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New Elections Ordered for 13 Texas Congressional Districts

August 6, 1996

HOUSTON (AP) _ Plunging Texas politics into turmoil, a panel of federal judges Tuesday redrew the congressional map, threw out the results of primaries in 13 of the state’s 30 House districts and ordered new elections.

The redistricting was done to conform to recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings outlawing the drawing of districts primarily on the basis of race.

Incumbents in the 13 districts include House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Majority Whip Tom DeLay and Ways and Means Committee chairman Bill Archer. The three powerful Republicans are in districts that probably will continue to be GOP-dominated.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that the Texas Legislature improperly drew two districts in Houston and one in Dallas to create a majority of voters who were black or Hispanic.

A panel of three federal judges decided that redrawing the unconstitutional districts could not wait until the Legislature meets in 1997, so they redrew the lines themselves.

Correcting the three illegal districts meant adjusting surrounding districts: the new map affects seven Houston-area districts and six around Dallas, accounting for a third of Texas’ 9.7 million registered voters.

``Relatively few voters have been moved into new or unfamiliar districts,″ the judges wrote.

Still, candidates and incumbents who won primaries in March may suddenly find themselves facing one or more rivals _ some from their own party _ who feel the new district boundaries give them a chance.

Some candidates will find themselves running in communities where they haven’t campaigned before, rushing to build name identification and political ties.

Candidates have until Aug. 30 to qualify for the new races, which will coincide with the Nov. 5 general elections. If no one gets a majority in any race, the two top vote-getters will compete in a runoff on Dec. 10.

In a similar case last month in North Carolina, a three-judge panel decided redistricting could wait until next year. Two of those judges were appointed by Democrats.

The three judges in the Texas case were all appointed by Republicans, and Democrats feared they would redraw districts favoring the GOP.

Rep. Martin Frost of Dallas, chairman of the House Democrats’ campaign committee, said only two Democratic districts will become more Republican under the judges’ map.

``It could have been worse, that’s all I’ll say,″ he sighed. ``It could have been worse.″

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the three-judge panel’s decision two years ago that three districts were unconstitutional.

They are a mostly black district in Houston held by Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee, a mostly Hispanic district in Houston held by Democrat Gene Green and a predominantly black district in Dallas held by Democrat Eddie Bernice Johnson.

``(The redrawn districts) hurt Democrats and help Republicans,″ said Green, who planned to appeal. ``Those decisions ought to be made by elected officials, not a three-judge panel.″

But Edward Blum, one of the six Republican voters whose lawsuit forced the change, welcomed the decision.

``No longer will the citizens of our state be forced to endure a system that is racially unjust and immoral,″ he said. ``The Legislature will no longer be allowed to classify and segregate citizens by race to further the electoral ambitions of some self-serving politician.″

Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock said the judges ``struck a balance that can serve Texas. The plan does not smack of politics or needlessly change boundaries that already had been set.″

The districts will last for just one election, before the Legislature redraws them again next year.

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