EDITOR'S NOTE: Texas U.S. Rep. Charlie Stenholm, D-Abilene, has announced he will seek re-election in the newly drawn 19th Congressional District. He currently represents the 17th Congressional District.
If Stenholm wins the Democratic primary, he is almost certain to go into the general elections facing Republican incumbent Randy Neugebauer, R-Lubbock. Neugebauer, who now represents the 19th District, currently has no opponent for the Republican primary.
Charlie Stenholm is running for Congress. He's not certain yet in which district he'll run, the one in which his farm is located or the one that includes his home.
“But we're running,” Stenholm said during an address to the South Texas Cotton and Grain Association meeting, held in conjunction with the annual Beltwide Cotton Conferences in San Antonio.
Stenholm's dilemma comes as a result of a recent court decision that upholds the Texas legislature's redistricting plan. The new Texas congressional map does away with Stenholm's old district and will force him to run against either Republican Randy Neugebauer, elected last spring to fill the seat of retired Congressman Larry Combest (currently the 19th District), with whom Stenholm had a close, bi-partisan relationship on the House Agriculture Committee, or against Republican Mac Thornberry (currently 13th District).
“I was a target,” Stenholm said, “of the political partisan gerrymandering of Congressman Tom DeLay.”
Stenholm said the redistricting plan is “bad for rural Texas and for rural America.”
He said the decision is in and that he will decide within days into which ring he'll toss his hat. He believes the redistricting plan eventually will get to the U.S. Supreme Court and that body will decide if “states can redistrict when it's politically convenient to do so.”
Stenholm said during the last session he supported his party more than 60 percent of the time and supported the president two-thirds of the time. “Apparently, anything less than 100 percent support (for the president) is not enough,” he said.
He said Combest, who was chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, “stood up to Tom DeLay and the president” to get the 2002 farm bill passed. “On the day the bill came up in the House, the administration came out against it,” he said. “Still, it passed with a two-thirds majority. I was proud to work with Congressman Combest in a bi-partisan effort to pass this legislation,” he said. “It's been a pleasure to work with other Republican congressmen and that's the only way to get anything done. Unfortunately, partisan politics and party control has become what it's all about in Washington.”
He said concentrating on production agriculture in farm legislation is important, “but we can't leave out the politics.”
Stenholm believes Congress will face daunting challenges to the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 when it reconvenes this month. Payment limitations and other attempts to reduce funding are likely, he said.
“We must continue to do our best as a government to stand shoulder to shoulder with our farmers. If we don't we will lose,” he said.
“The reason I ran for Congress in the first place was that I believed someone with an agricultural and rural background had something to contribute in Washington. It's a continuing challenge to work with urban representatives, help them understand rural issues and vote with me,” he said. “Then they can explain that vote to their constituents and get re-elected. That's how it works.”
Stenholm considers himself a conservative Democrat and says policy works best when it's developed by “the radical center.”
“I am a conservative. But am I a Rush Limbaugh ultra-right advocate? Absolutely not. If you think Rush is speaking for the free world, you're crazy. The country does not do well if it's either too far right or too far left.”
Stenholm said crucial issues include energy. “It's a crying shame that we don't have an energy policy. The Senate can't pass even a minimum bill and we are too dependent on foreign oil.”
He also expressed concern for the intermediate future of the United States. “I have more concern now than at anytime in, well I could say 65 years but there were a few years early on that I wasn't that observant. But we just broke the $7 trillion debt limit. If we follow the current pattern, we will soon run a national debt of more than $44 trillion. We're running a $500 billion a year deficit, not counting what we're borrowing from Social Security.”
Stenholm said the U.S. economic future is heading for “a perfect storm. Three atmospheric conditions are converging,” he said.
Those conditions include the fiscal deficit, the trade deficit and the Baby Boomer generation reaching retirement age.
He said the long-term outlook for America remains positive, as the strengths of democracy will prevail. But a lot of challenges loom before that will happen.
“If we continue to run $500 billion deficits, we will pay dearly.”
Stenholm said he could not support continued tax cuts as long as the deficit continues to spiral out of control.
He said he could not help but be “bullish on cotton. Recent price increases and lower government payments will make my job easier when I stand up to defend the farm bill. We can show that it works. Government should stand behind farmers when they are down. And when they are not, they can stand alone.”