A Case of Texas Hold'em
SAN DIEGO -- Deep in the heart of Texas, you'll find one of the most important 2012 congressional races in the country.
It'll be painful for Democrats to watch, since you have two viable candidates who will likely wind up knocking the daylights out of one another. But it'll be educational, especially for Latinos.
You see, when it comes to empowering minorities, liberal Democrats believe that words speak louder than actions, especially if those actions involve stepping aside, tabling their own ambitions and letting someone else ascend into the limelight.
The country learned this lesson during the 2008 presidential campaign when Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton refused to step aside for Barack Obama. In fact, some of her surrogates -- including Bill Clinton -- stooped so low as to use racially coded language to attack the person who would later become the nation's first black president.
Now, there's an epic battle brewing in the Lone Star State, where Rep. Lloyd Doggett is so desperate to remain a congressman that the Austin Democrat is abandoning the district he now represents and moving into the newly created 35th Congressional District. It includes part of Austin, heavily Latino neighborhoods in San Antonio, and some small towns in between.
The 64-year-old nine-term congressman is playing the numbers. The new district is more solidly Democratic than what is left of Doggett's present district, which means that he wouldn't have to work as hard to win the general election. If he stays put, his fate against a strong Republican challenger could be more uncertain.
The problem is, the 35th district wasn't drawn for someone like Doggett. At more than 80 percent Latino, it's what politicos call an "opportunity district" -- one intended to increase Latino representation in Congress.
In fact, you could say it was drawn for someone such as Doggett's opponent: State Rep. Joaquin Castro, a 36-year-old rising star in the Democratic Party and the twin brother of San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro.
It's a sad commentary that the political system has to go to the trouble of creating special Latino districts without which there might be only a handful of Latino members of Congress.
Come to think of it, there is only a handful. Latinos make up more than 16 percent of the U.S. population. Yet they account for only 24 of 435 members of the House of Representatives (5.5 percent) and two of 100 members of the Senate (2 percent).
It's also worth noting that, for at least the last 20 years, the political party that has most often pushed for Latino districts has been the GOP. Republicans consider it in their best interest to concentrate Latino voters in one district, as opposed to having them scattered into a few where they can help to elect Democrats. Not surprisingly, Democrats hold the opposite opinion and would rather have Latinos dispersed into a few districts than create a single Latino district.
And, on occasion, Republicans also get the perverse pleasure of watching white Democrats run in largely Latino districts. That's hard to do without appearing craven and hypocritical. After all, aren't liberals the ones who always lecture the rest of us on how we should provide more opportunities for minorities?
Doggett, a liberal by Texas standards, doesn't seem to have gotten the message. He has clumsily turned what should have been, for Democrats, an embarrassment of riches into simply an embarrassment.
Doggett has filed a lawsuit challenging the redistricting map to try to save his present district, but any change would likely also affect the 35th -- the constitutionality of which he has also questioned. His lawsuit was recently consolidated with that of minority advocates who are also challenging the redistricting map because they think it doesn't create enough minority districts. Still, it isn't lost on Latinos that, before the consolidation, Doggett had been content to limit his legal challenge to his district rather than supporting the advocates' statewide challenge.
The congressman has called the redistricting map "an egregious violation of the Voting Rights Act" drawn to "cheat Hispanics and African-Americans out of representation."
There lies the conundrum for Doggett who, in running against Castro in an overwhelmingly Latino district, must convince Latinos that the way to ensure they have representation is to prevent them from representing themselves.
(c) 2011, The Washington Post Writers Group