Texas Democrats Defend Seats From New Map

Posted April 30, 2003 at 6:17pm

As the Texas Legislature nears a decision on a Republican-sponsored redistricting plan, senior House Democrats are making an 11th-hour pitch to sway state lawmakers by arguing that adopting a new map would amount to a massive blow to the delegation’s clout on Capitol Hill.

Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas) and other Lone Star State Democrats are arguing that under the most likely scenarios — pushed by Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) — the state could lose five senior House Democrats, four of whom are ranking members on prominent committees.

“DeLay is trying to eliminate all the Democrats from the Texas delegation who are in leadership positions,” Frost said. “He’s trying to eliminate all the ranking members from Texas.”

Frost, ranking member on the Rules Committee, said his seat could be threatened under a new redistricting plan weighted more heavily toward the GOP.

Also potentially at risk are senior Democratic Reps. Charlie Stenholm, ranking member on Agriculture; Chet Edwards, ranking member on the Appropriations subcommittee on military construction; Jim Turner, ranking member on Homeland Security; and Max Sandlin, a Chief Deputy Whip.

“This is contrary to the best interest of Texas,” Frost argued.

The argument is the latest in a string of exchanges over the controversial issue of Texas redistricting, which has been mired in legal and political fighting for months. Frost and DeLay, two of the state’s highest-profile Members, have been at the center of the debate.

Republicans had long viewed Texas as a potentially huge windfall in the 2001 redistricting process. DeLay had boasted that the Republican Party could pick up as many as eight seats from the Lone Star State alone.

In the end, however, the state Legislature deadlocked, forcing the courts to draw the lines. Dozens of hearings later, a federal court released a map that largely maintained the status quo and delivered the two new seats the state gained in reapportionment to Republicans.

When the dust settled after the 2002 election cycle, Democrats clung to a 17-to-15-seat advantage in the Congressional delegation.

The Republican-controlled Texas Legislature will hold hearings beginning Friday on the state’s redistricting map. A three-judge panel redrew the existing plan, which has been called into question by DeLay and others who believe the state needs greater minority and GOP representation.

DeLay asked the Legislature to redraw the districts, which he argues it was required to do following the 2000 Census.

Jonathan Grella, spokesman for DeLay, said House Democrats, in lobbying to keep their clout, are simply trying to protect themselves.

“So, this isn’t just about the former DCCC chairman Frost or senior Texas Democrat sticking up for his colleagues or minority groups,” he said. “It’s about him trying to save his own scalp.”

Grella argued that despite Democrats’ contentions, under any of DeLay’s 10 proposals, minorities would gain at least one district and the state would benefit with fairer representation. He also argued that a new map adding greater GOP representation would result in more power for Texas given the fact that Republicans hold a strong majority in the House and DeLay is second in the leadership line.

While Democrats hold a majority of the Texas House seats, the GOP controls the state’s two Senate seats, the Legislature, the governor’s chair and all 29 statewide offices.

“Texans want more Republican districts,” Grella said. “They want and deserve representation that is in line with their values. If they want to use the Washington clout issue, then bring it on.”

Democrats, however, question how ousting Texas’ senior Democrats with experience and relationships with both sides of the aisle would help the state. They also argue the current map is fair to both parties and added two more Republican Members.

“I can’t imagine the Legislature will ultimately do this,” Frost said of state lawmakers making changes. “It’s contrary to the best interest of the state of Texas and against the strong opinion of all the media of the state.”

“DeLay is persistent,” he continued. “He doesn’t care about the political clout of the state of Texas. He’s just trying to add more Republican Members to his Conference and make it more difficult for Democrats to take back control of the House.”