Book Review: Readings
Reviewed by Michael King, Fri., March 2, 2007
Lines in the Sand: Congressional Redistricting in Texas and the Downfall of Tom DeLay
by Steve Bickerstaff
UT Press, 472 pp., $34.95
UT law professor Steve Bickerstaff's exhaustive history of the 2003 (and much beyond) Texas re-redistricting saga may seem to some readers like too much of a bad thing. But it will become increasingly useful to have this material, sometimes in all but day-to-day form, recounting the battle that began in earnest with the November 2002 legislative campaigns. At the time, few realized what was at stake in those normally fairly local contests. But Tom DeLay's boys at Texans for a Republican Majority (and their collaborators at the Texas Association of Business) had their eyes fixed on a new speaker Tom Craddick and with him a GOP majority impregnable enough to force through an unprecedented middecade redistricting. Even if it meant political devastation to the Legislature itself.
As Bickerstaff takes pains to point out, the Hammer's juggernaut didn't just steamroll Democrats: "DeLay made the final redistricting outcome a function of certain national and private interests and his own personal and partisan aims instead of the result of the will, insight, and judgment of the Texas legislature, or even the Republican members of that body." When any Republican, from the quixotic East Texan Bill Ratliff to the laconic West Texan Robert Duncan, attempted to defend his constituents' interests from the DeLay district-shredder, he was unceremoniously bullied into submission.
Even so, Bickerstaff's careful, almost-current history has already been outrun by subsequent events, most notably the November 2006 election. His introduction notes that because of the radical redistricting, "a conservative Anglo minority (Republican activists) effectively controls election outcomes in twenty-two of the state's thirty-two congressional districts." Yet Republicans now hold only 19 of those DeLay-mandered 22 seats, thanks to DeLay's own overarching hubris, a Supreme Court that couldn't swallow (at least) the racial redrawing of the border, as well as a much bigger miscalculation: the absurd Bush war on Iraq that upset the entire Republican applecart.
So, it's nice to see again, in hindsight, a couple of quotes. There's DeLay aide Jim Ellis in a memo to his boss: "a map that returns [Martin] Frost, [Chet] Edwards, and [Lloyd] Doggett is unacceptable and not worth all of the time invested into this project." The only scalp they would finally get is Frost's. Then there's semiliterate Joe Barton aide Joby Fortson (Bickerstaff has to correct his spelling), bragging via e-mail to his GOP buddies, "This [map] has a real national impact that should assure the Republicans keep the House no matter the national mood." Pride, as they say, goeth before a defenestration.
Bickerstaff catches his particular scholarly fire in his chapters on the criminal and civil legal cases and in his angry attention to the Republican purging of the U.S. Department of Justice: "The current administration has set out to destroy the Voting Section. The danger to democracy is very real."