WASHINGTON – A top congressional Democrat says a redistricting map that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay sent state lawmakers would eliminate five Democratic congressmen and provides no new representation for minorities.
The map hasn't been officially made public but has been circulating in Austin and in Washington since late last week. It drew immediate criticism from Rep. Martin Frost, D-Arlington, who led Democrats' redistricting efforts nationwide in 2000.
Frost said he confirmed the map originated with DeLay, R-Sugar Land, through a high-profile Republican source.
"It's very clear what Tom DeLay is trying to do. He is trying to eliminate five Democratic congressmen from office while at the same time not increasing the number of Hispanics and the numbers of blacks in office," Frost said Wednesday.
DeLay's spokesman Jonathan Grella referred questions to Jim Ellis, who heads DeLay's Americans For Republican Majority political action committee.
Ellis said DeLay's office has submitted several maps to state lawmakers. He said others have submitted maps as well. He disputed Frost's assessment of the map and said it does create another minority district.
"There's no final map on any of this, but we believe the court map is deficient because it under-represents Hispanics and African-Americans and Republicans. That's what we're trying to fix," Ellis said.
DeLay has made no secret of his dislike for the current boundaries of Texas' congressional districts. He says they don't reflect the Republican majority in Texas. He has been pressing state lawmakers to revisit redistricting and draw boundaries that will help more Republicans get elected to Congress.
The state's 32-member congressional delegation is made up of 17 Democrats and 15 Republicans. It gained two congressional seats in 2000 because of its population growth and both of those seats went to Republicans.
Bob Richter, spokesman for state House Speaker Tom Craddick, said Craddick had seen the map but does not like it because it splits Midland and Odessa. He said Craddick would not like to see this map passed by the House.
Richter said the map was given to Craddick's office from an aide to a Republican state representative who did not want to be identified. "We don't have maps from DeLay," Richter said.
Some of the changes under the proposed map:
- Rep. Max Sandlin, D-Marshall, would be paired with Rep. Nick Lampson, D-Beaumont, in a district that runs nearly the length of the Texas' easternmost border.
- Blacks in Frost's North Texas district would be divided into three surrounding districts, which Frost said would not likely pass Voting Rights Act muster.
- The Rio Grande Valley would get another district, by pairing Lampson and Sandlin.
- The district held by Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio, would be redrawn so a large portion of the Hispanics are removed and the district becomes predominantly Anglo, Frost said.
- Rep. Jim Turner, D-Crockett, would lose his home county from his district take in more Republican Harris County districts.
- The largely West Texas agricultural district of Rep. Charlie Stenholm, D-Stamford, would become more suburban.
- Fort Hood would be removed from the Centaral Texas district of Rep. Chet Edwards, also home to President Bush's Crawford ranch, and put in Rep. Lamar Smith's San Antonio district.
Stenholm and Hall both represent Republican leaning districts, but continue to be re-elected. The district represented by Hall, who often votes Republican, is left alone.
Last week, Rep. Joe Crabb, R-Kingwood, introduced a bill before the state House Redistricting Committee, which he chairs. He said it would allow the Legislature to implement the congressional boundaries established by three federal judges. But Democrats said the bill could be used as a vehicle to redraw the districts.
Crabb did not return a phone message.
"What's going on is that Tom DeLay is trying to ramrod this thing down everybody's throat down here including the Republicans," said Rep. Richard Raymond, D-Laredo. Raymond has been trying to require the House to hold hearings around the state before any plan is considered.
The plan would have to get past the Senate, where 21 senators would have to agree to a new map. There are 19 Republicans in the Senate and a few have said they are not willing to reopen the issue.