- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 5, 2005

Before former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay began playing Texas statewide politics the same way Democrats had been playing the political game in the Lone Star state for years, the Democratic legislative delegations in Texas and the U.S. House of Representatives had a great ride, which lasted far longer than it should have. No wonder Democrats in Texas and Washington despise him so much.

With the exception of the post-Civil War period of Reconstruction, for more than a century, beginning in 1845 when Texas joined the Union, the Democratic Party thoroughly dominated Texas, the home of hundreds and hundreds of thousands of “yellow dog Democrats” who, as Bill Safire once explained, would “vote for a yellow dog on the Democratic ticket” before they would vote for a Republican.

Following Reconstruction, the first major Republican victory did not occur until John Tower won Vice President Lyndon Johnson’s Senate seat in a special election in 1961. At the time, Democrats controlled 21 of the state’s 22-member U.S. House delegation. Fourteen of them were elected in 1960 without opposition, and the other seven won an average of 73 percent of the vote. No wonder Texas Democrats in 1960 considered their domination of the congressional delegation to be a birthright. Meanwhile, Texas was central to the national Democratic Party. Indeed, since Texas became a state, no Democrat won the presidency without winning Texas — until Bill Clinton managed to do so in 1992 (and 1996).

In 1979, Bill Clements became the first Republican governor of Texas since 1869. In 1996, Republicans finally won control of the Texas Senate with a narrow majority. Despite gaining control of all 27 statewide offices in the 1998 election on the coattails of Gov. George W. Bush, who resoundingly won re-election (68-31), Democrats still managed to win majorities in the Texas House (78-72) and in the state’s delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives (17-13).

The House totals reflected the results of clever Democratic gerrymandering in the redistricting process after the 1990 census. The authoritative nonpartisan Almanac of American Politics (2006 edition) describes the effort as the Democrats’ “masterpiece.” Though slightly modified by a 1996 court ruling, the Democratic-generated 1991 redistricting plan “clumped heavily Republican areas into hugely Republican districts, then carved out with incredibly convoluted lines three new districts for Democrats,” the almanac explained. Thus, Democrats won 70 percent (21 districts) of the Texas seats in the U.S. House in 1992 even though their cumulative statewide vote exceeded the Republicans’ by 2.2 percentage points. In 1994, Republicans outpolled Democrats in U.S. House races by a 56-42 percent margin, but Democrats still won 19 of the 30 Texas seats. In each of the next three elections (1996, 1998 and 2000), Republican House candidates cumulatively received more votes than Democrats, but the Democrats won 17 of 30 seats each time.

While Republicans maintained a narrow majority (16-15) in the state Senate in the 2000 elections, Democrats maintained their majority in the state House (78-72). Reapportionment following the 2000 census gave Texas two House seats, but the state legislature could not agree on a redistricting plan. As authors Michael Barone and Richard Cohen explain in the 2006 Almanac of American Politics, “a three-judge federal court in Tyler, with two Democratic- and one Republican-appointed judges, later took control and on Nov. 14, 2001, came up with its own plan,” which “protected all incumbents and created two new Republican districts. But in effect, the partisan Democratic plan of 1991 was given new life, with the Republicans given two new seats as a consolation prize. The result was, predictably, a 17-15 Democratic delegation” after the 2002 election, despite the fact that the statewide Republican vote (53.3 percent) exceeded the Democrats’ vote (43.9 percent) by nearly 10 points.

Also in 2002, Republicans increased their margin in the state Senate (19-12) and finally gained control of the state House (88-62), producing the first Republican speaker since 1871. With Gov. Rick Perry winning re-election in 2002 by a 58-40 margin, Texas Republicans, unabashedly encouraged by Mr. DeLay, pushed through their own redistricting plan in 2003. In 2004 President Bush carried 236 of 254 counties and won Texas by 23 points (61-38). And GOP House candidates cumulatively outpolled their Democratic opponents by nearly 20 points (58-39). Welcoming the January 2004 defection of Rep. Ralph Hall, defeating four Democratic incumbents in the U.S. House and winning an open seat vacated by a retiring Democrat, Republicans turned their 2002 minority (15-17) in the state delegation into a 21-11 majority.

Although Republicans incurred a net loss of a few House seats in the other 49 states, the six-seat reversal in the Texas delegation was sufficient for the Republican Party to increase its House majority from 229 members in January 2003 to 232 members in January 2005. And that is why Democrats in Texas and Washington are so peeved at Mr. DeLay.

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