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Can Austin Be Reunited in One Congressional District?

Hearing on redistricting at 9am Thursday

By Lee Nichols, 5:24PM, Wed. Apr. 6, 2011

Tom DeLay (smiling) before he was convicted. Democrats hope to undo the divisions he imposed upon Travis County eight years ago.
Tom DeLay (smiling) before he was convicted. Democrats hope to undo the divisions he imposed upon Travis County eight years ago.
photo by John Anderson

Once upon a time not too long ago – as recently as 2000 – Austin was represented by a single Congressman. Even after the redistricting of 2001, Lloyd Doggett still represented most of it in District 10, with only the westernmost reaches and the little bit in Williamson County outside his district.

But that all changed radically in 2003, when then-U.S. House Majority Leader (and now convicted felon) Tom DeLay convinced the Legislature to engage in an unprecedented mid-decade re-redistricting so that he could have more Republicans in Congress. For Democrats, the result was disastrous – about two-thirds of the city ended up in Republican-dominated districts, one of which sprawled out to Houston and other down to San Antonio, leaving Austinites in the minority. The only saving grace was that Doggett managed to survive DeLay’s attempts to push him out of office by moving into and winning the new District 25.

Now, Democrats want Austin reunited under a single voice. The state House Committee on Redistricting meets tomorrow (Thursday, April 7) for a public hearing on congressional districts, and the Travis County Democrats announced that “a new coalition of like-minded voters” called Austin Together will show up at the hearing to call for, well, what their name implies. (It’s not quite clear why the TCDP needs an alias, but there you have it.)

“We will attend this week’s hearing and let the committee know that we do not want neighborhoods divided against each other, and we do not support a map that links Austin with distant parts of the state,” said the TCDP, er, Austin Together, in a press release. “Our population is large enough &ndash over a million people &ndash that one congressional district can be drawn wholly within Travis County. We believe we should have a Representative in the U.S. Congress who actually lives in Austin.”

Yes, Doggett and Republican Rep. Michael McCaul both live in Austin, but the point is: Had things gone a little differently, Austin could easily end up without a resident Congressman. Doggett got a strong challenge last year from a Republican doctor from Columbus, and McCaul’s tenure has been challenged by Democrats from Cypress and Brenham.

Now, whether the committee will give a flip about what liberal Austinites want is another story. Republicans now hold a 101-49 advantage in the House, a similarly large advantage in the Senate, and all statewide offices. Statewide demographic trends are running against them – the rising Hispanic population in Texas would seem to be a ticking time bomb spelling the end of GOP dominance, so Republicans will want to redraw the lines to help them maintain that power for as long as possible. Don't expect Democratic Austin to get what it wants unless it somehow just happens to be geographically advantageous to that goal.

The hearing will be begin at 9am in the Capitol Extension Auditorium, Room E1.004. It can also be viewed online.

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