Joe Conason's Journal

Tom DeLay's crooked Texas GOP drives the Democrats right off the map.

Published May 15, 2003 4:54PM (EDT)

Why standing firm meant leaving town
The nation's new internal security apparatus monitors the movements of politicians from the opposition party. The ruling party attempts to mandate a system that would perpetuate its rule. The ruling party's legislative leader habitually declares that his will is the law. Sounds like the Philippines under the late Ferdinand Marcos, or some other benighted banana republic, doesn't it? It's Texas, of course.

That's why those 51 tough, determined Democrats departed Austin for a short motel vacation in Ardmore, Okla. Those legislators had no intention of ratifying Tom DeLay's crooked redistricting plan, which is what would have been expected of them had they showed up to fulfill a quorum. (The origins of the dispute are reviewed with admirable simplicity and dispassion here. A Dallas Democrat explains why she holed up in Ardmore here.)

How literally crooked is the DeLay map? Just examine this illustration, with its full-color assortment of doglegs, islands and cul-de-sacs. What the map doesn't show is how the DeLay plan intentionally slices up naturally contiguous districts -- such as Travis County (Austin), where the Republicans' sole aim is to unseat liberal Democratic Rep. Lloyd Doggett.

But there's really no need to debate the purpose of the DeLay plan, since subtlety isn't one of the House majority leader's notable traits. (The Prince he ain't.) His explanation was as simple as his mind: "I'm the majority leader, and we want more seats," he told the Austin American-Statesman last week. He also talks about providing more seats for blacks and Latinos, but the notion that DeLay cares about minority empowerment is too far-fetched for anyone to take seriously. (It was dealing with DeLay that finally drove Oklahoma's J.C. Watts, the lonely black Republican representative, into retirement.)

Under the constitutional procedures created by the nation's founders, a partisan leader's lust for power wouldn't be sufficient reason to redraw an entire state's congressional districting map three years after the census. Jefferson, Madison and Adams surely would have been disgusted by DeLay. Why he or anyone else now thinks the Democrats should collaborate in their own gerrymandered destruction is a mystery.

Blithering cable hosts may or may not understand what's going on in Austin, but Texans do. Many in the Lone Star state who supported George W. Bush for president are justly appalled by the latest episode of GOP thuggery, including the editorial boards of the Houston Chronicle and the Dallas Morning News, both of which endorsed Bush in 2000. For a sense of reasonable opinion in Texas, read this May 13 editorial from the Dallas daily, a fairly conservative paper, urging the Republican legislative boss to behave decently:

"House Speaker Tom Craddick can halt the work stoppage in Austin. All he has to do is play by the rules on redistricting ... Mr. Craddick should resist pressure from Congress to contaminate a generations-old census-based exercise by converting it into an ill-considered purely partisan power grab. He should commit to leave Texas' political boundaries alone, and protesting Democrats should promptly return to the hive."
[11:20 a.m. PDT, May 15, 2003]

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By Salon Staff

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