Doggett: GOP Still Hunting Me
Austin congressman warns of plan to split Travis four ways
By Lee Nichols,
8:35PM, Mon. Apr. 18, 2011
You’re not paranoid if they really are out to get you.
Austin Congressman Lloyd Doggett is convinced that Texas Republicans are after him, and he’s warning Travis County residents that the GOP is cooking up a plan to divide them into even more Congressional districts in yet another attempt to drive him from office.
“Apparently, Tom DeLay did not go far enough for my colleagues Mr. [Lamar] Smith and Mr. [Michael] McCaul,” Doggett said in a press conference today, referring respectively to the former U.S. House majority leader and Travis’ other two Congressmen. The latter two, he said, “have offered to the Texas Legislature a map last week that divides Travis County not in three ways but in four ways.”
Doggett can’t produce a copy of this map – he said he hasn’t actually seen it, only had it described to him by colleagues who have – but after DeLay and other Republicans carved Travis into three ridiculously gerrymandered districts back in 2003 in an openly admitted attempt to oust him, there’s no reason not to believe him now. As possibly Texas’ most liberal congressman – and in recent months, a major thorn in Gov. Rick Perry’s side over education funding – it’s no secret that Republicans would pop the cork on several cases of champagne if Doggett could be retired.
If such a map exists – and Senate Redistricting Chair Kel Seliger told the Statesman he has seen a map targeting Doggett – it could be voted on as early as tomorrow, when the House Redistricting Committee meets (11am in the Agricultural Museum, in the Capitol's western wing).
Doggett made his claims at a press conference Monday with a horde of current and former Travis County Democratic office holders standing behind him, including several Austin City Council members, Travis County commissioners, and state representatives.
The proposed map, Doggett said, would connect much of west and south Travis with West Texas in one district, leave Smith “a good chunk of Austin” in another, and McCaul with something similar to his current West Lake Hills-to-Houston boundaries. As for Doggett’s Dist. 25, “it will reduce the proportion of [Travis] that I serve from about half of the population to a little more than a fourth of the population.” The rest, he said, would stretch down I-35 to San Antonio.
To remind the press of what lengths the GOP might go, he displayed the 25th designed by DeLay and company in 2003, a monstrosity that stretched from southeast Travis all the way to Mexican border. After a 2006 Supreme Court decision in a Voting Rights Act case, the district was redrawn to its current configuration, which includes south and southeast Travis and then stretches southeast to cover several rural, conservative counties.
When first elected in 1995, Doggett represented a very different District 10 (now McCaul’s district) that included almost all of Austin, and was entirely contained within Travis. The officials by his side pleaded for a return to something similar.
“There’s room within the city alone to have a Congressman represent our common interests,” said Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell.
The ideal Texas congressional district population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, would be 698,488. According to the 2010 census, Austin’s population is 790,390, and Travis County has 1,024,266.
“Certainly we would have to have more than one Congressman to represent the entirety of Travis County,” Leffingwell continued. “A good plan, I think, would be to draw a line along [Loop] 360.”
The alleged district Doggett describes sounds very similar to one proposed by the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund to serve as a federally required “minority opportunity district” – one which would allow racial minorities to determine the election outcome. But Doggett said it wasn’t exactly the same as MALDEF's suggestion, and Travis County legislators with significant minority constituencies said, regardless of skin color, Doggett (who is white) has represented their communities well.
Dist. 46 state Rep. Dawnna Dukes, who is black, told a story of how, shortly after being elected, she rode horseback in a Juneteenth parade alongside Doggett. “All the African-Americans and Hispanics kept screaming, ‘Congressman Doggett! Congressman Doggett!’ I wanted to knock him off that horse,” she laughed.
Additionally, state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez penned a letter to the House Redistricting Committee co-signed by several local Hispanic leaders that, while not mentioning Doggett by name, stated, “We are specifically opposed to any plan that divides Austin into several pieces and attaches one piece to a Congressional district in San Antonio.”
Austin City Council Member Mike Martinez added, “There are many things that are wonderful about partnering with San Antonio and sharing with San Antonio, but our congressman is not one of those.”
Rep. Smith did not respond to specific questions, but wrote in an e-mail: “The legislature is beginning the process of drawing new Congressional districts for Texas and we are happy to provide input when asked as the process progresses. We have confidence that the Texas legislative leaders will draw a fair and equitable map that reflects the growth Texas has experienced over the last decade.”
UPDATE: Rep. McCaul also did not reply to my specific questions, but said in an e-mail: "In my conversations with Representative Doggett we've discussed that it makes more sense for me to represent western Travis County where it is more conservative and for him to represent eastern Travis County where it is more liberal." Hmmm. Does that mean McCaul will abandon this idea of a four-way split?