Texas’ congressional redistricting, notorious for its tales of outlaw lawmakers, has placed a bounty on a Jewish congressman known for his behind-the-scenes clout.
The Dallas district of Martin Frost, who last year unsuccessfully sought to become the Democrats’ leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, was among those carved up in a redistricting approved this week by Texas’ Republican-controlled House and Senate.
Of Texas’ 32-member delegation to the House of Representatives, 17 are Democrats and 15 are Republicans. The new map could allot another seven seats to Republicans — and consolidate Republican control of the House for years to come.
Democrats in the state’s legislature made headlines this year when they defied the law and fled the state to deny Republicans the quorums needed to pass the redistricting plan.
Democrats and minority groups already have challenged the redistricting in court, and Republicans privately concede that legal battles will keep the current districts in place for the 2004 elections.
But House Republican leader Tom DeLay, who coordinated the redistricting, has said the changes are inevitable, and he has singled out Frost as a target.
Frost, the ranking Democrat on the House of Representatives’ powerful but little noticed Rules Committee and a member of the House Democratic Steering Committee, has been a powerful voice for Jewish interests since he entered Congress in 1978, said Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council.
“A Republican Party that says it is going out of its way to court Jews seems to be going out of its way to antagonize Jews,” Forman said. Frost “has been around for a long time, he knows the institutions, he’s well respected by his colleagues whether on Israel or on church-state, and he’s a respected behind-the-scenes leader.”
Frost has led several delegations to Israel and was awarded the American Jewish Congress’ “Torch of Conscience” this year.
Fred Zeidman, a prominent Texas Republican appointed by President Bush to chair the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, said Frost likely will survive the redistricting because he is a popular incumbent. In any case, he said, Texas Republicans are overwhelmingly friendly to Jews.
“I really don’t see Israel being affected,” Zeidman said, adding that there could be Jewish Republican candidates out there. “This might give them the opportunity to run.”
Frost had harsh words for DeLay.
DeLay, he said, “hopes no one will notice he is being a hypocrite, but people in the Texas Jewish community know exactly what he is doing and resent it. He can’t on the one hand say he wants Jewish funding and votes, and on the other hand eliminate the only Jewish lawmaker ever elected to Congress from the state of Texas.”
Jewish Democrats were especially infuriated when the redistricting vote was called for Yom Kippur. They noted that, in deference to churchgoers, neither house meets early on Sundays, and the state Senate had suspended proceedings early on the Friday before the holiest day of the Jewish year for a college football game between the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma.
“For the first time that anyone can remember, the leadership of the House and Senate in Texas set floor schedules for Yom Kippur, despite being told of its importance,” said Scott Hochberg, a Democratic state House member from Houston. “So you wonder how important it is to them.”
In the end, Republican State Sen. Florence Shapiro said she would not attend on Yom Kippur and persuaded her party’s leadership to postpone the vote until this week.
Hochberg said the Republicans want to break up the Jewish vote, which leans Democratic in Texas.
Redistricting for the state legislature before the 2002 election targeted four Jewish Democrats representing districts with large Jewish communities, he said. One of those lawmakers was not re-elected.
The three who were re-elected — including Hochberg — won on the strength of their incumbency and are not likely to be replaced by Jews when they retire from state politics, Hochberg said.
“The issue of chopping the Jewish community was brought to the attention” of the Republicans, Hochberg said. “A community should always have the ability to elect its own leadership.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.