Thanks to a recent ruling by the federal court that reigns supreme, it’s time once again to check in with longtime U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, to see if he plans on voting for himself this year, something he hasn’t done in many years.
This has to do with the fact that Doggett, an East Austin resident, doesn’t live in the district he represents in the U.S. House. That’s legal and oddly not all that uncommon. FYI, neither Republican Chip Roy nor Democrat Joseph Kopser live in the district, now represented by retiring U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, they’re battling to represent.
So you can represent a district in which you don’t live, but you can’t vote in a district in which you don’t live. All of this makes sense. I guess.
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court, at long last, finally brought an end to a redistricting battle that’s simmered since 2011 when the Legislature redrew the lines, including those delineating Doggett’s odd Austin-to-San Antonio district. It’s difficult to offer a short version of this court battle’s long, twisted history. All you need to know for this column is the high court said that what’s been Doggett’s interim district pending the court fight is his permanent district now that the court fight is over.
Travis Central Appraisal District records show Doggett and his wife, Libby, bought their East Austin home in July 2004 after an earlier GOP attempt to eradicate him from Congress. Back then, it was in the district he represented. Now, it’s five blocks outside the district he now represents.
Rep. Doggett’s representative in the U.S. House is Republican Roger Williams, which means Doggett’s representative votes in favor of Trump stuff. If you’re Doggett, that’s got to sting.
When Doggett ran in a new district in 2012, after the 2011 redistricting, he said he planned to move into that new district. “I will need every vote,” he joked. “I want my own vote and Libby’s vote.”
He also had joked about living in an RV.
But citing the interim nature of the districts pending court review, the Doggetts didn’t move, not into a stationary house or a wheeled one conveniently equipped for periodic redistricting-related relocation.
Back in 2013, during the courthouse battles over redistricting, Doggett told me: “My address is the same since the federal court has still provided only interim redistricting lines.”
And interim they remained until the recent Supreme Court ruling. So, once again, we must inquire as to Doggett’s residency plans.
Here’s his statement: “No immediate plans to move. I have represented the Travis County portion of CD 35 for the entire time that I have served in Congress. I am the first congressman serving Travis County to live east of I-35. During the almost six years that I have represented the gerrymandered CD 35, I have gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure my accessibility the full length of the elongated district. Trump’s efforts to undermine our democracy have produced unprecedented levels of constituent communications, but none have suggested that their priority is for me to move five blocks to fit into a crooked Republican map.”
So that’s that.
Amazingly to longtime Austinites who’ve followed his lengthy career, Doggett is now 71. He’s seeking a 13th term in the House and is a prohibitive favorite for re-election in the heavily Democratic district over GOP challenger David Smalling and Libertarian Clark Patterson.
If Doggett hangs on long enough, he could still be in office when the Legislature next does redistricting in 2021 (which could lead to a courthouse fight that could drag on until, say, 2028).
A Doggett footnote: If he wins in November (and barring some upset wins by other Democrats), he’d become the last of what once was a dominant political tribe in Texas — white Democrats in the state’s U.S. House delegation.
There now are three. Gene Green of Houston did not seek re-election this year and probably will be replaced by current state Sen. Sylvia Garcia. El Paso Rep. Beto O’Rourke is giving up his seat to challenge GOP Sen. Ted Cruz. Democratic nominee Veronica Escobar is a heavy favorite to replace O’Rourke.