The Austin Chronicle

Wiping Doggett Off the Map

By Lee Nichols, April 22, 2011, News

You're not paranoid if they really are out to get you.

Austin Congressman Lloyd Doggett is convinced that Texas Republicans are after him, and he's warning Travis County residents that the GOP is cooking up a plan to divide them into even more congressional districts in yet another attempt to drive him from office. "Apparently, Tom DeLay did not go far enough for my colleagues Mr. [Lamar] Smith and Mr. [Michael] McCaul," Doggett said, referring to Travis' other two congressmen, who, he said, "have offered to the Texas Leg­islature a map last week that divides Travis County not in three ways but in four ways."

Doggett can't produce a copy of this map – he said he hasn't actually seen it and has only had it described to him by colleagues who have – but after DeLay and other Repub­licans carved Travis into three ridiculously gerrymandered districts back in 2003 in an openly admitted attempt to oust him, there's no reason not to believe Doggett now. Given that Doggett is possibly Texas' most liberal congressman – and in recent months, a major thorn in Gov. Rick Perry's side due to feuds over education funding – it's no secret that Repub­licans would pop the cork on cases of Champagne if he could be retired.

Doggett made his claims at a press conference Monday with a horde of current and former Travis County Democratic office holders standing behind him – including several Aus­tin City Council members, Travis County com­mis­sioners, and state representatives. The proposed map, Doggett said, would connect much of west and south Travis County with West Texas in one district, leaving Smith "a good chunk of Austin" in another and McCaul with something similar to his current West Lake Hills-to-Houston boundaries. As for Dog­gett's District 25, "it will reduce the proportion of [Travis] that I serve from about half of the population to a little more than a fourth of the population." The rest, he said, would stretch down I-35 to San Antonio. The current District 25 includes south and southeast Travis and then stretches farther southeast to cover several rural, conservative counties.

When first elected in 1995, Doggett represented a very different District 10 (now McCaul's district) that included almost all of Austin and was entirely contained in Travis County. The officials by his side pleaded for a return to something similar. "There's room within the city alone to have a congressman represent our common interests," said Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell. The ideal Texas congressional district population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, would be 698,488. According to the 2010 census, Austin's population is 790,390, and Travis County's is 1,024,266. "Certainly we would have to have more than one congressman to represent the entirety of Travis County," Leffingwell continued. "A good plan, I think, would be to draw a line along [Loop] 360."

The alleged District 25 that Doggett describes sounds very similar to one proposed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund to serve as a federally required "minority opportunity district" – one that would allow racial minorities to determine the election outcome. But Dog­gett said it wasn't exactly the same, and Travis County legislators with significant minority constituencies said that, regardless of skin color, Doggett (who is white) has represented their communities well. District 46 state Rep. Dawnna Dukes, who is black, recalled how, shortly after being elected, she rode horseback in a Juneteenth parade alongside Dog­gett. "All the African-Americans and Hispanics kept screaming, 'Con­gress­man Doggett! Congressman Doggett!' I wanted to knock him off that horse," she said, laughing.

Additionally, state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez penned a letter to the House Redistricting Committee, co-signed by several local Hispanic leaders, that stated, while not mentioning Doggett by name: "We are specifically opposed to any plan that divides Austin into several pieces and attaches one piece to a Congress­ion­al district in San Antonio." Austin City Council Member Mike Martinez added, "There are many things that are wonderful about partnering with San Antonio and sharing with San Antonio, but our congressman is not one of those."

A statement from McCaul's office said, "In my conversations with Representative Doggett we've discussed that it makes more sense for me to represent western Travis County where it is more conservative and for him to represent eastern Travis County where it is more liberal." Smith did not respond to specific questions but wrote in an email: "The legislature is beginning the process of drawing new Congressional districts for Texas and we are happy to provide input when asked as the process progresses. We have confidence that the Texas legislative leaders will draw a fair and equitable map that reflects the growth Texas has experienced over the last decade."

Copyright © 2024 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.