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Rural Texas House members urge Senate to stop bill

By J. Lyn carl,

Austin, TX – Characterized as a "monstrosity" that would result in "political and electoral chaos," the redistricting bill that passed out of the Texas House earlier this week was ridiculed by rural area House members, who today urged members of the Texas Senate to block the bill from coming to the Senate floor.

"First off, we're upset with the process itself," said Rep. Robby Cook (D-Eagle Lake) at a press conference today. "Any change you see to a map will have a very negative impact on rural Texas." Cook said several Republican and Democratic senators said they could not support the House-passed bill. He said the map "guts rural Texas and leaves folks in small towns at the mercy of people who live in big cities and suburbs."

"Agriculture is still the number one industry in rural Texas," said Cook. "The infrastructure is tied to agriculture."

Cook said if the House's redistricting map goes through, his area could lose Congressman Charlie Stenholm as its representative in Congress. "If you look at what Charlie Stenholm has done over the years," he said, "he has worked across the aisle to develop good farm legislation. If we lose someone like Charlie Stenholm, it shows party is more important than agriculture - which IS rural Texas."

Rep. Chuck Hopson (D-Jacksonville) said the map that passed the House earlier this week puts his home in one congressional district and his pharmacy in another. "Rural Texas shouldn't be cut up," he said, noting rural issues deserve a voice in Washington. "The Senate needs to vote no when redistricting comes up." He accused U.S. Congressman Tom DeLay, who has been accused of being the force behind Texas congressional redistricting, of "bait and switch" tactics.

"Texans across the state are not asking us to do this," Hopson said of the redistricting process. "They're asking us to lower insurance and to redo school finance and lower property taxes." He said the Texas legislature should abandon redistricting efforts and focus on issues important to Texans.

"The fight is not about Democrats and Republicans," said Rep. Barry Telford (D-DeKalb) but to many it is about whether rural Texas will lose its voice in Congress. He noted in rural Texas, voters support both Republican and Democratic candidates. Telford said the Senate can "stand up and support rural Texas" by not allowing the bill to come to the Senate floor. He called the map passed out of the House a "monstrosity."

Telford said a precedent will also be set if a redistricting bill passes, and a precedent not just for Texas but also for the nation. "If in midstream we can just go back and undo what the voters have done, simply because one party or the other wants it to be done," said Telford, the Texas Legislature will have created "political and electoral chaos." He said if it happens in Texas, "you will see this horror repeated again in other states."

John Mabry (D-Waco) called the redistricting battle involving the House and Senate "a classic game of good cop-bad cop" between the House and Senate, and said rural Texas is "the innocent suspect in the back room being beaten up."

He said stopping the bill on the House floor or the Senate floor is "impossible." But stopping it before it gets to the Senate floor is possible. "The sure way to stop this is for four senators on the Senate Jurisprudence Committee to vote 'no.'" Mabry said he is confident the three Democratic members of the committee will vote against the bill and said one Republican vote in committee will kill the bill. He urged Sen. Kip Averitt (R-Waco), who also represents a rural district, to vote against the bill. "They will be a hero not only to their constituents but to rural Texans across the state," Mabry said of any Republicans on the Senate committee who vote against the bill.

Rep. Allen Ritter (D-Nederland) spoke of Southeast Texas and "the neutering" of that area's voice in Congress if the redistricting bill passes. He called the bill "devastating" to Southeast Texas. He urged members of the Senate to "do the right thing" and stop the bill.

Questions arose about the redistricting proposal to be offered by Sen. Ken Armbrister (D-Victoria). "I have more respect for him than I do for many of my family members," said Cook of the Victoria senator. "He has said time and time again he is not going to let something out of the Senate that hurts rural Texas."

The message to members of the Senate from the rural House members was clear - stop the redistricting bill before it comes to the Senate floor.

"The only good redistricting for rural Texas is NO redistricting," said Mabry.