Texas 28th District
Hard by the Mexican border is the place where singer Johnny Cash, in “Streets of Laredo,” summoned up images of lonely cowboys on dusty streets outside a row of saloons in a tiny town. But this is not the Laredo of today. On the Rio Grande River 150 miles south of San Antonio, Laredo is the busiest border crossing for U.S.-Mexico trade. Some 14,000 trucks and 1,200 railcars cross its three bridges every day, with relatively light inspection of merchandise worth upward of $100 billion a year—more than that of all the other Mexican border crossings combined. (Frustrated law-enforcement agents contend that tons of cocaine slip through with the legitimate traffic, often hidden on commercial buses.) Laredo was America’s second-fastest-growing city in the 1990s, with more warehouse space than San Antonio and Austin combined. Its old downtown streets, with their bargain stores, are filled with Mexicans who cross the border on foot; those with cars head up the freeway to the Wal-Mart. Incomes and housing prices in greater Laredo, pop. 237,000, are low by U.S. standards but far above those of Nuevo Laredo across the Rio Grande, and there is money to be made here. Laredo’s Tony Sanchez, proprietor of a family oil-and-gas business and owner of International Bank of Commerce, became rich enough here to spend $60 million on his unsuccessful 2002 campaign for governor.
2008 Presidential Vote
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The border country along the Rio Grande is in some ways a region all its own, a mixture of the United States and Mexico, where many people have roots on both sides of the border. As former Laredo Mayor Betty Flores has said, “The river for us is more like some street that we cross. It’s really not a border.” Laredo’s Webb County had a 95% Hispanic population in 2007. Local fast-food restaurants feature enchiladas more often than hamburgers. Years ago, movements like La Raza Unida—which had its beginnings here in 1969 when Hispanic youngsters pushed to be allowed to elect high school cheerleaders in Crystal City—wanted the border country to become more like Mexico, with its union and party apparatchiks. More recently, Mexico, with its economic reforms and the North American Free Trade Agreement, has been trying to become more like the United States, and particularly like Texas, with its open markets and privatized companies and limited control by political or labor bosses. The region has its problems, including a high crime rate from the trade in illegal immigration and illegal drugs.
The 28th Congressional District of Texas is centered in Laredo and Webb County and extends in two directions. South along the Rio Grande, it crosses Starr County, one of the poorest counties in Texas and home of many blatant and wealthy drug smugglers. It reaches Mission in a slice of the southwest corner of Hidalgo County. These border counties make up more than two-thirds of the district. It also includes thinly settled ranch and oil-well country and a small piece of Bexar County. The redistricting plan imposed by a three-judge federal court in August 2006 made major changes in the district. Historically, the 28th was based in Bexar County, anchored by the Hispanic community on the south side of San Antonio, but those neighborhoods were needed to ensure a sufficient number of Hispanic voters in the 23rd District. Yet the 28th is still 79% Hispanic. Its per capita income of $14,500 is just 55% of the national average. In the 2008 presidential contest, Democrat Barack Obama won the district 56%-44%, quite a change from Republican George W. Bush’s 54%-46% win with the same district boundaries in 2004.