Texas Redistricting
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Heated congressional contests take center stage in primaries

By John Moritz
Published March 7th 2004 in Star-Telegram

Tuesday's primaries were supposed to give Texas Democrats the opportunity to influence the nomination of their party's presidential candidate and give Republicans the chance to select the best candidates to help their party take over the state's congressional delegation.

But, as has been the case in the past several election cycles in Texas, only the Republicans will get their way.

The GOP primaries feature high-octane races for Congress in several newly configured districts. In many of those areas, the winners will go on in November to challenge Texas Democrats who are well-established in Washington.

The only primaries of note for statewide office are the Republican race for a seat on the Texas Railroad Commission -- with an appointed incumbent and three challengers -- and another GOP contest for a seat on the Texas Supreme Court, which features an incumbent without the backing of the party establishment against a better-financed challenger.

Runoffs will be scheduled next month in races in which no candidate receives a clear majority.

"We think there's going to be a lot of excitement in the Republican primary all across the state," said Ted Royer, spokesman for the Texas GOP, whose party holds all the statewide offices and controls both chambers of the Legislature.

Mike Lavigne, spokesman for the Texas Democratic Party, predicted that local races will spur turnout on his side.

"There are a lot of contested primaries for Congress, state rep and even constable," he said. "There are a lot of Democrats who want to serve."

Both parties will hold presidential primaries, but they will be largely symbolic. President Bush is unopposed in the Republican column and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry has all but cleared the field on the Democratic side.

The Texas primary had been scheduled for March 2 as part of Super Tuesday, which could have given Texas Democrats some clout in the nominating process.

According to a Texas Poll released Saturday, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina had amassed a substantial lead over Kerry. But Edwards withdrew last week after a dismal showing coast to coast.

Texas had to delay the primary by one week because of the protracted battle in the Legislature over congressional redistricting. The state's Republican leadership pushed redistricting through in an effort to break the Democrats' long-held control over the congressional delegation.

Redistricting helped fuel one heated battle in Fort Worth. Five-term Democratic state Rep. Glenn Lewis of District 95 is being challenged by Fort Worth resident Marc Veasey, a former aide to U.S. Rep. Martin Frost. Veasey has accused Lewis of being too cozy with GOP leaders and not doing enough to block redistricting.

Lewis calls himself a strong Democrat whose ability to work across party lines is "a plus" for his constituents.

In the newly drawn District 17 south of Tarrant County, state Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth of Burleson is battling former Waco school board President Dot Snyder and retired Army Col. Dave McIntyre in the Republican primary.

The winner will face incumbent Demo- crat Chet Edwards of Waco, but the district was drawn to the Republicans' advantage.

In the new GOP-dominated District 24 that straddles Tarrant and Dallas counties and bleeds into southeast Denton County, state Rep. Kenny Marchant of Coppell is considered the favorite in the race against Bill Dunn, a Tarrant County real estate developer and former Euless councilman; Cynthia Newman, a business consultant from Carrollton; and Terry Waldrum, an Irving councilman and small-business owner.

The winner will face Democrat Gary Page of Dallas in the general election on Nov. 2.

Several newly drawn congressional districts in East Texas, where Democrats have dominated for decades, are offering fresh opportunities for Republicans. And with opportunity comes competition.

Six Republicans are vying to take on Democratic incumbent Max Sandlin of Marshall in District 1. In District 2, Democratic Rep. Nick Lampson of Beaumont is also being chased by six GOP hopefuls.

The new congressional lines have also fostered rivalries in the Democrats' camp. U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Austin is being challenged by former state District Judge Leticia Hinojosa for the right to represent a newly drawn district that stretches from the state Capitol to the Rio Grande.

In the GOP primary for the railroad commission, incumbent Victor Carrillo faces three challengers: rancher and oilman Douglas Deffenbaugh of San Antonio, retired state employee Robert Butler of Palestine and retired engineer K. Dale Henry of Mullin.

Carrillo, who was appointed by Gov. Rick Perry to fill an unexpired term, has the backing of the GOP establishment. The winner of the primary faces Democrat Bob Scarborough of Fort Worth in November.

In the race for Place 5 on the Texas Supreme Court, Perry is backing challenger Paul Green, a justice on the state's 4th Court of Appeals in San Antonio, over incumbent Steven Wayne Smith of Austin.

Three Republicans on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals are facing primary challenges. Judge Larry Meyers of Fort Worth faces lawyer Guy James Gray of Jasper in Place 2; Judge Cheryl Johnson of Austin faces Dallas County Assistant District Attorney Patricia Noble; and Judge Michael Keasler of Austin faces Boerne lawyer Steven Porter.