WASHINGTON — Congressional redistricting has taken a contentious turn in Washington, where the distribution of Texas' four new U.S. House seats has sparked clashes between members, including Rep. Joe Barton, R-Arlington, and Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio.
According to several House members and staffers, the dispute centers on how many new districts will have majority-minority populations, which are historically likely to elect Democrats, and how many will be GOP-dominated. Barton, who wants three or even all four seats to be drawn favorably for Republicans, is concerned that Smith -- chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and the Texas delegation's point person on redistricting -- may go along with splitting the four seats with Democrats.
A report by the online news outlet Politico this week said "Barton has harshly criticized Smith during Texas GOP delegation meetings, launching a profanity-laced tirade at Smith during one session early last month, and he's privately tried to oust Smith as the lead Republican negotiator on redistricting."
Barton spokesman Sean Brown downplayed the friction, calling it "overblown" and describing the talks as a "family affair."
"The responsibility of drawing district lines rests solely with state lawmakers," Brown said in a statement to the Star-Telegram. "The Republican congressional delegation is only serving in an advisory capacity as the Texas Legislature works towards developing the final map. Mr. Barton believes that discussions within the Texas delegation about the redistricting process are a family affair and he will not be talking about this cooperative effort with the media at this time."
Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Midland, would not discuss reports of infighting, saying only that they are "family conversations."
Several lawmakers said Smith, who also declined to talk about redistricting, has been concerned about the Voting Rights Act, which requires the Justice Department to preapprove districts in Texas and other Southern states. Disputes over Texas redistricting have reached the Supreme Court, most recently after then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay led an effort to redraw the maps in 2003.
The political stakes are enormous for both sides, and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California met with the Texas Democratic delegation Wednesday to discuss redistricting.
Nine of Texas' 32 House members are Democrats. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, is the Democratic point man on redistricting for the delegation and has been talking to Smith about the distribution of the four new seats.
Democrats say Hispanic population growth calls for at least two predominantly Democratic districts.