The Austin Chronicle

Latest Map 'Looks Like a Whirlpool'

By Lee Nichols, May 6, 2011, News

Austin Congressman Lloyd Doggett warned Travis County residents a couple of weeks ago that he'd heard descriptions of a map to further gerrymander the county into four congressional districts, even worse than the ridiculous three-way split we currently have. Last Thursday, he announced he's seen what may be the actual map and sent out copies.

In an emailed statement, Doggett wrote: "I believe that the attached represents the map for Travis County and of Texas submitted by [Rep. Lamar] Smith, [Rep. Michael] McCaul and their Republican colleagues. In reviewing the map of the outrageous twists and turns of the knife they apply to slice up our community, I certainly understand why they have hidden the map and refused to respond to questions. They prefer as little attention as possible on their going Tom DeLay one better with a divide-and-conquer strategy targeting Austin." (An anonymous source told the Austin American-Statesman that Doggett had an outdated map.)

Smith and McCaul, of course, are Travis County's other congressional representatives, both Republicans. In the infamous 2003 re-redistricting led by former U.S. House Major­ity Leader (and now convicted felon) DeLay, Doggett's former District 10 was radically reshaped to become more Republican, making way for McCaul, and Smith's share of Travis County was enlarged, forcing Doggett to run in District 25. Before that, Doggett represented almost all of Austin.

Smith and McCaul have refused to grant interviews on redistricting, instead only providing short printed statements.

According to an April 21 Fort Worth Star-Telegram story, "Smith has forwarded a proposed map that includes two new His­panic districts – the one in North Texas and another in Central Texas – to the state House Redistricting Committee chairman, Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, according to congressional sources who spoke under condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of negotiations." The Star-Telegram also said Rep. Joe Barton is the only Texas congressman who has objected to the map, because it's not Republican enough.

Doggett has specifically charged McCaul with being on board with the map, but McCaul spokesman Mike Rosen says, "Con­gressman McCaul is not in charge of drawing the maps nor has he advocated dividing Travis County more than it already is." Asked for a comment from McCaul, Rosen released a previously issued statement: "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." Doggett's camp says the Star-Telegram story indicates McCaul actually supports the map.

If the map Doggett unveiled ultimately gets adopted, McCaul's District 10 would stay essentially the same; Doggett's District 25 would stretch south along I-35 to San Antonio, presumably to be labeled a Hispanic opportunity district; Smith's District 21 would take Hays County from Doggett and give up western Travis but take some parts of southern Travis; and a new District 34 would stretch from western Travis out into the Hill Country one way and, absurdly, up to the Fort Worth area in another.

Austin's other congressman, John Carter (who represents the Williamson County portion), would see his district shrink from its current eight counties to just two, William­son and Bell, reflecting the huge growth in the two counties.

"Armed with a computer and a knife, they have sliced up Travis County into four districts, including a new one that has separate fingers extending over 150 miles each, in different directions, to combine parts of South and Central Austin, which I currently represent, with dissimilar communities like Weath­erford, Gatesville and Junction," Doggett wrote. "Their map of Travis County looks like a whirlpool, designed to drown out a voice for our community values in Congress."

Ultimately, while the congressional delegation can submit maps, they are officially only suggestions – the final maps must be either approved by the Legislature or drawn by the court system.

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