Texas D’s (again) lock horns with Cong. Henry Cuellar
Texas Insider Report: AUSTIN, Texas – Texas Democrats are fuming at Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-Laredo) for agreeing to a proposed Congressional Redistricting Plan that could end Texas’ months-long court-ensnarled standoff, accusing him of selling out others in the party while securing self-preservation. Cuellar was the only House Democrat Monday that agreed to join two House Republicans – Reps. Lamar Smith & Francisco Canseco – in signing onto a compromise plan drawn by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott in the hopes of finalizing a new Congressional map.
Many Texas Democrats, who for months have been locked in a brutal battle with Republicans over the once-in-a decade remap process, now say they have found an enemy among their own – and they are fuming.
“He’s a deplorable, dishonest person. He’s proven it time and time again in redistricting,” said Matt Angle, founder of the Lone Star Project, a group that supports and funds Democratic candidates in Texas. “I know it sounds over the top, but it’s true.”
Cuellar stresses he had nothing to do with drawing the compromise map — he just agreed to it. “Anyone who says I was involved in drawing those maps is absolutely wrong. All I did was to propose an idea.”
On Monday, Abbott — eager & willing to reach across the aisle — seemed to indirectly highlight Cuellar’s role in a statement released from his office.
“Even though these proposed interim maps aren’t fully supported by all interest groups, modifications have been incorporated based on requests made by all parties. The proposed maps minimize changes to the redistricting plan passed by the Legislature and, as the U. S. Supreme Court required, makes changes only where necessary,” Abbott said.
“The Texas Attorney General’s office has worked with a wide range of interest groups to incorporate reasonable requests from all parties to the extent possible without compromising the will of the Texas Legislature. Today’s maps should allow the court to finalize the interim redistricting maps in time to have elections in April.”
Nonetheless, Democrats were stunned Cuellar would negotiate with Republicans, let alone agree to a map they argue would cost the party several seats, and potentially rob minorities of the chance to maximize their gains in the House of Representatives.
Democrats had objected to the Legislature-drawn map, arguing in Federal Court that it doesn’t sufficiently recognize the state’s growing minority population. Democrats want an interim plan that more closely resembles one drawn by a San Antonio-based court, that some analysts believe allows for a Democrat to win 13 of the 36 seats.
The Supreme Court struck down that interim plan last month.
And earlier in the week, Abbott stated via press release the parties involved where making progress, saying:
“The proposed House and Congressional interim redistricting maps are the result of an agreement between the State of Texas and the Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force – which includes Texas LULAC, MALDEF, GI Forum, Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, Domingo Garcia, The Mexican American Bar Association of Texas, and La Fe Policy Research and Education Center. The proposed Congressional interim redistricting map is also supported by Congressman Henry Cuellar.
“Although the Mexican American Legislative Caucus (MALC), the Black Legislative Caucus and the NAACP have not agreed to support the proposed maps, those maps include modifications that address some of the primary concerns those plaintiffs raised during negotiations with the State,” said Abbott.
Mexican American Legislative Caucus Chairman Trey Martinez Fischer called Cuellar’s agreement an effort by the congressman to finalize a rock-solid, South Central Texas-based district for himself. But he argued it would have little impact on the final lines.
“I take Henry’s actions at face value,” said Martinez Fischer, who called Cuellar a friend. “The consequences of this agreement really don’t go beyond the confines of his district.”
Cuellar pointed out he’s been well-positioned to win reelection in each of the proposed maps, and disputes the notion he’s looking out for himself at others’ expense, saying he felt no need to promote one plan over another.
Cuellar’s Office released a lengthy statement on Monday detailing how the plan advances the interests of Hispanic and black candidates seeking Congressional office in Texas, saying the plan helps solidify a set of minority-held seats.
“To say I did this for my own interests is absolutely crazy. This has nothing to do with self-promotion. Anyone who says anything else is being dishonest with you,” said Cuellar.
The compromise map that Abbott and Cuellar agreed to is similar to one that the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature approved last year, which appeared to allot 11 of the state’s 36 Congressional seats to Democrats.
The Federal Court had set a Monday evening deadline for the parties to reach an agreement in order to prevent Texas’s April 3 primary from being extended. With no compromise reached, that primary date — which applies to all of the state’s elected offices and its GOP presidential contest — is in limbo.
It hasn’t been unusual for Democrats to partner with Republicans on redistricting. Since the GOP presently controls much of line-drawing, Democrats across the country have forged alliances with Republicans to ensure favorable treatment in the redistricting process, which can make or break a member’s political fortunes.
The Lone Star Project’s Matt Angle points out, however, that under Cuellar’s plan minorities comprise a majority in fewer districts than in the one drawn by the San Antonio court, which he estimated included 13 majority-minority districts.
“What bothers me is that he puts his own ambitions ahead of expanding the voting strength of Latino voters. He’s willing to cut the throats of other Latinos to get what he wants,” says Angle.
Particularly galling to Democrats is that Cuellar has a seat in the party’s Congressional Leadership structure. Last year, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi tapped the Texas Democrat to serve as vice chairman of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee.
“It’s outrageous that a member with a seat at the leadership table is negotiating to give away Democratic seats in Texas redistricting,” said one House Democratic leadership aide. “The San Antonio court has been favorable to Democrats, and the federal court is positioned to rule in Democrats’ favor. It makes you wonder what Cuellar is getting out of it.”
Democrats have long viewed Cuellar, a 4th-term moderate often willing to break with Washington’s partisan lines, with some suspicion.
In 2001, Governor Rick Perry appointed Cuellar to serve as his Secretary of State. In 2004, Cuellar waged a successful primary challenge to then-Democratic Rep. Ciro Rodriguez. That Rodriguez was a former colleague in the state House of Representatives and had once even raised money for Cuellar made the primary challenge seem like an act of betrayal.
But when Cuellar ascended to the leadership position last year, it seemed like he was ready to be a team player. In February 2011, Cuellar became the first Democratic member of the 2012 cycle to pay off his entire dues balance to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), forking over a $300,000 check.
On Feb. 1- less than a week ago – Cuellar joined a half-dozen other minority Texas Democrats, Reps. Al Green, Charlie Gonzales, Ruben Hinojosa, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Sheila Jackson Lee & Silvestre Reyes, to write Texas Attorney General Abbott and insist that any redistricting agreement be backed by both parties.
“We are calling for all parties to be involved in the negotiations. If one goes forward and negotiates an agreement, it should be with all parties at the table if the desire of the state is to avoid an appeal which would be unlikely if you were fortunate enough to have the court adopt such a plan,” the letter said.