by BRAD ROLLINS
Looking to turn anger over Republican gerrymandering into votes, U.S. Rep Lloyd Doggett’s campaign is pointing to his opponent’s behind-the-scenes role in a redistricting process that divided Hays County among three congressional districts.
Doggett’s challenger, State Rep. Joaquin Castro, personally intervened with Texas House Republicans drawing the maps to shape the new Congressional District 35 in a way that weighted the district’s population toward San Antonio and away from Travis County.
Testifying in federal court last month about the maps he helped the Texas House Redistricting committee draw, Austin attorney Ryan Downton said he moved thousands of Bexar County Latino Democrats out of neighboring districts and into District 35 at the request of Castro and State Rep. Mike Villarreal, another San Antonio Democrat.
In doing so, Castro undermined Democrats’ chances of retaking the seat held by Republican U.S. Rep. Quico Canseco, said Matthew Arnold, Doggett’s campaign manager. Downton’s testimony puts Castro in the backroom, so to speak, where lawmakers divvied up Hays County between three districts: Two dominated by San Antonio and one flung from Wimberley and Dripping Springs to the outskirts of Fort Worth.
“It’s just a clear case of a politician putting his own best interests above the best interests of those people he’s supposed to represent,” Arnold said. “This map could have united Hays County into one district so that it has the strongest possible voice. Instead the only interest that is clear here is Castro’s own ambition.”
That’s one way of looking at it, but there are others. In reporting on Castro’s role in redistricting last week, a San Antonio Express-News reporter seemed to see it more as evidence of Castro’s savvy as a legislator, the type of skill that would serve him well in Congress. It also speaks well of his chances against Doggett, who has escaped Republican attempts to oust him before.
For his part, Castro said the changes he requested to the congressional maps had nothing to do with Hays County.
“Those districts were already drawn and they were drawn by Republicans. They asked us at the last minute, essentially, about San Antonio neighborhoods and Mike and I gave some input but that was it,” Castro said. “I think even [Doggett] knows he’s being disingenuous. He’s grasping.”
Hays County’s voting results in next March’s Democratic Party primary don’t seem likely to hinge on whether voters are convinced that Castro is to blame for diluting the county’s collective political clout and punish him by voting for Doggett. It may well hinge, however, on Doggett’s willingness to work every angle in his effort to stay in Congress despite the district’s definite tilt toward Castro in terms of both his Bexar County base and his Latino roots. The new district’s population is 47 percent in Bexar County and 62.8 percent Latino.
The intensity of the competition has local Democrats hoping the federal courts will throw out the redistricting maps and start over.
“We don’t believe there should be a Congressional District 35,” said Jon Leonard, the local party’s secretary. “We believe obviously Republicans have done everything they can in Texas to limit the representation of Democrats in Congress, even in Democratic districts. “I’m still hoping that the federal courts will recognize the injustice that’s been done through the work of the Texas Legislature and Gov. Perry.”Email | Print