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Did new voting lines doom incumbent East Texas legislators?

By Peggy Jones pljones@news-journal.com
May 30, 2012 at 10 p.m.


Two longtime incumbent East Texas lawmakers who were bested by newcomers and a third veteran in a runoff battle to keep his seat in Austin may have been victims of redistricting.

Regardless the reason, Tuesday's GOP primary upsets of state Reps. Leo Berman of Tyler and Wayne Christian of Center mean East Texas will lose decades of seniority in the House - and could lose more in the July 31 runoff for Chuck Hopson's District 11 seat.

"Sure it had an effect," Hopson said Wednesday of redistricting. "I lost two of my counties - Panola and Houston."

All three lawmakers' House districts - 6, 9, and 11 - were redrawn during the legislative redistricting process based on the 2010 census. Hopson lost 40 percent of the territory he had represented, while Berman's base only slightly changed.

But Christian lost 80 percent of what had been his district. The impact of that big shift became apparent in Tuesday's election, when Christian was ousted by ex-Marshall Mayor Chris Paddie, who built on a strong base in Harrison County to pull off the upset. Harrison County hadn't been part of old District 9.

Districtwide, Paddie pulled about 52 percent of the votes to Christian's 48 percent. In Harrison County, the most-populous in the newly drawn District 9, the self-proclaimed fiscal conservative clinched 62 percent of votes cast.

That compared to Christian carrying 70 percent of the vote in his home base of Shelby County, one of the least-populated counties in the district.

"Our message of conservative, results-driven leadership resonated with individuals and families here who understand what it's going to take to make Texas even better for future generations," Paddie said Wednesday in a prepared statement.

Christian has not been available for comment since before the primary.

In District 11, meanwhile, Hopson was thrown into a runoff with Nacogdoches attorney Travis Clardy, who hails from the new portion of the redrawn district.

"I got 40 percent new people," Hopson said Wednesday. "When you're doing a new county and you have an opponent from that county, it's hard to make inroads."

Hopson said he carried 62 percent of the vote in Cherokee County and 61.5 percent in Rusk County - but slightly less than 26 percent in Nacogdoches County.

"The good thing is we got the most votes," said Hopson, of Jacksonville. "Rusk and Cherokee supported me very, very well. These people are the people who know me, trust me, and have re-elected me. I'm thankful about that. Now, we've got to get to know the people of Nacogdoches a little better."

Steven Galatas, a political science professor at Stephen F. Austin State University, said it was clear their redrawn districts had a harsh impact on the outcomes for Christian and Hopson.

"Also, in this primary season, some voters were probably in a generally anti-incumbency mood when they cast their ballots," he said, adding that sentiment may have been as big a factor as redistricting in Christian's defeat.

In Tyler, Berman, a consistent conservative voice, threw his loss at the feet of the ultra-conservative, tea party-minded We the People political group.

"And you can print that," he said. "I am a little bitter. I'll have nothing to do with them in the future."

Berman lost to We the People candidate Matt Schaefer. Schaefer won 58 percent of the district vote to Berman's 42 percent.

To his way of thinking, Berman said, redistricting wasn't the deciding factor.

"I was criticized a lot for voting for the appropriation bill," Berman said. "That criticism, in my mind, is absolutely ridiculous. That budget started with a $25 billion deficit, and we balanced it and we paid for everything in the state without a tax increase. Tell me how you can criticize that."

There was another factor that worked against Berman's re-election, he said: his health.

"I came down with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma," Berman said. "That made it difficult to campaign. I do think it had an effect on the outcome."

Berman, 76, sighed and spoke of his defeat.

"I'm elated really. I threw this election up to the Lord. I said, 'If you want me to go to Austin, I'll go. If you want me to stay home with my family, my grandkids, travel and play golf - I'll be happy to do that, too.' For the past 14 years I've looked out for the interests of 170,000 constituents. I've tried to help and now I feel like there's a big yoke lifted off my shoulders.

"I'm going to finish this term that ends next January, and, happily, I'll not stay in Austin but go home to take care of my family and myself."

The losses, Galatas said, are almost certain to affect East Texas' fortunes in the next Legislature.

"In the Texas House of Representatives, seniority plays an important role in committee assignments," he said. "Seniority allows member to influence legislation in ways that are favorable to their constituents by serving on those committee important to their districts.

"Because Leo Berman and Wayne Christian lost their primary election races, their seniority will be missed by East Texans in the Texas House of Representatives."

Christian was first elected to the House in 1996 and Berman in 1998. Hopson will be defending the seat he's held since 2000.

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