Saturday, August 13, 2016

What Can Austin Texas Teach Us About How A Widely Hated Republican Party Consolidates Power


Lamar Smith and Roger Williams-- this is not Austin, Texas

In 2003, Tom DeLay did Travis County in. It was part of a masterplan that brought Texas from a state with 17 Democrats and 15 Republicans in Congress to one with 21 Republicans and 11 Democrats. Among other things, he gerrymandered up Texas' fifth most populous county-- Austin and it's suburbs-- to deprive the citizens an opportunity to elect their own congressional representative. Two actually. Nationally, the average House district has a population of 710,767 and Travis County's population is 1,151,145-- two congressmen. Both would be Democrats-- by a wide margin. Instead the DeLay-engineered gerrymander cut the county up and divided it among 5 districts, TX-10, TX-17, TX-21, TX-25, and TX-35, only one of which is Democratic, but still isn't a Travis County district.

In 2012, Travis County voted for Obama over Romney by a wide margin-- 231,540 (60%) to 139,503 (36%). There was also a U.S. Senate race that day and Travis County voters went heavily for Paul Sadler, the Democrat, over Ted Cruz. 224,070 voters went for Sadler (59%) and just 133,354 voted for Cruz (35%). You get the picture; it's a nice blue county. But here's how it worked district by gerrymandered district.

TX-10- stretched from the deep red suburbs west of Houston in Harris County across a hug swathe of rural Texas and right into northern Austin. Almost 40% of the district is in Travis County, which votes reliably Democratic but has it's voice muffled by the rest of the R+11 district. In 2012 over 88,000 votes came from Travis County and the multimillionaire right-wing Republican incumbent, Michael McCaul, only got 40% of them. But he took 74% of the 90,000 votes that came from Harris County and most of the votes in the smaller, rural counties.

TX-17 is a red hellhole (R+13) with a right-wing nut, Bill Flores, as a congressman. The district is dominated by McLennan County (Waco) which is overwhelmingly Republican. Over 60,000 of them voted in 2012 and 51,459 backed Flores (85%). Brazos County has the second biggest population of the 12 counties in the district and about 47,000 voted for Flores (83%). Travis is the 3rd biggest; over 32,000 voted but their voice was drowned out.

TX-21 is almost as red (R+12) and with an even worse congressman than Flores, Lamar Smith. We've been talking about this district a lot this cycle because we're trying to help Tom Wakely turn it blue. In 2012 Smith took 61% of the vote against a weak candidate. There are 10 counties, #1 being Bear (San Antonio) and #2 being Travis. Smith only got 32% of the Travis vote. Over 73,000 voted there, but they were drowned out by Bexar (over 101,000 voters) and Comal (about 40,000 voters).

TX-25 starts up in the suburbs south of Fort Worth and goes into the Texas Hill country southwest of Austin, grabbing a chunk of Travis County on the way. It's another R+12 district with another right-wing nut as a congressman, Roger Williams, who was just charged by the House Ethics Committee for trying to pass legislation to enrich himself. There are 13 counties and although Travis is the single biggest (109,000 people from there voted in 2012) their voices were drowned out by Republican votes from Johnson and Hays counties.

TX-35 is the one blue district that includes a piece of Travis County, not that the GOP didn't try to gerrymander Lloyd Dogged out of a seat. In the end though he wound up in this district that parallels TX-21 but tries stuffing in as many Democrats as possible so that neighboring TX-21,TX-10 and TX-31 would all remain safely red. The PVI is D+11 and includes southeast Travis county and a big chunk of Bexar (San Antonio). The district is about 65% Hispanic and 9% black. In 2012 over 72,000 votes came from an overwhelmingly Democratic part of San Antonio, while 42,000 voters from Travis County were able to join with them to elect Doggett.

None of this is news, except for the part about the Office of Congressional Ethics stating that "there is substantial reason to believe that Rep. Williams' personal financial interest in his auto dealership may be perceived as having influenced his performance of official duties." He had slipped an amendment into a transportation bill to allow car dealers (like himself) rent cars and use loaners under recall, a clear conflict of interest. (He's already one of the richest members of Congress-- with a 2014 net worth of $28 million-- but usually the richer someone is, the greedier they are as well.) Normally-- in a non-gerrymandered district-- he could be beaten. The DCCC didn't recruit a candidate and isn't supporting Kathi Thomas the district's nominee.

Tom Wakely
As of the June 30 FEC reporting deadline Williams had raised $1,382,855-- primarily by leveraging his position on the House Financial Services Committee (the banksters have given him a hefty $1,871,616 since he was first elected in 2012)-- to Kathi's $24,699. He had $978,997 cash on hand and she had $4,467. And it isn't as though the DCCC didn't know about the pending charges against Williams, which started bubbling up last November.

The only Republican-held Travis County seat we see as winnable this cycle is TX-21, where a combination of Trumpophobia in the Bexar suburbs and anger at Lamar Smith for his role in the Zika crisis and for his support for Trump. If you can spare some cash to help turn a Texas district blue, please give to Tom Wakely here.

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