- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 6, 2003

AUSTIN, Texas — A redistricting plan will probably find its way to the floor of state House of Representatives today or tomorrow — a plan that if passed is expected to cost Democrats five or six seats in Congress next year.

On Saturday, with relatively little argument, the House Redistricting Committee passed a plan 10-4 and routed it to the House Calendar Committee, which is expected to put it up for debate.

Republicans said the plan is fair. Democrats said it was not fair to minorities and rural voters in many parts of Texas, long a stronghold for Democrats.

The latest plan, the fourth effort in a week, seems to assure that the dean of the Texas congressional delegation, Democratic Rep. Martin Frost, will be in a district where he can win another term. Democratic Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Austin also seems safe under the plan.

Other Democrats may not fare so well. Reps. Charles W. Stenholm, Chet Edwards, Max Sandlin, Nick Lampson and Jim Turner would face strong Republican voting trends in their new districts if the plan passes.

Rep. Ralph M. Hall, a Democrat who votes with Republicans on many major issues, also seems to be adversely affected. Many of his district’s rural voters, among his most loyal supporters, would be transferred to a district dominated by Denton and Dallas counties, the home base of state Rep. Kenny Marchant, whom Republican leaders have been grooming to run for Congress.

“They’re so blinded by what they’re trying to do to help the Republican Party,” said state Rep. Richard Raymond, a Democrat from Laredo, “that they’re not seeing what they’re doing will take away the voting rights of millions of Texans.”

“My goal, and the goal of this committee, is to design a fair plan. Our intent is to have a map that meets legal muster and can withstand court scrutiny,” said state Rep. Kent Grusendorf, a Republican from Arlington who introduced the plan Saturday.

“This map just tears up rural Texas,” said state Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, a Democrat from San Antonio.

Mr. Raymond questioned Mr. Grusendorf at length about the influence that Rep. Tom DeLay, the U.S. House majority whip, had on the latest redistricting plan. Mr. Grusendorf replied, “I don’t even know if Mr. DeLay has seen this.”

“Then it’s not the final one,” Mr. Raymond snapped. “If it’s not acceptable [to Mr. DeLay], it’s not going to pass.”

Mr. Raymond predicted earlier in the week that no map that allowed Mr. Frost a safe seat would get by Mr. DeLay. “He just hates Frost too much,” he added.

“I’m having trouble keeping up with the bouncing ball,” Mr. Frost said. “My attitude,” he added, “is they ought to just leave all the districts alone. Every time you turn around there is a new map. You can’t make any sense out of this.”

For the first time since Reconstruction, the Texas House and Senate are controlled by Republicans, matching a trend toward the Republican Party throughout the state. Yet Republicans are outnumbered in the state’s U.S. House delegation 17 to 15.

With Congress closely divided — Democrats are 12 seats short of regaining the House majority they lost in 1994 — the change of a half-dozen Texas congressional seats from Democrat to Republican could have a major political effect.

The importance of the redistricting fight has not been missed by Karl Rove, the president’s top strategist, who has contacted Texas Republican leaders on the subject. Mr. DeLay has also visited and had several aides help state leaders with planning.

The redistricting plan, or one much like it, seems certain to pass the state House this week, but the state Senate’s map may be far different. Although Republicans have a 19-12 advantage in that body, it takes 21 votes to allow a bill to reach the floor, so a bill needs support from two Democrats.

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