A bitter backstage fight has erupted between Republicans in Texas over the redistribution, pitting Rep. Lamar Smith against his longtime colleague, Rep. Joe Barton.
The dispute is over the makeup of four new congressional districts for the Lone Star State and centers on racial balance – including the controversial issue of “laundering” or the inclusion of more white voters in a district – of the new political map of Texas.
At stake in this controversy is the political power of Hispanics in the nation’s second most populous state, as well as the future political careers of some of its most powerful Republican incumbents. The GOP currently holds a 23-9 lead over the Democrats in the delegation. But with the creation of four new districts, Republicans are taking ink on the map to ensure their political security while trying to avoid breaking federal voting rights law.
Smith, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and key man in the redistribution of ridings for Republicans in Texas, is pushing to divide four new districts evenly between Republicans and Democrats, recognizing that Texas’s burgeoning Hispanic population will win seats majority minority in the Dallas and Houston areas. According to 2010 census data, Texas is now home to 9.5 million Hispanics, or 38% of the state’s total population, but only six members of the congressional delegation are Hispanic, including first-year representatives. of the GOP Francisco Canseco and Bill Flores.
Smith, described by other Republicans as motivated more by political pragmatism than partisanship, quietly met with Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) to work out a bipartisan compromise on the new districts.
And with concerns about the Voting Rights Act coming into play – which prohibits congressional districts from being drawn in a way that dilutes the voting power of minorities – Smith appealed last week to a Texas Supreme Court official to tell GOP lawmakers that there is no way to create strong GOP districts that would meet Department of Justice or federal court approval. Under the Voting Rights Act, Texas is one of 16 states that need outside approval to implement new state and federal districts.
But Barton, who was ignored in January by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) for the mighty hammer of the Energy and Trade Committee, pushed to make three, or maybe all four, of the new districts favored by Republicans, potentially shutting down Hispanic hopes of the new seats. Barton harshly criticized Smith at Texas GOP delegation meetings, hurling a tirade of profanity at Smith during a session early last month, and he privately attempted to oust Smith as the top Republican negotiator on redistribution.
Barton missed an all-Texas Republicans meeting at the Congressional Republican National Committee last Thursday, according to several GOP insiders. He was the only Republican to miss the rally, the sources said. Barton was at a family funeral at the time.
A Texas Republican said the debate had become particularly acrimonious.
“Redistribution always does,” noted the GOP lawmaker, who requested anonymity.
“It’s really bad,” added another Republican insider familiar with the situation. “Barton tries to get Smith out, but the members don’t buy into it. They think [Smith] has done a good job so far.
Barton, however, could gain the support of Texas GOP Governor Rick Perry, who wants at least three of the new seats to go to Republicans, according to Democrats familiar with the situation.
Perry also considered the idea of skipping the Justice Department’s review of the new congressional map and going directly to federal court for approval, the Democrats added. Almost all of the reviews mandated by the Voting Rights Act are first conducted by the Department of Justice, although Perry wants to avoid this step with the Obama administration.
Barton’s efforts could have a particularly big impact on the Dallas-area district held by Rep. Pete Sessions, president of the NRCC. The current district of Sessions, located northwest of Dallas, is over 40% Hispanic.
Barton makes proposals to include more white voters in the Sessions district to help his colleague. Sessions was easily re-elected in 2010, as he helped the NRCC achieve a historic victory in the House, although his district could become the majority on a new map unless changes are made.
For Republicans, the balancing act they must perform during the redistribution is also complicated by the fact that their freshmen have won seats in heavily Hispanic neighborhoods that would be made safer by the circumcision of Latinos. , who have traditionally supported Democrats. The vast majority of Hispanic state and local officials in Texas are Democrats, as are four of the six members of the congressional delegation.
Neither Barton nor Smith responded to requests for comment. Assistants to the two lawmakers sent emails to the offices of other Republicans in Texas asking them not to cooperate with a POLITICO reporter, saying the dispute should be dealt with within the delegation.
Barton, along with former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), was involved in the politically brutal 2003 redistribution fight in the Lone Star State.
DeLay helped the Texas Legislature redesign its congressional districts after the 2002 election, and Republicans won five House seats in the 2004 presidential election. Democrats attempted to subpoena Barton to testify in the case, but the effort was canceled. DeLay was sentenced to three years in prison on a money laundering charge related to that battle, but is appealing his conviction.
The sessions would not comment on the dispute between Barton and Smith or the redistribution discussions within the Texas GOP delegation, including last Thursday’s meeting at the NRCC. Several sources said that proposed district plans were distributed at the meeting, as the authorship of some of the plans was unclear.
“The delegation is dedicated to fair and balanced lines not just for the members, but for the voters, and I think we will,” Sessions said. “I am very safe in the Republican delegation from Texas which works very well for the best interests of all the people of Texas.”
“I think the whole delegation will speak very clearly,” he added, “and I am very proud of the direction we are taking.”
The Texas legislature has begun to draw new maps for state and congressional lawmakers. If the Texas House and Senate cannot agree on the outline of new congressional districts, Perry can call a special session of the Legislature to do so. If no special session is called, a state or federal judge will likely draw the districts.
Jonathan Allen contributed to this report.
Clarification: Rep. Joe Barton missed a Texas GOP meeting on redistribution because he was at a family funeral last week. This context was not clear in a previous version of this story.