Congress: The Texas Five, Plus One

Down to the last inning of Tom DeLay's little game

Austinites still feeling dismembered can take little present comfort in the Oct. 18 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to order a lower court to review its decision to leave DeLay enough alone in the Texas re-redistricting case. Such second thoughts, if any, will have no effect on the Nov. 2 election, and electoral reparations (if any are made available) will be addressed sometime next year. In Central Texas, DeLay's prime target, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, seems certain to survive the feeble challenge of Rebecca "Armendariz!" Klein, R-Pluto, although he will at least temporarily have his public attention stretched from U.S. 290 East to the Mexican border. (See right)

Outside our immediate neighborhood, there were a couple of instant results of the remapping: Pseudo-Democrat Ralph Hall of Rockwall (CD 4) abruptly went home to the GOP, and Jim Turner of Crockett (exiled from CD 2) announced his retirement, although he is routinely mentioned in lists of pols considering a run for governor. That leaves five congressional races still reverberating with the consequences of the Massacre of 2003, where incumbent Democrats face long odds in already conservative districts aggressively redrawn to elect Republicans (in a couple of cases, re-drawn to evict the incumbent).

In far northeast District 1, four-time incumbent Max Sandlin, D-Marshall, faces Republican Louis Gohmert of Tyler, a former appeals court judge running a low-tax, fight-terror, flat-tax, and family-values campaign in a district that includes almost two-thirds new territory and voted 63% GOP in 2002. But Sandlin is well known and popular in the region, and has garnered a couple of normally conservative endorsements, including the Farm Bureau PAC; the National Right to Life Committee endorsed Gohmert. The two men are virtually tied in money-raising, and although on paper Gohmert has to be favored, the poll numbers coming out of the campaigns suggest that this race remains a toss-up.

While Jim Turner's East Texas district disappeared, the new CD 2 became an East-Southeast district where four-term CD 9 incumbent Nick Lampson, D-Beaumont, faces longtime Houston district court Judge Ted Poe, famous (or notorious) for "creative" sentencing to bring public shame on criminals convicted in his court (not to mention sensational publicity to the judge). Lampson is a fairly traditional moderate, but whether that will resonate in a polarized year is unclear. His home Jefferson Co. should vote strongly for him, but this district is gerrymandered 60% GOP, winnable but definitely an uphill climb.

Chet Edwards, D-Waco, was a primary target of the GOP re-redistricting project, precisely because the moderate Edwards had succeeded in frustrating Republican hopes in the otherwise conservative old CD 11. In the redrawn, 59% Republican CD 17 – roughly 425,000 of his constituents are new to him – Edwards faces former state Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth, the Demon Barber of Burleson, most closely identified with the Republican House's "health care reform." Edwards has apparently succeeded in hanging the cuts to children's health insurance around the dour Wohlgemuth's neck, and national handicappers are now predicting an Edwards win. National Republican money has been doing its best to hold him off, but regional pols of both parties are endorsing Edwards, and the latest rumor is that the smart GOP money has begun to move elsewhere.

Although neither candidate would approve, the CD 19 race might be characterized as the battle over who gets to distribute West Texas welfare: military funding and agricultural subsidies. Thirteen-term Democrat (in the old CD 17) Charles Stenholm faces relative pup Randy Neugebauer, who took over CD 19 after a special election to replace the retiring Larry Combest last year. Stenholm is a Blue Dog and a farm-policy patriarch; Neugebauer is a reflexive GOP spear-carrier who will win the straight party vote, so he'll be desperate for presidential coattails. In some ways this is an internal geographic battle; Stenholm is more closely identified with Abilene, Neugebauer with Lubbock. But this was a 69% GOP district in 2002, and it's difficult to see that Stenholm's history and neighboring incumbency can be strong enough to overturn that structural advantage.

The most expensive and the most entertaining race thus far has been in CD 32 in Dallas, where 13-term CD 24 incumbent Martin Frost plopped himself into the Republican stronghold of incumbent Pete Sessions. (Frost's old district has been made even more GOP and is expected to go to outgoing state Rep. Kenny Marchant.) Sessions has been embarrassed by revelations of his juvenile sign-stealing in the last election (a practice that continues enthusiastically on both sides), and a one-time mass frat-boy streaking episode when he was a student at then Southwest Texas State; Sessions has countered by charging Frost with accepting support from folk music legend Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul and Mary), who had a 34-year-old sexual molestation conviction (pardoned in 1981). Frost's is a trophy pelt that DeLay and the Republicans dearly desire, and they are sparing no expense, but they have a stiff for a candidate, and nobody outworks Frost. The Dems are also spending megabucks and working minority voters in a district that has not seen that attention before. Early talk was that Frost was toast – nobody's saying that now.

DeLay himself, is hardly one of the endangered "Texas Five," but in recent weeks he's become a dark shadow over all the Texas GOP campaigns, and he's actually been forced to campaign personally in his own redrawn CD 22 against Dem upstart Richard Morrison, Libertarian Tom Morrison (no relation), and independent Michael Fjetland. DeLay is probably in no trouble, but just to hear him call his opponents "vindictive" is a moment of schadenfreude – nowhere else so richly and thoroughly deserved – in an otherwise dreary political season.

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Redistricting, Tom DeLay, Lloyd Doggett, Rebecca Klein, Max Sandlin, Louis Gohmert, Ted Poe, Nick Lampson, Chet Edwards, Arlene Wohlgemuth, Charles Stenholm, Randy Neugebauer, Martin Frost, Pete Sessions, Richard Morrison

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