The Magazine

Sorry, Charlie

West Texas Democrats are becoming an endangered species.

Oct 11, 2004, Vol. 10, No. 05 • By BETH HENARY
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In Stenholm's book, deficit reduction comes before permanent tax cuts. Earlier this year, the Blue Dog Coalition of conservative Democrats--Stenholm is the group's co-chair for policy--proposed extending, but only for one year, the $1,000 child tax credit, marriage penalty relief, and the higher income threshold for the 10 percent income tax rate, all part of Bush's 2001 tax cuts. To pay for it, the Blue Dogs recommended ending certain tax shelters and extending customs user fees.

District 19's difficulty in deciding between these two candidates surfaced recently in statements by leaders of AGFUND, the Farm Bureau's political division, after it endorsed Neugebauer. AGFUND supported Neugebauer in his first election but has been a consistent Stenholm backer, too. Both candidates support farm subsidies and have worked to bring federal projects and funds to West Texas. Stenholm is ranking Democrat on the Agriculture Committee.

"Agriculture has been put in an awkward situation because of redistricting," Lubbock County Farm Bureau president Alan West told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. "[Stenholm] has spent 25 years being a voice for agriculture, and we have nothing but the utmost respect for him. . . . This whole process has been ugly for us and ugly for West Texas."

Not all of Stenholm's traditional supporters have abandoned him. Several members of Republicans for Stenholm, a group of civic leaders in Abilene, recently signed a letter to Republican voters that began: "We're Republicans. We support President Bush. We support our troops. We support Abilene. And we support our Congressman, Charlie Stenholm."

Steve Stovall, who is heading up the effort to convince Republicans to vote for Stenholm, says it's wrong to put a faithful advocate out to pasture, even if he is a Democrat.

"I wish he would have switched parties a long time ago," Stovall says. "But I respect his decision not to do so."

"The Republican leadership didn't have the best interest of West Texas in mind," Stovall says of Texas's redistricting. "A vote for Neugebauer is an affirmation that redistricting was a good thing. If you're going to try to get rid of a Democrat, why would you replace one that's with you most of the time?"

Neugebauer reports a steady eight-point advantage, but if any Democrat can lure Texans across party lines, it's Charlie Stenholm.

Beth Henary is a freelance writer and editor in Austin, Texas.