Supreme Court rejects Democrats' appeal of new district boundaries

By Guillermo X. Garcia
Published January 17th 2004 in San Antonio Express-News
A record number of Texas Republicans filed for Congress by Friday's deadline, which came hours after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an emergency appeal by Democrats seeking to prevent the state from using new district boundaries.

The ruling buoyed Republicans mindful of their goal of wresting control of the last Democratic power base in Texas. But six of the seven Democrats they had targeted for defeat filed for re-election in districts made risky by last year's GOP-led redrawing of their boundaries.

Four Republicans, including three from the San Antonio area, lined up in hopes of taking on incumbent U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, in District 28.

U.S. Rep. Charlie Gonzalez has a Republican challenger, Roger Allen Scott , 29, who works in marketing and business development. Gonzalez's ex-wife, Becky Whetstone, has announced her intention to run as an independent for the District 20 seat.

For the newly created District 25, which stretches from Austin to Hidalgo County, former Public Utility Commission Chairwoman Rebecca Armendariz Klein of Austin filed at the last minute against a fellow Republican and two Democrats already in the race.

A San Antonio native and Gulf War I veteran, she immediately drew a heavyweight backer: Gov. Rick Perry, who said, "I look forward to hitting the campaign trail on her behalf."

Friday's deadline had been extended by a week after a three-judge federal panel upheld the Republican redistricting effort. The GOP plan was designed to give the party a 2-to-1 advantage in the Texas delegation to the U.S. House.

Democrats still can appeal on the merits of their claim that the map is unconstitutional and violates the federal Voting Rights Act. The court rejected only the emergency request to block it from taking effect.

Gerry Hebert, an attorney representing Texas congressional Democrats, said an appeal would be filed, but that the court is unlikely to act on it before the November general election.

"I still remain confident that justice will prevail," Hebert said. "It just didn't today."

The reconfigured District 28 held by Rodriguez covers Eastern and Southern Bexar County and Guadalupe, Wilson and Atascosa counties. It also extends south to part of Webb and all of Zapata County.

Although considered a safe Democratic district where voting-age Hispanics and African Americans outnumber Anglos of voting age by more than 2-to-1, four Republicans filed to run.

They include Gabriel "Gabe" Perales, a retired federal administrative law judge who was the GOP nominee Rodriguez defeated in 2002.

He's joined by Chris Bellamy, a Helotes aerospace businessman; James Hopson, a CPA and tax attorney from Seguin; and Laredo attorney-banker Francisco "Quico" Canseco.

Rodriguez, seeking a fourth term, faces an opponent in the Democratic primary ó Henry Cuellar of Laredo, a former Texas secretary of state Rodriguez backed in 2002 when Cuellar narrowly lost to U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio.

Bonilla's sprawling District 23 extends from the Northwest Side southwest to Webb County and northwest to the outskirts of El Paso.

He had considerable help from GOP mapmakers last year who removed nearly 100,000 Hispanic Webb County voters, who generally support Democrats, and replaced them with predominantly Anglo Republican voters in Kerr, Kendall and Bandera counties.

Two Democrats filed for the right to challenge Bonilla anyway: San Antonio professor Joe Sullivan and Boerne attorney Virgil Yanta.

Of the seven Anglo Democratic incumbents Republicans targeted for elimination by redistricting, six are running in newly drawn districts: Martin Frost of Dallas, Chris Bell of Houston, Chet Edwards of Waco, Lloyd Doggett of Austin, Nick Lampson of Beaumont and Charlie Stenholm of Stamford.

U.S. Rep. Jim Turner, D-Crockett, declined to run for re-election.

Doggett decided to run in the new District 25, and he faces former State District Judge Leticia Hinojosa of McAllen in the Democratic primary.

Former PUC Chairwoman Klein will face Regner Capener of Mission in the GOP primary.

Frost, a 12-term Dallas Democrat, is unopposed in the Democratic primary and will face three-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, who also has no primary opponent in a heavily Republican district.

Waco's Edwards will face Arlene Wohlgemuth, R-Burleson, in November. She resigned her seat in the Texas House to run in District 17, which GOP mapmakers have acknowledged was tailored for her.

The districts were approved by the GOP-controlled Legislature after months of emotional, partisan politics highlighted by two out-of-state walkouts by Democrats and three special sessions.

The GOP says it hopes the redrawn state lines will yield at least six new Republican seats in Congress.

State Republican leaders were pushed by U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, to redraw the state's congressional districts so they could capture up to 22 of Texas' 32 congressional seats.

Before U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall of Rockwall switched to the Republican Party, Democrats held a 17-15 edge.

DeLay and others said the new boundary lines were needed to reflect the state's growing Republican tendencies.