TALL TALE OF TEXAS
In his epic novel, The Gay Place, the late William Brammer weaves a solid, powerfully written trilogy of stories about an unnamed capital city very much like Austin and the intrigues and maneuverings of the state’s wily governor, Arthur Fenstamaker and his bibulous brother Hoot Gibson Fenstamaker-strikingly akin to Brammer’s onetime boss Lyndon B. Johnson and brother Sam Houston Johnson-and the young, bright liberal State Rep. Roy Sherwood (a composite of Democratic state legislators in Austin during the late 1950s).
Were Brammer to come back to life today and write a sequel to The Gay Place, it would, in all likelihood, be based on the recently completed two-year battle over redrawing the Lone Star State’s 32 U.S. House districts. Democratic Cries of “Foul play!” and “Stacking the deck!” about the tactics of the Republican majority in carving up the congressional map filled the air and, at one point, a handful of Democratic senators fled the state to deny the senate the quorum needed to enact the GOP-drawn map. When the map was finally passed and signed into law, a protracted court battle ensued.
Last week, the curtain finally closed on the “Redistricting Wars” in Texas, as the U.S. Supreme Court refused to overturn a lower court ruling upholding the new lines. The reaction was obvious; almost to a person, GOP operatives from Austin to Washington agreed that they could capture 22 of Texas’ 32 seats in the House, up from the present 16, a pick-up that significantly raises the odds on a Republican-ruled House after ’04.
In the words of National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.), “We are eagerly looking forward to the upcoming election under this map and expect to pick up several seats in Texas.” As if to provide the GOP with a cherry atop their new election cake, 24-year Democratic Rep. Ralph Hall filed for reelection as a Repulblican, thus raising Republican membership in the House from 227 to 228. GOP leaders from White House to statehouse have promised the 79-year-old Hall, who has twice endorsed George W. Bush, whatever he needs to win the primary and general election.
A look, then, at the changed landscape of George W. Bush’s home state as the March 9 primaries approach. . .
STAR WARS: SESSIONS VS. FROST
The newly carved 32nd District (Greater Dallas) favors four-term Republican Rep. Pete Sessions over the liberal Democrat who has just moved into the district: 26-year Rep. Martin Frost (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 16%), past chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, who chose to try to survive against Sessions rather than in his former, newly Republicanized 24th District (Fort Worth).
“[Frost’s] move really won’t be an issue,” said Sessions (lifetime ACU rating: 99%), who himself moved from the neighboring 5th District to the 24th after the ’01 redistricting, “But what we each believe in will matter. I have always and still do believe we must empower people to own their own homes, manage their own health care, and run their own lives. Martin Frost still believes government is the source of those things. I’m so fired up-this will be a heckuva wonderful battle!”
Sessions, a personal friend of the President, nonetheless made it clear he differs with the administration on increased spending and its newly announced relaxed policy toward illegal immigration. In his words, “I’m going to run on message, as I always have.”
NEW KID VS. OLD PRO: NEUGEBAUER VS. STENHOLM
The other contest pitting incumbent House members against one another is in the new, Lubbock-based 19th District, where conservative Republican Randy Neugebauer last year won a special election to fill the seat of former House Agriculture Committee Chairman (1984-2003) Larry Combest (R.-Tex.), who resigned for health reasons. Under new lines that enhance the Republican advantage, Neugebauer will face 26-year Democratic Rep. Charles Stenholm, whose old 17th District was merged with the old 19th.
A self-styled conservative Democrat, Stenholm (lifetime ACU rating: 74%) is pro-life and, only a few years ago, proudly recounted to me how he voted against creating the Department of Education in 1979 and still felt it should be abolished. Despite a generally conservative record and his membership in the House Democrats’ “Blue Dogs” caucus, Stenholm has faced increasingly strong challenges for reelection from Republicans who charge that his vote for Democratic control of the House undermines any conservative votes he may cast.
In less friendly turf and against a Republican, veteran Stenholm is the decided underdog.
SANDLIN ON THE ROPES
As George W. Bush was sweeping the 1st District (Texarkana) with 64% of the vote in 2000, Democratic Rep. Max Sandlin faced his strongest-ever challenge from Republican Noble Willingham (famed as “C.D.” on the long-running “Walker Texas Ranger” television series). But the Democratic incumbent nonetheless was re-elected with a handsome 56% of the vote.
But now redistricting has made the district nearly-safe Republican turf, and four-termer Sandlin (lifetime ACU rating: 33%) goes into ’04 one of the most vulnerable House Members in the nation. The early favorite for the GOP nod is State Rep. Wayne Christian, a legislative spear-carrier for such conservative legislation as the state’s Defense of Marriage Act. Christian will almost surely face a run-off following the March 9th primary from one of four other Republicans, the better-known contenders being former District Judge Louis Gohmert and ’02 nominee John Graves.
WATCH IT, LAMPSON-HERE COMES THE JUDGE!
The safely-Democratic 9th District has now become four-term Rep. Nick Lampson’s worst nightmare in the form of the Republican-leaning 2nd District. Gone from the 2nd is the Democratic, union-fueled base of Galveston that Lampson (lifetime ACU rating: 19%) counted on in the old 9th and the Republican base in Harris County (Houston) has been greatly enhanced in the new district.
The early favorite for the GOP nod and fall election is former District Judge Ted Poe, who already has the backing of such prominent conservatives as former Harris County GOP Chairman Gary Polland. “America’s Judge” is how Jack Kemp characterized friend Poe for his inventive means of punishment, such as having shoplifters wear sandwich-boards in crowded-areas bearing the legend “I’m a convicted shoplifter.”
“And it works, too,” beamed Poe during a visit to HUMAN EVENTS. The judge is the strong primary favorite over geologist Clint Moore and two others.
As state senator, Democrat Chet Edwards moved more than 100 miles to run in the 11th District (Waco) when it came open in 1988. Narrowly elected that year, Edwards (lifetime ACU rating: 26%) has had little difficulty winning. But this time, he will be running in the reapportioned 17th District, which includes Fort Hood, parts of Texas A&M University, and more precincts from Fort Worth.
Not surprisingly, three heavyweight Republicans are vying for the nod to oppose the hitherto-invincible Edwards: State Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth, a pilot and former Johnson County Republican chairman; Dot Snyder, president of the Waco Independent School District and favorite of evangelical conservatives; and Texas A & M Prof. Dave McIntire.
NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK
As if it were not enough to place five sitting Democratic House Members in the danger zone, the new redistricting plan creates three districts that are near-cinches to be won by Republicans: the new 11th (Midland), where the strong favorite is Republican Mike Conaway, a former school board member and Bush family friend who narrowly lost the special contest to Neugebauer last year when they resided in the same district; the redrawn 24th (Fort Worth), abandoned by Frost and now likely to be won by conservative Republican Kenny Marchant, state legislator and former mayor of Carrollton; and the 10th, which stretches from the Northeast part of Travis County (Austin) to well into the Harris County suburbs. Eight Republicans are running for nomination in the sprawling, GOP-heavy 10th. Veteran Democratic Rep. Lloyd Doggett, obviously concluding that re-election here was insurmountable, moved to the neighboring, newly-created 25th District. The new district, stretching from Austin to the Mexican border, is strongly Latino and the congressman is the underdog to District Judge Leticia Hinojosa.