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
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
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
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
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
To contact Jaime Castillo, call (210) 250-3174 or