Rep. Pete Sessions (R)
Texas 32nd District
North Dallas has long been the home of the city’s elite, and indeed, of a good portion of the nation’s elite. Early in the 20th century, the city’s richest citizens started moving away from old neighborhoods adjacent to downtown and out past Turtle Creek to the area around the suburbs of Highland Park and University Park—the Park Cities. Dallas grew lustily from mid-century on, and beyond the Park Cities, miles of affluent neighborhoods were built, especially between the Central Expressway and the Dallas North Tollway. Gallerias and office complexes followed. Not all of North Dallas is like that. There is an entertainment and singles apartment corridor along Greenville Avenue, working-class neighborhoods here and there, and pockets of Latino neighborhoods near the freeways. But overall, the tone has been set by the Dallas elite. In the 1960s and 1970s, this was one of the most politically conservative parts of the country. People believed in free markets, personal responsibility and the Republican Party. Since 1992, North Dallas has moved, like elite parts of other big metropolitan areas, toward the Democrats. The number of affluent women voting Democratic on the abortion issue is much smaller than in affluent quadrants of New York and Los Angeles, but there are some. In the 1990s, both Republicans George W. Bush and Dick Cheney lived in North Dallas, in or near the Park Cities. Bush moved to Austin in January 1995 to become governor, and Cheney changed his residence back to Wyoming in July 2000 so that he could be nominated vice president. After eight years in the White House, George and Laura Bush returned to their Preston Hollow neighborhood, to an 8,500-square-foot home on an acre of land that’s only a few miles from his planned presidential library at Southern Methodist University.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 32nd Congressional District of Texas includes most of the area commonly thought of as North Dallas: the Park Cities and affluent North Dallas neighborhoods extending to the Dallas County line. The district also includes some affluent suburbs in Dallas County: parts of racially diverse Richardson northeast of the city and Addison to the northwest. The 2003 redistricting removed some suburban territory and added blue-collar and Democratic-tending Irving and the heavily Latino Oak Cliff neighborhoods south of the Trinity River, where Lee Harvey Oswald was captured inside the old Texas Theater on November 22, 1963, shortly after he killed President John F. Kennedy. Bush’s vote declined here in 2004 to 60%, and the Republican vote dropped further in 2008, when John McCain got 53%, in part because of an increase in Democratic-voting Latino voters. (Redistricting and an influx of Latinos had raised the Hispanic percentage from 27% to 42% by 2007.) With the adjacent 30th District also heavily Hispanic, it’s easy to envision redistricters after the 2010 census creating a new Hispanic district in this area. Texas is expected to gain three or four seats following the 2010 census.
Rep. Pete Sessions (R)
Elected: 1996, 7th term.
Born: March 22, 1955, Waco .
Education: SW U., B.S. 1978.
Family: Married (Juanita); 2 children.
Professional Career: District mgr., SW Bell Telephone Co., 1978–93; V.P., public policy, Natl. Center for Policy Analysis, 1994–95.
The congressman from the 32nd District is Pete Sessions, a Republican first elected in 1996. He is the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, the No. 4 leadership position in the House minority.
|Pete Sessions (R)||116,283||(57%)||($1,629,824)|
|Eric Roberson (D)||82,406||(41%)||($110,003)|
|Alex Bischoff (Lib)||4,421||(2%)|
|Pete Sessions (R)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (56%), 2004 (54%), 2002 (68%), 2000 (54%), 1998 (56%), 1996 (53%)
Sessions grew up in Waco, graduated from Southwestern University, then worked at Southwestern Bell in Dallas for 16 years. His father is William Sessions, a federal judge who served as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation from 1987 to 1993. The vagaries of redistricting led Sessions to run for Congress in several different House districts. In 1991, he ran and finished sixth in the special election in the 3rd District, which then included much of North Dallas. In 1993, he resigned from the phone company to run against Democratic Rep. John Bryant in the 5th District, which included much of the east side of Dallas and several rural counties to the south. The district had been drawn to re-elect Bryant, a liberal Democrat. Sessions ran a vigorous campaign, making a two-day, 12-city tour of the district’s rural portions with a livestock trailer full of horse manure and a sign saying, “The Clinton health care plan stinks worse than this trailer.” Although he outspent Sessions 2-to-1 in 1994, Bryant won by just 50%-47%. Two years later, Bryant ran, unsuccessfully, for the Senate. Sessions ran again for the House seat and won the primary. In the general election, he faced John Pouland, a former regional General Services Administration director. Sessions charged that Pouland was a big-government liberal and would abandon U.S. military bases overseas. Pouland criticized Republican cuts in Medicare. Sessions won 53%-47%.
Sessions’s voting record is among the most conservative in the House. In 1999, he got a seat on the leadership-run Rules Committee. He sponsored the constitutional amendment to require a two-thirds vote to raise taxes, was a leading advocate of the Republican proposal to stop the government from spending Social Security and Medicare surpluses, and called for scrapping the income-tax code. He is generally tightfisted but is apt to support government spending to help families with disabled children. Sessions and his wife have a son with Down syndrome.
In 2001, redistricting made the 5th District more Republican. But Sessions surprised state politicos by leaving the 5th to run in the newly created 32nd, which had no incumbent but included only 16% of his old district. He said he wanted to spend less time traveling around his district—the new 32nd was considerably more compact—and he thought the new district was more compatible with his pro-business philosophy; the 32nd certainly has a stronger fundraising base. Sessions had only token primary opposition and won the seat in 2002, 68%-30%.
In 2003, Republican Tom DeLay of Texas, the powerful majority leader in the U.S. House, persuaded the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature to draw the lines yet again. Although most Republicans were well served by the new lines, Sessions wound up in a somewhat less Republican district and with a re-election challenge from 13-term Democratic incumbent Martin Frost, whose 24th District had been shorn of its most Democratic precincts in the DeLay remap. Frost chose to run in the 32nd because of its large, Democrat-friendly Jewish population in the Park Cities. Frost also felt Sessions was too conservative for the new district. From the start, Sessions voiced confidence that he would win, though he braced for negative attacks. Frost focused on his own legislative accomplishments and his work on local issues to help the Dallas business community; he rarely mentioned 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry.
This was the most expensive House campaign of 2004. Sessions spent $4.5 million and Frost $4.8 million, and more still was spent by party committees and independent groups. The candidates hurled charges at each other, and tangential issues came into play. Frost criticized Sessions for a streaking incident in college. Sessions criticized Frost for scheduling a fundraiser with Peter Yarrow, the Peter, Paul and Mary singer who had been convicted of “taking indecent liberties” with a 14-year-old girl in 1969. Frost cited Sessions’s vote against the establishment of new air-passenger security rules after the September 11 attacks and ran an ad with images of the World Trade Center in flames and the message “Protect America. Say No to Pete Sessions.” Frost was endorsed by the Dallas Morning News, local police and firefighters groups, teachers’ organizations, and the Sierra Club. Sessions had support from the national anti-tax group Club for Growth and the National Federation of Independent Business. Sessions won 54%-44%, capturing more than 80% of the vote in some Park Cities precincts; Frost failed to get the higher turnout he needed in Oak Cliff. Sessions has not had great difficulty getting re-elected since.
After his victory over Frost, Sessions sought to get on the House leadership track by running in 2006 for chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, which raises money for Republicans and recruits challengers in House races. But he lost to Republican Tom Cole of Oklahoma. After the 2008 election, Sessions succeeded in a second bid to head the NRCC. He had the strong support of Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio—Sessions was among the few Texas Republicans who had backed Boehner for party leader against Roy Blunt of Missouri in 2006. Cole wanted a second term as NRCC chairman, but he carried the burden of the party’s 21-seat loss in the November 2008 election.
Sessions had a rocky start as chairman. In a March 2009 special election for New York’s 20th District, Jim Tedisco fell short of winning what had long been a Republican seat, despite several hundred thousand dollars from the NRCC. Sessions was lampooned by Democrats for his sometimes odd comments, including his statement that President Barack Obama was trying “to inflict damage and hardship on the free enterprise system, if not to kill it.” Sessions set a challenging goal of gaining the 40 seats the party needs to recapture the majority in 2010, and he reorganized the committee to improve fundraising, communications and candidate recruitment.