So Tom DeLay overreached in congressional redistricting: What a surprise. Give the rascal credit, though. Thirty-one of Texas’ thirty-two districts withstood the scrutiny of the Supreme Court, as did the GOP’s brazen mid-census maneuver. But questions abound about the fate of District 23, whose boundaries will be drawn by a three-judge federal court, and its Republican congressman, Henry Bonilla.
(1) Wasn’t Rick Perry adamant back in 2003 that legislators, not judges, should draw the map? Of course he was: The judicial plan in effect at the time was too friendly to incumbent Democrats. Now Perry thinks the courts are just fine, thank you: anything to prevent the Legislature from coming back to town in the middle of his reelection campaign and Democrats (not to mention his independent opponents) from criticizing him every day and Republicans from fighting with each other.
(2) Why was Speaker Craddick telling folks that the Legislature should draw the lines? To make Bonilla’s seat safely Republican, the Legislature split Webb County, exporting nearly 100,000 Latinos in Laredo to an adjacent district and importing a like number of Anglos from the Hill Country into Bonilla’s. The Supremes ruled — duh — that the swap violated the Voting Rights Act. To replace the Latinos he lost, Bonilla has cast his eye on District 11, which, unfortunately for him, just happens to centered around Craddick’s hometown of Midland. Craddick and incumbent congressman Mike Conaway are perfectly happy with the district the way it is.
(3) Why not just restore District 23 to its former boundaries by returning the 100,000 Latinos Bonilla needs? Er, this is a little touchy, but Bonilla doesn’t want these Latinos. He won reelection in 2002 with just 51.5 percent of the vote, losing 92 percent of the Latinos in the district. The difference between Laredo Latinos and the ones in District 11 is that the latter have a history of low voter turnout.
(4) Wouldn’t Craddick and Conaway be willing to help out a fellow Republican? Not a chance. This is redistricting, remember — the hardest hardball politics there is. The problem isn’t losing the Latinos, it’s taking in the 100,000 Hill Country Anglos whom Bonilla would have to give up. The last thing Craddick wants is for the balance of power in the district he worked so hard to create to shift eastward to the fast-growing San Antonio exurbs, causing Midland to lose control.
(5) Will the judges make the new boundaries of Bonilla’s district effective for the 2006 election? By the time the court draws its new lines, the election will probably be a little over two months away. It seems more likely that the judges would allow the election to go forward in the current district with the new boundaries taking effect for the 2008 elections. Either way, Bonilla is probably nearing the up-or-out stage of his political career. Had Kay Bailey Hutchison run for governor this year, he would have bid to replace her in the U.S. Senate. If she were the GOP’s vice-presidential nominee in ’08 — not so far-fetched a notion with Hillary Clinton as the possible Democratic standardbearer — Bonilla would go after her seat.