Labor-backed candidate battles DeLay crony in southwest Texas

News Analysis

The race for the 23rd Congressional District Seat is as hot as a San Antonio jalapeño pepper. Labor-backed Democrat Ciro Rodriguez is pitted in a Dec. 12 runoff election against Bush Republican Henry Bonilla, who has close ties to disgraced former Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

The contrast between Rodriguez and Bonilla couldn’t be clearer. The AFL-CIO rates Rodriguez’s pro-labor voting record at a lifetime 99 percent, while Bonilla weighs in with a lifetime 6 percent.

Rodriguez is fighting hard to win the seat, and is being helped by House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi as well as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. He also has the AFL-CIO COPE endorsement.

The AFL-CIO and the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA) are focusing on a get-out-the-vote effort.

The San Antonio Express-News pointed out that “if Republicans seem to be working to keep the Latino vote low in Texas’ 23rd CD — by rushing the election, setting it on a Catholic feast day and keeping the early voting period short — it isn’t the first time.” Republicans, including DeLay, have worked very hard to keep Bonilla in office. Their machinations, however, led to DeLay’s fall from power.

DeLay engineered a redistricting plan in 2003 that favored Bonilla, who was re-elected in 2004, by redrawing the boundaries to reduce the number of Mexican American voters in the district, which now encompasses the southwestern part of Texas and a chunk of San Antonio’s south side. DeLay’s use of corporate money to win a Texas House majority raised many eyebrows and led to investigations.

First elected in 1992, Bonilla is the only Mexican-American Republican to be elected to the U.S. House. Since then he has teamed up with DeLay, Newt Gingrich and President George W. Bush. With each re-election, his Mexican American support has slipped and in 2002, only 8 percent of Latinos voted for him.

Widely criticized for his close ties to Bush, Bonilla’s own web site clearly identifies which side he is on: “Henry has also fought to rein in out-of-control agencies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the National Labor Relations Board. Through his leadership, these agencies’ power grab on America’s small businesses has been stalled.”

As election day approached, Bonilla mounted a bizarre attack on Rodriguez, attempting to link him to “terrorists” for, among other things, his support — along with 128 other lawmakers — of 1999 legislation which would have eliminated the use of secret evidence in deportation cases.

Rodriguez’s campaign denounced Bonilla’s accusations as a “political stunt.”

phill2 @ houston.rr.com