- The Washington Times - Friday, February 25, 2005

The Republican-controlled Texas Legislature’s successful bid to redraw congressional districts designed by Democrats less than 10 years earlier is inspiring other state bodies, such as Florida’s and California’s, to pursue similar changes before the 2006 mid-term elections.

Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, Georgia Republican, is leading the redistricting effort in his state to correct a “poorly drawn map” designed by a Democrat-controlled state legislature to create safe seats for their party.

“Democrats admitted they were drawing these lines to maximize Democratic performance and against the standing principles, dividing communities and counties,” said Mr. Westmoreland, who was the Republican leader in the Georgia state house and vehemently opposed the map that was created when Democrats were in control in 2001.

“They did this in the House and Senate and congressional districts … It is the responsibility of the governing party to correct that,” the freshman congressman said. He said redistricting for political reasons “hurts people” no matter which party is doing it.

Typically states redraw their congressional and state legislative districts after the decennial census. But the mid-decade plans in Republican-controlled legislatures have Democrats speculating that the GOP is trying to boost their chances in the 2006 mid-term elections.

The Texas map redrawn in 2003 and sanctioned by the courts preceded the ousting of several long-term Democrats in the 2004 elections.

Texas courts approved a redistricting plan for the state in 2001, but not to the liking of the state Legislature. But fellow Texan and U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a Republican, led a successful effort to change the map again in 2003 arguing the courts should never have been allowed to redraw the map as it is the constitutional responsibility of the Legislature to do so.

Democrats aren’t buying Mr. DeLay’s argument or Mr. Westmoreland’s explanation that the goal is to correct a bad map drawn by liberals, and appear to be developing a strategy to retaliate in states where they have a majority in the legislature.

Press reports this week indicated that House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, has been talking to state governors about redrawing their districts mid-decade to counteract any gains Republicans make in 2006 from Georgia.

Mr. Hoyer would not comment on the matter.

George Mason University public and international affairs professor Michael McDonald said Democratic retaliation is possible in some states, but unlikely.

“I do get the sense that the Democrats could try to do some sort of retaliation in Illinois, Louisiana and New Mexico,” Mr. McDonald said, adding there may not be enough support in the state legislatures to draw a new congressional map this year.

“In New Mexico, Governor Bill Richardson has said he has no interest in it, although that could change if the party begins to apply pressure, and it would be difficult for Democrats to do much better than they are already doing in Louisiana,” he added. “Illinois is [the Democrats’] best option, and if they are not willing to do it then the other two [states] probably won’t.”

Although he raised doubts about Democratic retaliation, he did say a new trend is beginning to emerge primarily in mid-decade redistricting, which Democrats have said they oppose.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, has made her feelings clear about the redistricting within the 10-year apportionment, discussing California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s plan to create an independent commission and redraw his state’s map as soon as next year.

“I don’t need Governor Schwarzenegger to persuade me that the objective reapportionment of California is good for our country,” Mrs. Pelosi said. “The question is, why would you do it mid-term, mid-decade?

“I suppose if every state decided every couple of years they would redistrict, I don’t think that contributes to order or meets the needs of constituents who need to know who their congressperson is, who should be accountable to them.”

Mr. Schwarzenegger’s plan, which he is attempting to put on a ballot initiative and let voters decide, would place the state’s apportionment in the hands of a panel of retired judges. It would mandate districts that benefit the people and respect geographic boundaries, not be influenced by the impact on incumbents or political parties.

Florida Democrats also are pushing three ballot initiatives to redraw their political map as soon as next year: one for a mid-decade redistricting, one for an independent commission and one for additional standards for the commission to operate under.

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