Redistricting has history of shake-ups

By Dave McNeely
Published October 16th 2003 in Austin American-Statesman

Redistricting, like term limits, can create candidates for other offices.

The map for the Texas Senate drawn by the GOP-dominated Legislative Redistricting Board in 2001 targeted Democratic Sens. David Bernsen of Beaumont and Mike Moncrief of Fort Worth. Rather than face unlikely re-election, Bernsen ran for land commissioner, and Moncrief sought the Fort Worth mayor's post.

Bernsen lost, but folks now call Moncrief "Your Honor."

It may happen again in 2004 if the U.S. Department of Justice and federal courts uphold the new congressional map drawn by Republican legislators.

The redistricters, led by U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, make it clear they want to replace white Texas Democrats with either Republicans or minority Democrats. So some Texas congressmen may run for something else ó such as the Texas Senate, where several previously served.

The most famous Texas candidate created by redistricting was Jim Mattox. He was a three-term Democratic congressman from Dallas in 1981 when then-Gov. Bill Clements said he'd veto any congressional redistricting that didn't create a black district in Dallas.

Like fellow Republicans are saying these days, Clements said he wanted to give minorities more representation. But the true goal was to kill off Mattox and another Democrat from an adjacent district, Martin Frost, by lumping their black populations in one district.

That most likely would have elected a black Democrat. But then-state Rep. Craig Washington, an African American from Houston, said he'd rather have two like-minded white Democrats than a black Democrat whose vote would be canceled by a Republican.

Clements ó whose advisers included Karl Rove ó stuck to his guns, and the Legislature went along. So Mattox ran for attorney general. (Ironically, Frost won re-election, and Republicans again have him targeted for political assassination.)

A federal court later undid the Dallas-area redistricting, restoring Mattox's seat. But Mattox felt he was too far along in the attorney general's race. He won and spent eight years in the job.

In 1981, then-state Rep. Dan Kubiak, D-Rockdale, and then-Sen. Mike Richards, R-Houston, lost their districts. Kubiak lost a 1982 bid for the Democratic nomination for land commissioner. Richards was the Republican nominee for comptroller but lost to incumbent Bob Bullock.

This year, two Republican senators who voted for the congressional redistricting plan, Todd Staples of Palestine and Kip Averitt of McGregor near Waco may have called in the guns on their own position.

It would be poetic justice if U.S. Rep. Jim Turner, D-Crockett, came back to run against Staples (Turner would have to move his residence) and U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards went home to Waco to take on Averitt.

And the biggest potential irony: Should Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle retire, Austin U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett could seek the job. The Travis County D.A. is the chief enforcer of many laws that govern Capitol officials ó including legislators.