Skip to comments.TX Demos threaten court action to block sanctions; Republicans stand firm
Posted on 08/20/2003 6:33:10 AM PDT by Theodore R.
Demos threaten court action to block sanctions; Republicans stand firm
AUSTIN (AP) Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst on Tuesday dismissed as baseless and frivolous legal threats by 11 Texas Democrats boycotting the Senate chamber over how congressional voting districts are drawn.
He indicated Senate Republicans would not impose further sanctions on the Democrats, who went to Albuquerque, N.M., three weeks ago to avoid a second special session on redistricting.
"We've done what we can and we expect our senators to come back," Dewhurst said.
Republican senators last week adopted a resolution that denies their Democratic colleagues and their employees parking spots on the Capitol grounds, cellular telephone use, purchasing privileges, floor passes, travel, conference rooms and subscriptions.
The sanctions came after Democrats failed to pay fines issued by the Republicans for missing daily floor sessions. The fines started Aug. 14 at $1,000 a day and grew to a maximum $5,000 a day per senator.
The Democrats said Monday they would "take appropriate legal action" if the Republicans did not lift sanctions by 3 p.m. Tuesday.
After the deadline passed without Republicans lifting the sanctions, Sen. Letticia Van de Putte, chairwoman of the Senate Democratic Caucus, said "we continue to discuss all options with our attorneys and plan to take additional legal actions as soon as possible."
Dewhurst said Senate Republicans had the authority to impose the sanctions, according to the Texas Attorney General.
The two sides have squabbled since the Democratic senators fled to Albuquerque to block the Republican-controlled Senate from reaching the quorum it needs to take up redistricting efforts.
Republican redistricting plans before the Legislature this year have given the edge to GOP candidates running for Congress. Democrats now have a 17-15 majority in the state's congressional delegation under boundaries drawn by federal judges after lawmakers failed to come up with a map in 2001.
Democrats have said that redistricting proposals pushed by Republicans would disenfranchise minority and rural voters, and have called the imposed fines a poll tax a reference to pre-civil rights taxes charged to keep minorities from voting.
Dewhurst said Tuesday he was concerned with Democrats "trying to divide the state of Texas on this issue along racial lines."
"They're trying to turn a responsibility of the Texas Legislature to redistrict into a groundless claim of discrimination and separation," he said.
U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio, joined Dewhurst at a news conference Tuesday and criticized the Democrats for injecting race into the debate.
"Racially divisive debates are not welcome in this state by any ethnic group. This might work at a national level. It does not work in Texas," Bonilla said.
Sen. Frank Madla, D-San Antonio, said a majority of the rural areas he represents also are in Bonilla's district. Madla said he has received more than 4,000 letters opposing redistricting.
"He obviously is not representing the Hispanics in his district, simply because if he was, he would be paying attention to what the constituents in that area are saying about the district," Madla said.
The Democrats already have filed a federal lawsuit in Laredo against state leaders over redistricting. They claim GOP leaders violated the federal Voting Rights Act, which protects minorities, by dropping a tradition that requires two-thirds of the Senate to agree to debate a bill.
Dewhurst has said that during the second special session, he would arrange the order of the bills so that only a majority of senators would have to agree to take up redistricting.
The Secretary of State's office at the request of Attorney General Greg Abbott has asked the U.S. Department of Justice, and the federal court in Laredo, to confirm that prior federal approval is not required for decisions about internal legislative matters, said Texas Soliciter General Ted Cruz.
Democrats announced the state's request at a news conference Tuesday, saying the state undermined its own case when it made the filing without informing the federal judge or the Democrats' attorneys.
Abbott spokeswoman Angela Hale said the the letter was a public document.
Van de Putte said the Republicans know that removing the two-thirds tradition on redistricting, to the detriment of every minority member of the Texas Senate, is illegal and discriminatory.
The Democrats said they have requested a meeting with the Justice Department to discuss the issue and are ready to travel to Washington next week.
AP staffer Melanie Dabovich in Albuquerque, N.M., contributed to this report.
That is utterly false, of course, and is absurd on its face.
Those who bemoan the loss of congeniality in the Texas Senate need to point the finger at the person most responsible for that, Van de Putte.
Wednesday, August 20, 2003
Republican leaders are seeking a quick federal review of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst's decision to drop a state Senate tradition that killed congressional redistricting once before and could again if reinstated.
Democrats on Tuesday accused Republicans of secretly trying to get the U.S. Justice Department to approve the rule change. Democrats contend that the change in Senate procedure hurts minority voting rights; Republicans deny that.
"They probably believe the Justice Department will rubber-stamp anything that those partners in crime, (U.S. Majority Leader) Tom DeLay and David Dewhurst, submit," said Gerry Hebert, a lawyer for Texas congressional Dem- ocrats.
The request, dated Friday, was written by the secretary of state's office at the request of Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican.
To protect minority voting rights, the Justice Department routinely reviews changes in election procedures, but state GOP leaders contend that the federal Voting Rights Act does not cover an internal Senate procedure. That issue is also the subject of a federal lawsuit brought by the Democrats this month.
Angela Hale, Abbott's communications director, said the state would benefit from a quick ruling "that federal officials cannot encroach on a state legislature's daily, internal workings and impose procedural rules on state lawmakers that dictate when certain issues can even be debated and voted on."
The letter notes that the special session to consider congressional redistricting will end Tuesday and asks for an expedited review.
As for not telling the Democrats, Hale said, "What obligation do we have to notify the Democrats about our legal strategy ahead of time?"
Traditionally, two-thirds of the senators must agree to debate a bill. That allows 11 senators to block floor debate on any bill.
After a dozen senators blocked debate on redistricting, Dewhurst, a Republican, dropped the tradition, saying his Democratic predecessors did not always honor it.
Eleven Democratic senators then left the state, claiming that Dewhurst had changed the rules. Their absence denied the Senate a quorum to debate a new political map that would probably hand control of the Texas congressional delegation to the GOP. Democrats now hold 17 of the 32 Texas seats in Congress.
The Democratic senators, who have many minority constituents, may go to Washington next week to make their case directly to Justice Department officials. If the Democrats can re-establish the two-thirds tradition either in their federal lawsuit or by talking to Justice officials, then they would have enough votes to stop redistricting again.
On Tuesday, Sen. Bill Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, disclosed that when he was lieutenant governor two years ago, DeLay asked him to drop the two-thirds tradition for a shot at redistricting in a special session. Ratliff said he refused.
He said Dewhurst made a mistake when he didn't do the same thing this year. Republicans have fined the missing Democrats. And Democrats say they are asking prosecutors to consider filing criminal charges of official oppression or abuse of official capacity against their GOP colleagues.
Ratliff said the standoff is killing the Senate's tradition of bipartisan cooperation.
"The real tragedy is that it was all predictable and avoidable," he said. "But each step that is taken, just by one more step, destroys the Senate I knew."
The 'RATS keep playing the race card. I wonder how well it really plays with the voters ?? Not well I bet ...
Thanks for the ping ...