12th Congressional District
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When Kay Granger captured the 12th District's Congressional seat, many
were quick to point to the significance of the event. She is the first
Republican and the first woman ever to hold the office. But her
election also marks another significant transition - one whose roots began
more than a decade earlier.
Until 1989, Speaker Jim Wright had represented the 12th Congressional District of Texas. He had held the post for 34 years until he was forced to resign from office in a furor over questionable financial dealings initiated by Newt Gingrich (R-GA).
"The district has changed considerably since Jim Wright represented it," according to Bud Kennedy, a columnist for the Fort Worth Star Telegram. "The Labor, blue collar Democrats that used to make up the bulk of the district have been replaced by more suburban, conservative voters who tend to be Republican."
In fact, most experts and political observers see few similarities between the 12th district Jim Wright represented and the one that elected Kay Granger.
Jim Riddlesperger, political science professor at Fort Worth-based Texas Christian University, points to a 1990 redistricting measure as the seminal event for the 12th District.
"A lot of people think of the seat as Jim Wright's district, but after the '90 redistricting it really became Pete Geren's district," according to Riddlesperger. "It moved noticeably from a solid Democratic district, to a moderate one."
It was the 1990 census that triggered a chain-reaction of redistricting throughout the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex.
For starters, the state legislature established a "majority minority" district - a district where the majority of the residents represent an ethnic or racial minority - in Dallas.
The 30th District - made up mostly of African American voters, became the district of Democrat Eddie Bernice Johnson, who drew her voters from several surrounding districts including that of Martin Frost's 24th District. Frost, who currently serves as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, looked towards Fort Worth to replace the Democratic voters he lost to the new 30th District.
In the 12th District, several precincts from East Fort Worth - made up mostly of African Americans, and lower middle class Democrats - were shifted into the 24th District. This transferred perhaps the most solidly Democratic block out of Pete Geren's 12th District into Martin's Frost's 24th. In addition, Geren's 12th District picked up a number of rural areas in Johnson and Parker counties, with voters known to be politically conservative.
Geren, a conservative "Blue Dog Democrat", made a name for himself by leading the "Gang of Six" - a group of Democrats who supported the Balanced Budget Amendment in the Contract with America. Geren held the 12th District seat from 1989 until his retirement this year.
"I would say this is barely a Democratic district," Geren told the Online NewsHour just before leaving office. "It is a middle America seat with an appreciation for independence. A liberal Democrat would not do well in this district and neither would a conservative Republican. I have often felt I might be the last Democrat to represent this district."
Even party faithful see the district as a very different animal then when Speaker Wright reigned.
"We are excited to pick up that seat, but it would have been more significant if she had replaced Jim Wright," admitted Tom Pauken, chairman of the Texas Republican party and candidate for Republican National Committee Chairman.
Local Democrats see the 1990 redistricting under the eye of Congressman Geren as one of the reasons they lost the seat this year.
"In 1991, Geren transferred a lot of minority voters from East Fort Worth into Martin Frost's district," Art Bender, Tarrant County Democratic Party Chairman, said. "That left the district with a higher proportion of elderly white folks who tend to be more conservative."
Riddlesperger agreed that the redistricting served Geren's own electoral interests.
"Pete Geren knowingly designed the district the way it ended up," he said. "He was very well aware that redistricting more traditional Democratic voters out of the district would solidify his base while reducing the threat from within his party."
Geren admits that the redistricting did alter the district, but that the voters in the 12th District had begun to politically shift their loyalties regardless of the physical shape of the county.
"The seat has changed a whole lot over the past decade and a half," Geren said. "Even when Jim Wright was in Congress, it had been becoming more conservative. By the time he left, the district would not support a candidate as liberal as Wright had once been."
Regardless of the reasons, the 12th District of Texas had been shifting further from the New Deal Democratic coalition that had controlled the district for decades. Granger's victory highlighted just how far from the days of Yellow Dogs and Lyndon Johnson Texas has moved.