in Houston, Texas
Most Congressional incumbents unchallenged, though parties see opportunity in new districts
Tuesday, Dec 20, 2011, 12:09PM CST
By Mark Lisheron
House floor

On the day of the deadline that wasn’t really a deadline for filing for U.S. Congress in districts without boundaries in Texas there are a few certainties subject to change.

In spite of staggering public disapproval nationally, most congressional incumbents in Texas, Republicans and Democrats, will not face an opponent in a primary.

The addition of four new Congressional districts, however they are eventually configured, are seen by both parties as political opportunities.

And in coastal District 14, where Rep. Ron Paul, R-Lake Jackson, isn’t running for reelection after seven terms, election officials will have to prepare a really long ballot.

State party offices did brisk business prior to 6 p.m. Monday as dozens of candidates filed papers announcing their intention to run for Congress. This might be considered a bold stroke, given that their districts are currently in the hands of the Supreme Court, which will begin listening to arguments on Jan. 9 that districts approved by the Texas Legislature violated the Voting Rights Act.

As part of an agreement to push back the Texas primary to April 3, approved late last week, the two major parties set a second filing deadline, Feb. 1, to accommodate the ruling of the Court. New candidates may file in late January and those that met this first deadline will be free at that time to drop out and get their filing fee refunded. (See the candidate lists as compiled by the Democratic and Republican parties here.)

“Today’s the filing deadline, sort of,” Rebecca Acuna, a spokeswoman for the Texas Democratic Party, said Monday afternoon. “Oh, it’s been frustrating and confusing. You have people filing for office when they don’t have districts.”

Which, apparently, did not deter candidates, who poured into the four new, albeit still theoretical, districts created by the population growth of the state over the past decade. Seven Republicans and a Democrat are running in District 36; three Democrats and two Republicans in District 35; five Republicans and a Democrat are running in District 34 and there are two candidates each in District 33.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, sufficiently emboldened by the court action, filed Monday to run in District 25, along with eight Republicans. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, who would have been pitted against Doggett in a legislatively redrawn District 35, filed on Dec. 3 to run for the District 20 seat.

Neither Doggett nor Castro has so far drawn a Democratic challenger.

“Because I believe that Federal Judges Orlando Garcia and Xavier Rodriquez acted properly in reuniting San Antonio neighborhoods, removing District 35 from Austin, and reuniting District 25 as a compact Travis-Hays County district, I have formally filed for reelection in District 25,” Doggett said in a press statement issued Monday. “With uncertainty associated with the review of these lines by three separate federal courts in January, I will continue to maintain campaign offices in both San Antonio and Austin.”

Chris Elam, a spokesman for the Republican Party of Texas, said he expected candidates in his party to meet the early filing deadline to get their campaigns launched and worry about what the court decides later.

“As the redistricting has gone forward, we’ve seen campaigns start and stop and start again,” Elam said. “What we have is a fluid situation, and there is nothing we can do about it.”

No district exemplified fluidity like Paul’s District 14. At the close of business, 10 candidates were running for the seat as Republicans. The one Democrat filing Monday is Nick Lampson, a former congressman redistricted out of office in 2004, elected for a term in the largely Republican District 22 and lost to Rep. Pete Olson in 2008.

In 18 of Texas’ 32 districts with an incumbent there are so far no primary challengers.These include 13 Republicans, some of them the most conservative in the Texas delegation, including Jeb Hensarling, R-Dallas, and Michael McCaul, R-Austin.

Alice Linehan, a Tea Party organizer from Argyle, said activists were less dissatisfied with conservatives in Congress, and would more likely be focusing on Republican primaries for  the state House and Senate.

Entrenched Democrats in five districts, including Gene Green and Sheila Jackson-Lee, both of Houston, have not yet drawn a primary challenger. On the other hand, Ruben Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, in Congress since 1997, has three primary challengers, while Eddie Bernice Johnson, who began serving in 1993, has two.
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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