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Lloyd Doggett Back in Primary Race With San Antonio Challengers

New interim maps leave the Austin Democrat running in San Antonio-anchored district. This time, for real. Probably.
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With the unveiling of the San Antonio redistricting court’s interim maps Tuesday came a little clarity on the fate of Congressman Lloyd Doggett, one of the main characters in this partisan brawl from the very beginning.

For Doggett, these new maps look an awful lot like the old ones passed by the Legislature early this year—the ones that drew Doggett into the court challenge we’ve been enjoying all these months. His current district, CD-25, has been ooched west a bit and stretched up to Tarrant County, a rural and heavily Republican district he’d be hard-pressed to win.

As Dallas attorney and redistricting guru Michael Li points out, these maps still need to be precleared for Voting Rights Act violations by either the Department of Justice or a federal court in Washington. But with time running short to file for races, candidates are making decisions assuming these maps will hold up.

The best choice left for an Austin Democrat like himself is CD-35, a new district that starts in Austin and runs south down its eponymous Interstate for a skinny stretch a mile or so wide, to its anchor in San Antonio. (Somehow, nobody’s come up with a nickname for this one that’s really stuck yet.)

“As an effective advocate for schools, veterans, health care and retirement security, my service fits well with the neighborhoods that have now been joined from South San Antonio to North Austin,” he said in a statement Tuesday.

Redistricting_20120229_interimCD35map

Because it’s been drawn as a minority opportunity district, with mostly Hispanic voters, Doggett’s back in the position he was in last fall—arguing that even though he’s white, his experience and his track record make him a better advocate for the district than a Hispanic candidate from San Antonio.

For a sense of what that outreach looks like in practice, look no further than this unfortunate shot from the San Antonio Express-News last year: Doggett paired awkwardly at a campaign event with a mariachi band.

Still, there’s a huge difference in this race today—and his name is Joaquin Castro. The state representative who’d lined up to challenge Doggett at first has since found a clearer path to Congress in CD-20, where Charlie Gonzalez has announced his retirement.

The road ahead is a little kinder to Doggett now, with Castro happily landed next door. Patrick Shearer, a San Antonio commercial real estate broker, said today that “he didn’t enter this race to run against” Doggett and would probably bow out. But Doggett will still have challengers.

Bexar County Tax Assessor-Collector Sylvia Romo and former Congressman Ciro Rodriguez have both been registered to run in CD-35 for months, and back in November the Houston Chronicle even went so far as to call the two “Democratic heavyweights.”

Romo, who served two terms in the Texas House in 1993 and 1995, wasted no time Tuesday afternoon announcing that she was still very much running in the district, even with Doggett lined up against her.

“For every single candidate for Congress in Texas, the last few months have been a roller coaster ride of many emotions,” her spokesman Vince Liebowitz told the Observer Tuesday. “As far as Sylvia is concerned District 35 is where her heart is, and District 35 is where her base is.”

“I feel quite certain that many people believe that a district that’s so heavily anchored in Bexar County needs a representative from Bexar County,” Liebowitz said. Romo’s campaign has long pointed out that should she win, she’d be Texas’ first Latina representative in Congress.

While they may be pretty close ideologically, Liebowitz said the manner in which Romo plans to do to her job in Congress sets her apart from Doggett. “Sylvia’s someone that’s most interest in persuading others to her viewpoint than she is in scoring political points.”
He said they’ve been “contacted by a large number of former Castro supporters” for the district who are interested in helping Romo’s cause. Plenty of folks are still unhappy about these maps, but Liebowitz said he’d just spoken with Romo, and she agreed that it’s time to get down to business now.

“We’ve been waiting for the court to rule, we’ve been waiting for this day for a while,” he said. “Sylvia is excited. You can hear the excitement as well as the relief in her voice.”

Former U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, who was bumped out of CD-23 by Republican Quico Canseco in 2010, is a little less zen about the latest maps. “The congressman is really disappointed with the interim maps. They still don’t reflect the minority growth in the state of Texas,” spokesperson Irma Gutierrez told the Observer today.

Rodriguez said as much this afternoon, in a press conference with LULAC lawyers in San Antonio at a corner where Districts 20, 23 and 35 all intersect. “Our democracy must be representative of its people and reflect the diversity in our country. These maps do not reflect that nor do they begin to give adequate representation to Latinos or African Americans,” he said in a statement issued shortly after.

Rodriguez is still running in CD-35 for now, Gutierrez said, but he might jump into his old CD-23, where he still lives, and try to wrestle it back for the Democrats. “He is going to look at the numbers and make a decision in the next three or four days,” she said.

Update March 1: Maria Luisa Alvarado, a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor back in 2006, also announced Tuesday that she’d get into the CD35 race. “In 2006 my decision to run for office was in part to oppose the don’t-give-a-hoot-about-public-education-Republicans. On their watch our Texas children have been denied the education needed to allow their access to the middle class,” she said in a statement.

Patrick Michels is a reporter for the Texas Observer and a former legislative intern. He has been a staff writer and web editor at the Dallas Observer, and a former editor of the Texas Independent. He has a bachelor's in journalism from Northwestern University, a master's in photojournalism from the University of Texas at Austin, and is a competitive eating enthusiast.