Bell, Ex-Foe Stress Unity To Caucus

Posted April 21, 2004 at 6:25pm

Seeking to diffuse any lingering rift in the Democratic Caucus over his primary loss, outgoing Rep. Chris Bell (Texas) on Wednesday went before his colleagues and urged them to come together as he welcomed his one-time rival Al Green (D) to Capitol Hill.

Bell, a freshman whom former Houston Justice of the Peace Green handily defeated in last month’s Texas primary, told the Democratic Caucus at its weekly meeting to put to rest any hard feelings his race created. He also stressed that redistricting — nothing more — was to blame for the divisive primary campaign that pitted several Members of the Caucus against each other.

Green’s election left bitter feelings after several Members of the Congressional Black Caucus actively campaigned for Green over Bell, the white incumbent. It also reignited internal discussions among House Democratic leaders about whether to make a harder push of their unwritten policy to support all incumbents.

“As everyone in this room knows, redistricting, reapportionment, whatever you call it in your state, is inherently divisive, perhaps even more so when carried forth in an unprecedented mid-decade fashion,” Bell, according to a statement he released, told the Caucus. “[Majority Leader] Tom DeLay [R-Texas] wanted the redistricting process in Texas to be as divisive as possible and to some degree he succeeded.

“But I know that no one in this room wants to see Tom DeLay win another round. And therefore, we must put the division behind us.”

The boundaries of Bell’s Houston-based district were drastically changed by the Republican-led Texas Legislature last fall. He picked up far more voters than he previously had, which aided Green, a former president of the Houston NAACP.

Shortly after his defeat, Bell sought the advice of the top three Democratic House leaders on ways to help heal the wounds and smooth Green’s visit to the Caucus. He offered at that time to go before the Caucus to urge togetherness, and to introduce Green.

Bell, who received a standing ovation from Members on Wednesday, reiterated that he is backing Green, whom he called a “good Democrat and a good man.”

“When the battle was over, we sat down and buried the sword because we both understand, we both realize that for the good of this Democratic Caucus and for the good of the people of the 9th Congressional district, we must stand united,” Bell told his colleagues.

Bell said that Green would need the support of the Caucus, both during his general election campaign and when he arrives in Congress.

Several Democratic aides described Green as equally gracious, thanking Bell and crediting him for being an outstanding Member.

“Chris Bell has done his part to unify the Caucus,” said one Democratic leadership aide. “There are still some Members who aren’t happy with the process and/or the outcome, but he’s proven he’s a statesman in his handling of the matter.”