The Austin Chronicle

Naked City

More Redistricting Fallout

By Michael King, January 9, 2004, News

The latest potential local candidate for potential new congressional District 10 -- stretching from West Austin to West Houston -- is none other than former Austin Mayor Gus Garcia. The newly drawn district, dominated by the Houston suburbs, is designed to favor a Republican, but Garcia told Quorum Report, "I live within the new boundaries of District 10 and I have thought seriously about running for that seat. Even though it is a Republican Bible-thumping district, I think Democrats ought to have a presence. We should not just give up." Garcia, who lives just north of U.S. 290, called the new map "ridiculous," but said he would be ready to stand for Congress if it survives judicial review.

Meanwhile, up North, one of the first shoes to drop in the wake of the re-redistricting verdict is the left moccasin of U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall, D-now-R, Rockwall. This immediately alters the Texas congressional delegation to a 16-16 tie. The 80-year-old Hall, a former state senator, has been the District 4 congressman since 1980, although his voting record and his unapologetically Blue Dog politics have been virtually Republican throughout that time. In the redistricting calculations of the Republican leadership, Hall's seat was seen as essentially in the GOP column -- in internal memos ranking the various maps, Jim Ellis, aide to U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, consistently added "x + Hall" in calculating the prospective Republican seats.

Some Democratic observers said they deduced from those notes that a deal had already been made with Hall, and reportedly under the new map Hall feared a potential primary challenge from current District 1 U.S. Rep. Max Sandlin, D-Marshall. DeLay congratulated Hall for "always being a good Democrat" -- a formal kiss of death was apparently not necessary -- and welcomed him to the Republican Party. Hall has already filed as a GOP primary candidate; the last Democratic congressional defector, former Rep. Greg Laughlin, got beaten in the GOP primary (by current Rep. Ron Paul, R-Surfside) after switching parties.

Another immediate beneficiary of the federal court decision to uphold the map is now-outgoing state Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth, R-Burleson, who had put all her political eggs in that basket by deciding not to refile for her House seat. Wohlgemuth plans to run for Congress, presumably against Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, in the redrawn District 17, and her spokesman said, "Filing for her House seat would send the wrong message." Similarly, state Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell, is off and running for the new congressional District 24, straddling the Dallas/Tarrant Co. line and drawn explicitly for his behalf; Marchant issued a list this week of endorsements by no less than 186 current and formal officials in the district. Unlike Wohlgemuth, Marchant had refiled for his House seat, saying he was prepared to withdraw and file for Congress if the courts upheld the map. And state Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, has filed to run in the new congressional District 1; he's one of three GOP candidates vying to challenge Sandlin (or someone) in November.

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