- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 9, 2003

DALLAS — Texas Republicans, with strong help from U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, finally approved yesterday a congressional-redistricting measure they expect to cost Democrats six U.S. House seats.

As recently as last week, it was thought that bickering between state House and Senate leaders over the reconstitution of three West Texas districts might cause enough delay that current districts would have to stand for at least another two years.

But Mr. DeLay stepped in and herded the various factions together, finally agreeing at 2:30 a.m. yesterday.

Though Republicans hold every statewide elective office and control both houses of the state Legislature, they have just 15 of the state’s 32 congressional seats. Mr. DeLay made no secret that he considered getting a new map in place before next year’s elections a top priority.

“Majority Leader DeLay facilitated the process,” said state Sen. Todd Staples, the lead negotiator for the Texas Senate, “and I think he was key to solving the West Texas part of the state.”

Republicans were jubilant because they expect the new map to end the congressional careers of several prominent U.S. House Democrats, including Martin Frost of Arlington, Chet Edwards of Waco and Charles W. Stenholm of Abilene.

At an Austin press conference yesterday, Gov. Rick Perry was obviously pleased as he appeared with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick.

“We believe that what we achieved today has been worth the wait and worth the debate, because ultimately we are preserving the voice and empowering the vote of millions of Texans,” Mr. Perry said.

“Texans will now get their opportunity to elect a congressional delegation that is reflective of their views, a congressional delegation with a majority that will work with our president, not against him.”

Mr. Dewhurst called the plan proper.

“The majority of voters in the state of Texas support President George W. Bush and his policies,” he said. “The majority of our congressional delegation does not, and that’s just not fair.”

Democrats reacted with rage, and Mr. Frost said the new map would not stand the scrutiny of the federal courts, which drew the current lineup two years ago.

“The latest redistricting map is an affront to minorities,” said U.S. Rep. Ciro D. Rodriguez, a Democrat from San Antonio.

“A slap in the face to the thousands of Texans who testified at the congressional-redistricting hearings and who expressed concerns that they would not be heard,” intoned state Sen. Juan Hinojosa of McAllen. “The GOP cut a backroom deal; that’s obvious.”

But Mr. Dewhurst pointed out that under the new map, “We will be adding one Hispanic and one African-American congressperson.”

Democrats, out of control in Austin for the first time in more than a century, fought the redistricting effort strenuously — its lawmakers even twice fleeing the state, for Oklahoma and New Mexico, to deny a quorum and thwart votes.

But the governor, with strong urging from Mr. DeLay — and a word or two from Karl Rove, the president’s chief political adviser — kept calling special legislative sessions until this week’s bill was agreed upon.

It will be debated in both legislative houses today. And Mr. Perry promises to sign it quickly.

The new map makes changes to every area of the state. Most noticeable was Mr. Frost’s 24th District, which will change from 60 percent Democratic to about 65 percent Republican. State Rep. Ken Marchant, Coppell Republican, is expected to run and win there.

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