February 10, 2003
Redistricting on hold

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.

Getting a new redistricting plan through the House would be easy, but the state Senate requires a two-thirds affirmative vote to bring a bill up for debate. Nineteen of the 31 state Senators are Republican, so at least two Democrats would have to go along with this idea. One of them, Sen. Eddie Lucio, has said he'd consider it if one of the newly drawn districts were conveniently centered in his turf, thus allowing him a shot at ousting fellow Democrat Solomon Ortiz (District 27). I have a feeling that if and when DeLay's call is heeded in the Lege, Senator Lucio will come under some pressure of his own from the national Democratic Party. As such, I'd take his support with a grain of salt.

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.

Ralph Hall is one of the most conservative Democrats in the House. He's also retiring after this term, and his seat is considered a lock to be won by a Republican in 2004 anyway. Stenholm and Edwards were reelected by their smallest margins ever in 2002 - Stenholm with 51.33% and Edwards with 51.53% - so you'd think they'd be vulnerable anyway. Freshman Rep. Chris Bell got 55.31%, which is actually the lowest percentage a Democrat has gotten in District 25 in several election cycles. Ken Bentsen, who abandoned the seat to run for Senate last year, won with just over 60% in 2000.

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.

One reason for this difference is the fact that four districts had no Democrats running, while only two had no Republican candidate. If you look at the vote totals in this PDF file from the Secretary of State's webpage, you'll see the following:

District 7
John Culberson - Incumbent REP* 93,180 88.96%

District 8
Kevin Brady - Incumbent REP* 139,574 93.12%

District 10
Lloyd Doggett - Incumbent DEM* 112,612 84.49%

District 12
Kay Granger - Incumbent REP* 122,493 91.82%

District 19
Larry Combest - Incumbent REP* 117,085 91.64%

District 29
Gene Green - Incumbent DEM* 54,619 95.13%

Rep total = 472,332
Dem total = 167,231

That 300,000 vote differential makes up a lot of the margin Ellis cites.

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:

District 15
Ruben Hinojosa(I) DEM 66,311 100.00%

District 16
Silvestre Reyes(I) DEM 72,383 100.00%

That reduces the GOP lead on votes from unopposed Congressmen from about 300,000 to about 170,000 and weakens but does not overturn my point.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 10, 2003 to Killer D's | TrackBack

I think your interpretation of the 300k vote differential may be flawed.

Yes, there are more unopposed Republicans, but that's due in part to the fact that there are more "deep" red districts than blue ones. As you mention, Edwards et. al. are hanging on by the skin of their teeth, but there is only one Republican with a thin margin that I know of (Bonilla).

The idea that a state with an all GOP elected executive and judicial branch, with two GOP senators and a GOP state house and senate might, in non-rigged districts, support more GOP congressmen than Democratic ones isn't such a partisan concept.

Posted by: R. Alex on February 11, 2003 8:40 AM

And if that's the case, it'll happen naturally. If Stenholm and Edwards get knocked off in 2004, then with Hall's retirement there would be an 18-14 GOP advantage. FWIW, both of them were safely reelected in 2000, which leads me to believe they've already been affected by redistricting. Why should the GOP get a second bite at the apple?

It's also possible that the otherwise GOP-leaning folks in Stenholm and Edwards' districts are perfectly happy with them. Assuming the populations there are about the same as before, why should anything be changed?

I guess what I'm saying is that if the districts are rigged (and of course they are, they are everywhere), it's still the GOP who rigged them in 2000. Should California, which has an equally Democratic state government, redo its districts as well? They could have gained a much greater competitive edge in several GOP districts but didn't. I say that's tough luck, just as the current Texas map is tough luck for Tom DeLay. Do we really want congressional maps redrawn every time a state house changes party hands?

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on February 11, 2003 12:00 PM

I used to live in Sugarland (in Delay's district). It's the land of the Filipino Dentist and Chinese Engineer. It also has the North American Centre for the Ismaili Muslims (followers of the Aga Khan). Fort Bend County is the most Asian country in Texas (10%?), and one of the most Asian counties in the country outside California and the Eastern Seaboard. And the Asian population is only increasing (Houston -- so segregated)

And Missouri City, which is no longer in delay's district, is majority black.

A redistricting that put Missouri City back in Delay's district would make him vulnerable to a challenge by a moderate-conservative white democrat with good relations with Muslims, Asians, and Blacks.

Delay still might win, cause he's loaded with cash, but it would definitely not be a quixotic challenge.

Even without redistricting, the changing demographics of the district are moving against a Republican as right-wing as Delay.

Posted by: Ikram Saeed on February 11, 2003 3:40 PM

Thanks, Ikram. As it happens, I've been mulling over a post on How To UnElect Tom DeLay. You've given me a couple of other things to check into.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on February 11, 2003 3:59 PM


I'm not arguing that the GOP should get a second chance. Redistricting should happen every 10 years and not more (maybe I'm bitter cause I got moved into the majority leader's district in `96).

I was just taking issue with the notion that the majority leader's complaints are entirely invalid. I just believe they are misdirected. The redistricting board (or the Republicans on it, anyway) blew it.

Posted by: R. Alex on February 11, 2003 5:41 PM

"I was just taking issue with the notion that the majority leader's complaints are entirely invalid. I just believe they are misdirected. The redistricting board (or the Republicans on it, anyway) blew it."

Fair enough. I agree that his argument has some validity, but given that he had his chance in 2001 he deserves little sympathy. The same is true for California Democrats, who had an equal opportunity to boost the national party and didn't (not that I've heard of any redistricting agitation there).

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on February 11, 2003 7:40 PM

2000 Election: 58% Gore/Nader, 42% Bush
Congressional Delegation: 34-19 Dem.

2000 Election: 59% Bush, 40% Gore/Nader
Congressional Delegation: 17-15 Dem.

I'm not sure these situations are comparable.

Posted by: R. Alex on February 12, 2003 7:09 AM

I guess I didn't make myself clear on this analogy, so let me try again...

I was considering state governments. The argument that DeLay's flack gave for redistricting was that Republicans dominate statewide offices, so therefore there should be more Republican congresspeople. California Democrats could make the same case in their state. If they tried, I'd tell them the same thing: You had your chance in 2001.

That's pretty much all I had in mind with that argument.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on February 12, 2003 12:54 PM

I think we're talking past each other in basic agreement. Agreed, the GOP had their chance. That's who DeLay should be pissed at.

On the other hand, as a Republican, there is something satisfying that the California Dems have used their majority to draw winning districts to a much greater degree than the Texas GOP.

Says something positive about Texas politics, even if we got the short end of the stick.

Posted by: R. Alex on February 12, 2003 1:56 PM