Texas redistricting challenge goes to court today; Texans in poll split on special sessions, opposed to remap fight

By Wayne Slater and George Kuempel
Published December 11th 2003 in Dallas Morning News
AUSTIN ñ House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, surrounded by a battery of aides, fled a political fund-raiser Wednesday and eluded reporters seeking to question him on the eve of the federal trial on congressional redistricting.

With a security aide blocking reporters, the congressman scurried down a narrow stairway and escaped in a waiting car.

Mr. DeLay was in Austin to collect campaign contributions at a noon luncheon hosted by lobbyists.

Reporters had wanted to ask the GOP leader about his role in the months-long legislative battle to redraw congressional boundaries to increase the number of Republican seats from Texas in Congress.

A new Texas Poll published Wednesday indicates that most voters believe that the protracted redistricting effort, in which lawmakers were called back for three special sessions, was a waste of time and money.

A three-judge panel will preside over a trial that begins Thursday in federal court on a lawsuit challenging the redistricting map.

Democrats assert that the new boundaries, drawn to add an additional seven Republican seats among the state's 32-member delegation, would diminish the voting rights of minorities.

Republicans maintain that the new map more fairly represents statewide GOP voting trends.

Texas Democrats released documents Wednesday, including portions of a deposition by a top DeLay aide, that they say show that the redistricting effort was orchestrated by high-ranking Republicans in Washington.

"Tom DeLay and national Republican interests were aware their plan could violate the Voting Rights Act, but they knowingly cast aside concerns about minority rights, along with concerns of legislators, to pursue their maximum partisan agenda," said Rep. Richard Raymond, D-Laredo.

Quoting from memo

Gerry Hebert, an attorney representing Democrats, said the documents suggest that Mr. Delay and national Republican Party interests effectively overruled Republican legislators and pressed for a map to defeat key Democrat incumbents ñ including Rep. Martin Frost of Dallas, Lloyd Doggett of Austin and Chet Edwards of Waco ñ even at the risk of being struck down as unfair to minority interests.

"We must stress that a map that returns Frost, Edwards and Doggett is unacceptable and now worth all of the time invested into this project," according to a memo to Mr. DeLay.

In a motion asking the court for permission to introduce into evidence the memos, e-mails and deposition of GOP aide Jim Ellis, the Democrats' lawyers contend that the documents "show that Tom DeLay, acting through Mr. Ellis, was clearly in control of and ultimately responsible for the plan passed by the Texas Legislature."

Andy Taylor, the lead lawyer defending the plan, declined to comment on the Democrats' new charges.

Faced with stalling tactics by Democrat lawmakers who fled the state to deny a quorum, Gov. Rick Perry repeatedly called the Legislature back into special sessions until it adopted a new congressional map.

According to a new poll, Texans are divided over Mr. Perry's decision to call back-to-back special sessions. Voters overwhelmingly consider the exercise a waste of time and money, the survey indicates.

Waste of time

The Texas Poll found that 48 percent of those surveyed supported the governor's decision to call three special sessions, and 42 percent opposed it.

Asked whether the resulting plan was merited, 26 percent said lawmakers needed to redraw the lines while 62 percent called the effort a waste of time and money.

The telephone survey of 1,000 Texans selected at random was conducted Nov. 14-Dec. 6. The margin of error was 3 percentage points, meaning the results of any answer could vary by that much in either direction.

Mr. Perry dismissed the poll results and defended his stewardship as governor.

"Are these tough situations, are these tough issues that you address? And do you make some people uncomfortable and unhappy?" asked Mr. Perry. "Probably so."

He added, "I have a very good idea that about a year from now, no one except political partisans are even going to remember redistricting