Elsewhere, They Have Congressmen

Election 2004

When they weren't busy chortling about tossing Democratic congressional incumbents Martin Frost, Lloyd Doggett, and Chet Edwards on the scrap heap, Republican redistricters smugly claimed that Austin and Central Texas would be "better off" under the new map because the region would be represented by two or three or four members of Congress instead of "just one." That it was a dishonest claim could be readily demonstrated by House Speaker Tom Craddick's determination – even if it threatened to scuttle the entire GOP project – to arrange only one U.S. House seat for his Midland-based home district.

On the other hand, if the argument had any merit, Central Texas is even better off than we had thought – the region is now represented not by just a couple but by seven congressional districts, including even Craddick's spanking new 11th District, which reaches from West Texas all the way to Marble Falls. Alas, the prospects of more than one of the seven resulting representatives caring much what Austinites have to say about federal issues run from slim to none. What the new map demonstrates for local voters most dramatically is how, in the service of frankly partisan ends, an electoral map can be drawn in such a way as to essentially disenfranchise large numbers of citizens.


What Used to Be Austin

The three seats that now include parts of Travis Co. are the 10th, 21st, and 25th districts. Last week, Mike Clark-Madison examined in detail ("Facing the South") the campaign affecting CD 25, where former CD 10 incumbent Lloyd Doggett faces former District Judge Leticia Hinojosa of McAllen. Even presuming Doggett can sustain the advantages of incumbency and fundraising to defeat Hinojosa, the CD 25 seat will inevitably remain a split-community district; its rep will constantly need to maintain the loyalties of two widely separated regions that will often find themselves at odds over federal funding, political connections, and local priorities. (See below for the latest news from the CD 25 race.)

Though CD 21 remains anchored in the tonier San Antonio suburbs, it now also encompasses nearly all of West Austin and western Travis Co., other than the new fingerling of CD 10 extended down and around Camp Mabry. Seventeen-year incumbent U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith may now feel slightly more obligation to consult with West Austinites, although at the front of the line will be those business elites (especially in the high tech industry) he has been steadily wooing for campaign contributions. (He has no primary opponent, and the lone Democrat who has filed against him is a political unknown named Rhett Smith.)

Lamar Smith is best known for sponsoring legislation to make life more difficult for Mexican and Central American immigrants (he is bucking the White House's current meager attempts at immigration reform), and recently he made headlines with new legislation to increase fines on broadcast "indecency" and to ban certain "dirty words" from the broadcast airwaves. (Clear Channel, the nation's largest broadcaster, is headquartered in Smith's district.) Weird Smith may be; Austin weird, he hasn't got a clue.

But Smith will inevitably find a fresh-faced conservative ally in CD 10, which selectively mines North and West Austin for Anglo votes but is anchored in the fiercely Republican Houston suburbs. No Democrat filed for the seat, and of the eight declared Republican candidates only two have local connections: former U.S. Attorney Michael McCaul and banker Teresa Doggett Taylor, who ran against Lloyd Doggett in 1996 and for state comptroller in 1998. In January, Taylor was reportedly having fundraising difficulties, and her campaign staff resigned. But this week she told the Chronicle that was all a misunderstanding by a "young and inexperienced" staff and that she has reorganized with a new team. Of her opponents, she says, "Where were you when being a Republican was tough?" McCaul's ads drum his experience as an "anti-terrorism" prosecutor, and he's garnered endorsements from U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, as well as local state Reps. Terry Keel and Jack Stick – the latter of whom had considered a run for CD 10 himself – and the Texas Farm Bureau. He's the primary hope for local Republicans to have much influence on the seat.

At the business end of the district in Harris Co., the field is led by mortgage banker Ben Streusand, corporate attorney Dave Phillips, and former District Judge John Devine. On the hard-right issues – lower taxes, privatizing Social Security, opposing abortion, promoting guns – there's not much difference among them. Streusand led early in fundraising, but Devine has prominent GOP friends (including San Antonio moneybags James Leininger). He garnered headlines in Houston by posting the Ten Commandments on his courtroom wall, and then defeating the resulting lawsuit – not exactly crucial to legislative policy, but his troops will turn out at the polls.

Filling out the ballot are former Houston City Council Member John Kelley, who parlayed his attempts to promote a Houston Olympics into a career as a "sports consultant"; Pat Elliott, a retired pilot and Brenham bison rancher who is also chair of the Washington Co. Republican Party; and Brad Tashenberg, a former aide to Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who says he's running primarily to "fight abortion on all fronts."

The most likely run-off candidates are McCaul, Devine, Streusand, and Phillips, and whoever survives will be a rock-ribbed Bush Republican unmoderated by less strident Central Texas priorities.


Two More From South Texas

The new CD 25 is the middle of the trio of "bacon strip" districts that run from the border all the way to Austin; to the east, CD 15 stretches from Hidalgo Co. to Bastrop, and to the west, CD 28 ranges from Zapata Co. to Buda and San Marcos. This curious geography allowed the GOP to create three majority-Hispanic districts where there were but two before – and then shore up GOP Rep. Henry Bonilla by Anglicizing his CD 23 in West Texas.

Despite CD 15 now including a number of conservative rural counties (formerly Ron Paul territory), incumbent Dem Rubén Hinojosa of Mercedes has no primary opponent and will be favored to win the district against three GOP challengers: Alexander Hamilton, Paul Haring, and Michael Thamm. Former businessman Hinojosa is a reliable Democratic centrist seeking his fifth term in Congress. Hamilton is actually a Dallas businessman (international trade broker) of Nicaraguan extraction (his family name is Berberena; his father and grandfather were Somocistas) who says he's moving to Weslaco to take on Hinojosa. Haring is a former state rep (40-odd years ago) from Goliad, and Thamm is a plumbing contractor and the former mayor of Cuero.

Hinojosa needn't worry.

The CD 28 primaries feature a brace of little-known Republicans – two attorneys, a tax accountant/attorney, and an aerospace businessman – but incumbent Ciro Rodriguez of San Antonio mostly has to worry about his Dem primary opponent, former state rep and Texas Secretary of State Henry Cuellar of Laredo, who ran against Bonilla two years ago. In recent years, Cuellar – appointed secretary of state by Gov. Rick Perry – has walked the bipartisan tightrope and may appeal to crossover elephants feeling disenfranchised by the GOP's weird packing of Hispanic districts in South Texas. As in the CD 25 race, there's a bit of Oedipal subtext: Rodriguez supported Cuellar, who served with him in the Lege, in his race against Bonilla. Now, the Rodriguez campaign depicts Cuellar as a sellout to the GOP, and Cuellar forces respond that Rodriguez is too "radical" to accomplish much for his constituents. (We hadn't noticed such radicalism in the Texas delegation, but around here we have pretty high standards.) At any rate, since the district now includes much of Hays Co., it's possible voters on this end will actually have something to say about the primary outcome.


On the North Side

In the 2002 race for the then new CD 31, Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, surprised Houstonians at the other end of the district with a grassroots turnout effort that vaulted the former state district judge into Congress and growing party prominence. He's a conservative Bushite – serving with Lamar Smith on Tom DeLay's judicial accountability working group, designed to intimidate the wrong kind of "activist" judges into line – and, like other Williamson Co. honchos, he wants lower taxes and more highways, and will spend the next few years as a salesman for growing deficits and an expanding military. His district has now been redrawn to swallow both, no questions asked – to help put the hurt on Chet Edwards, the redistricters traded Carter's Houston-area and College Station boxes for Bell and Coryell counties, including Fort Hood. Carter has three GOP opponents – Wes Riddle of Belton has actually raised some money – and a Democratic challenger (Jon Porter of Cedar Park), but he's unlikely to feel much heat.

Finally, there's Tom Craddick's hometown special, CD 11, which is indeed rooted in Midland but had to stretch all the way down to Marble Falls to gather enough voters to make a congressman. The default winner here is Midland's Mike Conaway, former business partner to none other than George W. Bush and who last year lost to Randy Neugebauer in the special election to replace superannuated Rep. Larry Combest. Just because Conaway lost was no reason for Bush's favorite CPA not to run again – he just had to wait until Craddick managed to draw him a seat. Conaway has a primary opponent (poli-sci professor Bill Lester), but will hardly blink before defeating Dem Wayne Raasch in November.

And they call it, as Bruce Cockburn might say, democracy.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Redistricting, Tom Craddick, Lamar Smith, Rhett Smith, Teresa Doggett Taylor, Michael McCaul, John Devine, Dave Phillips, Ben Streusand, Rubén Hinojosa, Alexander Hamilton, Paul Haring, Michael Thamm, Ciro Rodriguez, Henry Cuellar, John Carter, Mike Conaway, United Farm Workers, Texas Farm Bureau, migratory birds

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