The Republican majority in the Texas legislature is plotting “to turn back the clock and politically segregate Texas,” Democratic State Sen. Eddie Locio Jr. charged last week.
Strong language like that is common these days in Austin. Having retained their 19-to-11 seat advantage in the state senate and won a majority in the state assembly for the first time since the 19th Century, Texas Republicans are now moving to replace a court-ordered map of the state’s 32 U.S. House districts. Under redistricting plans now on the table-one enacted in the House, the other in the Senate-the present U.S. House delegation, which has 17 Democrats and 15 Republicans, could be replaced with 21 Republicans and 11 Democrats.
That would give Texas more Republican U.S. representatives than any other state, significantly increasing the odds of Republicans’ controlling the U.S. House for another decade. This prospect has driven Democrats to employ desperate tactics , including sending 11 state senators to New Mexico to deny the senate the required quorum for taking up the redistricting bill.
Having finally forced the exiles to return two weeks ago and take up redistricting in a special legislative session-the third such session since the summer began-Republicans found their path to triumph blocked by internecine disagreements. The house quickly voted out its map, which ensures 21 Republican districts. But the GOP-controlled senate passed a different plan, which would likely create 18 Republican districts and 11 Democratic districts, and make the districts of veteran Democratic Representatives Ralph Hall, Charles Stenholm and Chet Edwards “swing” districts.
The heart of the GOP dispute is an ancient geographical feud. House Speaker Tom Craddick (R.) favors the House plan because it allows his hometown of Midland to dominate a new congressional district. The senate plan preserves the current 19th District, which Midland shares with Lubbock, a city with twice the population of Midland. Republican State Sen. Robert Duncan has made little secret he will fight to preserve the current district.
Some Republicans are becoming nervous that their prized plans to pick up seats in Congress might slip away. U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R.-Tex.) jetted to Austin two weeks ago in an unsuccessful attempt to craft a compromise between the House and Senate.
“It’s inconceivable to think we can’t pass a fair redistricting plan after all the hard work that got us this far,” warned former Harris County (Houston) Republican Chairman Gary Polland, an expert on redistricting. “Failure to pass a plan, and the required fourth special session, will be a major embarrassment to the Republican Party.”