Apparently, a lot of Dallasites don't know what Congressional district they're in.
Thanks to Texas congressional redistricting, Williamson Road in East Dallas' Lakewood is the superhighway to confusion.
From Mockingbird Lane, you can drive a mile down Williamson and cross congressional district lines three times – from the newly redrawn 32nd District into the 5th District, then back into the 32nd, then into the 5th again. "It's insane," said Kevin Petters, a Williamson Road resident who today lives in the 5th District but will vote Nov. 2 in the new 32nd District – for U.S. Rep. Martin Frost, D-Dallas. "We live on a weird, weird street. I thought it was all one district. I had no idea."
Neither do many of his neighbors, some of whom believe they'll be voting in one of the nation's most contentious and expensive congressional races: the 32nd District match-up between Mr. Frost and four-term U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas.
In reality, they'll be voting in the 5th District race between U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Dallas, who faces the relatively unknown Democrat Bill Bernstein.
"Until about a week ago, I thought I was going to get to choose between Martin Frost and Pete Sessions. But apparently not," said Kate Wagner, a resident of Springside Lane, which falls within the 5th District – about a block away from the 32nd District line.
"I had to go back through all the issues, revisit Web sites, learn about two new candidates," Ms. Wagner said. "It's frustrating a little bit; it's pretty confusing. And it seems a lot of my neighbors feel the same way, too."
Another half-dozen Williamson, Springside and Yosemite residents who didn't want their names published acknowledged that they didn't know the names of the candidates for either district. Four correctly named their current congressman.
The line dividing the two new districts is anything but straight.
At some points, the districts dramatically snake in and out of each other, making it possible for a golfer to tee up a ball in the 32nd District and whack it with a 4-iron back into the 32nd – clear over a sliver of the 5th.
Frost and Sessions lawn signs are planted in lawns that fall outside their district, and to a lesser degree, Hensarling signs pop up outside of his district. Mr. Hensarling and Mr. Sessions, incidentally, live in Lakewood, only a couple of blocks away from each other's district.
Also turns out that quite a few of those Dallas folks are also unhappy with the new Congressional borders and many of them blame Tom DeLay for it. Who'd have ever guessed that?
"I didn't think Martin would simply quit, but he's running really hard," said state Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell, who is running for Mr. Frost's current congressional seat, the 24th District. "Martin is one of the best campaigners around, a very skillful campaigner. Now I can't get anyone to talk to me about my race because everyone wants to talk about the Frost-Sessions race."
"Pete has run a strong campaign and should win," said state Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, a key player in Texas' 2003 congressional redistricting process that left Mr. Frost without a Democrat-friendly district in which to run. He officially challenged Mr. Sessions in January.
"But yeah, we're seeing an awful lot of Frost signs around," Mr. Branch said. "Our worry is that he's going to bring out a lot of Democratic support that didn't come out in 2002."
U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, one of five House Democrats from Texas marked for political death by redistricting, jogs along this town's founders day parade, clasping hands with so many voters wearing "Chet" buttons that you can see why his party hopes for an election-day surprise.
Conventional wisdom in Washington has also smiled upon Edwards, giving the Waco Democrat the best odds of spoiling the Republicans' redistricting party.
The charismatic Edwards has more money, experience and cross-party support than his opponent. He has an energized campaign and a challenger with exploitable weaknesses.
But before Democrats celebrate, they better consider that challenger. Arlene Wohlgemuth is a no-nonsense conservative running in a new district that votes 2-to-1 Republican. She has support from President Bush and the Club for Growth, an anti-tax powerhouse that has sent her about $390,000 in contributions from supporters, and that doesn't count extensive TV ad buys.
Questions about Lake Waco's water quality have been a campaign issue. The problem stems from dairy farms not far away from the lake. The operations have helped the local economy, but dairy cows produce lots of you know what. And some of it has ended up washing into tributaries that feed into the lake, which Waco-area residents use for water.
The problem got so bad several years ago that the Legislature intervened. Waco officials, the dairy operators and state lawmakers agreed on a pact in 2001 to deal with the problem.
As a member of the Legislature, Ms. Wohlgemuth participated in those negotiations. But some Waco folks thought she was too soft on the dairy farmers. The critics included her Republican opponent in this year's primary, Dot Snyder. She ran ads with a cow bellowing Ms. Wohlgemuth's name. (Don't you love politics?)
Democrat Edwards has pressed the issue, too. It's not the campaign's central point, but it matters. When former Waco Mayor Linda Ethridge endorsed Mr. Edwards, she cited Ms. Wohlgemuth's opposition to Waco's work to clean up its lake. For her part, Rep. Wohlgemuth says she was only trying to strike a balance between competing interests.
"He is very strong out here," said Ralph Hennie, a high school teacher. "There are a lot of Republicans just like him – very powerful, very in-charge guys."
"Our area has prospered under DeLay," said Mr. Hennie, 58.
Mr. DeLay's Democratic challenger, Richard Morrison, disagrees. Mr. Morrison, a lawyer, argued that Mr. DeLay's recent troubles are proof that the majority leader is a relentlessly partisan and unethical lawmaker.
As that news has spread, Mr. Morrison said, his daily fund-raising totals have doubled.
"So far, it's been really good," Mr. Morrison said. "Two days is certainly not a trend. But if it continues, that's awesome."
Sugar Land Mayor David Wallace said Mr. DeLay remains a popular figure, owing to his commitment to the district and his community service.
"Politics is playing a great role in these issues [in Washington and Austin]," Mr. Wallace said. "That is the general feeling you have talking to the constituents."
At the Baker Street Pub and Grill, a new restaurant close to City Hall, several GOP voters said they were paying attention to the controversies but still supported Mr. DeLay.
"He's done good for the county," said Roger Gulick, a 61-year-old engineer. "I don't think he'd let himself hang out like that."
Even those who said they dislike the majority leader's aggressive style say they will probably vote for him in November.
Mr. Hennie, the high school teacher, said he once dealt with Mr. DeLay and left with the impression that Mr. DeLay was "very dictatorial."
Nevertheless, Mr. Hennie and his wife, Linda, said they would vote for Mr. DeLay.
"You are in stronghold Republican territory," Mr. Hennie said. "I'm sure he'll win."
You may notice that there's not a single link to a Chron story in this post. That's because their coverage of anything outside the Presidential election as of late has sucked, to put it mildly. I find a lot of Chron-bashing to be tiresome, especially given how agenda-driven much of it is, but this is ridiculous. Never mind the utter lack of coverage and analysis of local races, we're 20 days out from the election and the only endorsements they've given have been in a handful of not-seriously-challenged judicial and JP races. Even worse, they don't as yet have a "We Recommend" page with a listing of all their endorsements like they usually do (not that there'd be much there as yet). It's mid-October, guys. Get on the freaking stick already.