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High court ruling not good for Bonilla's Senate dreams

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/politics/stories/MYSA070106.01B.Castillo.1bb36fe.html Jaime Castillo: High court ruling not good for Bonilla s Senate dreams
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 1, 2006
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      http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/politics/stories/MYSA070106.01B.Castillo.1bb36fe.html

      Jaime Castillo: High court ruling not good for
      Bonilla's Senate dreams

      Web Posted: 07/01/2006 12:00 AM CDT

      San Antonio Express-News

      A majority of U.S. Supreme Court justices earlier this
      week cast serious doubt on the future of Republican
      Congressman Henry Bonilla.

      And it has nothing to do with the immediate impact of
      the ruling on Texas redistricting, which said
      Republican legislators were wrong to remove 100,000
      Latinos from Bonilla's 23rd Congressional District
      solely to save him from his own constituents.

      Even though Bonilla will have to defend his House seat
      once the courts decide how the district should be
      redrawn, it's hard to imagine a scenario where the
      seven-term incumbent won't be formidable in that
      future race.

      The real damage is the Supreme Court laid out in
      painstaking detail why Bonilla's dream of becoming a
      U.S. senator might never become a reality.

      Politically aware people around the country are
      reading an opinion that characterizes Bonilla, long
      the Hispanic poster boy of the Texas GOP, as having
      weak cachet with Hispanic voters.

      There are 16 references to Bonilla in the majority
      opinion, and none of them cast his Latino vote-getting
      prowess in a favorable light. It is perhaps most
      plainly worded on Page 22 of the majority opinion,
      which said: "State legislators changed District 23
      specifically because they worried Latinos would vote
      Bonilla out of office."

      That's not a recipe that will excite GOP strategists
      should U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison ever decide to
      call it quits.

      Bonilla's attractiveness as a statewide candidate
      would hinge on his ability to be the rare Hispanic
      Republican who could hold on to the largely white base
      of the GOP, while pulling in a large share of Latinos,
      who tend to be Democrats.

      Bonilla, as a loyalist to conservative Republicans and
      President Bush, would be fine on the first count. But
      voting history is not on his side on the second count.

      In the three elections from 1998 to 2002, Bonilla
      struggled against Hispanic Democratic opponents. Even
      with the advantages of money and incumbency, Bonilla
      lost two of the most populous Hispanic areas of the
      district — Webb and Maverick counties — by
      consistently bad margins.

      In Webb County, which was 94 percent Hispanic in the
      2000 Census, Bonilla's share of the vote plunged from
      40 percent in 1998 to 15 percent four years later when
      Laredo's Henry Cuellar mounted a serious challenge. In
      Maverick County, which was 95 percent Hispanic in
      2000, Bonilla went from 44 percent in 1998 to 29
      percent in 2002.

      Knowing this history, I was intrigued by the
      congressman's comments on local TV in the aftermath of
      the Supreme Court ruling. Bonilla downplayed his
      struggles with Hispanic voters, saying that he enjoys
      healthy Hispanic support in places like Maverick
      County.

      Thinking I either heard wrong or the congressman was
      referring to the 2004 election — hardly an apples for
      apples comparison — I called his office to see what he
      meant.

      Sure enough, the congressman was pointing to two years
      ago, when he bested perennial candidate Joe Sullivan
      in Maverick County 59 percent to 38 percent. For those
      who don't know, Sullivan is good at presiding over
      massive Valentine's Day weddings at the Bexar County
      Courthouse.

      But he's bad at running for office, mounting at least
      nine unsuccessful bids for Congress.

      To put it bluntly, Bonilla has a good shot of
      continuing his House career, but his Senate dreams are
      severely limited.

      To contact Jaime Castillo, call (210) 250-3174 or
      e-mail jscastillo@....
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