This year’s Democratic primary race for Congressional District 35, predicted to come down to long-time Congressman Lloyd Doggett and Bexar County Tax Assessor-Collector Sylvia Romo, is like a made-for-TV movie about Texas’ changing demographics.
The ingenious Republicans used redistricting to put Doggett in a tough position. He’s running against a Latina from San Antonio in a district based partly in Bexar County where many of the voters are Latino. The race comes at a time when Latinos, who will soon comprise a majority of Texans, have celebrated a new state Tejano monument and could stand to elect Texas’ first Latina congresswoman in Romo—at the expense of one of the few Anglo politicians who has championed their causes for nearly 20 years. The alternative is to keep Doggett, a proven advocate, and turn their back on history. For Latino voters in CD 35, it’s an unenviable decision to make.
Neither Romo or Doggett lives in the newly drawn district, which begins in Travis County and runs a long skinny way down to Hispanic-heavy San Antonio. Only grass-roots candidate and Air Force veteran Maria Luisa Alvarado lives in District 35. Alvarado, who ran a lost-cause race for lieutenant governor against David Dewhurst in 2006, is considered a long shot because of her lack of funding. Both Doggett and Romo plan to move to District 35, (Doggett lives five blocks east, currently), should they win the primary on Tuesday.
“The congressman is running in CD 35 because he has always said that he will run in whichever district has the largest number of his current constituents,” Ashley Bliss-Herrera, a spokesman for the Doggett campaign, told me.
Of the five congressional districts that Travis County was sliced into, District 35 is the only one that maintains a Democratic majority. Of course, it also stretches down to San Antonio—a deliberate move by the GOP to oust Doggett by saddling him with a Hispanic majority voter base that doesn’t have a history with him. (The GOP tried this same strategy in 2003-2004, when Tom DeLay’s mid-decade redistricting plan put Doggett in a majority-Latino district that stretched from Austin to the Rio Grande Valley. Doggett won reelection anyway. The district was redrawn for the 2006 election after federal courts invalidated parts of the DeLay map.)
Romo, a former state rep who’s now attempting to leap from a county office to Congress, has some serious confidence in her raza-ness to run against Doggett in any race. But it’s a gamble that could pay off.
“This is a district that was designed to elect a Latino and my feeling is that is what it’ll do,” Romo told me. “I think many in the district see this as an opportunity to make history by electing the first Latina from Texas to Congress.”
She’s also tapped into a dark secret I, as a liberal Hispanic, hate to say out loud: Hispanic Democrats in Texas are not necessarily so liberal. At least based on her platform of “non-partisanship” and emphasis on job creation and fiscal health rather than national healthcare or broad immigration reform—two issues Doggett has a history of championing.
The race may hinge not only on money—which Doggett has much more of— but also who turns out to vote, the so-called “liberal elite” Hispanic who, in many ways, bucks traditional Latino mores, or the working class voters who share more conservative values.
Doggett has a proven record of taking on Republicans and advocating for education, fair taxation and a host of other progressive causes. Doggett was also endorsed in the race by both the Austin American-Statesman and the San Antonio Express-News. But Romo is the liberal ideal come to fruition: a minority woman representing her own district—and an experienced public official who would be Texas’ first ever Latina in Congress.
It’s liberal ideals vs. the liberal dream actualized.