Today is a big day in the redistricting case that centers on Henry Bonilla’s 23rd congressional district: It’s the deadline for turning in proposed maps to the three-judge federal panel that will draw the ultimate map. The two most important submissions are the leadership map (Perry-Craddick-Dewhurst), which will be filed by Attorney General Greg Abbott, and the congressional delegation map. Abbott will file two plans – one that affects four districts, another that affects five. Bad news for Bonilla: Both plans reunite Webb County, which the Legislature split in 2003 in an effort to make his district safely Republican. But the Supreme Court ruled that the carving of 100,000 Democratic-voting Latinos out of the district violated the Voting Rights Act. Both of Abbott’s plans pair Bonilla with Laredo Democrat Henry Cuellar, whose near-miss challenge to Bonilla (6,500 votes out of 150,000) in 2002 caused the Legislature to split the county.
Abbott’s plan is also bad news for Austin’s Democratic congressman, Lloyd Doggett. It redraws his “fajita strip” district – which runs from Austin to the Rio Grande, one county wide – so that Austin is no longer in it. Technically he can run for the seat without moving into the new district, but his old constituents in Austin will be represented by someone else, presumably Michael McCaul, John Carter, Lamar Smith, or some combination of those three. The effect of the plan – no surprise here – is to continue the highly partisan approach the leadership followed in 2003, which was to prefer Republicans over Democrats and minority Democrats over white Democrats. Doggett’s redrawn district makes him more vulnerable to a challenge by a Latino, and Cuellar would face a tough fight against Bonilla. The congressional delegation was described to me as “almost agreed to,” with Doggett as the only holdout and the haggling reduced to “a handful of precincts.”
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund will also file a map. In the past, MALDEF’s aim has been to maximize Latino Democratic seats, which would mean protecting Cuellar and throwing Bonilla and Doggett to the wolves. The Houston Chronicle is reporting that the League of United Latin American Citizens has already filed a plan that pairs Bonilla and Cuellar to Cuellar’s advantage (the district would go from 62 percent R to 56 percent D).
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