- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 2, 2006

DALLAS — Last week’s Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of the 2003 Tom DeLay-led Texas redistricting coup was a distinct victory for the Republican Party, but it could spawn some interesting fallout.

There was only one instance in which the court said the Republican gerrymandering could not be upheld — District 23, which sprawls from San Antonio to far West Texas. The court criticized the redrawing of a second district, District 25, which meanders from Austin to the Mexican border, and said it expected that district would be somewhat redrawn.

Despite the fact that the redrawing of district lines took months to accomplish — resulting in the defeat of a half-dozen Democratic congressional incumbents throughout the state — a panel of judges overseeing the changes is making sure they are determined well before this November’s elections.

Within hours of the ruling, a federal judge from Texas’ Eastern District ordered that all participants in the lawsuit claiming that the Voting Rights Act had been violated must have new maps and arguments submitted to the court within two weeks. Oral arguments are scheduled for Aug. 3 in Austin.

In making District 23 voter alignment comply with the Voting Rights Act, some predict that several additional districts will have to be retooled.

“Anyone who thinks there isn’t going to be a ripple effect when countless counties are traded with other congressional districts is not seeing the big picture,” said Rep. Henry Bonilla, the current District 23 congressman.

Despite slight realignment in several other districts to make the Bonilla district acceptable, the new map is not expected to alter the course of growing Republicanism throughout Texas. The worst that could happen from the Republican viewpoint, several political analysts say, is that Mr. Bonilla might lose the reconstituted 23rd District.

Most Hispanics in Texas still vote Democratic, and Mr. Bonilla has not been overly effective at courting them. However, he has repeatedly predicted he will win his seat again, if by a smaller margin.

The Republican redistricting effort in 2003, strongly guided by Mr. DeLay, reconfigured District 23 to protect Mr. Bonilla, who had barely eked out a victory against Laredo Democrat Henry Cuellar in 2002.

It shifted about 100,000 Hispanic voters in Webb County — Mr. Cuellar’s stronghold — out of Mr. Bonilla’s 23rd District to a newly configured district to the east of Laredo, the 28th.

Though the court said the dilution of Hispanic voters from Mr. Bonilla’s district was unlawful, it did not suggest how the situation should be rectified.

Both Mr. Bonilla and Mr. Cuellar prefer that they not be thrown in the same district.

“Laredo is not the only magical place where you can get Hispanic voters,” Mr. Cuellar said last week.

Meanwhile, Democrat Lloyd Doggett, of the 25th District, expects there will be major changes in his district also.

“I don’t think this is a matter of mere tweaking,” he said.

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