Rep. Henry Gonzalez appears likely to remain the House Banking Committee's ranking minority member when congressional Democrats vote today.

The 207 House Democrats are scheduled to decide in closed-door balloting whether the 80-year-old Texan should retain his post. Only if Rep. Gonzalez loses would a second ballot be opened to his challengers, Reps. John LaFalce of New York and Bruce Vento of Minnesota.

His opponents have not criticized Rep. Gonzalez publicly, but both have aggressively lobbied party colleagues, arguing that the Texas lawmaker no longer has the energy to lead the banking panel's Democrats.

While banking panel members appear split between Rep. Gonzalez and his two opponents, sources said most members of Congress have little desire to dump the seniority system traditionally used to determine committee leadership.

Still, Rep. Gonzalez's opponents are gaining significant support. Three veteran Banking Committee members endorsed Rep. LaFalce on Monday. In a letter to House Democrats, Reps. Barney Frank of Massachusetts with Charles E. Schumer and Floyd Flake, both of New York, said Rep. LaFalce will invigorate their side. "We strongly believe that John will bring to the position of ranking member the energy, vision, and commitment to achievement that the committee has lacked," they said.

But Rep. Gonzalez on Monday received backing from three other Banking Committee members: Reps. Joseph Kennedy of Massachusetts, Luis Gutierrez, and Jesse Jackson Jr., both of Illinois.

They praised Rep. Gonzalez for resisting "Republican efforts to dismantle housing programs, consumer protections, and bank safety and soundness laws."

Rep. Gonzalez also is being endorsed by the chairmen of the Congressional Hispanic and Black caucuses.

"He remains our strongest, most experienced voice in advancing the Democratic banking and housing agendas," wrote Reps. Ed Pastor of Arizona and Donald Payne of New Jersey in a letter to colleagues.

Their support followed an appeal Friday by the Texas Democrat. In a letter to House Democrats, Rep. Gonzalez said the Banking Committee Democrats enjoyed "complete success" in the last Congress because they were unified and well prepared.

Rep. Gonzalez has pledged to relinquish the top seat in 1998.

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