The New Redistricting
Eliminating Seven Democratic Seats
At a Labor Day 2004 fund raising breakfast, Martin Frost works the crowd. While Jim Turner is standing down, Congressman Frost has decided to fight on in a new district. The new boundaries heavily favor the Republican incumbent, but Frost isn't about to go quietly. This race has turned into a good, old-fashioned, political street fight and it's one of the highest-spending congressional races in the country.
"And you know," Frost says to the gathered crowd, "in this election, some people have said that I'm running for my life. That's not true. I'm running for your lives."
Unsurprisingly, he's got raucous support from the unions, minorities, party members who pound the streets and hit the phones on his behalf. But there's frustration here, too, and it's all because of what's being viewed as the Republican's brazen gerrymander.
"It abused the tradition in the Congress," says one supporter. "It was always strictly heavy-handed politics to quash the working people's voice. … This is probably one of the largest turnouts I've seen at a Labor Day function. And I've been with him for 26 years. So I think there's a lot of anger, and it's not just people in this district but it's just the working people in general that are angry."
Another supporter jumps in. "Maybe it's a wake up call to Democrats to say, 'Hey, this is not right, and we're gonna vote this time in large numbers.'"
"I think the redistricting was a ploy to hurt the Democrats," says another. "However, we're going to prevail, and we're going to make it work for us."
"This is a fight to the finish," says Frost, "Now what does that tell you?"
After the breakfast Congressman Frost tells me the Republicans are trying to turn Texas into a "one party state." But the shadow of gerrymandering falls far beyond Texas.
"It can be used," says Frost, "by one party or the other to preserve their majority in the House of Representatives long past the time when they have a majority in the country. And so it can alter the course of legislation. That could cause the national legislature to be deadlocked or could cause the national legislature, the Congress, to move in a direction which is really contrary to majority sentiment in the country."
Frost was forced out of his own district by the new plan and into a much more competitive race.
"I am facing a Republican incumbent who is very far to the right, and I've always been in the middle of the political spectrum, been a moderate Democrat. And my opponent will have a lot of money, and I've raised a good bit of money. And it's a real slugfest, and we'll see what happens. "
At this point, Martin Frost is talking the talk, but many observers don't share his confidence. And in some quarters, there is little sympathy for him either. Prior to the 2003 map re-drawing, the most significant gerrymander in Texas history was carried out by the Democrats in 1991. They carved up the state to favor their side, and the figure at the helm back then was one Martin Frost. So, according to Rob Ritchie, Executive Director at the Center For Voting And Democracy, a non-profit electoral reform group, 2003 was payback time.
"Martin Frost was a major player in the 1991-92 redistricting," says Ritchie, "and Republicans have been itching to get after him for years. And what they ultimately did was put him in a district where, all things being equal, the Republican candidate almost certainly would win."
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