Would someone please give Tom DeLay a map? No, not a redistricting map. He has plenty of those. A road map. He’s a member of the House of Representatives, all right, but it’s the one in Congress, not the one on Congress Avenue. That didn’t stop him from trying to force a congressional redistricting bill through the Legislature and, in the process, blowing up the session.
DeLay, of course, is a former pest exterminator turned majority leader of the U.S. House. The pests he hopes to exterminate these days are Democratic members of Congress from Texas. His plan called for the Legislature to draw new districts that could enable Republicans to defeat as many as five Democratic incumbents, solidifying what is currently a precarious 23-seat GOP margin (see Texas Monthly Reporter: FAQ, “Map Quest,” page 56). The justification was that the current boundaries, adopted by a federal court in 2001, elected seventeen Democrats and fifteen Republicans, a ratio that does not reflect the parties’ true voting strength.
Regardless of whether the argument is reasonable, the process was not. Months passed without any action. Then, in the final weeks of the session, DeLay produced a series of bizarre maps, turning Capitol onlookers into instant art critics. A Jackson Pollock masterpiece? Or a Picasso in Silly Putty? DeLay totally disregarded Texas’ interests; he put Fort Hood into a district anchored in San Antonio, forcing the world’s largest military installation to compete with San Antonio bases for funding, and carved Austin, a major research center, into four districts, two of which ran to the perimeter of the state.
You know the rest. As the session wound down, Speaker Craddick scheduled DeLay’s bill for debate, putting it ahead of critical state legislation. Democrats bolted for Oklahoma, killing the bill for the time being. (Redistricting will probably return, with public input and less-ridiculous cartography, in a special session.) The rest of the session was thrown into chaos. Craddick’s defenders say that he was under pressure from the White House; the Democrats’ defenders say they were standing on principle. And DeLay’s defenders? You mean, not counting the Republicans who want to run for Congress?