Tusk, tusk—will Texas Republicans ever get along? Plus: Drawing the line on redistricting.
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THE LEGACY OF THE TUMULTUOUS Republican state convention in San Antonio is that the state GOP is headed for open warfare between its mainstream and ultraconservative factions. The defining incident of the convention was not the unsuccessful attempt by pro-life dissidents to prevent U.S. senator Kay Bailey Hutchison from becoming a delegate to the Republican National Convention in San Diego. It was the successful overthrow of Governor George W. Bush as the chairman of the Texas delegation to San Diego, in which the essential perpetrator was none other than state Republican chairman Tom Pauken. By tradition the chairmanship should have been Bush’s, and he was nominated in the delegation meeting. But the ultraconservatives—most of them grass-roots party activists with an antiestablishment bent—object to Bush’s cooperative relationship with Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock and other state Democratic leaders, and they nominated Christian Coalition leader Dick Weinhold for chairman. Wisely, Weinhold declined and backed Bush. Then Pauken was nominated. Amazingly, he did not decline. A compromise was worked out that allowed Bush to be honorary chairman; Bush later said no thanks. Make no mistake about it: The governor and the chairman of the state party are at war.
This is not their first clash. As titular leader of the state party, Bush had planned to head up the unified statewide Republican effort, known as Victory ’96, but he was blocked by Pauken. Instead, the Republican campaign effort will be split. Bush will serve as chairman of—and raise money for—the Dole political organization in Texas, while Pauken will have to handle phone banks and voter registration drives without the help of Bush’s name or fundraising ability. A faltering Victory ’96 could adversely affect Republican candidates involved in tight races for the Legislature and other down-ballot positions.
After the election, mainstream Republican forces will be gearing up to take back the party at the 1998 state convention. Pauken has decided not to run for chairman again, and his successor in this pivotal position will be chosen by delegates to the state convention. The faction that gets the most bodies to the most precinct meetings on primary-election day 1998 will ultimately have a majority of the delegates. The well-organized ultraconservatives have been winning most of the battles lately, but on the issue of snubbing Bush and Hutchison, they are too strident for the majority of Republican voters, including many staunch conservatives.
CONGRESSIONAL REPUBLICANS ARE STILL celebrating the ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that the boundaries of three Texas congressional districts were drawn with race in mind and are therefore unconstitutional. It will very likely cost the Democrats at least three seats in the U.S. House, perhaps more. If new boundaries take effect this election cycle—a decision that will be made any day now by three federal judges in Houston, all of them Republican appointees—the GOP majority in Congress will be considerably harder for the Democrats to dislodge this fall.
It is theoretically possible to draw politically neutral boundaries that wouldn’t cost the Democrats any seats, but don’t bet on its happening. The Republicans are too well positioned. Governor Bush has said that he won’t call a special session of the Legislature. (Both Bush and Democratic leaders want to avoid a highly partisan issue that could wreck their bipartisan support among lawmakers.) The Republican plaintiffs have no incentive to reach a neutral settlement when they can let a favorable federal court draw the lines. Besides, the court doesn’t have to do any gerrymandering to help out the Republicans; all it has to do is draw compact and contiguous districts that undo Democratic gerrymandering.
The districts most at risk of going Republican are not the inner-city ones involved in the lawsuit. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas and Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston will end up with neater-looking districts that still have enough minority voters to reelect them. The Hispanic district in Houston that elected Anglo Democrat Gene Green will become less Hispanic but should remain Democratic. But as those districts have their appendages chopped off and gain new territory, adjacent districts will have to be redrawn. That’s when the dominoes start falling: In danger are Democratic districts currently occupied by Martin Frost of Dallas, John Bryant of Dallas, and Ken Bentsen of Houston, and perhaps even districts in East and Central Texas. The new map could produce a Republican majority of the Texas congressional delegation.