As far as many of these voters are concerned, Doggett is not their congressman — he’s the guy from Austin, 80 miles away. But the primary race here is, in fact, between the congressman from Austin and the tax collector from San Antonio.
“This has been a weird election, the timing, the confusion,” said Romo, tracing her hands along the strange map of the new congressional district. “It is so weird the way this thing just kind of developed. What were they drinking?”
But weirdness and confusion are the hallmarks of redistricting in Texas.
This year’s upheaval, for example, meant that the primary election day scheduled for March 6 had to be postponed until May 29. That delay crushed the presidential hopes of Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, both of whom thought a win in Texas would reenergize their bid for the GOP presidential nomination against Mitt Romney. Romney will finally win enough delegates in Texas on Tuesday to wrap up the nomination.
The delayed primary also allowed former state solicitor general Ted Cruz, a tea party favorite, to mount an insurgent bid for the U.S. Senate against Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the prohibitive establishment favorite to replace the retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. Now, it looks as if Cruz will force Dewhurst into a late-July runoff for the GOP nomination.
Instead of pitched battles followed by compromise and a single map for the next decade, as happens in the other 49 states, Texans gird for a longer fight. The result is that districts sometimes get redrawn more than once after each official census, often leaving voters unsure who their representative is or in which district they reside.
First the congressional delegation offers its map, then the state legislature draws its own, then lower-level federal courts weigh in before, finally, the Supreme Court tries to settle the matter.
Doggett, for example, is seeking reelection in his fifth differently drawn district over the past 12 years, including a two-year stint last decade representing a district that stretched 350 miles from Austin to the Mexico border.
“I’ve had an opportunity to represent a great deal of Texas, just not at the same time,” Doggett joked Sunday in a telephone interview during one of his countless treks up Interstate 35 from a campaign stop in San Antonio.
The new 35th District has been described as a “dumbbell” because it is formed by two ball-shaped chunks, one in east Austin and the other in east San Antonio, connected by a thin strip along I-35.