Thursday, November 15, 2001

A panel of federal judges has issued a new map for Texas congressional districts that protects incumbents and dampens Republican prospects for making big gains in the state.
Republican leaders had previously predicted their party would make a net gain of anywhere from five to eight House seats in Texas after districts were redrawn to reflect the 2000 census.
The three-judge panel protected all incumbents by not pairing any of them. The state has added two new House seats by population growth, and the court’s map for those new districts favors Republicans, but even that won’t overcome Democrats’ current 17-13 advantage in the Texas congressional delegation.
“This fair map is good for Texas voters, a major victory for Democrats, and a resounding defeat for Republican efforts to use redistricting to protect their slim congressional majority,” Rep. Martin Frost, Texas Democrat and head of his party’s task force on redistricting.
“The new districts will likely elect 17 Democrats, preserve our majority in the Texas delegation and leave us in a great position to win back the House of Representatives in 2002,” Mr. Frost said.
Republican congressional leaders Dick Armey and Tom DeLay, both from Texas, had predicted a gain of up to eight House seats for Republicans.
But Carl Forti, a spokesman at the National Republican Congressional Committee, said they have always assumed picking up two seats in Texas as part of the party’s national plan to gain eight to 10 seats through redistricting and the judges’ plan delivered on that.
“Republicans get the two new open seats without spending a dime, and it puts three incumbent Democrats on the ropes,” Mr. Forti said, pointing to Reps. Chet Edwards, Ralph M. Hall and Charles W. Stenholm as Democrats who are now in tougher districts. “If we have to run competitive elections, we’re more than happy to do it, because Texas is a Republican state.”
Republicans hold a six-seat majority in the House and had planned on redistricting to add a buffer of eight to 10 more seats to that going into the 2002 elections.
The Republican strategy has been to hope for big gains in states such as Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania states where redistricting is still up in the air, with Michigan’s plan being challenged in the courts.
But Jenny Backus, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said no matter what happens in those states, now that the Texas map is done, there’s no way to draw a national map that gives Republicans the kind of gains they had been predicting.
The job of drawing Texas’ district lines fell to a special panel of federal judges two district judges and one circuit judge after the legislature couldn’t agree on a plan.
In the opinion issued with the decision, the court argued that not pairing incumbents protects the state’s interest in keeping senior legislative positions held by members of the state.
“Political gerrymandering, a purely partisan exercise, is inappropriate for a federal court drawing a congressional redistricting map,” the opinion said.
Texas’ two new districts were drawn centered on Dallas County and Harris County which contain the cities of Dallas and Houston, respectively.
The court rejected appeals by several groups to create another majority-Hispanic district, saying that if the numbers had worked out so that such a district was produced that would have been fine, but it was not going to go out of its way to create one.
Further challenges are possible, but Republicans and Democrats both said it is unlikely a court would overturn the plan between now and November 2002.

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