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Bottom Line: Texas Will Be a Red State for Years to Come

By Carl Leubsdorf

You can call it Tom DeLay's final victory!

In upholding most of the controversial Texas redistricting plan, the Supreme Court cemented the Republican Party's hold on the state's congressional districts for the rest of the decade - and probably beyond.

In so doing, it upheld the handiwork of Mr. DeLay, the recently resigned GOP congressional power who was the key player in the political hardball tactics that produced his party's current 21-to-11 congressional majority.

Democrats won a small victory when the court ruled that, in drawing Republican Rep. Henry Bonilla's San Antonio-area district, the Texas Legislature improperly diluted the voting strength of Hispanics by moving thousands of them into an adjoining district.

This will require changes that could threaten Mr. Bonilla, who won narrowly in 2002 before getting 69 percent under the new plan.

Any changes also will affect the elongated neighboring district now represented by Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Austin, the court said. But they seem unlikely to dent its Democratic strength.

For the most part, however, the court decision was a Republican victory. It rejected the two main Democratic arguments: that the Texas districts were redrawn for essentially political purposes and that it was illegal for the Legislature to adopt the decade's second plan after the courts had implemented one after the 2000 census.

In essence, the court completed its approval of the way Republican majorities in several large states - like Democrats after prior censuses - adopted political redistricting plans. Texas was about the last hope for Democrats to undo any of these plans, which have helped solidify the national GOP majority in the House.

That aspect of the ruling could come around and bite the GOP if, after the next census in 2010, Democrats control the redistricting process in more large states, as Republicans did after 2000.

Some analysts suggested before the ruling that the court might create a threat to the recent GOP redistricting successes if it sanctioned a mid-decade plan in Texas.

Indeed, some Democrats have talked of trying to carve out additional seats in large states that they control. But there aren't very many with enough districts for a redistricting effort to matter.

Illinois, with a Democratic governor and legislature and an evenly divided congressional delegation, would be a possibility.

And if the Democrats do as well as they hope to this November in New York, they might be able to revise its districts.

But redistricting for partisan reasons always stirs up a huge political storm - witness what took place in Texas when the GOP gained full control of the Legislature and sought to pass the plan largely upheld today.

That alone might deter Democrats from using newly gained majorities for this purpose.

In Texas, Mr. Bonilla probably will have to run in a district with more Hispanic Democrats. But that's the only place Democrats seem to have much chance of adding a seat. The court rejected challenges to the Dallas-area redistricting that led to the defeat of longtime Democratic Rep. Martin Frost.

Indeed, the bottom line in yesterday's decision is that virtually all of the districts in the DeLay plan will remain in place until the next census.

It also means that the GOP-dominated map will be the starting point when the post-2010 Legislature considers the issue after the next census. Barring an unexpected Democratic capture of at least one house and the governorship, or both legislative houses, the GOP will be able to keep its majority for the ensuing decade.

Ultimately, of course, Democrats hope that changing population trends, mainly the rising Hispanic population, will translate at the polls into the votes that will enable them to reduce or eliminate Republican majorities.

But just as Democrats maintained their hold on many congressional districts after the state began to trend Republican, the GOP probably will be able to do so until its veteran incumbents retire and a transformed population elects different representatives.

Carl P. Leubsdorf is Washington Bureau chief of The Dallas Morning News. His e-mail address is cleubsdorf@dallasnews.com.

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