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Are two reps better than one?

With the prospect of Webb County being reunited in a single Congressional district, the citizens of Laredo are pondering whether they’re better off bifurcated, where at least there’d two Congressfolk nominally representing their interests.

Laredo Mayor Raul Salinas believes it is good for the vibrant border city to have the help of two congressmen on issues such as border security and international trade.

“We just want to have a voice in Washington. We have so many problems here,” Salinas said. “We have two very able congressmen that are doing a good job for the border.”

Because “two are better than one,” Salinas said the “ideal” solution would be for Laredo to retain two congressmen, presuming one remains based here.

“I just want a loud and proud voice of Laredo to represent us,” Salinas said.

Then what he wants is Henry Cuellar. Given the political landscape, however, that may mean keeping Cuellar away from a rematch with Bonilla.

Republican political consultant Royal Masset said Bonilla should not have to worry if he is paired with Cuellar. Masset said Cuellar came close in 2002 only because Laredo resident Tony Sanchez was on the ballot in the governor’s race.

Masset said he believes the federal court will try to avoid pitting any incumbents against one another.

He noted the federal panel includes 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Patrick Higginbotham and U.S. District Judge John T. Ward, who were on the panel that drew congressional districts in 2001. In that instance, the judges tried to protect the incumbents.

I hate to say it, but I largely agree with Masset in his assessment of Cuellar-Bonilla, both for 2002 and potentially beyond. It’s not that I think Cuellar can’t take him out, it’s that I think he starts out as an underdog, and he’ll need to make up ground in the vast West Texas part of the district, without having much time for it if a new map is in place for November. If this were deferred till 2008, which would be wrong in my opinion, I’d feel more optimistic about Cuellar’s chances in a rematch.

On the other matter, while I agree the judges will lean towards protecting the incumbents, it’s not clear to me that the Democrats will be so considerate in the maps that they submit. They may very well be happy to stick all of Webb in CD23, thus handing CD28 back to someone who’s likely to be better received by the caucus, and take what’s probably their best shot at ousting Bonilla. I expect them to submit one such map. What’ll be interesting is if more than one is like that. It’ll say a lot about Cuellar’s standing and clout among his colleagues.

Democratic consultant Matt Angle analyzed the redistricting possibilities for his Lone Star Project.

Angle said he believes the court will change as few districts as possible.

“It is assumed that options rippling across the entire state, or far outside South Texas, will not be seriously considered by the court,” Angle said.

I’ve touched on this before, and I still think this way. You can see the LSP’s scenarios here.

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2 Comments

  1. el_longhorn says:

    Definitely a current topic of discussion in Laredo’s cafes and taquerias. Bonilla always got Laredo its share of pork (after all, he IS on the appropriations committee). For example, he is a strong supporter of community health clinics, especially Gateway Community Health Care – who named one of their clinics after him. Cuellar is much better at getting federal dollars, though, and getting them to the right spot. His office is extremely responsive to his constituents’ needs and requests…Cuellar and Doggett are probably the two best congressman in Texas when it comes to helping a voter who calls their office with a problem.

    The current boundaries work very well for Laredo, as Mayor Salinas pointed out, but keeping Cuellar in congress has to be priority number one.

    One comment on a Bonilla/Cuellar rematch: Bonilla is not a strong public speaker nor does he run a strong campaign. He is a former San Antonio television reporter, which is where he gets his name recognition. Bonilla is soft. Cuellar has just run three tough congressional races in a row, two of which he narrowly won and one that he narrowly lost. He is among the most seasoned and veteran campaigners out there. He can raise the funds, he can speak, and he is tough. He is in his prime. What will be key, though, is if he runs against Bonilla, the netroots and the Democratic party establishment will support him in every way possible.

    Don’t underestimate Cuellar.

  2. Chito: That’s a good point about Cuellar. This wouldn’t be his first campaign, and he’s not had an easy one yet, so he’s as seasoned as you could reasonably want. My concern is mostly that if the boundaries are changed for this election, he’d have a limited amount of time to campaign in a geographically huge district. Maybe I’m being too pessimistic, but that’s what I’d be worried about.

    As for the netroots, I can’t speak for anyone else, but as I said before, Cuellar would have my full support in a rematch against Bonilla. I certainly won’t claim he’s my favorite among the Texas delegation, but he’s light years ahead of Bonilla. That one’s a no-brainer.