Redistricting Forcing Some Tough Decisions

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The credit union lobby may have thought the conflict over the decennial congressional redistricting, which forced them to choose between friends in several races, was over and done with after the 2002 mid-term elections.

After some tough soul-searching, credit unions were forced to make some difficult calls, including:

* In Michigan, endorsing credit union champion Lynn Rivers in the Democratic primary in her unsuccessful bid to unseat long-time credit union friend John Dingell, the dean of the House, then having to mend fences with Dingell afterwards.

* In Pennsylvania, backing Republican George Gekas, a.k.a "Mr. Bankruptcy Reform," over Democrat Tim Holden, also a credit union friend, who eventually won out over Gekas.

* In Iowa, backing Democrat John Norris, in his ultimately unsuccessful bid to unseat four-term Republican Rep. Tom Latham.

Now the Texas credit union lobby is facing some of those same kind of decisions because of the ongoing battle over that state's congressional map. While the Texas Credit Union League does not make formal endorsements, what it comes down to is who to support with campaign contributions.

"We've got some difficult races where we're going to have to choose between two friends," said Buddy Gill, political director for the Texas Credit Union League.

The first is the new 26th district, which will pit 13-term Democrat Martin Frost, a long-time credit union friend in a district carefully drawn to favor Republicans, against Republican Pete Sessions, also a loyal credit union ally. "This is the hardest one," said Gill.

"Frost has been a great friend to credit unions, but I don't think he can win that seat," said Gill, of the league's decision to back Sessions, one of the first co-sponsors of HR 1151. "But Pete Sessions has been an unbelievable champion for us."

Credit unions will also be forced to choose between congressional supporters in the newly drawn 19th district, where 13-term Democrat Charles Stenholm is expected to face off against Republican Randy Neugebauer, elected in a special election last year with credit union support.

Also facing tough races are proven credit union supporters Chet Edwards, a seven-term Democrat; Lloyd Doggett, a five-term Democrat; Gene Green, a six-term Democrat; and Max Sandlin, a four-term Democrat.

The Democrats have been endangered by the new congressional map carefully drawn by the Republican legislature to maximize the Republican vote, which is expected to erase as many as seven House Democrats and give Republicans as many as 22 of the state's 32 House seats, which would be the largest delegation of Republicans in the House.

The map, which was redrawn just two years after the last redistricting, has survived numerous court challenges and last year's controversial protest walk-out of the state's Democratic lawmakers.

While the controversy puts credit unions in a precarious spot politically, they've been there as recently as 2002, noted Richard Gose, political director for CUNA.

"Whatever stack of cards they give us, then we deal with that," he said.

How they deal with it is to decipher each contest individually without regard to party pressure.

"We look at every race and see how the candidates stack up. There's a lot of factors that go into it. We work with the states (leagues), we work with the folks back home, and come up with our decision. Ninety-nine-times out of 100 we come up with the right decision. Sometimes, that means backing a loser," Gose explained.

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