If there is one thing that has divided Texas politics the past decade it has been redistricting. According to the US Constitution, a state’s legislature must redraw the Congressional District lines after each national census.
In 2003 however, Republicans controlled the Texas legislature and redrew the districts without a census, a political move that c
aused Democrats to cry foul. A group of Democrats serving in the Texas Legislature left Texas for Oklahoma, leaving the legislature without enough members to vote on the map.
Despite these efforts, the map was eventually put in place, causing many Texas Democrats to run for office in newer, more conservative districts. One of those who had lost his liberal voting base was Lloyd Doggett, who has represented an Austin-based district since 1995.
An established liberal voice and a favorite son of Austin Democrats, Doggett, who decided to run in another more liberal district garnered more than twice as many votes as his Republican opponent in the 2004 general election.
Following the 2010 census, Republicans controlled the Texas legislature, and once again passed a map that marginalized the Democratic vote. This put Doggett into a more conservative district for a second time, prompting Doggett to run in a different district—the 35th—which still included many of his Austin constituents.
This time, Doggett is facing a challenge that he did not face back in 2004: Joaquin Castro a powerful Democratic party opponent who currently represents the 125th district in the Texas House of Representatives (and I must admit that I have volnteered with him quite a bit over the past few weeks). Castro, the brother of San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, has been described as a rising star in the Democratic party and is taking the opportunity to run for higher office as the representative for the 35th district, which includes his childhood neighborhood.
Fighting for the Democratic nomination in a district that runs from Travis to Bexar County has become a challenge between an established Austinite and an up-and-coming San Antonian. In his first quarter of fundraising, Castro raised over $500,000, the most by any Democrat not already serving in the US House of Representatives; far more than Doggett.
Doggett has begun to echo allegations that the 35th District, which is heavily weighted towards San Antonio and has a primarily Hispanic population, was a backdoor deal between Castro and Republicans.
Gerrymandering—drawing districts to ensure one party has an advantage—is legal and not unheard of outside Texas. However, the Lone Star State has a history of discrimination against minorities which means that Texas must comply with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which states that Texas cannot take away the voting power of a minority group.
The 2010 census showed that Texas grew more than any other state over the past 10 years and enabled Texas to pick up an additional four Congressional Districts. Since most of that growth has come from Hispanics, the Federal Court is in the process of redrawing the map to give them more voting power. The current political map—including the 35th District—will have to take into account these population changes and be redrawn in order to comply with the Voting Rights Act.
Both candidates have hit the campaign trail, but ultimately a Federal Court in San Antonio holds the fate of the 35th district. The state district map, which will be drawn by the Federal Court, has yet to be put into effect. The map is expected to be released by the end of November Even if Doggett and Castro don’t continue to run against each other, they should both be politicians to keep your eyes on for many years to come.