The Redistricting Shuffle Commences

Doggett jumps into the new District 25, Barrientos is peeved; Congressional wannabes find themselves on the new Texas map.

Central Texas: Lloyd vs. Gonzo -- Finally?

It's still early -- even premature -- but the prospect of unresolved Texas congressional district maps, while campaign deadlines loom, is already causing friction among potential candidates for those not-quite-settled seats. Locally, the clouds are beginning to form around U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett and state Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, who 10 years ago were briefly rivals for Doggett's current District 10 seat. Early last week, at a Travis Co. Democratic Party fiesta, everyone was friendly, and Barrientos blasted the Republicans' "planned overthrow of democracy" and lauded Doggett's congressional record "in the tradition of LBJ and Jake Pickle," his predecessors in the heavily Democratic Austin-based district.

Doggett followed Barrientos, excoriating the Republicans and vowing to continue the fight against redistricting, noting the four federal lawsuits already filed against the GOP plan. But Doggett added that the GOP "came after me personally" in carving Travis Co. into three districts, noting that only the new District 25 -- running from East Austin south all the way to McAllen -- is currently configured to favor a Democratic candidate. (The new District 10, which barely includes Doggett's home, stretches along U.S. Highway 290 from North Austin to West Houston and is heavily GOP in flavor.) Doggett said his choice appeared to be between "retiring or District 25," and he told the crowd, "I plan to run for re-election one way or another." He stopped short of an outright declaration, instead concluding, "I think we have a legal victory ahead of us."

That was Monday. By Thursday, Doggett was no longer so tentative -- surrounded by longtime supporters, he declared himself a candidate for the District 25 seat. But in the meantime, state Rep. Kino Flores, D-Mission, had been gathering support in the Valley, warning off competition there, and suggested that an Anglo Democrat from Austin representing the new minority district would be "old school." Doggett struck back, describing Flores as one of Republican Speaker Tom Craddick's "top lieutenants." (Flores, appointed to a committee chairmanship by the speaker, opposed redistricting, but neither so publicly nor adamantly as many of his Democratic colleagues.) There are other South Texas Dems also looking at the seat.

Shortly after Doggett's declaration, Barrientos issued a statement calling the congressman's move "unhelpful" to the Democratic fight against "this illegal Republican redistricting effort," and saying that instead the Democrats' "time, money, and efforts should be focused on defeating this terrible map." Barrientos concluded, "If the courts fail to protect Texans from the political butchery of this mid-decade redistricting, I will strongly consider running in the proposed Congressional District 25." Barrientos would be a formidable candidate on both ends of the 73% Hispanic-majority district.

Local Dems will vividly recall the last time these two squared off -- in 1993, when Doggett (Barrientos' predecessor in the state Senate, and at the time a state Supreme Court justice) blindsided Barrientos by locking up all the deep-pocketed big-shot endorsements in one weekend, just before Barrientos was scheduled to declare. Ten years later, old wounds may be throbbing in anticipation.

Musical Chairs Around the State

Doggett, Barrientos, and Flores aren't the only hat-throwers in Tom DeLay's new Texas. The newly Republicanized District 10, running from northern Travis Co. to the Houston suburbs, has drawn several GOP congressional wannabes: state Sen. Jon Lindsay and Rep. Peggy Hamric, both of Houston, and assistant U.S. attorney Michael McCaul of Austin (the son-in-law of Clear Channel tycoon Lowry Mays). With Doggett's decision to switch to District 25, no Democrat has yet declared for District 10.

In West Texas, venerable U.S. Rep. Charles Stenholm, D-Abilene, is expected to run again -- either against rookie U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer, D-Lubbock, or in the new District 11 against Republican fair-haired boy Mike Conaway of Midland -- whom Neugebauer defeated last year, and who still must escape a GOP primary. Two other Democrats targeted for elimination by re-redistricting include Martin Frost of Dallas and Chet Edwards of Waco, but both say they'll run in some district -- they're not certain yet which one. State Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth, R-Burleson, has already declared she'll take on Edwards if he runs in what is now his home district, the newly reconfigured District 17 -- a prospect the Waco Tribune-Herald headlined, in homage to Wohlgemuth's fealty to river-polluting agribusinesses, as "Arlene goes downstream." Waco school board President Dot Snyder has also announced for that seat.

U.S. Rep. Jim Turner, D-Crockett, says that if the new map -- which completely obliterates his existing District 2 -- survives court challenges, he may run for governor or U.S. Senate, rather than wait for the suburban Republican axe to fall on his neck. His fellow Dem incumbent Max Sandlin's reconfigured District 1 has a brace of Republicans smacking their lips: state Rep. Wayne Christian of Center; Nacogdoches ophthalmologist Lyle Thorstenson; former state appeals court Chief Justice Louie Gohmert of Tyler; and Longview lawyer John Graves.

In other GOP social notes, state Sen. Teel Bivins, R-Amarillo, a deep-pocketed Bush Pioneer, is said to be on tap for an ambassadorship to Sweden. And in what might well be collateral damage of re-redistricting, state Rep. Barry Telford, D-DeKalb, announced last week that he would not run for re-election. Telford, a House member since 1987, pointed to his wife's retirement as a reason for his decision, but he was one of the rural Democrats (the "WD-40s") who argued most strongly against re-redistricting -- the new map pairs his Northeast Texas environs with suburban Dallas -- and his retirement announcement carried an edge. "I am proud of the accomplishments we have made over the last 18 years. Unfortunately, the pallor of partisanship has descended on our state Capitol. I hope future legislatures will return to the Texas tradition of bipartisanship."

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Election 2004, Lloyd Doggett, Gonzalo Barrientos, Kino Flores, Dist. 25, Dist. 10, congressional redistricting, Jon Lindsay, Peggy Hamric, Michael McCaul, Charles Stenholm, Randy Neugebauer, Mike Conaway, Martin Frost, Chet Edwards, Arlene Wohlgemuth, Jim Turner, Dot Snyder, Max Sandlin, Wayne Christian

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