Texas Democrats Brace for Ruling

Redistricting Compels Hall To Join GOP

Posted January 2, 2004 at 6:22pm

With a final ruling on the Texas Congressional map expected as soon as today, House Democrats have begun to map out their political futures in expectation of the Republican-authored plan gaining approval.

Democrats who have watched the process closely, however, warned that the decision by a three-judge federal panel was far from a done deal and intimated that they were prepared for a variety of potential outcomes.

If, as expected, the new map is approved, it would endanger as many as seven House Democrats, many of whom find themselves drawn out of districts they have represented for years or with large new constituencies added to their seats.

Roll Call learned from Capitol Hill sources late Friday that Rep. Ralph Hall, considered one of the House’s most conservative Democrats, filed to seek re-election as a Republican.

Neither Hall’s office nor officials at the Texas state elections office could confirm the party switch.

The other targeted Democrats, with the notable exception of Rep. Lloyd Doggett, have refused to speculate about where they might run if the map is upheld.

Doggett is already running hard in the new 25th district, which stretches from the Austin suburbs to the Mexican border. His former 10th district is a near-certain Republican takeover.

Longtime Reps. Martin Frost, the leader of Democratic redistricting efforts both in Texas and nationwide, and Charlie Stenholm have pledged to run for re-election regardless of the outcome of their legal challenge, as has Rep. Chet Edwards.

Reps. Max Sandlin and Nick Lampson have not yet made decisions on whether or not they will seek re-election and, if so, where.

Rep. Jim Turner, whose 2nd district was decimated in the redraw, is seen as likely to retire to begin preparing for a statewide bid either for governor or Senate in 2006, according to informed sources. Turner did file for his current 2nd district Friday, however.

Approval of the new Texas map would all but ensure that Republicans will hold the House majority following the 2004 elections, as even the most pessimistic GOPers predict a two- to three-seat gain in the Lone Star Congressional delegation in November.

If the decision comes down against them, Congressional Democrats must quickly decide their political futures as the filing deadline for Congressional races is Jan. 16. The Texas primary is set for March 2, one of the earliest in the nation.

Stenholm’s decision seems the most obvious as he is currently drawn into the 19th district with freshman Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R).

The new 19th district is anchored by Lubbock in the west and Abilene in the east; Stenholm represents roughly one-third of the new seat while Neugebauer represents one-half.

Though the district would have given statewide Republican candidates 70 percent in the 2002 elections, some GOPers worry that the contrast between Neugebauer, who has only been in office for six months, and Stenholm, the highest ranking Democrat on the Agriculture Committee, could make this a close contest.

Less clear are the fates of Frost, Lampson, Edwards and Sandlin.

Frost has a number of options open to him, including a potential battle with Rep. Joe Barton (R) in the new 6th district. Under the new plan, Frost’s home is in the 6th and the seat was made slightly less Republican in redistricting. It still would have given statewide GOPers 64 percent in 2002, however.

Frost also could challenge freshman Rep. Michael Burgess (R) in the 26th district, which includes Denton, home to a number of black voters, or take on Rep. Pete Sessions (R) in the 32nd district, a Dallas County seat.

Frost’s former 24th district has been made considerably more Republican, although he has not ruled out running in it. Already state Rep. Kenny Marchant (R) has filed to run there.

Hall, who at 80 is the oldest member of the House, has held the strongly Republican 4th district since 1980 with relative ease and could likely win again.

During the 2002 campaign, he vowed to support Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) for re-election over a Democrat if his vote would make a difference. With Republicans firmly in charge of the House in 2003, he instead voted “present” rather than support Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in the symbolic vote.

Although Hall’s district is substantially similar to the one once represented by legendary Speaker Sam Rayburn (D-Texas), it has become a Republican stronghold, giving George W. Bush more than 70 percent of the vote in the 2000 presidential election.

According to Congressional Quarterly, Hall, a former judge and state legislator, supported his party only 40 percent of the time in House votes during 2002 — up from 23 percent in 1998. He supported Bush 70 percent of the time in 2002.

Sandlin could run in Hall’s district or pursue a bid in the 1st, where he currently lives.

The 1st was made 5 percent more Republican in the redraw and much of Sandlin’s base was removed.

Lampson’s home is in the new 2nd district, which would have given statewide Republicans 61 percent in the last cycle. He could also challenge Rep. Ron Paul (R) in the new 14th or House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R) in the new 22nd.

Edwards faces a similar dilemma as he weighs running in the Waco-based 17th district, where he currently lives, or in Texas’ 31st district against freshman Rep. John Carter (R). The 31st includes Fort Hood and has a strong military presence, which has been a loyal voting block for Edwards in years past.

Democratic Reps. Gene Green and Chris Bell are likely to step into newly created open seats that almost exactly mirror their current districts.

The expected court ruling would appear to bring to an end the nation’s longest running — and most dramatic — redistricting saga.

It began in 2001 when a 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.