- The Washington Times - Monday, June 13, 2011

Minority groups - and at least one Democratic congressman - already are crying foul about what some are calling the Republicans’ “go-for-broke” strategy for redistricting in Texas, which will add four congressional seats in next year’s elections.

The GOP map likely to be approved by Texas lawmakers this week would make at least three of the state’s four new districts Republican-leaning, while also painting a big target on Rep. Lloyd Doggett, ripping the Democrat’s Austin-based district into five pieces.

Republicans say the proposed new map is fair and legal, but two minority groups - the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus - have filed lawsuits alleging the GOP plan diminishes the voting power of Hispanics.

Republicans hold 23 of the state’s 32 congressional seats, and political analysts say the new map could make 27 out of 36 in 2012 a very real possibility.

Mr. Doggett, a nine-term congressman from the liberal neighborhoods surrounding the 50,000-student campus of the University of Texas, has been a vocal critic of the proposed new map, which he says is nothing more than the Texas GOP’s attempt to eliminate white Democrats in the state’s congressional delegation in order to exploit racial politics.

“This map violates the Voting Rights Act and represents little more than another Republican slap at Hispanics. Its crooked lines harm families throughout the San Antonio to Austin corridor,” he said in a statement to The Washington Times.

A survivor of several previous GOP-led attempts to redistrict him out of Congress, Mr. Doggett predicted that the map lawmakers are considering in Austin will be revised significantly before next year’s elections.

“This map is far from final and will likely look very different on Election Day,” he said.

As the map is drawn now, Mr. Doggett would have a difficult choice next year: run against an established Republican in his reconfigured district or move a few miles south to compete for the one seat the GOP drew that leans Democratic the new Interstate 35 corridor district that likely will draw one or more formidable, San Antonio-based Hispanic contenders.

Other critics of the GOP plan predict that the final redistricting boundaries in Texas will be drawn in the courts instead of in the meeting rooms of the state Capitol.

“The Texas Legislature has never, ever, successfully drawn a legislative redistricting plan since the Voting Rights Act came into Texas in 1975,” said Luis Roberto Jr., LULAC’s national general counsel, who filed the suit. “Texas is one of the most polarized states in the United States. People vote along racial lines.”

Joey Cardenas, president of the Texas chapter of LULAC, called the GOP map a “last hurrah” for Republican lawmakers fighting a losing demographics battle.

“There was no intent of creating minority opportunity districts at all,” he said Thursday. “How is that possible, when the census shows that Latinos are responsible for 75 percent of the growth in the state over the last decade?

“Clearly, the future of Texas lies in the Latino community,” he said.

Activists, such as Mr. Cardenas, are counting on the Obama administration’s Justice Department to step in and strictly enforce the Voting Rights Act to protect minority rights.

“Remember that this is the first time we’ve had a Democrat in the White House during the redistricting process since [Lyndon Baines Johnson],” Mr. Cardenas said.

Republicans, however, are confident the new lines will withstand scrutiny from both the Obama administration and the courts. State GOP Chairman Steve Munisteri defended the map as appropriate and fair.

“2010 demonstrated that a substantial majority of Texans supported the Republican ticket, and therefore it has been my position that any new maps, in order to be fair to the electorate, result in a substantial majority of the districts containing a Republican majority,” he said in a recent statement in support of the GOP map.

Veteran lawmakers such as Mr. Doggett - Republicans and Democrats - are being targeted by unfriendly legislators in other states across the country.

In Illinois, which is losing one seat in Congress, House Speaker Mike Madigan and the Democrats in Springfield have drawn lines that some political handicappers predict will cost Republicans at least six seats in the state’s U.S. House delegation, turning the current 11-8 GOP advantage into a 13-5 split for the Democrats. Longtime Reps. Judy Biggert, Donald A. Manzullo and Timothy V. Johnson will face uphill fights to hang on to their seats and first-term GOP Reps. Robert J. Dold, Robert T. Schilling and Joe Walsh are especially vulnerable under the new lines in that state.

In neighboring Ohio, which is losing two seats, liberal firebrand Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich faces such a difficult new Republican-authored map that there is talk the eight-term Democrat is considering leaving Ohio altogether and resurrecting his political career in more-liberal Washington state.

Michigan Republicans, like lawmakers across the country, drew new lines that pit incumbents from the opposition party against each other, lumping Rep. Sander M. Levin and Rep. Gary C. Peters, both Democrats, in the same district.

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