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Crabb in hot seat on proposed Redistricting for Congress

By Dave McNeely
Columnist, Austin American-Statesman

While Democrats welcomed an opinion from Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott that the Texas Legislature does not have to draw new congressional districts, the Republican majority leader of the U.S. House said it should be done anyway.

The Texas delegation in Congress is serving in districts drawn by a three-judge federal court after the Legislature failed to do so in 2001.

“I think it’s the responsibility of the Legislature,” U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, told reporters. “The constitution’s very specific as to who’s supposed to do redistricting and apportionment – not judges.”

On cue, House Redistricting Committee Chairman Joe Crabb, R-Kingwood, said he’ll hold a public hearing next week on the topic.

The districts under the court map, which paid attention to incumbents while creating two new Republican districts, elected 17 Democrats and 15 Republicans.

DeLay contended because Republicans got more votes for Congress than Democrats, new districts should be drawn to reverse those numbers. But he denied that amounts to a quota system.

DeLay, in Austin Thursday for Former Members Day in the Texas House where he served in the early 1980s, admitted that the bill he’s been pushing might face tough sledding in the Texas Senate, where a two-thirds vote traditionally is required to bring bills to the floor. But he thinks it should be considered anyway.

DeLay said he met with Gov. Rick Perry, Senate presiding officer Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, and House Speaker Tom Craddick. DeLay said Dewhurst said the Senate will get a redistricting bill to the floor if the House passes it.

Dewhurst said later through a spokesman that the Senate will consider the bill only if the House passes it, and then it will go through the normal committee process.

DeLay said Craddick told him he will move the bill through the House. But Craddick said “It’s up to the House, and I don’t know how the House really feels about it.” Though he supports it, “I’m not pushing it,” Craddick said. “If (the committee members) are for it andkick out a bill, then it will be up to the full House to decide.”

DeLay said Gov. Perry is “more than anxious to get a bill to his desk so he can sign it.”

Meanwhile, even though DeLay claims part of his goal is to increase African-American and Hispanic representation in congress, minority Texas House Democrats said they like the current districts just fine. And the Legislature has far more important things to do than get into a divisive partisan battle over redistricting

Hispanic Rep. Richard Raymond, D-Laredo, said Crabb had told legislators publicly and privately that “if we’re not mandated to take up congressional redistricting, we wouldn’t. . . . I’ve known Joe Crabb for over 10 years and he has always been a man of his word.”

Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont, who chairs the Black Caucus, was asked why DeLay should care what Texas House Democrats think when he runs roughshod over Democrats in Washington.

“I know that (DeLay) doesn’t care,” Deshotel responded. “But I’m asking Speaker Craddick to care.”

McNeely can be contacted at 512/445-3644 or dmcneely@