Yesterday, the United States Supreme Court decided to hear a constitutional challenge to the former House majority leader Tom DeLay designed congressional redistricting plan. At the heart of this particular battle are Texas districts 10 and 23. The outcome of this decision might impact far more than bipartisan politics, as Libertarian Michael Badnarik is also in the contest for District 10, which currently stretches from Austin to the outskirts of Houston.
Badnarik has a lot of positives going into his race. As a former presidential candidate, he enjoys a greater level of financial support and media attention than many third party and independent candidates do. He is on his home turf in one of the more libertarian areas of the country, which will provide him with an effective local activist base. The current district boundary places him right next door to Republican Congressman Ron Paul, who also ran for president once on the Libertarian Party ticket. Badnarik’s close friend and Texas Libertarian Party Chair Patrick Dixon was recently elected to the nearby Lago Vista City Council. The combination of Badnarik’s national following and local support in a geographical area which is not afraid to vote for big-L or small-l libertarians means that he actually has a shot at winning. In the very least, he should be able to claim bragging rights about determining the outcome of the race.
The current congressional map is the backbone behind most of the recent legal and ethical charges troubling DeLay. While it allowed the Republicans to pick up six additional seats in the last election cycle, DeLay has since been indicted on charges of paying off the very legislators who developed and voted on the plan. Not having enough votes to stop the redistricting plans, Democratic legislators voluntarily self-exiled in Oklahoma to deny the legislature a quorum. DeLay was admonished by the Ethics Committee for using FAA resources to track down the renegade Democrats.
In this part of Texas, gerrymandering has a significant impact on the vote. As evidence of the impact of the 2003 redistricting, Democrat Lloyd Doggett won 84% of the vote in 2002 and Republican Michael McCaul won 84% in 2004. Should the Democrats succeed in their effort with the Supreme Court, it is likely they will try to draw a district similar to the 2002 one which put Doggett in that particular office, using racial demographics as their key determining factor. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi actually expressed her view that redistricting is “a hopeful sign that the voting rights of millions of minorities will be restored.”
The USSC will hear the case in the spring of 2006, and it is likely to have a decision in time to force political boundary changes before the next congressional election. If this happens, candidates will probably have to be allowed to refile to run in newly designated districts. However, according to Wes Benedict, the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Texas, candidates need not reside in the district in which they are running.
With declining Republican support nationally and six or more seats at stake, the outcome of this case could ultimately determine which party is in control of Congress. The Republicans are likely to continue to play Machiavellian games, which are already being countered by Democratic racial politics. Both sides may be forgetting about what seems to them to be an insignificant third factor — Michael Badnarik. It might do them well to remember that disregard for the obscure is why Badnarik won the Libertarian presidential nomination in the first place.