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August 4th, 2006:

Judges draw their own map

Why do these big rulings always happen while I’m on vacation?

A three-judge federal panel on Friday placed Webb County into one congressional district, solidifying Hispanic voting strength in South Texas.

The U.S. Supreme Court remanded the map to the panel to redraw the sprawling 23rd congressional district, which it ruled in June unconstitutionally diluted Hispanic voting strength.

The district, which is now represented by San Antonio Republican Rep. Henry Bonilla, stretches from Laredo to El Paso County and north to San Antonio.

The high court ruled that the district boundaries engineered former U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay and drawn by Republican state legislators in 2003 diminish Hispanic voting power because a large cluster of Webb County Hispanics were divided into two different congressional districts.

“These changes restore Latino voting strength to District 23 without dividing communities of interest,” the judges said.

The judges emphasized that they made the minimal changes possible to fix the violations ordered by the Supreme Court.


Bonilla will have a tougher time seeking re-election. The new 23rd District has 61 percent Hispanic voting-age population, compared to the 51 percent Hispanic voting-age population in the district in which he was elected.

The bulk of his support has come from non-Hispanic Republicans and elections returns have shown he has diminishing support among the largely Democratic Hispanic voters in his district.

The new 23rd District also will be more evenly divided between Democratic and Republican voters.

Under the new plan, all incumbents remain in their current districts.

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, will get a slightly more Democratic population in his 25th congressional district because the court moved a largely liberal section of south Austin into his territory. Travis County remains split among three congressional districts, as it was under the redistricting map passed by the GOP-controlled Legislature in 2003.

The new map also makes Doggett’s south Austin district more compact. Previously the boundaries snaked down to the Rio Grande Valley in an oddly shaped district that was nicknamed the bacon strip district.

District reconfigurations also slightly changed the 15th congressional district, represented by Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, D-Mercedes. His district remains heavily Democratic.

All of this is basically as I predicted in terms of affecting incumbents. I didn’t expect CD15 to be touched, but it’s not unreasonable that it was. The Lone Star Project has a much more thorough breakdown of the affected districts.

Also as I expected, this was done in time for November. I understand there’s a lot of speculation going on about whether or not Ciro Rodriguez will gear up for one more run (presumably not in CD28, which now has all of Webb County in it), and whether anyone else will take a shot at Henry Bonilla, but there’s nothing solid yet that I’m aware of.

Anyway. BOR has some pictures of the new districts, plus a diary from John Courage, whose odds against Lamar Smith sadly got a lot longer now that some heavily Republican turf west of Austin got moved back into CD21. That was pretty much expected in just about any permutation of the districts, but it’s still unfortunate for him. There will be much more to be said about all of this soon.

UPDATE: And so the speculation begins as to who may jump into a newly opened primary for CD23 version 3:

Julian Castro (former City Councilman and Mayoral candidate), State Rep. David Leibowitz, former Congressman Ciro Rodriguez (for sure), SA City Councilman Art Hall (Dem who gave the opening invocation at the state convention in June, and who represents the North/Northwest portion of CD-23 in Bexar County), SA City Councilman Richard Perez, current candidate Rick Bolanos, and attorney Rene Barrientos.

Names are being thrown around like crazy right now. I can tell you for sure that SA City Councilman Roland Gutierrez is out (he’s gonna be our next mayor… you heard it here first) and some crazy bastard just told me that Madla is thinking about running. My major question is, where is West Texas and border Rep. Pete Gallegos gonna stand?

I have a slight preference for Castro, but only if he’s learned how to run a better race than he did for San Antonio Mayor in 2005. Any of these folks would be fun to watch. Stay tuned.

Guest post: Shane Sklar

First, I would like to say thank you to Charles for the opportunity to post here. I have been an avid reader of Kuff’s blog for quite some time now and check it every day for updates on what’s happening in our area.

As some of you know, I’m a pretty young guy to be running for Congress — at least compared to my opponent. As a fourth-generation rancher, I come from a region and an industry where the things that really matter are handed down from generation to generation — land, equipment, expertise, and values. So that the fact that my lifetime has seen an unprecedented moment of change in this region and the agricultural industry makes me believe that we need a strong voice in Congress that will stand up for our values, not a narrow personal ideology.

I am convinced that I am the person to provide effective leadership in the House for Texas Gulf Coast families, and I’d like to use this space to talk to you about one particularly exciting change that I think will benefit all of our families if we have the courage to seize the opportunity.

When I was growing up, my family’s farm supported my family, my grandparents, and my aunt, uncle and cousins. Today, that land supports only my mom and dad — and my mom works in town as a first-grade teacher. We could talk for hours about the forces that caused that change for my family, and for thousands like us around the country, but the bottom line is that those forces aren’t done changing the world yet, and we’ve got to decide what we’re going to do about it.

I believe that keeping American land in the business of cultivating food and other agricultural products is the right thing to do for our culture and our security. Unfortunately, despite our growing population, we just can’t eat all the food our family farmers need to sell to be profitable. The family farm is going to have to find some new markets, and I think that renewable energy has the potential to change their lives and the lives of Texas Gulf Coast families who make their living in fields totally unrelated to food production agriculture.

Consider this: Where winds are strong, wind energy developers will pay rural landowners between $2,000 and $5,000 per turbine installed on their property. Local biomass refineries, like the new bio-diesel plant in Galveston, raise demand for crops and they pay more for crops that would have had to be transported to international markets. The U.S. Department of Energy says that tripling our biomass use could create $20 billion dollars in new income for farmers.

And those are just a few of the reasons to support more research and development of renewable energy technology. Anyone who has felt some pain at the pump in recent weeks or cast a nervous glance at the television as events have unfolded in the Middle East knows we must reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Crisscrossing our district of ten counties and 180 miles of coastline on $2.80-plus-per-gallon gas has only increased my conviction that diversifying our energy supply is a necessary step we must take to achieve lower prices.

Renewable energy also has the added benefit of reducing our impact on the climate. As a rancher, I know how dramatically a few degrees difference in temperature, or a prolonged drought can impact business. I’m also in a business that can’t just pick up and move.

Some people may tell you that renewable energy is great, and that private companies will take care of all the research. They probably will — when they can’t make money doing what they’re doing right now. For all the reasons I’ve listed above, not least among them the continued health of our nations’ family farms, I say we shouldn’t wait. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory is doing great work, and when I am in Congress I will work to support these and other forward-looking programs that put us in
control of our own future.

If this sounds like your vision for the Texas Gulf Coast, I hope you’ll take the first step to joining our campaign by visiting and signing up for our e-mail list. While you’re there, you can find out more about our upcoming events, contribute , or sign up to volunteer.

Thanks for your support!

Shane Sklar
Candidate for U.S. Congress
14th Congressional District

Shane is the Democratic Nominee for the 14th District of Texas. He and his wife Jill live in Edna, Texas. Shane and his father Darrell are in the cattle business together and raise several hundred head of registered Simbrah cattle.

AusChron on Harrell v. Carter

The Austin Chronicle has taken notice of the recent developments in the CD31 race between Mary Beth Harrell and John Carter.

It’s unclear exactly what Carter fears from Harrell, unless you buy into his theory a few paragraphs later that “this is not a fair fight. … The national media has a clear agenda to bring down Republicans.” Back in the real world, and discounting the unlikely map-drawing, Carter appears to be in a safe district – he trounced his opponents in 2004 with 65% of the vote, and although both he and Harrell were unopposed in this year’s respective primaries, the 23,438 votes Republicans cast for him tower over the 7,023 Harrell received for the Dem nomination. It would certainly seem that he has violated a basic tenet of campaigning, which is that if one appears headed for an easy election victory, ignore your opponent, lest ye give away free publicity.

Yes, yes, poor baby. I think this race (among others) will provide an interesting test of the redistricting myth hypothesis, since by any objective measure Harrell has provided an infinitely more vigorous challenge to Carter than Jon Porter gave in 2004. If Harrell can take a chunk out of Carter’s margin and maybe give him a good scare, perhaps this will help to force a little rethinking in how Congressional races get targeted around here. Eye on Williamson has more.

PinkDome care package

I’m a bit late on this, but not too late: PinkDome is putting together a care package:

Remember I told you we were blocked by the military so our readers in Iraq are PinDome-less? Well, not quite. Yes, the site is still blocked but a few of them have found some proxy site ways to still get to the site. I had an email conversation with our favorite marine, mostly about the heat.

Now is the time for us to show our support for the troops. Let’s put together a care package to send to him and his buddies. No porn, no alcohol. DVD’s and magazines and things we love are good things to put in the box.

If you email me, I’ll send you my mailing address. I’ll collect the stuff and send it off to our favorite marine in Iraq. Spread this post around. You can email me for my address here.

Drop PD a note and help a blogger do some good. Thanks.

As we dance to the redistricting map tango

There’s a certain karma in having the DeLay ballot replacement ruling be handed down by one federal appeals court on the same day that another such court was hearing about proposed remedies to the state’s unconstitutional Congressional map. One theme seems to have stood out from yesterday’s arguments: The court appears to be reluctant to screw any incumbents more than they absolutely have to.

The state’s congressional map could be fixed without pairing incumbents or eliminating U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett’s Travis County base, a federal judge suggested today.

U.S. District Judge Patrick Higginbotham, the presiding judge on a three-judge panel, made the suggestion as he grilled the state’s attorney at a redistricting hearing this morning in a packed Austin courtroom.


Higginbotham seemed to suggest his thinking – if not the panel’s – on the matter.

He suggested redrawing Doggett’s existing district, which runs from Austin to the Mexico border, to contain more of Travis County. He then suggested making Webb County the political base for a South Texas district represented by U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo.

“Why should a Latino community have to come to Austin?” Higginbotham asked.

He said Bonilla’s district could pick up more voters – both Republican and Democratic – from San Antonio.

Higginbotham pointedly asked [Solicitor General Ted] Cruz about the state’s plan to eliminate Doggett’s political base in Travis County.

“Why is that necessary?” he asked.

Cruz defended it, saying the state was trying to make the districts more compact.

Cruz, of course, had argued against eviscerating Bonilla’s district on the grounds that the Court should “cure a violation in (District) 23 and, other than that, like a physician, do no harm.” That he wouldn’t extend that logic to Lloyd Doggett in the not-violating-the-Constitution District 25 is not a surprise, but it’s still nice to see him get called on this little paradox.

I’ve said all along that I believe the Court will take a minimalist view of their task, and that the one principle that I believe they will strive to adhere to is incumbent protection. It’s one thing to rail against legislatures for engaging in all kinds of backscratching for the purposes of protecting their own, but I think it’s a lot to ask three judges, with a gun to their heads, to sanction the elimination or at least the jeopardizing of a duly elected representative, even if that election occurred in a district that shouldn’t have been. I believe that they will see any such maneuvers as the Lege’s job and not theirs, and as such I believe they will hand back a map that does not pair up any incumbents. What may happen in 2008 and beyond, with or without further tinkering in Austin, is another story, but for 2006 I will be very surprised if Bonilla, Cuellar, and Doggett are not all heavy favorites to go back to Washington. We shall see.

And for what it’s worth, Paul Burka reads Judge Higginbotham’s comments in the same way as I do, and follows it to the conclusion that the panel already has a complete, incumbent-protecting plan in mind. The best part is we ought not to be kept in suspense for long.

UPDATE: Rep. Pena adds his thoughts.