Skip to comments.Remap could create an endangered species - Texas' white Democratic Reps struggle for survival
Posted on 01/08/2004 1:50:22 PM PST by MeekOneGOP
Remap could create an endangered species
Texas' white Democratic representatives struggle for survival
08:32 AM CST on Thursday, January 8, 2004
AUSTIN Texas WD-40. It's a commodity in short demand and ebbing supply these days.
A term of art in political circles, it refers to white male Democrats over 40 the kind who are running for their political lives after federal judges on Tuesday approved a new GOP congressional map aimed at cleansing the state's delegation to Congress of WD-40s.
For decades, the state was controlled by WD-40s and sent many of them to Washington, where ambitious ones went on to legendary careers. Lyndon Johnson, Sam Rayburn, Wright Patman and Jim Wright were just a few.
Now, the court case bodes ill for latter-day Texas Democrats who aspire to follow in their footsteps, experts said Wednesday.
Remap could create an endangered species State Dems plotting for political lives Q&A: Congressional redistricting Audio: Robert Garrett discusses effects of congressional redistricting on Texas Democrats Maps:
Former Texas Congressional districts
NEW Texas Congressional districts, approved 1/6/2004
"I don't see anybody like that on the horizon," said Lyle Brown, professor emeritus of political science at Baylor University.
At its extreme, scholars said, the trend could have long-lasting and polarizing effects on the electorate in Texas casting the Democratic Party as the party of blacks and Hispanics, while reinforcing the GOP's image as the party of whites.
"Not only does it reduce the scope and the breadth of the appeal of the Democratic Party, but it also reduces the prospects for white politicians to rise through the ranks, at least through the congressional route, in places like Texas," said Bruce Buchanan, a government professor at the University of Texas at Austin.
Boosting GOP margin
The new map, if allowed to stand by the U.S. Supreme Court, is designed to swing up to seven Texas seats from Democrats to Republicans, padding the GOP's narrow, 12-seat margin in the U.S. House. It would also give the GOP the first majority in the state's delegation to Congress since the 1800s.
But Southern Methodist University political scientist Cal Jillson warned that benefits to the GOP could dwindle over time.
"It's a short-term gain for the Republicans that will lock in control of the U.S. House for at least a decade or more," he said. "But you are flying in the face of attempts to lure Hispanics into the party."
In an irony for Republicans, news of the redistricting decision "seemed like it was stepping on the message" of President Bush, who on Wednesday proposed granting legal status to millions of undocumented workers, Dr. Jillson said.
The map was drawn to eliminate most white Democratic incumbents who are indebted to blacks and Hispanics. Minority voters in their districts were scattered among GOP strongholds. One prime target was Rep. Martin Frost, D-Arlington, whose district was dismantled.
"It is a fairly clear strategy on the part of the Republicans that will not be lost on the minority voters of Texas," Dr. Jillson said.
The damage to Democrats should soon be evident, unless the Supreme Court blocks the map's use in the March 9 primary.
In the 2002 midterm elections, 10 white Democrats bucked a national GOP tide and snagged Texas seats in Congress, giving Democrats a 17-15 majority in the delegation.
Experts say half of those WD-40s could be goners after elections in the fall.
With the redistricting decision looming last week, Rep. Ralph Hall of Rockwall jumped to the GOP. Rep. Jim Turner of Crockett announced his retirement Tuesday.
The rest have scattered like quail in search of safe perches though experts say as few as three such hide-outs remain, so thoroughly did GOP map-makers do their job last year.
"The trends look pretty inexorable. The districts have been rejiggered," said UT's Dr. Buchanan.
Having a mere handful of white Democrats in the congressional delegation would be a stark contrast to 20 years ago: That year, when the Republican National Convention came to Dallas and renominated President Ronald Reagan, there were 16 white Democratic congressmen from Texas, out of 27 total members.
Several WD-40s said this week that they're not finished yet.
"Come November, I'll still be a white Democrat," said Rep. Charlie Stenholm of Abilene. "The bunch on the other side are making a better Democrat out of me every day."
But unless courts stop the highly partisan remapping, legislatures will continue "to balkanize American politics along [ethnic] lines," Dr. Buchanan said.
"There's something unsatisfying about it to most friends of the system who are not thinking about it in purely partisan terms."
He and SMU's Dr. Jillson predicted that Mr. Frost and Mr. Stenholm, both 25-year veterans, may survive, along with one or two others with strong name recognition.
WD-40s given the best chance of surviving are freshman Chris Bell and six-term incumbent Gene Green, both of Houston, and Austin's Lloyd Doggett, who is campaigning in a newly drawn district that stretches from his hometown to the border.
But Baylor's Dr. Brown said the lineage of the Johnsons and Rayburns may be played out.
People once may have seen a future House speaker in Mr. Frost, he noted. "It looks like his goose is cooked," Dr. Brown said.
Rice University political scientist Earl Black, who has written extensively about Congress and Southern politics, said the GOP's success in Texas could lead to a more liberal Democratic leadership in Congress.
The map was primarily championed by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Sugar Land.
"What DeLay is doing is making the House leadership on both sides more and more from the very hard-line groups," Dr. Black said. "There are very few conservative Democrats left in the House from anywhere."
Staff writer Todd J. Gillman in Washington contributed to this report.
Online at: http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dallas/tsw/stories/010804dntexwd40.a9058.html
That's a horrible record, even for a Democrat.
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