Doggett vs. the GOP and the Political Map

Democratic U.S. Congressman Lloyd Doggett smiles while talking with an Austinite at a community event on August 27, 2011.
Democratic U.S. Congressman Lloyd Doggett smiles while talking with an Austinite at a community event on August 27, 2011.

Austin Democrats are pretty unhappy with the Republican Legislature’s redistricting maps, and Rep. Lloyd Doggett is the poster child for their frustrations.

Their anger might save him.

Doggett’s 25th congressional district was redrawn to elect a Republican. It reaches from Hays County, south of Austin, all the way north to Tarrant County, about 190 miles away.

The demographics, from Doggett’s standpoint, are even worse. Only a quarter of his home county of Travis is included in the district. And while it has a bigger contingent than any of the other 12 counties in the mix, it’s just more than a third of the total population.

If they weren’t busy voting against someone from the liberal capital city, they’d most likely be voting against the guy with the donkey on his shirt: The voters in the new district gave Rick Perry 54.8 percent of the vote in the 2010 election and the next Republican on the ballot — David Dewhurst — got 62.9 percent. In 2008, a Democratic year, Republican presidential candidate John McCain got 56 percent in the new territory.

Doggett saw those numbers and started shopping for another place to run. He found it in the southeastern part of the county in one of the four new congressional districts added to the Texas map this year because of the state’s rapid growth during the last decade.

It shares some of his district’s obstacles, but it’s much more hospitable to Democrats. The geography in CD-35 favors Bexar County, which explains the challenge from Joaquin Castro, one of San Antonio’s best-known twins (brother Julián is the mayor). While 31 percent of the population is in Travis County, 47 percent is in Bexar County. It’s a minority district, too, with Hispanics accounting for 62.8 percent of the population and blacks accounting for 10.8 percent. Barack Obama got 63.2 percent of the vote in 2008; Bill White, the Democrat who challenged Perry in the governor’s race in 2010, got 60 percent of the district’s votes.

Break it down as a turf war between Austin and San Antonio and points in between, and the analysis favors the challenger.

Break it down as a racial contest, with an Anglo running against a Hispanic in a district with a comfortable Hispanic majority, and the analysis favors the challenger.

Break it down as a generational duel, with a fresh face running against a grizzled incumbent, and it’s a fielder’s choice that will depend on what mood the voters are in when asked about experience vs. a reboot. “We’re going to stand with the man that we’ve been dancing with for all these years,” said Celia Israel, an Austin activist, while introducing speakers at a Latinos for Lloyd event.

Break it down as a match that will be decided by political skills, and the analysis favors the incumbent, who has eluded several previous Republican efforts to wipe him off the political map. “He knows how to win,” said Hector Uribe, a Democrat who served with Doggett in the state Senate.

And if it’s about Austin and about redistricting and about Republican efforts to knock off a well-known liberal Democrat who represents a rare population (at least in Texas) of liberal Democrats, Doggett has an edge on Castro.

It’s possible to live within three miles of the state Capitol and to be represented, on the new redistricting map, by a member of Congress who lives farther away than three of his colleagues. John Carter, R-Georgetown, Mike McCaul, R-Austin, and Doggett each live closer to the center of Austin than Lamar Smith, who lives in San Antonio and whose district includes part of that city, part of Austin and a big hunk of the Texas Hill Country to the west.

“If you build a map around Lloyd Doggett’s house, we’re going to fight back,” Israel said in an interview.

Travis County will include parts of five congressional districts if the new maps hold up in court, including three with Republican incumbents, the Doggett district and the new open seat. The population is big enough to support one complete district and half of another, but the Republicans in the Legislature didn’t want that many Democrats buzzing in one hive, so they carved it up.

And they irked some of the more partisan residents in the process.

“I hate that this has even occurred,” said John-Michael Cortez, who serves on the Austin Community College board. “This redistricting is not only illegal, but it’s ethically wrong.” That’s one reason Cortez, who like the challenger is a young and ambitious Hispanic Democrat, isn’t supporting Castro. Doggett “will likely be the only congressman we can get from Austin,” he said of the Democrats.

“I have a lot of respect for Castro,” said the Travis County Democrat. “I think he’d make a fine congressman for Bexar County.”

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