Skip to comments.Laredo Democrat Accuses Governor Perry of "Political Blackmail"
Posted on 06/19/2003 7:08:01 AM PDT by Theodore R.
Voting district issue resurfaces Perry calls for special legislative session
BY TRICIA CORTEZ Times staff writer
"This is the worst form of political blackmail I've ever seen. The governor has made a terrible mistake, and he'll live to regret using this kind of political blackmail," state Rep. Richard Raymond (D-Laredo) said Wednesday.
Raymond's comments come on the heels of a special legislative session called by Gov. Rick Perry late Wednesday morning that will revive the controversial Republican-led plan to push through a new congressional redistricting map.
Perry's action has caused a flurry of statements from Republicans and Democrats in Washington, Austin and around the state. His decision to call the special session, which is expected to cost the state $1.7 million, marks a reversal from his previous stance on the issue in 2001.
Perry refused to call a special session in 2001 when the redistricting map was sent to three federal judges.
In his Wednesday letter to Speaker of the House Tom Craddick and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who presides over the Texas Senate, Perry stated that he wants to revive congressional redistricting in a special session because, "I believe duly elected officials, not federal judges, should be responsible for drawing district lines."
Perry continues, "Once legislators have begun their work on this important issue, I will consider expanding the call to other unfinished business from the 78th regular session, such as funding for the Regional Academic Health Center and Texas Tech medical school, and other matters."
Both funding issues specifically cited by Perry are in South Texas and along the border. They are also in their early stages of development.
The Regional Academic Health Center covers the Rio Grande Valley and Laredo and is an extension of the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. The proposed Texas Tech medical school is in El Paso. It is the number one legislative priority for the Sun City delegation.
"I've never seen anything so blatant," Raymond said, heatedly. "The governor is basically saying, 'I'm not going to give you any money for higher education on the border or South Texas unless you're willing to give up your voting rights'."
Raymond argued that mentioning these two specific medical centers "puts the squeeze" on Democrat legislators from the border who opposed congressional redistricting this legislative session.
State Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) said she found the specific reference to these two border facilities "puzzling."
After days of rumors that the governor might call a special session, "We weren't sure if he would single out redistricting or combine it with other topics because the controversy related to this bill would likely spill over to other topics," Zaffirini said.
"I'm flabbergasted that he would call a special session for redistricting. It's not necessary. It's not timely. It's divisive. And I disagree with his decision, but he is the governor," she said.
The Texas House Redistricting Committee is expected to be split into three and will hold six hearings around the state before June 30 in Dallas, San Antonio, Brownsville, Nacogdoches, Houston and Lubbock.
Due to the large Republican majority in the Texas House (88-62), the fight is expected to play itself out on the floor of the Texas Senate. The two senators that are expected to feel the most pressure are Eliot Shapleigh, of El Paso, and Eddie Lucio Jr., of Brownsville.
The special session, however, could be impacted by the possible absence of Lucio, who suffered a mild heart attack Wednesday morning and is currently at Harris Methodist Hospital in Fort Worth.
"I'm very concerned about Sen. Lucio's health," Zaffirini said. "I talked to his chief of staff who said the doctors are not even allowing him to receive phone calls. I'm concerned that this will add additional pressure and affect his health."
As for the more partisan Texas House of Representatives, Speaker of the House Tom Craddick (R-Midland) issued a statement Wednesday saying the House is ready to answer Perry's call for a special session.
"(The House) is prepared to answer Gov. Perry's call for a special session, whether it is confined solely to congressional redistricting or if it is expanded to include the Regional Academic Health Center on the Border or the Texas Tech medical center in El Paso," Craddick stated.
This past legislative session, Craddick presided over a Texas House in which 55 House Democrats, or Killer Ds, broke quorum to boycott an upcoming vote on a "midnight" redistricting map expected to send six to eight more Republicans to Washington.
"The Legislature didn't fulfill its constitutional responsibility in 2001 and reapportion Texas' congressional district lines," Craddick says in his statement.
"Instead, the task was decided by three federal judges. My question to those who inevitably will criticize this process is: Would you rather have three unelected judges steer this process or would you prefer that the duly elected representatives of the people of Texas do it? The answer is clear: The people should decide, not federal judges," he concludes.
Zaffirini, a 16-year veteran of the Texas Senate, offered a different perspective.
"The Legislature had the opportunity to finalize a redistricting map in 2001. In the Senate, many of us (Democrats) were prepared to vote and bring a redistricting plan to the floor and debate it," Zaffirini said. "The Republican majority in the Senate held it up, and by default, because of their inaction, it was sent to the federal courts. The courts did it because the Legislature didn't."
Raymond further states that "contrary to popular belief" the redistricting map sent to federal courts in 2001 "was not prepared by Democrats. It was prepared by a Republican attorney general-John Cornyn."
Cornyn now serves as U.S. Senator of Texas.
Congressman Martin Frost (D-Dallas) also argues that Craddick's statement runs counter to Republican sentiment in 2001.
In a July 8, 2001 article in the Dallas Morning News, Texas Republican Party Chairperson Susan Weddington was quoted as saying, "In the end, Texans will likely be better served by impartial judges than by highly partisan Democrat legislators desperately attempting to maintain political power."
The Texas congressional delegation currently has a slight Democrat majority. The ratio of Democrat to Republican congressmen is 17-15.
Washington politicos, most notably Congressman Tom Delay (R-Sugar Land) have strategized for several years on how to get a new map passed through the Texas Legislature that would reverse the balance, leaving a 22-10 ratio in favor of Republicans.
Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-Austin) stated Wednesday, "In his relentless attempt to divide our community, Tom DeLay is actually uniting the many who oppose his extremist agenda."
Raymond added another biting point.
"I think Perry is doing this right now because even though he's governor, on this issue, he's being controlled by greedy political bosses in Washington. They're pulling his strings, and in my opinion, he does not have the wherewithal to stand up to them," he said.
"For so many years, we in South Texas have had to settle for less than other parts of the state. Now that we have a chance to get more higher education, particularly medical schools, the governor's statement today says, 'You give up your voting rights, or I don't give you the money.' That's flat wrong."
(Staff writer Tricia Cortez can be reached at 728-2568 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)
I hope the Texas Rangers are staked out at every Democrats home to escort them to work, or it will be a Democrat mass desertion of duty to Oklahoma again.
How exactly is it "blackmail", you dick?