Texas Redistricting
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Redistricting fight influences District 95 race

By Jack Douglas Jr.
Published March 3rd 2004 in Star-Telegram
The Democratic primary race for state House District 95 first began to shape up during the early-morning hours of May 12, 2003, when 51 Democratic lawmakers fled Texas for Ardmore, Okla.

Missing from the pack was Rep. Glenn Lewis, D-Fort Worth, who said he was not invited on the midnight run because he had questioned plans to boycott the Republican effort to redraw Texas' congressional boundaries.

Lewis said he ultimately supported Democrats' boycott. Some within the party, however, are not so sure.

Marc Veasey, a sportswriter-turned-politician who most recently worked for Democratic U.S. Rep. Martin Frost of Arlington, is seeking to unseat the nine-year incumbent in the March 9 primary.

And as the campaign heats up, the Democratic Party credentials of both candidates are being questioned. No Republican has filed for the seat.

Veasey has accused Lewis of not fighting redistricting hard enough, saying he was too cozy with House Speaker Tom Craddick, a Republican who helped lead the realignment efforts.

"District 95 is a Democratic district, and folks in that district have Democratic values," Veasey said. "Glenn's actions and the votes that he's cast do not reflect those values."

Lewis counters that Veasey is trying to exploit the clash between Democrats and Republicans.

He said his relationship with Craddick is bipartisan, meant to bridge political differences so that laws can be drawn to help Texans -- no matter who had the idea first.

Lewis described himself as a strong Democrat but also a "practical person," and said his ability to work with the GOP leadership is "a plus" for his constituents.

Veasey's voting record, meanwhile, has been called into question. Veasey said he opted to vote in 1996 in the Republican and not the Democratic primary, saying he crossed party lines to cast a "protest vote" against then-U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm.

"Glenn Lewis," he added, "wouldn't know what a protest vote is, because he dosen't know how to stand up and fight."

Lewis dismissed Veasey's reasoning and said he had a better way of voicing his displeasure.

"When I wanted to vote against Phil Gramm, I voted for his Democratic opponent," he said.

Each candidate has won key endorsements.

Lewis has been endorsed by state and local police organizations, including the Fort Worth Police Officers Association and the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas. He said he also has the backing of top local religious leaders.

Veasey has won endorsements from local labor groups and teachers' associations, including the Tarrant County Central Labor Council and the Texas State Teachers Association.

Among Veasey's backers is Charles Soechting, the new chairman of the Texas Democratic Party, who said he gave his endorsement to Veasey because of Lewis' working relationship with Craddick and other Republican leaders in Austin.

"Glenn Lewis decided to be on the speaker's team, and the Democratic Party is not on the speaker's team," Soechting said. He said he believes Lewis is more interested in advancing his political clout in Austin than in protecting the needs of his constituents.

Lewis angrily denied the assessment.

"That is an absolute lie," Lewis said. "I am surprised that a person in a responsible position, such as the chairman of the Texas Democratic Party, would make such false misrepresentations that could so easily be refuted by the record."

With redistricting, for example, Lewis said he showed just as much opposition by staying away from the State Capitol as did his Democratic colleagues who went to Oklahoma.

"Does it really make any difference whether I did it in Ardmore, Okla., or I did it by being holed up in a hotel in east Austin?" he said.

Veasey and Lewis are also at odds when it comes to school vouchers.

Veasey says Lewis favors a plan that would benefit rich students and siphon money away from cash-strapped public schools.

He has sent a political mailer to District 95 residents -- many of whom cannot afford to send their children to private schools -- questioning Lewis' position.

The mailer features a photo of Lewis and a chalkboard on which someone has written repeatedly, "I will not steal money from our children's public schools."

Countered Lewis: "Obviously some people will say anything, no matter whether it's true or not, in order to try and win a race."

Lewis said he would favor a voucher system only if it included needy students and required private schools to accept the vouchers as full payment.

Lewis said the Texas Legislature should take the political rhetoric out of the school voucher discussions and pursue a "scholarly approach" that would put poor students on a level playing field with rich kids.

"People who have money already have that choice," he said. "Why is it fair that poor people can't also have that choice?"