A tale of two cities
Yesterday the news was buzzing about the formal entry of State Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio) for the expected new congressional seat in Texas, the 35th, currently planned as a part of the expansion of four new seats to Texas. I call the district the “35 Road Trip District” due to its strange gerrymandered run from the downtown area of San Antonio to the southeastern section of Austin and Travis County. It was drawn by Republicans during the last biennium of the Texas legislature, most likely to force US Rep. Lloyd Doggett (R-Texas) into a more challenging situation with his current district, the 25th, which is now more Republican and would possibly force ouster of Doggett from Congress. But with the way the new district is drawn, the bigger question will be how this leaves Democrats.
The “35 Road Trip District”
Looking at the proposed district, it starts in the westside, covers downtown and some territory north and south, starts following IH-35, picking up parts of New Braunfels and San Marcos, then ends up in southeastern Travis County and Austin. As the Dallas Morning News said in an editorial, it resembles a scorpion, if you’re playing the Rorschach game. As the editorial states, it creates an interesting situation when dealing with the district’s future regarding communities of interest and reasonable representation. At the end of the day it will pit San Antonio against Austin on elections and issues.
As the Express-News points out about the new district, it’s solidly Democratic and Hispanic, which would lean to Castro’s favor. It is apparent it was a part of an effort to bust up Austin from two districts into five districts, reducing the influence of Democratic voters in elections. With regards to the later point, that’s really the only way Republicans can keep some of the new districts pointed in their favor. As the last two elections have shown, the urban areas of Texas are becoming more and more blue every cycle. To retain power, Republicans will have to dilute that base with rural voters which is what happened in Austin.
But in looking at the district more closely, it also starts to create an election and constituent issue of two major urban areas of Texas that can possibly only be found in the DFW area. Linking Austin and San Antonio together by the IH-35 thread pits San Antonio’s Democratic political base against Austin’s base. Both are strong with Austin’s possibly being the stronger base due to the progressive nature of Austinites and the core of politics in Texas.
One of the Hispanic Districts
If you consider where the four new House districts were created, two of them will have a heavier bias towards Hispanics, the 35th and the 34th which starts in Guadalupe County and runs south just west of Corpus Christi then follows the Gulf Coast to Brownsville/Harlingen. But this won’t be the end of the battle, as reported by the Houston Chronicle. Most likely the redistricting plan will be challenged by Hispanics for not providing more opportunity for Hispanic representation overall.
“During the four-hour debate, (Rep. Roberto) Alonzo (D-Dallas) and other Democrats warned that Republicans were flirting with legal intervention because the Voting Rights Act requires Texas to assure the Justice Department or a federal court that districts have not been drawn in a way that decreases the impact of minority voters,” according to the article.
Pushing Doggett Out
This brings us to the point about who should represent the district. When Republicans carved the districts up it was pretty evident they were doing so to punish Doggett for his progressive politics and recent attempt to block federal education funds by putting a “maintenance of effort” clause in a bill to provide $830 million for Texas. Doggett put in the clause “that requires the governor to offer his assurance that the money will be used to ‘supplement and not supplant’ state education financing through 2013,” according to a Texas Tribune article.
The amendment was eventually repealed, as reported by the Tribune, but it was the last straw for Republicans who have been fighting Doggett since he first entered politics. As such, they changed Doggett’s district to encompass more Republicans and make it virtually impossible for him to win in 2012. This has forced Doggett to go district shopping again, pushing him to the new 35th District. This would be Doggett’s second time at shopping, being forced out of the 10th District under Tom DeLay’s infamous out of cycle redistricting effort.
Who Should Represent the District
Now the question arises as to whether Doggett really is the right person to represent a district that was carved to create opportunities for Hispanics. Enter State Rep. Joaquin Castro. In an article Plaza de Armas a couple of weeks ago Greg Jefferson speculated on who might be the challenger from San Antonio against Doggett. Jefferson listed four possible contenders, including Castro. Since then all but Castro have opted out of contention, leaving Castro in the mix.
Before we go much further, I must disclose I am in support of Castro’s candidacy for the office and here’s why. Castro, has been a strong advocate for higher education in the Texas House, working hard to avoid budget cuts during the past session. His advocacy of social issues puts him close to the level of Doggett and would continue to provide Texas with an advocate for those issues in Congress. Electing Castro would also prove that Texas Democrats are more serious about Hispanic representation than just drawing a map. While Doggett does serve as an advocate for Hispanics, having Castro represent them would put more teeth in the effort.
Building the Bench
Another point that I think is important is that bringing Castro to the forefront of Texas politics would help Democrats grow the bench of elected officials. Texas Democrats continually get trounced in statewide elections because of a weak bench of candidates. Bill White was probably the strongest statewide candidate in a while but was buried by Perry in the 2010 election, along with many other Democrats. Charles Kuffner of Off the Kuff writes that the Republican efforts to oust Doggett could backfire on them if Castro rises and gains statewide attention.
“Castro is a 36-year-old Latino with ambitions. I daresay there’s little chance he’ll still want to be a Congressman when he’s 64. He may have his eye on bigger things by the time he’s 44. By winning what will surely be a high-profile election and getting access to a much deeper and broader donor base, he’d take a big step towards that end. And thus, by finally ridding themselves of their longtime nemesis, the Republicans may enable the Democrats to significantly upgrade their bench,” said Kuffner.
Austin vs. San Antonio
Granted we’re only in the early stages of this race but it’s pretty evident it’s going to be an interesting race for Texas Democrats. Voters in Austin want to support Doggett, who’s represented them for over 15 years, especially those in the progressive ranks. In a recent entry in the Burnt Orange Report Phillip Martin may have voiced the sentiments of most Democrats in Austin. “I expect many who read Burnt Orange Report will strongly favor Congressman Doggett,” said Martin.
Seeing how the strategies will play out will be the most interesting. Austin politics is not like San Antonio politics and it will require some pretty creative work to address the two bases. It’s very evident the messages will probably have to be tailored differently form the two areas. Doggett also starts the race with almost $3 million in the bank with Castro starting with zero (state law prohibits Castro from fundraising until 30 days after the session). But Castro doesn’t see that as a problem and will be tapping several sources, including the San Antonio business community and Hispanics nationwide.
So you can see this will be a fun race, especially for those of us who love political gamesmanship. What’s even more interesting is that we’re a year and a half out. I bet you thought we’d only have the presidential race to worry about. Sorry!