No surprise here, but longtime U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, has decided that next year he’ll seek to become an even longer-time U.S. Rep. by running for an 11th term.
But here’s something out of the ordinary: Doggett won’t vote for himself next year. Didn’t last year, won’t next year. How he votes here has nothing to do with how he votes in Washington. It has to do with where he lives in Austin.
Doggett can’t vote for himself because he does not live in the district he represents, which means he doesn’t represent himself. There’s nothing sketchy going on here because nothing in the U.S. Constitution or federal law requires a U.S. House member to live in the district he or she represents. Senators have to live in the states they represent, but House members don’t have to live in the district they represent. They do have to live in the state that contains the district they represent. That’s a good idea. Nobody from Vermont should represent anybody in Missouri and vice versa.
But it appears it’s not unusual, at any given time, for there to be a few U.S. House members who don’t live in the districts they represent.
Doggett lives on San Bernard Street in Congressional District 25 but represents CD 35, which makes him a veteran Democratic House member represented by rookie Republican Rep. Roger Williams of Austin. This happened because Doggett — who in 1995 replaced liberal Democrat Jake Pickle, who had served since 1963 in a seat once held by LBJ — was a victim of 2011 Republican redistricting efforts that unsuccessfully tried, again, to redistrict him into oblivion.
Uninterested in oblivion, ran in 2012 in what was then the new CD 35, which comes within five blocks of his East Austin home just north of Rosewood Avenue. (FYI, Doggett moved into that house in 2003 after an earlier GOP attempt to eradicate him.) (FYI2, looks like the house next to his is for lease. Seems like the Doggetts would be good neighbors, but don’t move next door to him if you want him to represent you in the U.S. House.)
When he ran in 2012, The Man the GOP Can’t Eradicate planned to move into CD 35, an oddly shaped district (aren’t they all?) stretching from Austin to San Antonio, if and when elected to represent it. In fact, at one point he said (joked?) he’d move into the district prior to the 2012 Democratic primary.
“I will need every vote,” he said back then. “I want my own vote and (wife) Libby’s vote.” Doggett also had joked about living in a Winnebago if necessary.
They didn’t move (still haven’t and, as far as I know, don’t own an RV) and it turned out he didn’t need those two votes. Doggett got 73 percent of the primary vote in squashing Sylvia Romo of San Antonio, who also didn’t live in the district, and 63 percent in the general election.
“What matters is not whether I sleep in East Austin just five blocks outside the Republican-drawn lines, it’s where I stand for working families,” he said back then in reconciling running to represent a district in which he did not live.
So how come now that he’s firmly ensconced in the CD 35 seat he still doesn’t live in a CD 35 home? The answer lies in the root of all political evil — redistricting, an ongoing thing of wonderment. The current version began in the 2011 Legislature and the battle over it still lives, breathes and generates attorneys’ fees today as we move toward the 2014 elections.
“My address is the same since the federal court has still provided only interim redistricting lines,” Doggett told me in a statement. He’s correct, and why should he move if there is a chance the lines will change again? Moving is a big-time pain. And the courts have said we will hold the 2014 elections under the interim plan the tortured process has produced to date.
So that’s how we wind up with a local congressman who again can’t vote for himself. Thank you, redistricting.
Let’s turn to my affable colleague Tim Eaton, who covers redistricting, and see if he can give us a concise summary of how we got here.
“Yeah, right,” he wrote, launching into a 660-word recounting of ongoing legal proceedings in a variety of courts. I found it very enlightening. You might not (and Eaton’s going to kill me for using so little of what he wrote for me).
I do want to share his summary with you because it’s such an uplifting commentary on modern American politics: “The end of the saga is still not in sight. Most insiders believe the U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately have to decide it. Hopefully, the justices will make a decision before next decade’s redistricting process begins.”
I could tell by his note that Eaton was thrilled to be able to help me out. “So, here you go, Herman. Thanks so much for including me,” he wrote. As a veteran journalist, I can tell you it’s not often you get such a nice thank-you note from a colleague. So many of them are so sarcastic. Eaton’s mama raised him right.
So that’s how we wind up with a local congressman who doesn’t live in his district and actually has a pretty good reason for not moving into it just yet. Doggett says he spends a lot of time on the highway that connects the Austin and San Antonio portions of his district.
“Truth is though, these days I drive I-35 and feel that much of the time I really live there, so at least the district has an appropriate title,” said the gentleman from CD 35.
P.S. Doggett also owns property in several local congressional districts, but, alas, none in the district he represents. He has a vacant residential lot on Kennelwood Road, just off scenic Scenic Drive in West Austin, in Williams’ district. He also owns a condo on Baylor Street, near West 12th Street, in a district represented by Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio.
Doggett also owns a sizable tract that’s listed as 22 lots, all undeveloped, on Spicewood Springs Road and Fittonia Drive in the Great Hills area. I guess he could pitch a tent there and call it his home for voting purposes. But that still wouldn’t get him into the district he now represents. That territory is represented by Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin.
FYI3, Doggett spokeswoman Kelsey Crow said the latter property has been owned by the Doggett family since the 1950s. Impressive, as I guess the profit would be when and if it’s ever sold. Sounds like a solid retirement plan for Doggett, if the Republicans can ever figure out a way to retire him.