Naked City

The Hammer's Back in Town

The Legislature may consider congressional redistricting this session -- and then again, it may not. As Naked City reported last week, U.S. Rep. Tom "The Hammer" DeLay, R-Sugar Land, has been twisting Texas Capitol arms to redraw the congressional map in order to send more Republicans to D.C. Texas House Redistricting Committee Chair Joe Crabb, R-Humble, has filed a shell bill (HB 3398) that would, on its face, allow the Lege to ratify the map drawn last fall by a three-judge panel in federal district court. But HB 3398 could in theory enable the GOP-dominated Texas House to write a new map on the floor on the spot. A DeLay spokesman said, "We believe the court map is deficient because it underrepresents Hispanics and African-Americans and Republicans. That's what we're trying to fix."

Crabb has also requested an attorney general's opinion as to whether a legislative ratification of the court's map is "mandatory" -- although if it is, the 1981 and 1991 sessions somehow failed in that august duty. While Crabb scuttles along, last week a proposed new Texas district map was leaked to congressional Democrats -- DeLay claimed they stole it and that it is only one of several possible maps. On the leaked map, Rep. Lloyd Doggett's 10th District, currently the eastern two-thirds of Travis Co., is divided between Doggett and San Antonio GOP Reps. Lamar Smith and Henry Bonilla.

But that's a minor tweak compared to some of Doggett's Dem colleagues -- the leaked map lays waste to the districts of Reps. Max Sandlin (Marshall), Chet Edwards (Waco), Jim Turner (Crockett), Nick Lampson (Beaumont), Charlie Stenholm (Stamford), and Martin Frost (Dallas). The map pairs Sandlin and Lampson in a new (and probably Dem-leaning) district stretching all the way from Texarkana to Port Arthur; of the two, Lampson, with his base in heavily Democratic Beaumont, would probably survive. Turner and Edwards are likewise paired, leaving Turner's redrawn 2nd District vacant and centered in suburban Houston. Edwards would lose most of his Waco home base -- as well as Crawford -- and Frost, the most powerful Texas Democrat in the U.S. House, would see his district, itself the product of past Dem gerrymandering, split at least three ways. (Virtual Republican Ralph Hall of Rockwall, who's 81, would be left alone.) Combining Sandlin and Lampson into one district would create room for a new Hispanic-majority district in the Rio Grande Valley; state Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, has said he'd go along with DeLay's plan if it meant he could run for Congress.

A Democratic attempt to force public hearings on redistricting has already short-circuited, and Crabb's bill may land on the floor, ready for partisan-line amendment, with little notice. On the other hand, the state Senate (including a few Republicans therein) is reportedly less than interested in a nasty redistricting fight; even if Lucio is willing to jump the broom, DeLay may still end up stewing in his own juices.

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