Wednesday, December 17, 2008

2010: Joe messes with Texas

All 150 seats in the Texas state House were up for reelection in 2008, as they are every two years. Democrats picked up three seats, so that Republicans now control the House by a 1-seat majority, 76 to 74. There were a number of very close races this year. The closest was in the 105th District, where Republican incumbent Linda Harper-Brown defeated Democratic challenger Bob Romano by 19 votes out of more than 40,000 cast. Democrats also won some very close contests, including a victory in the 11th District by only 103 votes out of nearly 53,000 cast.

Now then, I realize that probably, your reaction to what I've just written is, "Why should I care?"

Take a look at this map showing which states will gain and lose seats in Congress in the 2011
decennial redistricting. Good golly, it's depressing. Blue states losing seats all over the place.

Notice the big red blotch right in the middle of the map? That's right, Texas will gain an incredible four more seats in Congress for the 2012 elections. Democrats need to find a way to get two more seats (and thus the majority) in the Texas House in 2010 so that the Party will have some leverage in the 2011 redistricting.

Let's take a trip in the Wayback machine for some context. Texas gained two seats after the 2000 census. At that time, Democrats still controlled the Texas state House, while Republicans had the Governor's office and the Senate. A new congressional map was drawn up by a panel of judges in 2001. The 2002 elections elections changed the state's delegation from 17 Democrats and 13 Republicans to 17 Democrats and 15 Republicans.

So the Republicans netted two more seats. Sounds reasonable, right? Not if you're Congressman Tom DeLay.

In the 2002 elections, Republicans gained control of the Texas House, and retained control of the Texas Senate and Governor's office. Tom DeLay became U.S. House Majority Leader. You would think that job would have kept Tom plenty busy.

Think again. In 2003, DeLay found the time to lead an effort for Texas to embark on an unprecedented mid-decade redistricting of its Congressional seats.
DeLay made it clear from the outset what the goal of this redistricting would be: elminate as many Democratic Congressmen as possible. Texas's Republican Senator John Cornyn described the plan as "an opportunity to help the Republicans stay in power in Washington." Well, at least the GOP was being honest for once.

Democratic legislators in Texas organized an unusual plan to stop the redistricting effort: they fled the state en masse, making it impossible for a quorem to exist, thus blocking the redistricting plan from coming to a vote. This effort ultimately failed and the DeLay plan became law.

DeLay's biggest obstacle was never Texas Democrats. It was the court system, which might well have decided to throw out DeLay's plan as discriminatory to minorities. So when DeLay and Company sat down to gerrymander the districts, they shrewdly targeted all ten white Democratic Congressmen, while leaving the districts of the seven minority Democrats alone.

As a result, Republicans gained four seats in the 2004 election, so that Republicans now held 21 of the state's 32 seats (in 2009 they will have 20).

Ok, that was a long history lesson to make my point, but here it is: if Republicans still control everything in Texas in 2011, and they sit down redraw their Congressional map with four more seats to play with, Democrats are likely to suffer. One of the few bright spots for the GOP in the past few years has been the fact that many of the fastest growing areas of the country have been voting Republican for a long time. Democrats will need to work harder in the next decade to turn the sunbelt from red to blue.

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