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Between the Lines: Doggett’s Darned District Dilemma in Texas

Texas lawmakers presented a new Congressional map Tuesday that stands to protect all of the current incumbents except for one: Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D).

A longtime adversary of Lone Star Republicans, the proposed map moves Doggett’s home into a safe Republican district west of Austin. Most of Doggett’s current territory was split up, and the most feasible option for him might be to run in the new majority-Hispanic district that stretches from south of Austin to near San Antonio.

“I think this map is so far from reality and in so much violation of the law, it’s premature to say,” Doggett said in a phone interview. “It’s the only district in the area that has enough of my district, enough Democrats at this point, but again, I haven’t made any final decision.”

Instead, Doggett and his fellow Democrats are planning to take the map to court. Texas’ new Congressional lines must be cleared by the Justice Department for appropriate minority voting power, and the Congressman was quick to declare that the proposed map is in clear violation of the Voting Rights Act.

“It’s an outrageous map. It is a map that means that you will have Members of Congress who are less accessible, less accountable,” Doggett said. “Once those forums are resolved, I hope we will have better maps than we do today.”

In the meantime, state lawmakers will consider the proposed map as part of a special legislative session that began Tuesday morning. There might be additional tweaks to the map, but it’s highly unlikely the Legislature would do anything to accommodate Doggett.

After all, this isn’t the first time Doggett has faced a redistricting-related challenge. When then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s (R) aides redrew the lines in 2003, Doggett’s district was stretched all the way down to the Mexican border. Doggett noted that DeLay aide Jim Ellis wrote in an August 2003 memo: “We must stress that a map that returns Frost, Edwards and Doggett is unacceptable and not worth all of the time invested into this project.” He was referring to then-Reps. Martin Frost and Chet Edwards, Democrats who were defeated in the last decade.

“Well, I’m the last one there, and there’s no doubt they would like to finish the work,” Doggett said.

And if the proposed map stands, Doggett is left with two less-than-appealing options as future districts.

On the surface, the newly drawn 35th district would be ideal territory for Doggett, given that it’s a safe Democratic seat: Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) received only 38 percent of the vote there. But not only is that district mostly composed of new territory for Doggett, there’s also a 63 percent Hispanic population, making it a ripe opportunity for a local Hispanic politician to begin his or her Congressional career.

The most often-mentioned name to run in the new 35th district is state Rep. Mike Villarreal (D), the vice chairman of the state House redistricting committee who told Roll Call he’s taking a “serious look” at the running. However, Villarreal stopped short of saying he would be willing to run against Doggett in a primary.

If Villarreal passes on a House run, one of the biggest names in Texas Hispanic politics is one of the Castro brothers: San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro or his twin brother, state Rep. Joaquin Castro, are in a position to run.

“Bye, bye, Lloyd Doggett. He has two very bad options,” said Chris Perkins, a GOP consultant based in Texas who drew the Congressional map under DeLay in 2003.

Florida: Fair and Balanced Districts, for Now

The Justice Department has cleared the language of two constitutional amendments approved by Florida voters in 2010 that attempt to limit gerrymandering.

The DOJ sent a letter Tuesday to the Florida House and Senate that said the government does not object to the amendments, effectively “pre-clearing” the language as required by the Voting Rights Act.

The “fair district” amendment requires House districts to be drawn equally, contiguously and compactly and prohibits lines from being drawn “with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent” or with the intent of denying minorities a fair stake in the political process.

For Democrats who have virtually no control over the redistricting process in the GOP-controlled Legislature and governor’s mansion, the ruling was welcome.

“I would like to applaud the U.S. Justice Department for approving the Fair District Amendments through the preclearance process,” Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith said in a statement.

But the “fair district” amendments must still jump through at least one more legal hoop. Reps. Corrine Brown (D) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R) filed suit against the amendments last year, alleging they would violate the Voting Rights Act, and oral arguments in the case are expected later this year.

Rhode Island: Commission for the Ocean State?

Rhode Island lawmakers are considering a plan to establish an 18-member commission to oversee the Ocean State’s redistricting process.

It’s unlikely the panel would significantly alter the state’s two Congressional districts, especially given the makeup of the commission.

Democrats currently occupy both seats, and the state Speaker and Senate President, both Democrats, would control 14 of the 18 commission appointments in a proposal reviewed Wednesday by a key legislative committee. The top Republicans in each chamber would appoint the remaining four.

Nevada: Sandoval Issues Second Veto

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) vetoed a second Democratic-written redistricting bill Tuesday, just two weeks after sending back the Democratic-controlled Legislature’s first plan.

According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the veto was expected because Democrats made only minor changes to their first proposed map before submitting it again.

Sandoval’s request for a Hispanic majority district was also disregarded in the most recent Democratic proposal. In the party’s two vetoed map proposals, Democrats avoided packing one district with Hispanics, which would lessen the party’s influence in other districts.

Although there is still time for legislators to amend their plan before the session ends Tuesday, the redistricting process is likely headed to the courts.

Virginia: New Map Not Likely Until July

Virginia state lawmakers are returning to the state Capitol June 9 for a two-day special redistricting session.

However, the Democratic-led Senate and Republican-controlled House are no closer to a deal than they were earlier this year. The Washington Post reported that party leaders will appoint six legislators to negotiate a Congressional map compromise over the next month before both chambers return in mid-July for a vote.

At issue is the Senate’s plan for one majority-minority district and one minority-influenced district, which would most likely affect Rep. Bobby Scott’s (D) 3rd district and Rep. Randy Forbes’ (R) 4th district in the southeastern region of the state.

Increasing the percentage of African-Americans in the 4th district would likely make Forbes vulnerable next year.

Meanwhile, the House plan would keep the current 8-3 partisan split of the delegation and would make Rep. Gerry Connolly’s (D) Northern Virginia district less competitive.

Joshua Miller and Steve Peoples contributed to this report.

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