A Look at Texas

Posted April 19, 2004 at 5:52pm

This is the second in a two-part series.

For Texas Democrats, last year’s Congressional re-redistricting was a crisis point.

Backed into a corner by Republican majorities in the state House and Senate as well as a Republican governor, Democratic state legislators stalled and even fled the state to avoid a new GOP-friendly map being approved. [IMGCAP(1)]

Ultimately their efforts fell short. But out of that confrontation have emerged several rising stars who Democrats hope will eventually help reverse their current minority status in the House.

At the top of that list is Hispanic state Rep. Richard Raymond (D), who from his seat on the House Redistricting Committee emerged as the chief antagonist to state House Speaker Tom Craddick (R) during the remapping.

Raymond was one of more than 50 state House Democrats to flee the state for Oklahoma during the Texas legislative session to deny Republicans a quorum, a maneuver that blocked passage of the redistricting bill. The group later became known as the “Killer Ds.”

After a federal court finally OK’d the map, Raymond called it a “gross injustice and a slap in the face to minority voters.” The Supreme Court announced Monday that it would not hear further challenges to the map.

Raymond represents part of Webb County and lives in Laredo. His 42nd state House district is overwhelmingly Hispanic.

That area is within the boundaries of the 28th Congressional district, where former Texas Secretary of State Henry Cuellar (D) defeated Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D) in the March 9 primary by just more than 200 votes.

Rodriguez has since filed suit, alleging that the discovery of more than 400 untallied ballots in the recount defies logic.

To the north of Raymond’s Laredo-based district lies Bexar County, which is dominated by San Antonio.

That area has long been the political base of state Sen. Leticia Van De Putte, who held a San Antonio-based state

House seat from 1990 to 1998 when she was elected to the Senate. She is now chairwoman of the state’s Senate Democratic Caucus.

Van De Putte was the instigator of a walkout by Senate Democrats during the second special session of the Legislature in order to keep the redistricting bill from passing. The 11 Senate Democrats bunkered in New Mexico.

She also told a local newspaper that a Republican state Senator had said “if you’re going to act like Mexicans, we’re going to treat you like Mexicans” in regard to the redistricting fight.

All 19 Republican state Senators denied making the remark and Van De Putte retracted the accusation, though she has never denied its veracity.

Van De Putte revealed last fall that she is suffering from a thyroid disorder related to Hashimoto’s disease but insists it will not interfere with her political career.

Another Hispanic legislator seen as an up-and-comer is state Rep. Pete Gallego (D), who is the chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus.

Gallego represents 13 counties in West Texas; most of that territory is located in Rep. Henry Bonilla’s (R) 23rd district.

Bonilla was seriously challenged in 2002 by Cuellar but won that race by 5 percent.

Republican redistricters took the Democratic bastion of Laredo out of Bonilla’s district thereby reducing the Hispanic population by 12 percent.

There appears to be little room for upward mobility elsewhere in the state as Democratic incumbents scrap to simply keep their heads above water.

Those not directly endangered by the Republican redraw seem unlikely to leave Congress in the near future.

The only Democratic incumbent seen as a potential retirement in the next few cycles is Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D).

The Dallas-area Member will turn 69 on Dec. 3.

The likely heir to Johnson’s majority minority 20th district is black state Sen. Royce West (D).

West has held a state Senate seat since 1992 and played a high-profile role as a member of the loyal opposition in redistricting.

Perhaps more important than the Democratic politicians who gained notoriety during redistricting were those pushed out of office by the new map.

Leading that list is Rep. Jim Turner, who will retire at the end of the 108th Congress after the remapping split his East Texas 2nd district into six separate Congressional seats.

Turner has stated publicly that he will run statewide in the near future with both a gubernatorial or Senate run seen as options.

Turner’s decision likely depends on whether Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) challenges Gov. Rick Perry (R) in a 2006 primary.

If she does make that leap, state and national Democrats expect Turner to run for the open Senate seat.

Another name mentioned in an open-seat scenario is freshman Rep. Chris Bell (D).

Bell was crushed in the March primary by former Houston Justice of the Peace Al Green (D) in the 9th district, which took in significant new population. Green is now all but certain to join the 109th Congress.

Bell ran for Houston mayor in 2001 before winning the open seat of retiring Rep. Ken Bentsen (D) in 2002.

Other Democratic names mentioned for a statewide run down the line include Bentsen, now a Houston-area lawyer, and former Austin Mayor Kirk Watson. Watson served as mayor of the state capital from 1997 until 2001; he resigned that post to run for state attorney general in 2002 but lost.

Watson is now the chairman of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce.