Redistricting Tussle In Texas
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TOM BEARDEN: Waco is a small city of about 200,000 people in a rural McLennan County in central Texas. Most of the time people here are concerned with agricultural issues, but at the moment they’re right in the middle of a nasty Congressional redistricting battle that could add to the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.
STATE SENATOR: Right here is to tell us whether you’re going to testify or not. If you’re not…
TOM BEARDEN: Last week hundreds of people turned out to voice their concerns before the State Senate Jurisprudence Committee. The panel was in town to conduct the last in a series of public hearings on the issue held all over the state.
TEXAS RESIDENT: We’ve got a couple of Republicans, a couple of independents, couple of Democrats, but we’ve all come together with the agreement that we need to keep McLennan County whole and that we object to any redistricting.
TEXAS RESIDENT: I’ve never in my 68 years heard a word from anybody about the harms of redistricting until suddenly the Republicans are before you with the majority and they say, “Let’s change this thing so our ox is not gored, but rather somebody else’s ox is not… is gored.
TOM BEARDEN: Every ten years after the national census is taken, the composition of the U.S. House of Representatives is adjusted to reflect population changes. When states gain or lose Congressmen, they have to redraw their district maps to equalize the number of voters in those districts. Two years ago, after the latest census gave Texas two new seats in Congress, a divided Texas legislature couldn’t agree on how to redistrict, and a federal court redrew the maps.
But in the last election, Republicans gained control of the Texas House of Representatives for the first time in 130 years and decided to redraw the maps again. Speaker of the House Tom Craddick says redistricting is necessary so the Texas Congressional delegation can reflect the state’s Republican majority.
TOM CRADDICK: Two years ago, we were mandated to do redistricting, and our elected officials were supposed to have done it, but we didn’t do it because the Democrat-controlled House and the Democratic-controlled speaker would not allow redistricting to go to the floor for a vote, and therefore it went to a three-judge-federal panel and the federal government mandated and drew a plan that we are now under. Yet 58 percent of all the people that voted statewide voted for a Republican, for Republicans to control the Texas House, the Texas Senate and all statewide Texas office holders. And there’s 17 Democratic and 15 Republicans in Congress. We really don’t feel that the people are represented fairly across the state.
SPEAKER: State representative, Waco, Texas. Jim?
TOM BEARDEN: Democrats cried foul. They say the states can only redistrict once very ten years, not every time the legislature changes hands. State Representative Jim Dunnam is the leader of the House Democratic Caucus.
JIM DUNNAM: It’s never been done. I mean, it’s an unprecedented action to take up redistricting when you weren’t under a court order to do so, and when it wasn’t immediately following a census, we don’t do it every time there’s a change in power. Think of the instability in our country. If every time, every two years we redistrict Congress just because we could or we didn’t… or the people in power didn’t like who the people were electing, what kind of instability would that create in our federal government?
TOM BEARDEN: In May, Dunnam led some 50 Democratic legislators on a highly publicized “field trip” to Oklahoma in order to deny the Republicans a quorum to vote on the bill during the regular legislative session. Republicans circulated a deck of playing cards with the missing Democrats’ faces on them.
State troopers tried to track them down and called on the FAA and the Department of Homeland Security for help in the search. An investigation is now pending as to whether federal authorities were inappropriately enlisted to help a political effort. This month the Republican governor called a 30-day special session to revisit the issue.
After bitter debate, the Texas House passed a redistricting bill last week and issued a new map that Democrats say could eliminate between five and seven incumbent Democratic Congressmen in next year’s elections. The issue now goes to the state Senate. That’s why the Senate committee had been holding hearings.
STATE SENATOR: How many of you consider yourselves Republicans, raise your hands?
TOM BEARDEN: At the hearings, which Republicans say the Democrats stacked with opponents, many complaints went beyond local Texas politics.
ROYCE WEST: Needless to say, the impetus for why we are here spending this type of money is coming from Tom DeLay. And I mean, that’s just pretty clear. And there are certain Congressional districts that are being targeted.
TOM BEARDEN: State Senator Royce West is one of many Democrats who charge that the redistricting process is being micromanaged by influential Texans in Washington like [House Majority Leader] Tom DeLay. Congressman Chet Edwards represents the Waco area. The district tends to vote Republican for state offices and president, but Democratic for Congress.
REP. CHET EDWARDS: Out of the 32 Congressional districts in Texas, the statewide Republican candidates carried 20, nearly two-thirds of those districts. So the districts are fair to Republicans; it’s just Tom DeLay wants to replace the voice of the voters at the ballot box with his voice by redrawing the maps. My district, in 2000, gave Al Gore only 32 percent of the vote. That’s before it became more Republican two years ago in redistricting. My question is, how fair does my district have to be to Republicans for Tom DeLay to be satisfied?
TOM BEARDEN: What do you think Delay’s ultimate goal is?
REP. CHET EDWARDS: Tom DeLay said it point blank. He said, “I am the majority leader, and we want more seats.”
TOM BEARDEN: When questioned, [Majority Leader] Delay said: “The Democrats have a strategy that’s very weak, quite frankly. They’re trying to make me the poster boy of redistricting and therefore scare Republicans from doing their jobs. It’s not working.” Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, the Republican president of the state Senate, says the process he’s leading is fair.
LT. GOV. DAVID DEWHURST: I’ve been contacted by Democratic Congressmen, by Republican Congressmen. At the end of the day, we’re not… we don’t feel pressured. We’re going to draw a map that’s fair, that’s a Texas map that reflects the interest of the people of Texas, one that’ll represent the fact that the majority of people here in Texas like President George W. Bush, want to see a strong national defense, want to see lowered taxes; at the same time will reflect Democratic voters, independent voters here in the state of Texas.
TOM BEARDEN: Texas State Senate rules require a two-thirds majority vote to even consider legislation of any sort. The Republicans are two votes short if no Democrats cross the line. But some Republicans have doubts, too. State Senator Kip Averitt from Waco generally supports redistricting, but not in his own district. The House-passed plan would split the county he represents in two. He says the result would be an influx of new urban and suburban voters, diluting the influence of rural voters.
KIP AVERITT: I’m in favor of sending President Bush Republican reinforcements to Washington, D.C. I think that our state would benefit by having a stronger voice in the majority party, but there are limitations as to what we can do. There’s a lot of objection to taking communities of interest apart, putting rural interests in with urban interests. Folks in the country being represented by folks from downtown major cities is not a good idea. We want to keep our communities of interest together. Our challenge is to see if we can do that– increase Republican strength and keep the communities of interest together.
TOM BEARDEN: Republicans who support redistricting say they’re playing by the same rules the Democrats used when they were in power.
: Is the Republican redistricting effort any different than what the Democrats have done in the past?
TOM CRADDICK: Absolutely not. In 1990– I’m a perfect example; I represent Midland County which is about 90,000 people, 95,000 people– we had three Congressman. We were split three ways in our… in our county. In 1971, when we did a legislative redistricting, they split my legislative district down the street I lived on. My side of the street ran from midland to Abilene which is about 175 miles, and the other side ran from midland to the Mexican border. So we’ve… we’ve seen this same type thing and we feel like we’ve drawn a lot fairer map than we’ve had to live under for the last several years, and the Democrats have had control of the Texas House for 130 years, and things have changed.
TOM BEARDEN: Democratic Congressman Edwards disputes that.
REP. CHET EDWARDS: I was in the Texas Senate in the 1980s when Democrats controlled everything. And not once did we ever try to defeat an incumbent Republican House member because we knew then what we know now: That it’s important for Texas to have powerful Democrats and Republicans working together for our state, so there’s a huge difference between what’s happened in the past and what Tom DeLay is trying to push through the… the legislature this year.
GWEN IFILL: A small correction. Tom DeLay is majority leader, not Speaker of the House. Late this afternoon eleven state senators announced they will block the measure from reaching the floor, but Texas Republican Lt. Governor David Dewhurst said he will continue to push for redistricting.