by affluent Anglo suburbs.
"It's clearly illegal," said Jess Fassler of Frost's Washington office.
"We really haven't been able to make much progress on the remainder of the state, because the House's concept is to work on West Texas and then the rest of the state," said Sen. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, leader of the Senate conferees.
Staples said the Senate is committed not only to drawing a map that creates the Midland district Craddick wants, but also to preserving a district for freshman U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Lubbock, without creating an election contest with veteran U.S. Rep. Charles Stenholm, D-Abilene.
Lubbock and Abilene have economies based on farming, while Midland and its sister city of Odessa are based in oil production. Midland leaders want the district to be linked to San Angelo, which also has oil production and ranching interests.
The basic problem is that West Texas' population growth has lagged behind the rest of the state, making it almost impossible to add a district there. So to create a Midland district, either Neugebauer or Stenholm's existing district has to disappear.
The Statesman looks at the main marked man, Charlie Stenholm, who is feeling good about his prospects no matter what happens.
"It's kind of ironic. A lot of Democrats have criticized me because they perceive that I vote Republican," he said Tuesday, reclining behind his Washington desk and its stunning view of the U.S. Capitol -- one tangible perk of being ranked 29th in seniority among 435 House members.
An ardent social and fiscal conservative, the straight-shooting Stenholm is blunt in his criticism of the Democratic Party. "We got into the minority the old-fashioned way. We earned it," he said. "We went too far to the left."
But his sharpest punches are aimed at Republicans.
"I consider myself to the right of center, and the Republican Party has now been captured by the radical right," Stenholm said, predicting that the GOP will pay the price in the 2004 elections. "If they want to brag about their economic game plan, be my guest. They gave us the largest deficits in the history of our country. A net job loss of what, 3 million? Trade deficits as far as the eye can see and growing. Continuing not to address the Social Security ticking time bomb."
As for redistricting, Stenholm doesn't flinch when predicting that he'll win any district Republicans want to craft for him.
"I never felt better about our political fortunes," he said. "Our friends have seen what they're trying to do. There be a whole lot more people out there working for Charlie Stenholm than working against him."
"Basically, I'm a Republican and I'm for Charlie Stenholm. This area is probably 65 percent Republican," said Abilene Mayor Grady Barr. "He has been so successful for this area, not only in health care, but he has done us some good in oil. He is particularly strong in agriculture. And he is a strong voice in the Pentagon for our Dyess Air Force Base.
"History has shown him to be hard to beat. He's very conservative, like this part of the country," Barr said. "He's just a straightforward person that looks after his constituents."
Still, last November's closer-than-expected vote fuels GOP hopes of defeating the 13-term incumbent. Stenholm outspent Rob Beckham, a two-term member of the Abilene City Council, by more than $1 million, yet won by only 6,514 votes.
"I think if (legislators) are agonizing over what to do about Charlie Stenholm, just give us 12 months because we're going to beat him next year," said Paul Washburn, Taylor County GOP chairman. "Even though he is, among Democratic congressmen, an apparent conservative, he is not in step with the people in his district. This is why he keeps having close races."
Stenholm, who won 51 percent of the vote in 2002 and 59 percent in 2000, scoffs at the notion, saying he expects his fiscal restraint to carry him to future victories. As an example, he points to a recent vote against a bill supporting faith-based charities.
"I'm in favor of the bill, but it added on another $12 billion to the deficit," he said. "The message we're trying to send all our colleagues is you can't keep ignoring the deficit and digging the hole deeper."
Still, Stenholm acknowledged that the vote will likely cause him trouble in next year's election.
" 'He said he was for this, but he voted this way' -- that makes a great 20-second commercial," Stenholm said. "(So) we'll run our own ads saying, 'you bet,' and then try to slap them upside the face, with a two-by-four, saying this is the kind of half-truth that causes people to be turned off in a political sense.
"We hit back as hard as we can hit back, but with a smile on our face and a good Christian attitude. That's West Texas."
While Democrats fight a Republican-led effort to pass a redistricting bill aimed at strengthening the GOP in the state's congressional delegation, Duncan is going up against House Speaker Tom Craddick. Despite being outranked by the fellow Republican, Duncan has shown no willingness to concede.
"I am here to represent my constituents, and that is where I am headed with this," Duncan said last week after the Senate approved the redistricting bill he backed.
Duncan was elected to the Legislature in 1992 and served in the House. His colleagues voted him Freshman of the Year in 1993 and he has picked up other awards for his service. He was elected to the Senate and served his first term there in 1997. Duncan now chairs the Senate Jurisprudence Committee, which handled the congressional redistricting bill.