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'Greedy' Republicans ensuring Texas majority

Sept. 5, 2003

By Clint Cox, columnist

When I first traveled to the nation's capitol several years ago, I noticed a humorous bumper sticker in a political memorabilia store that read: 'GOP: Greedy Old Parasites.' Of course I really never thought of the Republicans as greedy, just out of touch with the middle class. But today, greedy is the best way to describe what the Republicans are doing in Austin. For the first time, Republicans took control of the Legislature in 2002, and now their goal is to eliminate any chance of political competition in every congressional district where possible.

This blatant power grab, led by Republicans U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay of Sugar Land, Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, seeks to add three to five seats to the Texas Republican Congressional delegation. Currently, the Democrats hold a 17-15 advantage.

Until Tuesday, the 11 Democratic senators who are boycotting the Senate in order to prevent the new maps from debate on the floor, remained determined in their opposition to redistricting and commitment to staying in New Mexico for as long as necessary, but with Houston Democratic Senator John Whitmire's announcement that he is leaving New Mexico and coming back to Texas, the greedy Republicans may be one step closer to getting their way, one step closer to silencing rural and minority voters.

The Republicans already have spent more than $3.5 million on redistricting in two sessions, and Perry, DeLay and company certainly will take advantage of Whitmire's return and call the Senate in for a third special session soon, causing the total cost of this redistricting plan to climb to more than $5 million. But the greedy Republicans will spend as much as it takes to win this fight. From the beginning the redistricting battle has been about acquiring more power at all costs, as DeLay admits.

'I'm the majority leader, and I need more seats,' DeLay said publicly when the redistricting move first began. Republicans argue that redistricting is needed so the state's congressional delegation will more accurately reflect the Republican leaning population of the state. Apparently DeLay and his cohorts need to be reminded that we live in a two-party system. Instead of allowing Texans to vote for the candidates of their choice, DeLay's plan ensures that Republicans represent every new district drawn. Americans have the right to choose who and for which party to cast their votes. In fact, three of the Republicans' most coveted districts are majority Republican, yet consistently send Democrats to Congress to represent them - the First Congressional District, represented by Max Sandlin of Marshall, the 17th District, represented by Charlie Stenholm of Stamford, and the 11th District, represented by Chet Edwards. All of these districts overwhelmingly voted for Bush in the 2000 election and for Perry in the 2002 gubernatorial race. Despite this, the electorate in these rural, conservative districts prefers Democrats to represent them in Congress.

According to the Texas Legislative Council, the current map, drawn and approved by the courts after the Legislature failed to reach a consensus on redistricting in 2001, already has 20 districts that are more than 53 percent Republican. Under DeLay and the Republicans' ridiculous argument, we shouldn't even hold general elections at all. Because it's a well-known fact that voters never split the ticket; voters never vote for a candidate outside of their own party. If DeLay honestly believes this argument, he needs to take an introductory class in political science.

But Republicans cannot win all of these seats at the ballot box, so they start drawing districts that zigzag and wiggle from rural farm communities to the state's large metro areas, where Republican-leaning suburban voters will constitute a majority in these new districts.

When Perry calls the third special session and if Whitmire attends, the Senate will have enough members present to constitute a quorum and the redistricting bill most likely will pass, although it certainly faces a court challenge by Democrats. Either way, Republicans should beware. A Scripps Howard Texas poll conducted Aug. 7-21 shows Perry's approval rating at 46 percent and reveals only 40 percent of Texans support redistricting.

If the Republicans succeed, they will set a precedent of redrawing congressional lines every time a new party assumes power, instead of the customary practice of redistricting every 10 years after the decennial census.

I think I may buy that bumper sticker the next time I am in D.C., because never has it been more fitting of the Republicans.