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District 23 rivals differ on effects of ruling

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/politics/stories/MYSA070406.1B.District23.1443785.html District 23 rivals differ on effects of ruling Web Posted: 07/04/2006
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 4, 2006
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      http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/politics/stories/MYSA070406.1B.District23.1443785.html

      District 23 rivals differ on effects of ruling

      Web Posted: 07/04/2006 12:00 AM CDT

      Greg Jefferson
      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
      Bolaños says.

      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
      chances.

      "The most important thing is that disenfranchised
      Hispanics will be re-enfranchised," Bolaños said of
      the ruling.

      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
      conclusion.

      "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
      Paso.

      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
      vote.

      "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
      district."

      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
      Laredo.

      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.
      gjefferson@...
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