District 23 rivals differ on effects of ruling
Web Posted: 07/04/2006 12:00 AM CDT
Express-News Staff Writer
For voters in Congressional District 23, the U.S.
Supreme Court's redistricting ruling last week was the
political equivalent of hitting the lottery, Rick
And Bolaños, an El Paso Democrat challenging U.S. Rep.
Henry Bonilla for the seat, believes his party will
share some of the largesse.
In a 5-4 decision, the high court ruled that the
district, as redrawn by GOP lawmakers in 2003,
violated the Voting Rights Act. The mapmakers had
moved 100,000 Hispanics out of Bonilla's territory and
into neighboring District 28, essentially cutting
Laredo in half and strengthening Bonilla's re-election
"The most important thing is that disenfranchised
Hispanics will be re-enfranchised," Bolaños said of
It also will give Democrats the advantage going
forward, he said. "The majority of Hispanics in that
area were Democrats to begin with."
Indeed, at the heart of Justice Anthony Kennedy's
opinion was the contention that Bonilla was vulnerable
in the district as it was previously drawn.
But the San Antonio Republican rejects Kennedy's
"Sometimes truth and substance don't make it through
the system," Bonilla said.
He pointed to his success in the majority Hispanic
counties of Dimmit, Maverick, Reeves, Uvalde and Val
Verde, all of which he carried in 2004 against Joe
Sullivan, a perennial Democratic office-seeker. It
marked the first time he carried Dimmit and Maverick.
However, since 1992, he's consistently won only Uvalde
and Val Verde counties among the five he mentioned.
His district stretches from San Antonio nearly to El
Supporters of Bonilla, who's won seven terms, point to
his narrow victory against Democrat Henry Cuellar in
2002 as a showing of his viability.
The district's boundaries hadn't yet been reworked
so it still included all of Laredo, Cuellar's hometown
while fellow Democrat and Laredoan Tony Sanchez was
spending from his personal fortune to get out the vote
in a losing bid to unseat Gov. Rick Perry.
Bonilla pulled in 51.5 percent of the vote.
"If they couldn't beat Henry Bonilla in that old
district with Tony Sanchez's $75 million, then nobody
can," said Steve Heinrich, communications director for
the Bexar County Republican Party.
Bonilla overwhelmed Cuellar in the Republican-heavy
portions of Bexar County. But Cuellar's home base in
Webb County gave the Democrat 84 percent of the local
"But (Bonilla's) margin of victory has never been less
than ... in 2002, which was a fluke," said Jim Lunz, a
longtime Republican activist in Bexar County. "It
won't happen again."
Lunz said the redrawing of the district's boundaries
was unnecessary. Bonilla "was perfectly safe in that
Bonilla said then-U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay
and other GOP leaders didn't redraw the lines to
protect him, but to make the district "more favorable"
to a Republican running after Bonilla leaves office.
Justice Kennedy, in his opinion, concluded that the
GOP wanted to protect Bonilla.
"After the 2002 election," Kennedy wrote, "it became
apparent that District 23 as then drawn had an
increasingly powerful Latino population that
threatened to oust ... Bonilla."
Bonilla, the justice added, steadily lost Hispanic
voters starting with the 1996 election.
In the meantime, the 23rd district's Hispanic
population is growing at a faster clip than the Anglo
population, said Henry Flores, dean of graduate
studies at St. Mary's University and a witness for
plaintiffs in the redistricting case.
"If the district had remained the same, Cuellar most
likely would have won" in a rematch, Flores said.
Two years after his loss to Bonilla, Cuellar unseated
then-Rep. Ciro Rodriguez in the Democratic primary in
District 28, which had been redrawn to include half of
Cuellar's district and at least four others likely
will see their boundaries altered as a result of the
redrawing of the 23rd district's lines.
Parties in the case have until July 14 to present
their proposed remedies in federal court.