Lloyd Doggett, a longtime Democratic congressman from Austin, is running to represent a newly formed U.S. House district that encompasses much of the city.
Doggett, 75, currently represents the 35th District, which stretches from East Austin to San Antonio. But now his sights are set on the 37th District, one of two new congressional seats drawn with new census data. Texas was awarded two additional U.S. House seats because of the state’s rapid population growth over the past decade.
“The opportunity to once again represent the neighborhoods that I grew up in, that I’ve lived in and worked in for most of my life in the city that is the only city that I’ve ever called home — that really is very appealing,” Doggett told the American-Statesman. “Living on I-35 is very unappealing.”
Lawmakers still must sign off on the newly drawn congressional map, but the final draft of the proposed changes retains the new district Doggett hopes to represent. The district encompasses 55% of Travis County and 10% of Williamson County, and was drawn to favor Democratic candidates.
It stretches from the southern boundary of Travis County to just past its northern edge, stopping short of Cedar Park. Most of the district stretches west of Interstate-35 — extending to Lake Travis and including West Lake Hills — save for a portion of East Austin and some neighborhoods north of U.S. 290.
“It’s really a natural fit,” Doggett said of the new district. “It’s reuniting neighborhoods that I was elected to represent when I was elected to represent 98% of Travis County.”
Doggett has served in Congress since 1995, representing different portions of Central and South Texas. He has represented the 35th Congressional District since it was created in 2010 and previously represented the 25th and 10th districts.
Before running for federal office, Doggett served in the Texas Senate for 12 years. He later was elected to be a justice on the Texas Supreme Court.
During his tenure in Congress, Doggett has represented districts that stretched from Austin to as far away as the U.S.-Mexico border.
“Each time they have drawn these lines with no input from Democrats, they have zoned me and other colleagues to people that we have not had significant contact with before,” Doggett said. “One day I was representing Pflugerville, and the next day I was redistricted to the border with Mexico without any straight road going there, 350 miles.”
During the last redistricting cycle, the district he had represented — the 25th District — was redrawn to favor Republican candidates, encompassing western Travis and Hays counties and rural areas to the north of Austin, extending to the Fort Worth suburbs.
In 2012, he chose to run in the newly drawn 35th District, which runs along Interstate 35 from East Austin to the Alamo City, to include “every landmark you might associate with San Antonio: the Alamo, the missions, the Riverwalk. They’re all in District 35. All of the landmarks you associate with Austin were cut out.”
For Doggett, who grew up in West Austin and today calls East Austin his home, he sees the new district as an opportunity to represent the constituents who first elected him to Congress and have continued to turn to his office for support. He said he has helped many Austinites navigate federal agencies or other issues because “they haven’t had any other member of Congress they felt they could turn to.”
“Certainly with the incredible growth that we’ve had in this community there are many new people here and yes, I plan to not be outworked or outwalked in talking with them, visiting with them and reflecting on my connection to the community,” Doggett said. “But throughout all these changes, I’ve always lived in Austin.”
Doggett’s current home lies four blocks outside the boundaries of the new proposed district. He said he is considering moving, but congressional representatives are only required to live in the state they represent — not the district.
“I don’t think whether I’m four blocks in or four blocks out really makes a great deal of difference, because I’ve never really left Austin through all of the different ways that Republicans change these districts,” Doggett said.
Seniority in Congress
Doggett announced his candidacy for the new district on Monday outside Bryker Woods Elementary in Central Austin, his former school and the same place he announced his first campaign for Congress in 1994.
“I have always in my heart wanted to be back representing a united Austin,” Doggett said at the event.
Over his lifetime, Doggett said he has watched Austin grow from a community built around the state government to one that attracts major technology companies and excels in the creative space, with music and the arts playing a predominant role in the city’s economy.
“Going forward, based on the work I’ve done in the last few years, I want to continue to seek a community that is more equitable for all of our citizens so that everyone has an opportunity to share in that great prosperity,” he said. “That’s work such as I’ve done in the past on educational opportunities and on healthcare, combined with the ever-urgent crisis of climate, are issues I want to be engaged in in the future. I think my seniority in Congress will be an advantage for the community.”
Doggett serves as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee’s Subcommittee on Health. He is a member of the Select Revenue Measures Subcommittee and the Oversight Subcommittee, as well as the Joint Committee on Taxation and the House Budget Committee.
He is a member of the executive committee of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, but says his thoughts on government spending set him apart from the group’s other members.
“I’m very much a pay as you go, Democrat,” Doggett said. “I believe in meeting the needs in terms of social services and education, but I don’t believe in continuing to borrow indefinitely to pay for those services.”
But when it comes to initiatives like President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan, which has Democrats deeply divided, Doggett said he has sided with the progressive wing of the caucus and said he will not vote for the roadway infrastructure bill “unless we see progress on the social infrastructure.”
Some Austinites have called on two other Democrats to run in the newly-drawn district: state Rep. Gina Hinojosa of Austin and former state Sen. Wendy Davis. Neither have announced intentions to run.
Davis said in a late-September statement that she has serious legal concerns with the map and that it isn’t the appropriate time to discuss “who may or may not run for election and in which districts.”
Hinojosa said her focus for now is on finishing the third special legislative session and completing the redistricting process.
“I appreciate all who have reached out to me asking me to run, but right now I need to keep my eyes on the prize and keep up the fight for Austin,” she told the Statesman.
Doggett said there is “no entitlement to these jobs” and he plans to campaign and work to connect with constituents, regardless of whether other candidates emerge.
“The Democratic process is open to multiple candidates and there are many talented people in the city,” he said.
Author: Madlin Mekelburg
Publisher: Austin American-Statesman
Date: Oct. 18, 2021