Rep. Lamar Smith (R)
Texas 21st District
The Balcones Escarpment is a bulwark of cracked and weathered rock that crosses Texas diagonally from the Dallas–Fort Worth Metroplex southwest to Austin and San Antonio and all the way to the Rio Grande. It separates the flatlands of central Texas from the stony hills to the north and west. It is a boundary between cropland and grazing land, between acres rich with greenery and acres whose rolling brown hills blaze out in color when the wildflowers bloom in Texas’s early spring, between places where the sky is hemmed in by trees and buildings and places where the sky seems to surround you. The Balcones Escarpment separates Dallas and Fort Worth; it runs through Austin and the western edge of San Antonio. But it is less familiar to Texans today than the highway that runs pretty much along the same line: Interstate 35. This is one of the most heavily traveled and congested interstates in America, thick with truck traffic in the populated stretches between the Metroplex and the Mexican border even as it passes through the lightly populated near-desert between San Antonio and Laredo. It is one of the great routes of commerce in America, or rather between the United States and Mexico.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
I-35 connects Austin and San Antonio, two booming Texan cities with very different beginnings and different characters now. Austin is the creation of state government, with the pink marble Capitol and the sprawling University of Texas. But it has gone beyond its roots, becoming one of America’s leading high-technology and entrepreneurial centers, with an office-building boom downtown and in the suburbs. San Antonio was the creation of Texas’s Mexican settlers, a town with a Spanish accent and a heavily Latino population. It is proud of the Alamo and the Riverwalk, but it also has corporate headquarters, numerous lakes for water supply and recreation, and an array of military bases.
In the counties between these two cities and in the Hill Country to the west, is the Texas German country, originally settled by Germans fleeing the reaction against the failed revolutions of 1848. The Texas German country has always been a set of orderly communities in rip-roaring Texas, economically prosperous in a state that considered itself poor until it struck oil. It was anti-slavery and politically Republican in a state whose enthusiasm for the Democratic Party had roots in Confederate loyalties and populist rebellions. The Texas German heritage is still visible, and an antique German is sometimes heard on the streets in towns like New Braunfels, Boerne and Fredericksburg (there are about 10,000 speakers now, compared to 159,000 in the 1940s). These communities, with their neat houses, low cost of living and Hill Country ambience, attract new residents to new subdivisions and lakeside developments.
The 21st Congressional District of Texas includes much of this territory. About half of its people are in San Antonio and Bexar County. It includes the northeast corner of the city and county, Fort Sam Houston plus some north-side neighborhoods, with many houses being bought by rich Mexicans from Monterrey. This is mostly Anglo San Antonio, though 27% of the Bexar County residents in the district are Hispanic. About one-fourth of the residents are in Austin and Travis County, including the downtown University of Texas campus. This is the most Republican part of a Democratic county. The district includes all of New Braunfels and Comal County just northeast of San Antonio as well as several Hill Country counties to the west: Blanco County, where Lyndon Johnson was born, in Johnson City, and which was his legal residence when he was first elected to the House in 1937 (but only a sliver of the LBJ Ranch near Fredericksburg, just to the west); Kendall County, a fast-growing area north of San Antonio; Kerr County, the most populous part of the Hill Country, and two smaller counties to the south. The political heritage of the district is mixed. While Travis County was always Democratic and the Texas German country was Republican, San Antonio was mixed. Overall, the district is heavily Republican. It voted 59% for Republican presidential nominee John McCain in 2008.
Rep. Lamar Smith (R)
Elected: 1986, 12th term.
Born: Nov. 19, 1947, San Antonio .
Home: San Antonio.
Education: Yale U., B.A. 1969, S. Methodist U., J.D. 1975.
Religion: Christian Scientist.
Family: Married (Beth); 2 children.
Elected office: TX House of Reps., 1980–82; Bexar Cnty. comm., 1982–85.
Professional Career: U.S. Small Business Admin., 1969–70; Business writer, Christian Science Monitor, 1970–72; Practicing atty., 1975–76.
The congressman from the 21st District is Lamar Smith, a Republican first elected in 1986. He is the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee. Smith is from an old San Antonio and South Texas ranching family. Their Jim Wells County ranch has been in the family for four generations. Smith graduated from Texas Military Institute (now TMI, the Episcopal School of Texas), Yale University and Southern Methodist University’s law school. He worked as a reporter for the Christian Science Monitor newspaper and as a lawyer in San Antonio. He was elected to the Texas House in 1980 and the Bexar County Commission in 1982. In 1986, when Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Loeffler ran for governor, Smith ran for the House seat. He won by beating two other San Antonio-based candidates in the primary and then winning the runoff 54%-46% against a religious conservative. His campaign was run by then little-known Texas political consultant Karl Rove.
|Lamar Smith (R)||243,471||(80%)||($1,069,346)|
|James Strohm (Lib)||60,879||(20%)||($3,353)|
|Lamar Smith (R)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (60%), 2004 (61%), 2002 (73%), 2000 (76%), 1998 (91%), 1996 (76%), 1994 (90%), 1992 (72%), 1990 (75%), 1988 (93%), 1986 (61%)
In the House, Smith compiled a conservative voting record. When Republicans were in the majority, he chaired the Judiciary Committee’s Immigration Subcommittee from 1995 to 2001. He is a strong believer in stronger action to stop illegal immigration and to reduce legal immigration. He opposed President George W. Bush’s guest-worker proposal in 2004 and bipartisan proposals to provide a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants living in the United States. The guest-worker program, Smith said, “opens up every job in America” to low-wage competition. Like other House Republican leaders, he insisted that better border enforcement must be in place before new guest-worker programs or legalization policies were established. “It’s hard to justify legislation that would reward millions of lawbreakers, attract more illegal immigrants and depress American workers’ wages,” Smith said. He hailed the 700-mile border-fence bill that passed in 2006, saying, “It is an important first step and shows that Republicans are serious about border security.” His bill to split the Immigration and Naturalization Service into two agencies, one concentrating on law enforcement, the other on aid to immigrants, was passed as part of the homeland-security bill in 2002.
In 2001, Smith became chairman of what was then the Crime Subcommittee, where he focused on cybercrime and high-technology issues. He strongly supported the USA PATRIOT Act, the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism law. He also worked with Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont on bipartisan changes to the Freedom of Information Act to make it easier and faster for the public to obtain government information. Smith’s bill creating a 20-year sentence for fraudulently obtaining consumer and business phone records and distributing them over the Internet became law in January 2007. Three years earlier, he also succeeded in passing a bill allowing firms to sell software that could delete offensive passages from DVDs.
When Democrats took majority control of the House in 2007, Smith became the ranking Republican on the full Judiciary Committee. Despite deep partisan conflicts on the committee, he gets along with Democrats better than do many in his party and found common ground on bills to strengthen cyber security and intellectual-property enforcement. Smith worked with Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., to increase visas for skilled workers. But he joined Republicans who opposed closing the terrorist-detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Smith has been active on the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, which polices the ethical behavior of fellow House members. In 2008, as a member of a special panel to determine whether the House required an outside body to police its ethics, he opposed the move.
Smith has been easily re-elected by wide margins.