Houston Chronicle: "High
court deals blow to Hispanics." June 18, 2002
The U.S. Supreme Court closed the door Monday on challenges to Texas' redistricting plans, rejecting arguments that Hispanics were illegally shut out of the state's two new congressional districts. The decision, which also affirmed state legislative boundaries, resolved the last court cases arising from the state's 2001 redistricting.
The ruling is good news for incumbent congressional Democrats and for Republicans who likely will pick up Texas' two new seats. It is bad news for the Democrats, who probably will lose their majority in the state House, and for Texas Hispanics, who had hoped their rising population numbers in the last census would help them put more Latinos in office.
"We're incredibly disappointed," said Nina Perales, staff attorney with the San Antonio office of the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a Hispanic advocacy law firm that sued over the new boundaries. "This was the only way that Latino population growth was going to translate into increased political influence. ... The courts have thwarted that effort."
Attorney General John Cornyn and Houston lawyer Andy Taylor, who represented the state in the cases, declined to comment.
The U.S. Constitution requires political boundaries to be redrawn every 10 years to reflect changes in population recorded in the census. In Texas and elsewhere, the redistricting following the 2000 census sparked numerous legal challenges.
The Texas cases were among the first to reach the Supreme Court, which affirmed the state's redistricting without hearing arguments and without commenting on its reasons.
Hispanic population in Texas increased by 2.3 million between 1990 and 2000, accounting for 60 percent of the state's population growth. The state gained two new congressional seats, bringing the delegation to 32, because of its increased population.
The Texas Legislature is charged with drawing districts for Texas congressional representatives, the state House and Senate and the state Board of Education.
But lawmakers couldn't agree on plans in last year's session.
State House and Senate redistricting then fell to the Legislative Redistricting Board, a GOP-dominated panel of five top state officials. Congressional redistricting went straight to a three-judge federal panel made up of 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Patrick Higginbotham of Dallas, a Republican, and U.S. District Judges John T. Ward and John Hannah Jr., both Tyler Democrats.
The federal judges approved congressional and state legislative plans last November after making changes to fix four Hispanic districts for the Texas House after the U.S. Justice Department said the districts violated federal Voting Rights Act protections. The result of the redistricting was a dramatic shift in legislative power from the Democrats to the Republicans.
The districts will take effect next year, with representatives selected in the November general election.
The court's map retained Harris County's 25 state House districts, but made it harder for Democratic Houston Reps. Fred Bosse, Scott Hochberg and Debra Danburg to win re-election in reconfigured districts. Bosse decided against running. Danburg faces Republican Martha Wong and Hochberg faces Republican Dionne Roberts in the November election.
The state Senate map did not dramatically affect Harris County representation, but it stretched Republican District 17 from Fort Bend County to the Louisiana line, causing Democratic District 4 to become Republican and angering many blacks in Beaumont and Port Arthur.
MALDEF and the state Mexican-American Legislative Caucus sued, arguing that in an effort to protect incumbents, the final plans unfairly packed a large number of South Texas Hispanics into the same number of districts rather than creating a new district there. The plans also split large Hispanic populations near Houston and Dallas, leaving the two new districts with suburban Anglo majorities that tend to favor Republican candidates.
But the state, led by Cornyn, urged the justices to reject those arguments, saying it would be a mistake to "equate the mere existence of political considerations in the districting process with purposeful or invidious discrimination."
"Such an approach would plunge the court in the `political thicket,' compelling the type of judicial second-guessing of state legislatures that the court has steadfastly rejected," Cornyn wrote in a filing to the high court.
J.D. Pauerstein, a San Antonio lawyer who represented the GOP, said Monday that Republicans are pleased with the court's decision.
"We were confident that the redistricting did not affect anyone's voting rights and that no one was improperly harmed by it," he said.
Texas Democratic Party Chairwoman Molly Beth Malcolm called the decision "a bittersweet victory."
"We're disappointed that they upheld the outrageous gerrymandering that Cornyn and the Republican redistricting committee foisted upon the Texas House and Senate, but we're pleased that they upheld the congressional plan drawn by fair judges," she said.
The Constitution requires congressional districts to be redrawn every 10 years based on population changes. Redistricting is necessary to ensure equal representation, but is often bittersweet for the members of Congress who lose constituents while gaining new ones.
The recent redistricting in Texas made changes to the 24th District, which I represent in Congress. I was very pleased to pick up new areas in Dallas and Tarrant Counties that I know very well. But I was disappointed that the wonderful people in Ellis and Navarro Counties, whom I have represented for the last 10 years, will not be in the 24th District in the next Congress.
The new 24th District will contain 202,064 new constituents, many of them living in Fort Worth and Arlington. I have already had the opportunity to meet a number of people active in these areas and am eager to meet many more.
I am very excited to represent all of these new areas, which contain many of the most distinctive neighborhoods, businesses, churches, and historical landmarks in the metroplex.
I represented North Arlington during my first four years in Congress (1979-1983) and I look forward to catching up with old friends there. And I am eager to meet with new constituents in wonderful Fort Worth neighborhoods such as Berkeley, Handley, Meadowbrook, Riverside, Ryan Place and Woodhaven. And on a personal note, I am very excited to represent my alma mater: Paschal High School.
The new 24th District also contains colorful landmarks like Carshon's Deli (where they make their own corned beef) and Justin Boot Company in Fort Worth, and River Legacy Park in Arlington. The district also contains historic places of worship like Travis Avenue Baptist Church, Brentwood Church of Christ, and Broadway Baptist Church. In addition, the 24th District will encompass Fort Worth's hospital district including All Saints Episcopal, Medical Plaza, Harris Methodist, and John Peter Smith.
For 23 years, I have been deeply honored to serve this region in Congress. In this time, my district has changed several times and so have my constituents. These changes have allowed me to represent an extremely wide cross-section of North Texas � from Irving to Corsicana � at different points in my tenure.
I've always believed the changes to the 24th District over the years have been a great asset and an opportunity for me. It has given me an appreciation for the diverse needs and concerns of people in different parts of the region, but it has also underscored how interconnected our North Texas communities are and how important it is that we work together.
While there are always disappointments when you lose constituents in redistricting, there are also new opportunities. So I look forward to meeting my new constituents and to representing them in Washington.
I'll also work to represent the shared concerns of our entire North Texas community, and will continue working with my local colleagues in Congress from both parties to deliver for the metroplex and for Texas.
U.S. Rep. Martin Frost, D-Dallas, represents parts of Arlington and Grand Prairie. For more information about redistricting, visit the Texas Legislature online, www.tlc.state.tx.us.
It's a revolution. Or to some, a long overdue evolution.
Whatever the label, the Texas Legislature is changing.
Legislative district maps have been redrawn to favor Republicans instead of Democrats. Powerful Democratic lawmakers are retiring. At last week's campaign filing deadline, a record number of GOP candidates signed up to run for the Texas House.
Although some turnover in the Texas House and Senate is normal, especially after the once-a-decade redistricting is done, this change could be historic. For the first time since Reconstruction, Democrats may become the minority party in the Legislature.
Already, the GOP holds all 27 statewide offices.
"With redistricting and the general conservative drift of the state in recent years, Republican majorities in both the House and Senate should not come as a surprise," said Bruce Buchanan, a government professor at the University of Texas at Austin.
Ballots for the March 12 primary will be missing the names of some 20 incumbents in the 150-member House who did not file for re-election. Several are committee chairmen and lieutenants to Democratic Speaker Pete Laney, who faces a challenge in his district from a Republican member of the State Board of Education.
Newcomers, many of them Republicans, are clamoring for open legislative seats. A record 185 Republicans are running for the Texas House, said party spokesman Ted Royer.
The GOP is aiming for 85 to 90 seats in the House, which Democrats currently hold 78-72. Republicans also hope to build on their 16-15 majority in the Senate.
"Texas Republicans are more confident than ever that 2002 will be the year that the GOP emerges as the true majority party at all levels of state government," said Susan Weddington, chairwoman of the Republican Party of Texas.
Not so fast, countered Texas Democratic Party chairwoman Molly Beth Malcolm.
"We're not conceding anything. We've still got people that are running in a lot of those seats," Malcolm said. "If we have the money necessary to get our message out, most people that I run across in this state really are more interested in who is the best person to get the message out."
And, Malcolm said, Democrats are confident they will win some statewide races.
Ed Martin, a veteran consultant for the Democrats, agreed.
"The Democrats were dealt a cruel hand in redistricting, but the party will still be very competitive in legislative races," Martin said.
When lawmakers return for the 2003 session, they could face a budget crisis minus leaders like Appropriations Chairman Rob Junell, a 14-year veteran Democrat in the House who is not seeking re-election.
Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander has warned there could be a $5 billion deficit next session. In the mean time, budget writers are dealing with rising Medicaid and other costs as the economy slows.
Revamping the state's complex tax laws and school finance system also are expected to be top issues that will have to be tackled without the guidance of House Education Chairman Paul Sadler, a Democrat from Henderson who also isn't running after a decade of service.
"Redistricting tends to bring new faces to the Legislature and 2003 will be no different," said Laney, who pointed out that 11 chairmen did not return after redistricting in 1991.
"A number of experienced lawmakers will not be back in the House next year, and they will be missed," he said. "But I'm confident that the new members who replace them will be just as dedicated and hardworking as they build their own records of achievement."
A new House speaker also could be at the helm.
Republicans are hoping to win a majority in the chamber and then oust Laney, who wants a record fifth term as speaker.
Rep. Tom Craddick of Midland is among the Republicans lining up for Laney's job.
Laney, a Hale Center cotton farmer first elected to the House in 1972, believes he can win another term as speaker even if Republicans control the chamber.
Malcolm, the Democratic chair, said Laney's experience should help him win in November against Judy Strickland, the Republican education board member seeking his House seat.
"The people of his area know the kind of statesman that he has been and also the kind of speaker that he has been," she said. "He has been a statesman. Not a party person, but a statesman, looking at what is the best thing for the state."
Buchanan, the government professor, said there are no guarantees in an election that has already had its share of surprises.
There will be new faces and some uncertainties, he said.
"One of them being will there be a continuation of the bipartisan tradition? That kind of depends on who wins the speakership and the governorship," he said.
With President Bush and his bipartisan mantra gone from Austin, and partisan redistricting fighting fresh in politicians' minds, some 2002 campaigns may become bitter.
Bush, who swooped into town Friday for the formal unveiling of his governor's portrait at the Capitol, gently reminded Republicans and Democrats about the Texas he likes to remember.
"From both parties we came into this building with one desire to do what's right for Texas," Bush said.
Flanked by Democrat Laney and Republican acting Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff, Bush called out names of Texas friends from both sides.
"Sometimes in politics friends are just a fleeting memory but that's not the case for us," Bush said. "You're either a friend, or you're not a friend, no matter what your politics are."
Dallas Morning News
Republicans were positioned to grab control of the Texas House for the first time since Reconstruction on Wednesday as the filing period closed for legislative candidates of both major parties.
Political experts are predicting that Republicans will capture a solid majority of seats in the 150-member House in the 2002 elections, mirroring the statewide GOP trends of the past several years.
As many as 85 to 90 seats could wind up in the Republican column. The current House has 78 Democrats and 72 Republicans.
The current Senate has 16 Republicans and 15 Democrats. Republicans hope to build on the majority they first won in 1996.
GOP strategists expect to pick up two to three seats, which would leave the chamber with 18 to 19 Republicans. Their cause will be aided by the departure of two incumbent Democrats, Mike Moncrief of Fort Worth and David Bernsen of Beaumont. Republicans are targeting both seats.
The bright GOP prospects in the Legislature are mainly the result of redistricting plans ordered by a three-judge federal panel last year that tilted several districts toward the GOP.
"With redistricting and the general conservative drift of the state in recent years, Republican majorities in both the House and Senate should not come as a surprise," said Bruce Buchanan, a government professor at the University of Texas in Austin.
GOP political consultant Royal Masset agreed.
"With so many strong Democrats deciding to retire, Republicans should have no trouble winning 86 to 88 seats," he said.
The final day of filing indicated that at least 20 House incumbents will not seek re-election.
A record 160 Republicans are running for the House this year.
A big question mark is who will be chosen speaker by the House that takes office in January 2003.
Democrat Pete Laney of Hale Center, a five-term speaker, said he wants a record sixth term. But he could have difficulty retaining the office if the Republicans win a substantial majority of House seats.
"I don't think speaker of the House is a slam dunk for the Republicans yet because of loyalty of many members to Laney," Dr. Buchanan said. But if GOP gains are sizable, it would be hard to deny the influential post to a Republican, he and other experts said.
Mr. Laney appeared to be unworried. "Redistricting tends to bring new faces to the Legislature, and 2003 will be no different," he said.
Before running again for speaker, Mr. Laney will have to defeat a challenger to his legislative seat. He faces Republican Judy Strickland, a State Board of Education member from Plainview.
Veteran Democratic political consultant Ed Martin said that in spite of the pro-Republican redistricting plans, the Democrats could still wind up with nearly a majority � which would allow Mr. Laney to remain speaker.
"The Democrats were dealt a cruel hand in redistricting, but the party will still be very competitive in legislative races," he said. "There is potential for increased Democratic turnout this year."
Among the leading Democrats not running for re-election are House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rob Junell of San Angelo and House Education Committee Chairman Paul Sadler of Henderson. At least five other Democratic chairmen also are stepping down.
At least five Senate districts will have new officeholders. Besides Mr. Bernsen and Mr. Moncrief, Democrat Carlos Truan of Corpus Christi and Republicans J.E. "Buster" Brown of Lake Jackson and David Sibley of Waco decided to give up their seats.
The 2002 Texas congressional elections promise to offer as many subplots as a soap opera.
Candidates statewide filed Wednesday to run in their respective party primaries on March 12.
Texas has more seats � 32 � than ever, thanks to the once-a-decade redrawing of congressional districts to account for population changes. But neither of the state's two new seats looks set to elect a Hispanic, angering groups that represent the fastest-growing population in Texas.
The Dallas area boasts three open seats. The sons of two Republican incumbents are trying to follow their fathers' footsteps into Congress. And the outcome of the state's 32 races could play a role in whether the GOP keeps control of the House.
What's more, voter turnout may be higher this year because of concerns over the slumping economy and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, said political scientist Allan Saxe of the University of Texas at Arlington. Fewer than one in three registered voters came to the polls in 1998, the last year there was a congressional election without a presidential race on the ballot.
"I think the apathy may have been dislodged a little bit by Sept. 11," said Dr. Saxe, "and if the economy worsens, I think the apathy will be even more jarred."
The Texas congressional map unveiled this fall triggered considerable political jockeying in the Dallas area.
One of the state's new two districts is in heavily Republican territory in northern Dallas County. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, tired of driving hundreds of miles on the weekends to see constituents in his sprawling 5th District, announced that he would jump to the new, more compact 32nd District.
Mr. Sessions faces party opposition from Dallas businessman Danny Davis. The winner of the Republican primary will meet either Pauline Dixon, a retired schoolteacher, or Walter Hofheinz, a Dallas lawyer, in the general election.
The Democrats said they were eager to run.
"There needs to be more courage and compassion in Congress," Mr. Hofheinz said.
Ms. Dixon said: "Pete Sessions should not get a free ride. This is more my district than his district."
Mr. Davis could not be reached for comment.
In Mr. Sessions' former district, Republicans Jeb Hensarling, businessman Mike Armour, Dallas lawyer Dan Hagood, computer analyst Fred Wood, and lawyer Phil Sudan are running. Democrats are putting their hopes on former Dallas County Appellate Judge Ron Chapman; Wayne Gordon Raasch, who does contract work with the Texas Department of Corrections; and Dallas County precinct chairman Bill Bernstein.
A third North Texas seat opened up last month when House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Flower Mound, announced that he would retire after nine terms in January 2003. His son, Denton County Judge Scott Armey, 32, announced Tuesday that he will seek to succeed his father in the 26th District, but six other Republicans and one Democrat want the same thing.
Keith Self, a retired army officer from McKinney; Michael Paris, a consultant from Irving; Roger Sessions, a Roanoke physician; Dave Kovatch, a City Council member from The Colony; Michael Burgess, a Highland Village physician; and David Gulling, a pilot from Hickory Creek, will challenge Mr. Armey in the primary. The winner will face Democrat Paul LeBon of Highland Village.
Political science professor and political newcomer Tom Caiazzo of Plano will try to unseat U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson, who has represented the 3rd District since 1991. The winner will face McKinney human resources executive Manny Molera, a Democrat.
In the race for the 4th District, 11-term incumbent Ralph Hall, 78, of Rockwall will be unopposed in the Democratic primary. Two first-time candidates, Edward Conger of Rockwall and John Graves of Longview, are vying for the Republican nomination. Mr. Conger, 42, is a teacher, and Mr. Graves, 35, is a lawyer.
Brad Barton, 31, son of Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, is among eight Republicans running for the new 31st District seat in Central Texas. The district stretches from Round Rock to the Houston suburbs. The elder Mr. Barton, 52, is seeking a 10th term in the 6th District.
Former Secretary of State Henry Cuellar, a Democrat, will bid for the 23rd District seat held by Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio.
Although much of the campaigning hasn't started, some of the most intense partisan battles over the 2002 Texas congressional elections already have been fought � in court.
When state lawmakers could not agree on a congressional map, the job fell to the state and federal courts.
Democrats hold 17 congressional seats to the GOP's 13. Both parties took a keen interest in where the new districts would be and how existing districts would be affected.
After much legal wrangling, a three-judge federal panel issued a map that appears to protect incumbents. Although Republicans are favored to win the two new seats, analysts don't expect the shift in the balance of power in the congressional delegation that the GOP had forecast.
The map also displeased Hispanics, who accounted for 60 percent of the growth in Texas and make up one-third of the state's population.
A year after President-elect George W. Bush chose the Texas House of Representatives as the setting for his campaign victory speech � saying it embodied the bipartisanship he hoped to bring to fractious Washington � that chamber is awash in intrigue and infighting in the aftermath of political redistricting.
The hard feelings emerged last month after a panel of three federal judges approved a Republican-drafted legislative redistricting map that is expected to transfer control of the House to Republicans for the first time in more than a century.
Several prominent Democrats have since announced they would not seek re-election because they were either paired with other incumbent Democrats or pushed into unfamiliar districts.
"They were after maximizing the number of Republicans that can be elected," said Zeb Zbranek, an East Texas Democrat who is stepping down after being placed in the same district as two other Democratic incumbents. "It was purely political."
Meanwhile, even though the biennial Legislature will not convene again until January 2003, a furious behind-the-scenes political race is already under way among Republican lawmakers positioning themselves to be the next House speaker, the job currently held by a Democrat Pete Laney. It was Mr. Laney whom Mr. Bush held out as a symbol of bipartisanship and selected to introduce him for the nationally televised speech last December.
For now, Mr. Laney has said he will seek re-election in his district and run again for speaker when House members elect a new leader at the beginning of the 2003 session.
His chances to remain speaker are considered uncertain; the Democrats currently hold a 78-to-72 edge in the House, but Republicans believe they can win between 82 and 90 seats in the November general election. Still, Republican Party officials are mobilizing to make certain Mr. Laney cannot hold onto the top job.
Some Republican legislators, including some allies of Mr. Laney, have complained that party officials are demanding the sort of toe-the- line party loyalty more typical of Washington than Austin.
"My concern is that we'll be more like D.C., in that we'll divide the aisle," said Tommy Merritt, a Republican legislator from East Texas who is an ally of Mr. Laney. "And I think that is a very significant change in Texas."
Mr. Merritt angered many Republican officials at the end of this year's session when he introduced a redistricting plan that largely protected incumbents and created fewer new majority-Republican districts. It was voted down, but many Republicans have not forgotten. Though party officials are required to remain neutral in primaries, several Republican officials recently attended a fund- raiser for Mr. Merritt's Republican challenger.
The race for speaker, usually an internal matter decided by House members, is also apparently attracting considerable attention from Republicans outside the chamber. "It's quite different this time," said State Representative Brian McCall, one of the Republican candidates for speaker. "There is great interest, and apparently pressure, for some to heed what the outsiders are saying."
Political analysts have said that many prominent Republicans, including some influential contributors, are pressuring Republican members to unite behind Tom Craddick, the longest-serving Republican in the House, despite the other Republicans who have announced as candidates.
Legislators in both parties say Mr. Craddick has coveted the job for years, and some Democrats believe he would change the tenor of politics in the House.
"Clearly, if the speaker is Tom Craddick, we'll see partisanship in a major way," said State Representative Glen Maxey, a liberal Democrat who said he would not seek re-election after his district was changed to include two other Democratic incumbents.
Mr. Laney has adhered to the tradition of appointing members of both parties to committee chairmanships, something unimaginable in Washington. As such, he developed a loyal cadre of Republican and Democratic legislators.
Harvey Kronberg, editor of The Quorum Report, an online newsletter dedicated to Texas politics, said Mr. Craddick, should he become speaker, had also pledged to divide chairmanships and may even reach out to Democratic backbenchers shunned under Mr. Laney.
"The bipartisan nature of the House can still survive," Mr. Kronberg said. But he noted that Democrats were wary, particularly since Mr. Craddick has campaigned against incumbent Democrats in years past, considered a breach of etiquette.
"What will change is the trust level in the speaker," Mr. Kronberg added.
While governor, Mr. Bush often allied himself with Democratic legislators, a move that not only helped him pass his program but also burnished his reputation for bipartisanship.
Many partisan Republicans were incensed when Mr. Bush refused to campaign against Paul Sadler, the influential Democratic lawmaker who had helped Mr. Bush on education issues. Now, Mr. Sadler is one of the Democrats who has said he will not run for re-election.
Democratic legislators were not the only critics of the new redistricting boundaries, which were drafted by Republicans. Judge John H. Hannah Jr. of United States District Court, a Democratic appointee and a member of the panel that approved the plan, wrote that the boundaries were legal, if not necessarily fair.
"The dominant political party treated all members of the opposing party as if they were `enemies of the state' instead of respected state leaders, many with a great wealth of governmental knowledge and ability that has and could inure to the benefit of Texas," Judge Hannah wrote.
Susan Weddington, chairman of the Texas Republican Party, said the new redistricting map corrected what she characterized as "the excessive gerrymandering" from a decade ago that she said benefited Democrats.
As for the speaker's race, Ms. Weddington said the state party was neutral and denied that any pressure was being applied on behalf of Mr. Craddick. But she said grass-roots Republicans had a right to lobby legislators over who will become the next speaker.
"It's not about a private club electing their president," she said.
One prominent Republican intensely interested in the Texas House elections is United States Representative Tom DeLay, the majority whip.
Ms. Weddington said Mr. DeLay, who is seeking to become the majority leader in the House of Representatives, had helped form a political action committee to raise money for Republican legislative candidates in hopes of building a healthy majority in the Statehouse.
And one issue Mr. DeLay wants re- examined is Congressional redistricting.
Last month, the panel of federal judges approved a Congressional redistricting map that analysts contend will allow Democrats to maintain their advantage in the state's Congressional delegation. After the ruling, Mr. DeLay's aides said they would push to have the Texas Legislature reconsider the Congressional lines in 2003, when Republicans were expected to be in control.
State Rep. Delwin Jones, R-Lubbock, knew 40 years ago that leadership in redistricting would be key to preserving the political strength of rural Texas.
The 2001 House redistricting chairman has been a leader in the effort just about each time the Legislature has engaged in the menacing decennial process of reapportioning political seats.
This year's tug of war between rural and urban legislators has dwindled to a close, with three solidly rural West Texas seats preserved in the U.S. House, but several area state House members - including Jones and fellow West Texan, Rep. Gary Walker, R-Plains - pitted against each other.
Each of the four times the Texas Legislature has tackled redistricting, it's been followed by biting political rhetoric and hurt feelings.
But this year was especially rough. The difference this time, Jones said, was the close partisan splits, 78-72 favoring Democrats in the House, and 16-15 favoring the GOP in the Senate.
On the brink of a state House majority for the first time since the Civil War, the GOP's battle became personal.
"You don't draw districts for political parties, you draw what's best for the people - and the people have changed," Jones said.
Texans have shifted from Democrat to Republican, and as a result, more Republicans are in office, he said.
"There is the contention that because there are more Republicans than previously, then there was an 'entitlement' to draw districts designed to elect Republicans. I contended you've got to design them to represent the people of the districts," he said.
"It's this contention that has been the problem."
Jones, 77, said he knew a fierce battle was in the making, but he didn't expect it to be as powerfully divisive as it turned.
On the House floor May 7, 76 representatives voted for Jones' House plan. Of the 71 who voted "no," 28 of them got the districts they wanted, Jones said.
The day of the vote, a contingent of GOP women filled the House gallery to pressure members to remember their commitments to the party, Jones said.
"I was flattered that none of the Lubbock Republican women came in," he said.
As for whether he worries about rankling the GOP's rank and file, Jones said, "I try to focus on what my district would do if they had access to information to all the information that I have."
"I've always taken the position I'll meet with anybody and explain any vote I've made," he said.
That position has made him a steady hand for West Texas, said Lubbock's GOP chairman Marc McDougal.
Although Jones may not always agree with the person sitting next to him, he has an open door policy, McDougal said.
Redistricting in its infancy
In the 1960s, Jones saw the early signs of districts in West Texas changing, and he wanted to make sure the integrity of agriculture areas was protected.
He made no secret of his interest in chairing the House committee. In 1969, he told those running for House speaker that he wanted the seat.
"I wanted to look after rural Texas," he said.
Jones supported the opposition to former Rep. Gus Mutscher, a Democrat from Brenham, and he announced his choice.
But during the interim, only Mutscher was left. Jones told him he had the job - and Jones wouldn't ask for any special committee assignments.
"I told him I knew I supported the wrong guy," Jones said.
Mutscher made Jones chairman of the agriculture committee - unheard of for a member who'd opposed a new speaker - and when redistricting reared its ugly head, Mutscher gave Jones that chairmanship, too.
"It was the fair thing to do," said the former speaker, who was later dethroned by a banking scandal.
"Delwin is an individual and a likable person - I could work with those attributes," Mutscher said recently. "That's going a long way in meeting the test (of appointing a chairman), anyway."
"Delwin liked to work, and he liked to talk issues - another trait I found very appealing - despite the fact he may have started off on the wrong side."
Leading the 1970s redistricting, Jones just had to meet the one man, one vote requirements. But several counties were split, and the maps went to the Legislative Redistricting Board.
In the process, Jones had drawn a congressional district for the first black woman elected to the Texas Senate, Barbara Jordan, who won the piece of Jones' cartography in 1972 in the U.S. House of Representatives.
"That created some wrath - some people were not happy," he said.
As a result, the Legislative Redistricting Board drew a district for Jones's seat that stretched almost to Amarillo but included a tentacle that included Jones' house and two voting precincts.
"I have, for some reason, been in conflict with the chairmen of the LRB," Jones said, referring to both the 1970s and the 2001 plans from Attorney General John Cornyn.
Former state Rep. Ralph Wayne Jr. was planning to retire from the Legislature, and he convinced young Pete Laney, a staffer and Democrat farmer from Hale Center, to get in the race.
Laney and Jones were both Democrats vying for the same new seat. They carried out likely one of the most congenial primaries in the state.
It was 1972, a time in West Texas where campaigning was done at pie-suppers and hog shows - "anywhere you could find 100 people" - and Laney and Jones became fast friends.
Three decades and one's party switch later, the two are still tight.
"Delwin is much more than a political colleague to me," Laney said. "He has been a close, trusted friend for more than 30 years. He's a straight-talker, has a devilish sense of humor, and is one of the most honest people I've ever met."
During a radio interview in the midst of their primary campaign, a reporter asked Jones what kind of guy is Laney.
"I said, 'Well, I could explain it best by saying that if I were not in the race, I would support him because he's a good guy,"' Jones said.
The Jones' camp just about came unglued, he said.
Laney won the race, and 1972 - the year 77 other legislators left the House - showed Jones the power of redistricting.
Lubbock attorney Harvey Morton had just moved to the city when he met Jones at a junior bar meeting, shortly after that defeat.
Jones was speaking to the young lawyers, and the impression of his love for lawmaking was evident, Morton said.
"It was obvious he enjoyed public service, enjoyed being in the Legislature and it came across very strong," Morton said.
For the early 1980s, Jones was officially out of the process. He worked behind the scenes for rural Texas in that decade's redistricting battle, but he was out of step with the national Democrats' focus, he said.
"I saw the change that was occurring. I was categorized as a renegade Democrat because I didn't endorse the liberal national policies," he said.
"My philosophy more closely fit with the Republicans, which is conservative, business-oriented."
Jones' 1986 decision to join the GOP was the only decision he's ever made that's disappointed Morton, who had served as a Democrat party chairman in Lubbock.
"The climate up here had changed so drastically, it was really difficult to get elected without identifying with the Republican Party," Morton said. "Delwin is someone with a great desire for public service, so he made the decision he probably had to."
However, Morton said, Jones has never let party affiliation get in the way of being a good rural West Texas representative.
"He's just always done what's necessary to take care of this part of the state," Morton said.
When Jones returned to the Legislature in 1988, he told then-Speaker Gib Lewis he wanted to be on the redistricting committee.
In 1989, Lewis made Jones the vice-chairman of the committee.
"I'm the first freshman vice-chairman of a committee," he said.
The 1991 redistricting process was fierce. Democrats were trying to protect their base, and as a result, the city of Amarillo and Lubbock County were split.
Jones attempted three compromise congressional maps that didn't divide Amarillo. But Democrats in power wanted to preserve a Democrat seat.
The battle waged on for years. In a last ditch effort to keep the case out of a multimillion dollar court debate, Jones traveled to Houston to meet with the financier of the case.
He worked out a settlement, he said, and was named Outstanding Legislator of the Session by both the Texas House and Senate for his efforts.
That ability to work out a compromise against the odds is one of Jones's strongest characteristics as a lawmaker, said Jane Anne Stinnett, a longtime Texas Republican.
"He's very good at working with everybody, getting them to compromise and be on the same page," Stinnett said.
"He is one of the best politicians - he knows how the Legislature works and he works it very well."
Quelling the divisiveness of this redistricting year has taken a major effort from Jones, Stinnett said.
Maintaining three strong western rural districts in Congress was important to this part of the state, Stinnett said.
"He works not only with Republicans, he works with everybody," she said.
The early years
Just out of the Air Force in 1945 - where he'd been on his way to Japan as a navigator when word of the Great War's end aired on the radio - Jones returned to West Texas and farming.
He rented a farm to produce cotton and grain sorghum, and decided to go to college.
He continued farming, taking classes at Texas Tech and working part-time at a service station.
He pumped gas for former Gov. Preston Smith, when the Lubbock politician was first running for a seat in the Legislature.
Farming in West Texas wasn't without its difficulties in the 1960s.
A pivotal debate was whether landowners had rights to the water beneath the surface.
A New Mexico case proved the ownership, Jones said, and he trekked back and forth to Austin, carrying the flag for farmers.
"Almost everybody in the Legislature was a lawyer, and I told some guys one day, 'Any fool can do better than a bunch of lawyers,' and so they suggested I run for office," Jones said.
His first foray into politics, Jones was a write-in candidate with 4,471 votes - the most signatures of any candidate up to that time.
But it wasn't enough.
"I didn't win," he said.
The next election, Jones made his way onto the ballot. But he lost that election, too.
The third attempt proved successful, and in 1964, Jones went to Austin as a lawmaker.
"I have been noted for being tenacious - that's a kind way of saying bull-headed and stubborn," Jones said.
Jones ran as a Democrat - that's all there were then. No Republicans would win a seat in the House until 1967.
The lawmaker was as concerned about rural Texas in his early legislative days as he is now, said Ben Barnes, former speaker of the house and lieutenant governor.
"When Delwin first came to the Legislature, he was a farmer and he prided himself on knowing a lot about agriculture," Barnes said.
Jones came with a long legislative agenda for the region and Texas Tech, Barnes said.
Jones pressed for Tech's law school, medical school and a bevy of agriculture bills.
"Delwin is a unique individual, and I think the fact he's served this long in the Legislature - that's a long time to serve and not get public service fatigue," Barnes said.
Much of the work earned Jones the title of "Man of the Year in Agriculture" by Progressive Farmer Magazine - the first time a lawmaker won the title.
Protecting rural and agriculture interests is what drove Jones to the Capitol, he said.
"I'm the only one in the family that's ever been political," Jones said. "I'm not sure my dad ever voted until after I got elected."
Jones' GOP ally in Lubbock, Stinnett, said folks often ask when Jones will retire from the Legislature and take a break from lawmaking.
"We say, 'When he's in a pine box,'" Stinnett said.
Rep. Clyde Alexander seemed philosophical as he chewed a cigar Tuesday in his Capitol office.
"I've had a good 13 years, and I've got a lot to do," said Alexander, 54, D-Athens. "I'm going to get on with the rest of my life, and I might as well get started."
The chairman of the House Transportation Committee says he decided to spend more time with his family. The decision was helped along by a House redistricting map imposed by three Republicans on the Legislative Redistricting Board that puts him in a Republican-leaning district with Rep. Betty Brown, R-Terrell.
Several of Democratic House Speaker Pete Laney's key team members have decided not to seek re-election since a three-judge federal court on Nov. 28 approved the board's plan with only slight changes.
Others quitting -- so far -- are Appropriations Chairman Rob Junell, D-San Angelo; Public Education Chairman Paul Sadler, D-Henderson; Civil Practices Chairman Fred Bosse, D-Houston; County Affairs Chairman Tom Ramsay, D-Mount Vernon; Public Health Chairwoman Patricia Gray, D-Galveston; and Transportation Vice Chairwoman Judy Hawley, D-Portland.
The board put all but Junell, who is in line for a federal judgeship, into districts with other incumbents. Several other Laney team members were paired with other legislators. Although some -- such as Public Safety Chairman Bob Turner, D-Voss, who's paired with Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville -- plan to seek re-election, others, such as Pensions and Investments Chairman Dale Tillery, D-Dallas, might retire.
The two board members who are legislators -- Laney and Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff -- voted against the board's plans.
The Democrats are convinced that the three Republican statewide officials who rammed the plan through -- Attorney General John Cornyn, Land Commissioner David Dewhurst and Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander -- were targeting Laney and his key lieutenants.
The only one of the three federal judges who served in the Texas Legislature said as much in a stinging postscript to the court's order.
"I write separately to express my shock at the drawing of districts by the State of Texas," Judge John Hannah Jr. wrote. "The dominant political party treated all members of the opposing party as if they were `enemies of the State' instead of respected state leaders, many with a great wealth of governmental knowledge and ability that has and could inure to the benefit of Texas."
Hannah said he voted to uphold the board's "distasteful" maps only because it wasn't proved that federal law had been violated.
The judges had provided a stark contrast to the Cornyn-led approach on the House and Senate maps in the congressional map drawn by the court, which sought to preserve incumbent congressmen.
(The redistricting board handles only legislative redistricting when the Legislature fails to do so. Congressional redistricting is left to the courts if the Legislature fails to act.)
The LRB Three gave Laney just two of his 12 counties and 14 new ones. Laney says he'll run for re-election anyway.
Whether he and the Democrats can scale the steep slope created by Cornyn & Co. will be one of the most interesting questions in the 2002 elections.
You may contact Dave McNeely at [email protected] or 445-3644.
Texas taxpayers are facing a $3 million-plus bill from private-sector lawyers involved in litigating the state's recently concluded redistricting battle.
The legal tab includes more than $1.4 million, plus about $75,000 in collateral expenses, billed to the attorney general's office; $904,747 charged to the lieutenant governor; and $687,878 to the speaker of the House, according to invoices obtained by the San Antonio Express-News.
All fees will be paid by Texas taxpayers.
The largest single expense, $750,053.14, came from the Houston firm of Locke Liddell & Sapp. Its lead redistricting lawyer, Andy Taylor, was until last spring Attorney General John Cornyn's first assistant.
He billed the state at $375 per hour.
Two Taylor associates, Jan Soifer and Brent Benoit, also formerly on the attorney general's staff, billed the state at $300 and $230 per hour, respectively.
Bob Heath and Steve Bickerstaff, two Austin lawyers hired by Cornyn, each billed the state at $250 an hour.
Rick Gray, House Speaker Pete Laney's lead attorney, and Leon Carter, acting Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff's, billed the state at $225 an hour.
The tab was defended as the price of doing the decennial business of redistricting by the state officials who hired the outside legal help.
"You don't have any alternative but to respond," Ratliff said, adding that he was named as a defendant in 18 redistricting lawsuits.
However, Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, chairman of the Senate Redistricting Committee, and Dan Morales, the attorney general during the last round of redistricting, in 1991, were highly critical of the expense.
Wentworth, who favors an independent commission to redraw political maps after each census, said redistricting dominates one of five legislative sessions.
"We can't afford that," he said. "There is a better way, one that does not squander the time of legislators and their staffs and the attorney general and his staff."
For Morales, who could face Cornyn next fall in the U.S. Senate race, the opportunity to criticize Cornyn's outside legal assistance was just desserts.
Cornyn has been critical of Morales' handling of the state's $17 billion tobacco settlement, which paid contingency fees of $3 billion to five private attorneys.
"We would not have allowed that," Morales said of the state's arrangement with Taylor. "It appears unseemly for a lawyer to leave state employment and immediately start to profit from a relationship with a state official."
Jeff Boyd, chief of Cornyn's civil litigation section, said the "standard criteria" Texas uses in hiring outside legal help is if the state lacks either the expertise or the resources to try the case itself.
In this case, Boyd said, Heath had the experience from past rounds of redistricting, and Taylor had handled all the AG's redistricting work before leaving the agency.
While he winced at the fees, Boyd said: "I think taxpayers clearly got their money's worth to guarantee the voting rights of 20 million Texans."
And, Boyd added: "The process begins with the Legislature, and they didn't get it done."
The Legislature failed to pass redistricting plans this year, and the House and Senate maps later were decided by the Legislative Redistricting Board, comprised of Cornyn, Ratliff, Laney, Land Commissioner David Dewhurst and Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander.
A federal court ultimately decided both congressional and State Board of Education plans � all of which had been the Legislature's responsibility.
Laney and Ratliff defended their legal expenses.
"The attorney general urged me to use his people," Ratliff said. "But I thought there were likely to be times when we (he and Cornyn) disagreed � and there were."
Laney said the legal bills "are merited because the stakes are so high."
"It involves nothing less than the distribution of legislative power to the people of Texas," Laney said. "Judicial review is necessary to ensure that the Constitution and the laws of Texas are followed."
Wentworth, lobbying for his independent commission, sees it a different way. He said the majority party "crams a partisan plan down the people's throats."
"That's the fundamental flaw," he said, concluding that 12 other states � among them Pennsylvania, Ohio and New Jersey � have chosen to take the issue and, theoretically, the legal expense away from their legislatures.
Bob Richter can be reached at [email protected].
The state has paid $2.7 million in legal fees for court fights over legislative and congressional redistricting, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in charges are pending, according to records examined by The Associated Press.
Included in the expenses were private attorneys' fees ranging from $200 to $575 per hour; expert witness testimony costing tens of thousands of dollars; and $375 color map enlargements used in court.
Those involved say the complex state and federal court cases are worthy endeavors.
"What is at stake is the voting rights of 21 million Texans and that's why this subject is so important. That's why it's so difficult. And that's why it's so contentious," said Republican Attorney General John Cornyn, whose office spent the most on legal costs.
Redistricting is the redrawing of voting boundaries based on new U.S. Census figures every 10 years. The resulting plans typically end up challenged in court.
This year, with political party control and minority voting rights on the line, 17 lawsuits were filed statewide, some even before the Legislature met to work on redistricting.
The AP examined billing records at Cornyn's office and those provided by House Speaker Pete Laney, D-Hale Center, and acting Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant.
In some situations, Cornyn used his staff lawyers, while Laney and Ratliff turned to state attorneys with the Texas Legislative Council.
Experts said that many states hire private attorneys to work on redistricting cases. Lawyers working for legislators may be redistricting wonks but lacking in trial experience.
"Being that it comes around every 10 years, it's a very specialized area of law," said Tim Storey, a redistricting analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures. "And attorney fees being what they are, the costs can pile up pretty fast."
But Texas had "a really extraordinary round of redistricting," he said, adding that he didn't know of another state involved in so many court cases.
As of Nov. 28, two private law firms and an attorney hired by Cornyn's office had received $1.1 million. Bills totaling $254,050 await approval for payment.
Locke Liddell & Sapp charged Cornyn's office $120 per hour for a law clerk's labor and up to $575 per hour for work by one of the firm's partners.
"I think we're looking now somewhere upward of $2 million as a total. That's pretty much within the target range that we expected," said Jeff Boyd, deputy attorney general for litigation.
Gray & Becker, the firm hired by Laney's office, billed the state $687,878 as of October, while Case Carter Salyers & Henry charged Ratliff's office $904,747 for the same period.
Both firms charged $60 an hour for clerk work and up to $225 an hour for top attorneys.
Charges for November were not available.
Both Laney and Ratliff saw lawsuits as inevitable because of clashing opinions about dividing the state into fair voting districts.
"The stakes are so high," Laney said. "It involves nothing less than the distribution of legislative power to the people of Texas.
Said Ratliff: "You have to balance the interests."
Cornyn said his bills topped the others' because as the state's lawyer he represented other Texas officials in court. Cornyn also chaired the Legislative Redistricting Board that handled redistricting after lawmakers failed to do it.
At Cornyn's suggestion, the offices of Land Commissioner David Dewhurst and Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander each agreed to pay $25,000 toward legal costs, records show. Dewhurst and Rylander, both Republicans, were redistricting board members.
Laney and Ratliff sat on the board, but voted against the GOP plans that won approval. So they each hired attorneys to push their own plans in court.
The bulk of the legal charges stemmed from fights over which lawsuits would go to trial and where. Sometimes lawyers had to appear at hearings in different cities on the same day.
Boyd oversees redistricting charges paid from the attorney general's budget. Texas Legislative Council, which also had redistricting costs built into its budget, oversees Laney's and Ratliff's bills. Potential expenditures are not capped, but both the legislative council and Cornyn's office said they were close to reaching their anticipated budget.
Throughout the process, Cornyn's office kept a close watch on growing expenses, records show.
On documents detailing legal fees, Boyd scribbled a note to fellow deputy Howard Baldwin: "Here's the bad news, with obviously more to come."
Baldwin sent a note back saying he told the agency's budget director the costs could hit $2 million. "She cried!" Baldwin wrote.
In one e-mail exchange, lawyer Andy Taylor � the former top assistant attorney general until this year � wanted permission to blow up color maps to be used during trial, costing $125 to $375 apiece.
"You're killing me (as I am you). I hate those fancy expensive color blowups," Boyd replied, suggesting Taylor consider less expensive services, such as Kinko's. "Keep in mind you have a very poor client."
In one note Taylor offered to handle any appeals free of charge.
A call to Taylor by the AP was returned by Boyd, who said his job was to try to contain costs.
"It's tough. There's a lot of hours that goes into it. There's a whole lot of cases," Boyd said.
After dozens of hearings held across the state, some of the 17 cases were thrown out and others were consolidated. Most of the cases went to court in October and November.
The winding legal road led to a federal court, which last week ordered new Texas legislative districts that lean toward the GOP. Earlier the court ordered new congressional districts. It is possible a party to the lawsuits will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
If the court-ordered maps are used in 2002 elections, Republicans could gain ground in a state that was predominantly Democratic until the 1990s.
The changing political landscape meant Democrats and Republicans were fighting for the upper hand in court, said Laney lawyer Rick Gray, a veteran of redistricting cases.
"That, I think, on balance just made the whole process more intense," Gray said.
Republican and Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate and lieutenant governor told the Texas Farm Bureau on Monday they want to be bipartisan, then took partisan shots at each other over redistricting and loyalty to President Bush.
The gathering of more than 1,000 Farm Bureau members at the Waco Convention Center was the first major political forum of the 2002 election season.
Candidate filing for next year's election began Monday and continues through Jan. 2.
Featured speakers at the forum included candidates to replace retiring Republican Sen. Phil Gramm, candidates for lieutenant governor and the Democratic candidates for governor.
Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, missed the forum but plans to speak to the convention today.
Though none of the candidates mentioned others by name, several clearly tried to lay the groundwork for partisan attacks on potential opponents.
Two of the Democrats sniped at Attorney General John Cornyn and Land Commissioner David Dewhurst, both Republicans, for the role they played as members of the Legislative Redistricting Board.
The LRB, comprising Cornyn, Dewhurst and three other top state officials, approved a redistricting plan for the state House and Senate that reduced the number of rural state lawmakers by moving their districts into suburban areas. Last week, a federal court upheld most of the plan.
"There are going to be a lot fewer people representing rural Texas in the future," said former state Comptroller John Sharp, who is running for lieutenant governor. "I intend as lieutenant governor to make up for the loss of those folks."
The Farm Bureau, one of the state's largest agriculture industry groups, has complained that Republicans reduced rural representation for partisan gain.
Former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, one of the Democrats running for the Senate seat, said redistricting was evidence that some politicians will put partisan interests ahead of the good of the state.
"All those lines were drawn solely based on what's it going to do for the Republican Party or the Democratic Party," Kirk said. "We've got a lot of communities that have been needlessly torn apart because we could not see beyond partisanship to do what was right for Texas." Kirk said he was able to pull a divided community together as Dallas mayor.
Neither Cornyn nor Dewhurst specifically replied to the criticisms. Cornyn embraced Bush, the state's former governor, while Dewhurst touted his role as chairman of Perry's Task Force on Homeland Security.
Cornyn said Texans next year will be asked to decide whether they want a senator who will work with Bush or one who will side with the president's Democratic opponents in the Senate.
"I know what it's like to work shoulder to shoulder with George W. Bush," Cornyn said.
Dewhurst said he was proud to be leading Perry's anti-terrorism task force to protect Texas from attacks like the ones of Sept. 11.
"The better we are protected, the less likely it is that we'll be attacked," Dewhurst said.
Democratic U.S. Senate candidates Ed Cunningham, Dan Morales and Victor Morales did not attend the convention.
U.S. Rep. Ken Bentsen, D-Houston, a candidate for Senate, avoided political criticisms as he addressed the convention. Bentsen repeatedly promoted a pro-agriculture voting record during his four terms in Congress.
"I've even supported the peanut program, and I'm allergic to peanuts," Bentsen said.
The convention also heard from Democratic gubernatorial candidates Tony Sanchez of Laredo and John WorldPeace of Houston.
Sanchez, a millionaire businessman, said his passion in running is to improve the Texas public education system. He claimed that as much as 90 percent of the state's children never graduate from college.
WorldPeace, a Houston lawyer, said he would give teachers a $2,500-a-year pay raise and return prayer to school. He said he changed his name to promote peace, not because he is a pacifist.
Signaling they are willing to target frequent allies as they battle for control of the House, Republicans believe they have found their strongest-ever challenger to Blue Dog Rep. Ralph Hall (D), who has sailed to re-election in a rural, east Texas district but may be jeopardized by a new, court-drawn House map.
One month before the state's Jan. 2 filing deadline, Kevin Eltife (R), the mayor of Tyler and a longtime Hall ally, last week told National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Davis (Va.) that he's "very, very seriously" eyeing a bid against Hall in the state's new 4th district, GOP leadership aides said.
Eltife, 42, who's barred under term limits from seeking a fourth two-year term as mayor of the 90,000-resident city, was recruited by the White House earlier this year to challenge Rep. Max Sandlin (D) when it appeared Tyler would be drawn into Sandlin's adjacent district in 2002.
A federal court subsequently created a map that placed Tyler in Hall's district.
"My real concern is the Republicans losing control of the House," Eltife said in an interview Friday. "There's a good chance that Democrats could take control, and that alone has made me consider this. Every seat is important. Ralph is a good man, but at the end of the day, we have to be worried about who takes control of the House."
House GOP aides said the NRCC has promised Eltife the committee's full support in what could be a nationally watched race. "Eltife would be a very formidable candidate," claimed NRCC Communications Director Steve Schmidt. "The NRCC will spend a great deal of resources to win that race."
Hall, 78, said Eltife is "a fine guy, a good friend and has been a good mayor of Tyler. And if he decides to run, I know he'll run a good, clean race. ... I would be surprised, though, if the NRCC was encouraging someone to run in my district, as my record of bipartisanship is very well known."
Indeed, Hall, who supported only 35 percent of the House Democrats' agenda and 22 percent of then President Bill Clinton's program in 2000, may seem an unlikely target for House Republicans. The 11-term Democrat is likely to retire within the next decade, and even his party concedes that Republicans will surely take his seat, held for nearly 50 years by ex-House Speaker Sam Rayburn (D).
Furthermore, Hall has won re-election since 1982 with at least 58 percent of the vote, including a 59 percent showing during the GOP's 1994 revolution. He was unopposed in 1990 and took 60 percent last year against Republican challenger Jon Newton.
Except for a 1985 "present" vote for then Speaker Tip O'Neill (D-Mass.), however, Hall has consistently voted for his party's House leadership and pledged to remain a Democrat. Given their razor-thin margin in the House, Republicans said that vote justifies their decision to go after Hall.
House GOP aides said they also were encouraged by a federal court redistricting of Texas, unveiled Nov. 14, which they say made enough changes to Hall's district to render it competitive. The court-drawn map created two new Republican seats in the Lone Star State, but did not yield the larger-scale gains that House Republicans expected and intended to use to build on their narrow majority.
Thus, Republicans are looking to knock off less vulnerable incumbents, including Hall, who picked up Republican voters in Tyler-based Smith and Gregg counties under the redistricting plan and lost a small chunk of his base in Hunt and Denton counties.
Smith, a locality of 175,000 residents, is now located entirely within the 4th.
Eighty-eight percent of Hall's current district is included in the new 4th.
Democratic performance numbers in the 4th improved marginally under the court's map, but Democratic leaders acknowledge that Hall's appeal has little to do with his party's strength in the district.
Republicans are also trying to counter Democratic claims that they can run competitively in conservative, rural districts. Democrats, who picked up rural, GOP-held seats in Kentucky and Arkansas during the 1990s, hope to build upon those gains next year.
Claiming that the NRCC would make Eltife a top national priority, Republicans privately hope their bluster will ultimately persuade Hall to retire before the January filing deadline. The 11-term Democrat has never raised more than $750,000 for a re-election bid, which GOP strategists said could cost twice as much next year.
With the federal courts having ruled on legislative and congressional redistricting cases, it is time to look at losers and winners and inbetweeners.
First the winners
For the first time since Reconstruction, the GOP is poised to take control of both houses of the Legislature and possibly have one of their own as speaker of the House.
The day after a federal court panel issued its legislative maps, a group of prominent Republicans announced formation of a new political action committee aimed at doing just that.
"The battle lines have been drawn, and Republicans are ready," said Railroad Commissioner Tony Garza, one of the board members of the newly formed Texans for a Republican Majority.
The PAC's objectives, listed by priority:
Elect a House Republican majority to guarantee the election of a Republican speaker.
Increase the Republican Senate majority.
Maintain Republican hold on all statewide offices.
Now the losers
Even some die-hard party regulars privately concede that the Democrats will almost certainly lose their majority in the House and continue to be the minority party in the Senate.
In the House map, 39 incumbents were "paired," meaning they now live in a district with another incumbent and must run against one another or change residences.
Of those representatives paired, 27 are Democrats. In the Austin area, three Democratic representatives are all drawn into one district. In the Galveston area, three Democratic incumbents are all in one district. In Houston, two Democrats and a Republican are drawn into a district that is a GOP stronghold.
As for as the congressional map, Democrats were elated when the three-judge federal panel earlier released its map that indicates Democrats can win 17 seats and Republicans can win 15.
But that elation may be short-lived.
If they gain strong majorities in the House and Senate, there will be an effort by Republicans to redraw congressional districts in the 2003 legislative session.
Texas Democratic Party leader Molly Beth Malcolm said she was "disappointed but not defeated" by the legislative redistricting maps that she labeled "grossly partisan."
"Texas Democrats are not going to hand the state over to Republicans who put partisan interests above what's best for the state," she said.
"We will work hard over the next year to take our message to the people of Texas," said Ms. Malcolm. "And we believe a majority of voters will see the light about the Republicans' motivations in redistricting and their allegiances to big special interests and the far right wing."
Now the inbetweeners
House Speaker Pete Laney, the highest-ranking Democrat in the state.
Republicans say the veteran Democrat's days are numbered in the powerful post of speaker.
Democrats say don't count him out yet, even if the GOP has a majority in the House after the 2002 elections.
Some Democrats believe Mr. Laney can win another term as speaker even if their party has only 70 of the 150 House seats.
They note that Mr. Laney has enjoyed GOP support in the past and that he could pick up a half dozen or so Republican votes for speaker.
But Republicans believe they will pick up at least 88 seats next year, and that will be more than enough to take away Mr. Laney's gavel when the Legislature convenes in January 2003.
Not only is his future as speaker in jeopardy, but under the court-ordered plan Mr. Laney must run for re-election for his House seat in a district that includes many new counties and is marginally Republican.
However, most independent analysts say they believe Mr. Laney is a sure bet for re-election to his House seat, but they aren't taking odds on whether he can win another term as speaker.
Mr. Laney isn't saying much except that he is running for re-election to his House seat and for speaker.
During the last decade, Hispanics accounted for 60 percent of the growth in Texas.
Now they make up one-third of the state's population.
Armed with those stats, lawyers for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund argued during the redistricting trials that Hispanics deserve more safe House, Senate and congressional districts.
But when the final maps were drawn, there were no new congressional and Senate districts that would likely elect Hispanics and only one new House seat.
"We are very pleased to have prevailed in our case for an additional Latino-majority House district in the state," said Nina Perales, a lawyer for MALDEF.
"Because of the growth in Latino voters over the decade, the court should have created the additional Senate district as well."
Sam Attlesey is deputy chief of the Austin Bureau of The Dallas Morning News.
Republicans would have strong majorities in the state Senate and House under redistricting plans ordered Wednesday by a three-judge federal court panel.
Under the map reshaping the 150 House districts, the GOP could hold as many as 88 seats, and some analysts said veteran Democratic Speaker Pete Laney's chances of re-election to the powerful post could be jeopardized.
Even if the judges' decision on a plan were appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, analysts say, it is likely that the judges' plan would be used at least for the 2002 elections.
The map redrawing the 31 Senate districts could result in Republicans holding as many as 19 seats.
Currently, there are 15 Republican senators and 15 Democrats, and one seat is vacant.
The House, with 78 Democrats and 72 Republicans, is the only area of state government still controlled by Democrats. Mr. Laney, a veteran lawmaker from Hale Center, is the highest-ranking Democrat in the state.
"The court's map does not change my plans to seek re-election to the House and another term as speaker," said Mr. Laney, who has held the post since 1993.
Already three Republican representatives � Tom Craddick of Midland, Brian McCall of Plano, and Edmund Kuempel of Seguin � have announced that they will be candidates for speaker when the Legislature convenes again in January 2003.
The federal court panel, which comprises two Democrat-appointed judges and one Republican-appointed judge, drew its own House plan.
But for the Senate boundaries, the judges adopted a map that had been drawn by the Republican-dominated Legislative Redistricting Board. State law gives that board responsibility for redistricting after each U.S. census when the Legislature fails to adopt redistricting plans. That's what occurred during the session that ended earlier this year.
Analysts said the Senate plan could make it more difficult for Democrats such as David Cain of Dallas, Mike Moncrief of Fort Worth, and David Bernsen of Beaumont to win re-election in 2002.
The board's Senate plan had been approved by Department of Justice officials, who determined that it did not violate the Voting Rights Act.
The three-judge panel noted that approval in its order Wednesday. The judges added that "federal courts have a limited role in considering challenges to pre-cleared legislatively adopted redistricting plans."
The panel is made up of U.S. Circuit Judge Patrick Higginbotham, who was appointed by a Republican, and U.S. District Judges John Hannah and T. John Ward, both appointed by Democrats.
As for new House districts, the Legislative Redistricting Board's map had been rejected by the Department of Justice because it diluted Hispanic voting strength in three areas of the state.
Under the judges' plan ordered Wednesday, 37 incumbent representatives would have to run against a fellow incumbent in the same district.
Attorney General John Cornyn, a Republican who's a member of the board, said he was pleased that the three-judge panel "has approved the LRB Senate map outright and 98 percent of the LRB House map."
"Our goal was to produce maps that comply with the law and preserved minority voting rights. Today's rulings show that the LRB was successful in achieving those goals," said Mr. Cornyn.
The redistricting ruling "will reflect the changing political and demographic realities of the 21st century: a Republican Party that is emerging as the new majority and a growing Hispanic population," said state GOP leader Susan Weddington.
Molly Beth Malcolm, the Texas Democratic Party chief, said she was disappointed that "the court felt it was not within its jurisdiction to correct a map that is grossly partisan, that tears apart Texas communities and that fails to provide fair and equal representation for African-Americans and Hispanic voters."
"But Texas Democrats are not going to hand the state over to Republicans who put partisan interests above what's best for the state," said Ms. Malcolm.
"The Republicans may be able to draw lines, but the Democrats will draw more votes in 2002 than ever before," she said.
A federal court on Wednesday ordered new boundaries for the Texas House that boost Hispanic voter strength and election opportunities for Republicans.
The court upheld most of the House districts and all of the state Senate districts drawn by the GOP-dominated Legislative Redistricting Board.
Both statehouse maps and the board's map of congressional districts were challenged in federal court, but Wednesday's orders only changed the state House plans. The court redrew a congressional map two weeks ago.
"Our goal was to produce maps that comply with the law and preserve minority voting rights. Today's rulings show that the LRB was successful," said board chairman John Cornyn, a Republican who is also the state attorney general.
The court's House plan creates a new Hispanic majority district in south Texas and changes boundaries of other Hispanic majority districts. The U.S. Justice Department said the board's map violated the Voting Rights Act by denying Hispanics opportunities to elect candidates of their choice in some districts.
By some estimates, the board-approved map could give Republicans up to 90 seats in the Texas House where Democrats now hold a 78-72 edge. In the state Senate, the GOP, which held a 16-15 edge in this year's legislative session, could gain three or more seats under the new plan.
The board was charged with drawing legislative and congressional districts when the Legislature failed to complete the task.
Many Texas Latinos were virtually certain that the past decade's explosive growth in the Hispanic population would give them a new congressional seat. They were wrong. Texas was awarded two new seats because its population grew to 20.9 million in the '90s, but the seats went to areas likely to vote for non-Hispanic white Republicans.
The ending to this redistricting saga comes in a year of heightened hoopla over Hispanic influence. This is, after all, a year when President Bush held the first White House celebration of Cinco de Mayo and when politicians headed to language schools to learn Spanish.
"We're all in shock," said state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, a Laredo Democrat who served on the state Senate's redistricting committee. "We were shocked because we expected better. We thought our expectations were reality-based."
Others in the Hispanic community said the outcome was no surprise since some Hispanic leaders worked against the effort by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund and other Latino groups to create a new Hispanic district.
Creating the new district would have put incumbent Hispanics in jeopardy, they said.
"You can't just look at raw numbers," said U.S. Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, D-San Antonio, who testified against a MALDEF redistricting plan.
"We are clustered. We don't register in the same numbers and we definitely do not vote. We absolutely do not leverage our potential on Election Day. We have to look to ourselves as to what we do to cure that," Gonzalez said.
It's a familiar refrain that Latinos encounter each political season. Despite their numbers, their lack of political participation either because of apathy or because many among them are not citizens, prevents them from being a significant political force.
"The hype has always been overstated because Latino voting power is only as strong as the number of people who actually go to the polls," said Lisa Montoya, an Austin political consultant.
Latinos comprise 33 percent of Texas' population in 2000, the U.S. Census Bureau reported. As of July, 2.3 million Hispanics were registered to vote in Texas, comprising one fifth of the state electorate.
The federal court that drew congressional boundaries put the new seats in the areas of highest growth in Texas, Dallas and Harris counties.
Hispanics were responsible for 60 percent of Texas' population surge, which some believed meant more political say in Congress for Texas' Hispanics.
Democrats hold 17 of Texas' House seats and Republicans 13. There are six Hispanics from Texas in Congress, only one of them Republican. U.S. Rep. Gene Green, who is white, represents a majority Hispanic district.
Nina Perales, a MALDEF attorney, says Hispanics took a back seat to party agendas in the congressional district line drawing. Democrats sought to preserve incumbents, while Republicans looked to pick up as many seats as possible, she said.
"The court gave each side what they were looking for politically and gave Latinos nothing," Perales said.
MALDEF, however, found itself with foes among other Hispanics.
Creating a new Hispanic district would have meant siphoning from other Hispanic districts, they said.
Gonzalez was among those who could have seen the number of Hispanics in his district diminish. He testified against the MALDEF plan.
Beyond preserving their districts, Hispanic Democrats who opposed the MALDEF plan sought to help their party regain the majority in the U.S. House. Democrats need to win six seats in the next election to rule the House. If they do, senior Hispanics from Texas have a shot at committee chairmanships or party leadership.
"It makes sense; these people have seniority. They already hold positions of power on different committees. It would take a new member 10 years to obtain the power they already have," Montoya said.
Although it did not provide any additional Hispanic seats, Democrats were satisfied with the final plan because it preserved incumbents. Republicans who had hoped to pick up more seats said the plan preserved incumbency at the expense of Hispanics and blacks.
Morris Overstreet, president of the Coalition of Black Democrats, has said the court's map was not exactly what black voters wanted. But he said the Hispanic-black majority in District 25 in Fort Bend and Harris counties will create an opportunity to send another African-American to Congress.
Failing to add a Hispanic seat does not erase the political gains of Hispanics over recent years, said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials.
"What this means in the long run is we need to continue the kind of trend we've seen in other parts of country, producing candidates who are able to appeal across racial and ethnic lines, who really garner support of non-Latino voters as well," Vargas said.
U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes said Hispanics may not have to wait another 10 years to see more Latinos in Congress. Some districts in Texas with significant minority populations could see population shifts in the coming years that could make electing Latinos in them possible, he said.
Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Martin Frost, D-Dallas, said while Texas didn't produce a new seat, Democrats are predicting new Hispanic congressional seats in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and California.