I feel as if I’ve officially been initiated into the world of blogging. This morning I rushed to post an item about redistricting plans–my source was good, you’ve gotta believe me. Just wrong. So, here’s the REAL redistricting scoop.
Today was the deadline for interested parties to file maps in the congressional redistricting case. Attorney General Abbott filed a plan for the leadership–Perry, Dewhurst, Craddick–that shifts the lines of four districts. The affected congressmen are Republicans Henry Bonilla and Lamar Smith, both of San Antonio, and Democrats Henry Cuellar, of Laredo, and Lloyd Doggett, of Austin. Before I get into the particulars, keep in mind three things: (1) Members of Congress do not have to live in their districts; (2) If a district has no resident congressman, it’s considered an open seat. (3) The maps submitted today are just wish-list maps and the three-judge panel overseeing the case can, and probably will, draw its own map.
The Supreme Court busted Bonilla’s district 23, which sprawls across Southwest Texas from San Antonio to El Paso, because the Legislature’s 2003 map violated the Voting Rights Act by splitting Webb County and putting 100,000 Latinos into Cuellar’s district 28. The Perry/Dewhurst/Craddick (PDC) map reunites Webb County and puts the 100,000 Latinos back in Bonilla’s district. This is a surefire Democratic district, which Bonilla would have no chance to win–except that it isn’t Bonilla’s district any more. Its new number is district 28 and the resident congressman is Cuellar. District 23, redrawn to be safely Republican, has been relocated to northwest San Antonio and the Hill Country, stretching from Kerrville around to west Austin. Bonilla is the resident congressman. Both Bonilla and Cuellar have to be ecstatic about this map. Smith’s district 21 has shifted eastward out of the Hill Country, which was not his preference, but it remains comfortably Republican. The big loser is Doggett. The Republicans dismembered his old district in 2003, but he was able to win re-election in district 25, the predominantly Latino “fajita strip” that ran from Austin to the Rio Grande, one county wide. The P/D/C plan continues the assault on Doggett by removing Austin from his district altogether and widening the fajita strip, leaving Doggett dangerously vulnerable to a Democratic primary challenge from a Latino in the southern part of the district.
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, representing the G.I. Forum, also filed a map. Like the P/D/C plan, it reunites Webb County in district 23, returning 100,000 Latinos to the district. By including Republican northwest San Antonio and Bexar County, however, MALDEF makes the district winnable for Bonilla. Smith and Cuellar are safe, but Doggett is not. He would get to keep his Austin base, but then the district runs down to the east side of San Antonio, where he would be likely to incur primary opposition.
If these maps have any influence on the court, it will likely be to indicate that the Voting Rights Act infraction in Bonilla’s district can be fixed without a major ripple effect. The mugging of Doggett was gratuitous. It would leave the most famously Democratic county in the state (with the state’s fourth-largest city) without Democratic representation in Congress. Still, the only safe speculation is that federal judges are appointed for life for a reason, and that reason is to do as they damn well please.