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Incumbent Doggett is odd man out in battle over new District 25

Wednesday, March 14, 2012 by Kimberly Reeves

The battle continues over the boundaries of Congressional District 25, a fight that is unlikely to benefit incumbent Congressman Lloyd Doggett.


Interim maps are in place for the upcoming May primary, but aspects of the permanent map are still in play; specifically, the merits of Travis County-centric Congressional District 25, the long-time seat of Doggett.


Doggett already has announced he will move and compete in District 35 in the upcoming primary, a Hispanic-majority district that connects South San Antonio up the Interstate 35 corridor to Travis County.


In a minute order on the permanent map issued in February, the DC District Court asked the Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force to defend its statement that “CD 25 is an Anglo majority district in which Anglo voters dominate the Democratic primary….” That would be the benchmark CD 25, the one created in 2006 and currently represented by Doggett.


Briefs to the Court, due yesterday, illustrate the split in the Hispanic community between those who support Hispanic-leaning districts that elect Democrats because Democrats vote in their interest (the Mexican American Legislative Caucus and Travis County) and those who consider election of Hispanic candidates to take primacy over party issues (the Latino Redistricting Task Force, being backed by the Mexican American Legislative Defense and Education Fund, known as MALDEF.)


MALDEF attorney Nina Perales outlined her argument as such:


“Partisan political objectives, as well as the desire to protect incumbents, are common features of redistricting litigation,” Perales wrote in her brief. “However, the Voting Rights Act does not exist to protect political parties or office-holders. The Court need not accept the invitation to hold that any district, regardless of its demographic composition or level of polarized voting, is protected by section 5 simply because minority voters agree with the outcome of the General Election because such a holding would stretch section 5 beyond any reasonable interpretation.”


Reached by phone, Perales said this fight, at the bottom line, was not a fight about Doggett. It was a fight to protect the newly drawn CD 35, one of two minority opportunity districts drawn into the new Congressional map.


“I think there’s a lot of people who aren’t completely sure what the issue is right now, a lot of people going around saying MALDEF is causing problems,” said Perales, pointing the finger at the Rodriguez-Gonzales plaintiffs. “The rock bottom issue is that this is a Voting Rights Acts case, and what’s going to happen is a court ordered to follow the VRA is not interested in incumbency protection and partisanship. Those are not protected by the VRA.”


The Rodriguez in the Rodriguez-Gonzales plaintiffs is Rep. Eddie Rodriguez. Rodriguez has argued that CD 25 is a coalition district of Anglos, Hispanics and African-Americans. In a letter to Perales he posted to his campaign website, he argued for a Travis County-centric district.


“Our Latino community in the Austin area is very active, united and effective at electing minorities. Predominantly Latino communities in South, Southeast, East and North-Central Austin have long been, and should continue to be, part of the same voting bloc,” Rodriguez wrote in his letter, dated Feb. 16. “Travis County is an example of how coalitions of African-Americans, Latinos, and Anglos can work together to elect their shared candidate of choice. We believe that those who fought for civil and voting rights for minorities envisioned such a coalition.”


Perales insists the issue of coalition districts is not her fight. Lawmakers could have drawn a Congressional district in Travis County and a Hispanic opportunity district, or even maintained CD 25, but they did not because of partisan reasons. Perales’ goal is to protect the new Hispanic majority district, one that reflects a growing Hispanic population and where Hispanics choose the candidate.


“We’re being forced to defend our district,” said Perales of CD 35. “We’re very focused on getting a new Hispanic opportunity district in South Central Texas, and now that’s been drawn, it’s under attack by Rodriguez, in order to save Congressional District 25.”


The irony is that Doggett would not and will not be running in CD 25 again. He’s committed to CD 35, and Perales is okay with that. Let CD 35 pick or not pick Doggett, as long as the Hispanic majority makes the choice, Perales said.


Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office, in its brief, argued that the temporary map was deemed to be acceptable, so that should be good enough for a permanent map. NAACP, party to two briefs, still supports the benchmark CD 25.


“We filed a response to the judges’ order regarding whether CD25 is a protected district,” said Gary Bledsoe of the NAACP. “It was our position that blacks and browns are an essential part of the winning coalition in the district as Doggett is their candidate of choice even if the opponent is African-American or Latino and he would not be elected without their overwhelming support. Since he generally supports our issues it is the kind of district where our influence is protected.”


The DC District Court has offered no indication as to when it will make its decision on a permanent Congressional map.

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