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Democratic Caucus Leaders Join Fray Over Texas Redistricting

The high-stakes battle over how to carve up Texas’ 32 House districts has spilled out of the Lone Star State and into Congress.

The fight moved to Washington when, on Friday, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) told the Dallas Morning News that minorities who rebuff his efforts to redraw the boundaries are not acting in the best interest of their constituents.

“If they do turn it down, they are more Democrat than they are minority,” DeLay said. “And they are representing the Democratic Party and not their people.”

Almost immediately, black and Hispanic Members called upon DeLay to apologize.

“I am distressed that my good friend and colleague, and golf buddy, would expect blacks and minorities to endorse a redistricting plan in which they had no input and have not seen,” House Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman James Clyburn (S.C.) said in a statement.

“He is probably right, because we are more democratic — with a small d — than minority. … We have long and sordid experiences with policies and practices that are acted upon purportedly on our behalf without our inclusion in the process.”

DeLay has called upon the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature to uphold its constitutional duty by redrawing the districts following the 2000 Census. It failed to do so in 2001, leaving the task to a three-judge federal panel.

The panel’s map, which ultimately did not shift the balance of seats into the GOP column after the midterm elections, is still in effect.

DeLay has said the Legislature needs to approve a new map to give minorities and Republicans better representation. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott issued an opinion last week that the judicial maps are permanent until redrawn by the Legislature and that state lawmakers may, but are not required to, do so.

Late on Friday three more House Democrats — Democratic Caucus Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.), Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Elijah Cummings (Md.) and Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Ciro Rodriguez (Texas)— piled on with a letter demanding an apology.

“What makes you think that you know better than we do what’s in the best interest of our constituents? On issues of great importance to our communities — civil rights, health care, education, economic opportunity — your voting record suggests quite the opposite,” they wrote before reiterating DeLay’s low ratings from the National Hispanic Leadership and the NAACP.

Clyburn also signed that letter.

“Republicans are seeking to create at least one additional minority district for Texas and those who are vehemently opposing this effort — their actions speak for themselves,” DeLay spokesman Jonathan Grella said in response to the statements.

Grella added that critics have seized on just one map — the one purportedly drawn by DeLay that he has not released but has been circulated by Democrats — when in actuality there are many under discussion.

Furthermore, all would enhance Republican, black and Hispanic representation, he said, adding that some white members of the Texas delegation may be most concerned about preserving their own seats.

Democrats scoffed at the notion that DeLay has altruistic motives.

“Your efforts to disguise your own highly partisan land grab as a new-found concern for minority representation is completely transparent, and makes your accusations against minority organizations and elected representatives even more outrageous,” the four Democrats wrote.

It is unclear whether the Legislature will take on the redistricting task despite objections from leaders of the state’s Black Caucus and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus.

The state House committee on redistricting has scheduled a public hearing for this week.

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