Judges Give OK to Texas Map

Posted January 6, 2004 at 3:18pm

A three-judge federal panel upheld a Republican-backed Congressional map that is expected to seriously alter Texas Members’ plans for the 2004 elections and provide House Republicans with a several-seat pickup in the Lone Star State.

The map endangers as many as six Democrats, at least one of whom — Rep. Jim Turner — is not expected to seek re-election following the ruling. Concerns over the new map also played a major part in Rep. Ralph Hall’s decision to switch party affiliation from Democrat to Republican last Friday.

“We are obviously very happy with the court’s ruling,” said National Republican Congressional Committee Communications Director Carl Forti. “This means Republicans are going to pick up seats in Texas.”

The decision also reinforces the GOP’s hold on the House, making it increasingly difficult for Democrats to win back the majority. Following Hall’s switch, Republicans hold 230 seats to the Democrats’ 204. Independent Rep. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) caucuses with Democrats.

Democrats are expected to immediately request the Supreme Court stay the new map, but prospects for that appeal are dim. A supplemental filing period will now begin for candidates under the new map. Filing closes Jan. 16.

“Top Republicans … have sacrificed Hispanics and African-Americans to strengthen the right wing of the Republican Party,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Robert Matsui (Calif.). “Now, it’s up to the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether to dismantle the Voting Rights Act and roll back more than 40 years of progress.”

The new map overturns a 2001 redrawing of the Texas districts done by the same three-judge panel after the state Legislature was unable to come to an agreement on the lines.

Under the previous map, which was in place for the 2002 election, all 17 Democratic incumbents were re-elected, as were the 13 Republican incumbents. The two new seats awarded to Texas in reapportionment were also won by Republicans.

The new lines create five open seats and at least one Member-vs.-Member contest.

Two new seats — one in the Dallas area and one in Midland — favor Republicans. Already state Rep. Kenny Marchant (R) has announced for the Dallas seat, and accountant and 19th district special election candidate Mike Conaway is the odds-on favorite in the Midland seat.

Democratic Reps. Gene Green and Chris Bell are likely to win two other open seats that take in large swaths of their former territory.

In the new 25th district, which stretches from the Austin suburbs to the Mexican border, Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D) has already announced his candidacy and is the frontrunner for the nomination in the strongly Democratic seat.

Doggett’s former 10th district has been made significantly more Republican and is a likely pickup for the GOP.

The most high-profile contest created by the new map will be staged in West Texas, where Rep. Charlie Stenholm (D) will take on Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R).

Stenholm, the ranking member on the Agriculture Committee, has held a Republican-leaning seat since 1978. Neugebauer was elected last year in a special election to replace Rep. Larry Combest (R), who resigned mid-term.

Although the Stenholm-Neugebauer race is the only sure Member-vs.-Member race on the docket, several others could develop in the coming days.

Rep. Martin Frost, the leader of Democrats’ redistricting efforts both in Texas and nationwide, said Tuesday he was entertaining a number of possible races including challenges to Reps. Joe Barton in the 6th district, Michael Burgess in the 26th and Pete Sessions in the 32nd. Frost could also run against Marchant in the 24th.

Frost decried the panel’s decision, saying it “effectively repealed the Voting Rights Act.”

Rep. Max Sandlin has made no public comment about his political future, but much of his political base was moved into Hall’s district and he could challenge the 13-term Member although the seat’s demographics strongly favor the GOP.

Similarly, Rep. Nick Lampson (D) could choose to challenge Rep. Ron Paul (R) or Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R). Lampson might also choose to run in the 2nd district — where he now lives — although that seat would have given statewide Republican candidates 61 percent of the vote in 2002.

Rep. Chet Edwards (D) could choose to run against Rep. John Carter (R) in the 31st or in the 17th district that contains his base in Waco.

The court ruling likely brings to an end the nation’s longest running — and most dramatic — redistricting saga.

It began in 2001 when the three-judge federal panel drew a map that largely preserved the status quo, electing 17 Democrats and 15 Republicans to Congress in 2002.

After taking control of both chambers of the Legislature last cycle, Republicans tried during their normal legislative session earlier in the year to redraw the state’s lines. They were thwarted when House Democrats fled to Oklahoma to prevent Republicans from bringing the bill up for a vote.

Gov. Rick Perry (R) immediately called a special session that ended in a deadlock. A second session also failed to produce a map after state Senate Democrats holed up in New Mexico to prevent a quorum.

That standoff was broken when a Democratic state Senator returned to Texas.

The Justice Department gave preclearance to the new map late last year.