Skip to comments.Democrats bolt again – to New Mexico (Senators trying to halt new special session on redistricting)
Posted on 07/29/2003 3:57:31 AM PDT by MeekOneGOP
Democrats bolt again to New Mexico
Senators trying to halt new special session on redistricting
AUSTIN Eleven Senate Democrats bolted the state Monday rather than report for a second special legislative session ordered by Gov. Rick Perry in an increasingly bitter battle over congressional redistricting.
In a walkout mirroring the action by House Democrats in May, the senators boycotted the chamber, slipped out of the Capitol and boarded a pair of private jets to Albuquerque, N.M.
"Today, we 11 Democratic senators have availed ourselves of the tool granted to us under the Texas Constitution to break a quorum of the Texas Senate. This is not an action we take lightly," said Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, as the lawmakers took up residence at an Albuquerque Marriott hotel. "We didn't want to be here."
They were greeted by New Mexico's Democratic Lt. Gov. Diane Denish and several New Mexico state troopers on hand to provide protection an apparent outgrowth of attempts by Republican leaders to deploy Texas Department of Public Safety officers to retrieve House members from Ardmore, Okla., in May during a similar protest.
"Without question, we did the right thing," Sen. Royce West of Dallas said of the walkout by all but one of the Senate Democrats. "We're playing by the rules. When the other side doesn't play by the rules, you have to find other solutions to deal with it."
Video: Shelley Kofler reports Maps:
Current Texas Congressional districts
Proposed Texas Congressional districts
Special Session: Redistricting hearing schedule, summary, maps
(from the Texas Legislative Council)
Mr. West said he is prepared to stay away for 30 days if necessary to kill the redistricting effort by denying the 31-member Senate the quorum it needs to do business.
With the lawmakers on the run, the secretary of the Senate issued a warrant for their arrest. But it was unclear that officials had the authority to round up the senators outside the state.
"I'm very, very disappointed," said Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, a Republican. "Our Senate Democrats are putting their party affiliation over what they were elected to do."
Monday's escape was carefully planned and specifically timed to avoid any effort by the Republican leadership to keep lawmakers from fleeing Austin.
At midday Monday, Senate Democrats huddled in a third-floor conference room adjacent to the Senate chamber.
Mr. Dewhurst met twice with the group, appealing for them to work with Republicans on what he called a "fair" redrawing of congressional boundaries.
When Mr. Dewhurst left the room the second time to convene the day's Senate session, a cluster of reporters followed him. The senators then left the conference room and headed downstairs to waiting cars bound for the airport, where two private jets awaited. They belonged to constituents of Sen. Juan Hinojosa of McAllen the David Rogers and Joe LaMantia families. Mr. Hinojosa said the transportation would be regarded as an in-kind contribution to the Democratic caucus.
"I didn't even know where we were going until we got on the plane," said Sen. Mario Gallegos Jr. of Houston.
Without the 11 senators on hand, Mr. Dewhurst could not muster a quorum and adjourned the special session. The House followed suit, adjourning the session. Within minutes, Mr. Perry summoned lawmakers back immediately for a second 30-day special session.
"The governor has the right to call a special session over and over again," said Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano. "They can't stay away 30 days, 60 days, 90 days. They will return at some point."
Mr. Dewhurst also vowed that a redistricting plan would eventually be passed.
"If I read the tea leaves correctly, we will pass a fair redistricting plan now or later," Mr. Dewhurst said.
Republicans in Austin and in Washington have pushed the effort to redraw the boundaries for the state's 32 members of Congress to produce more GOP seats.
Led by U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Sugar Land and the White House, the attempt would undo the current configuration in which Democrats outnumber Republicans, 17-15.
The first attempt to pass a congressional plan died during the regular legislative session when more than 50 House Democrats boycotted the chamber, breaking a quorum, with many heading to Ardmore.
With the first special session ending in failure Monday, Mr. Perry summoned lawmakers for a second special session.
Although both the House and Senate were to convene for business Tuesday, the absence of the Democrats will shut down the Senate, where Republicans have a 19-12 majority.
Getting a tan?
Mr. Dewhurst predicted the wayward Democrats "will lose the public relations battle" by traveling to a vacation spot.
Asked whether he considered Albuquerque a vacation destination, the lieutenant governor said, "I certainly think it's more of a vacation spot than Ardmore."
Ms. Van de Putte said Democrats chose Albuquerque because of available medical facilities that could aid Sen. Eddie Lucio of Brownsville, recuperating from a heart attack earlier this summer.
"Even though my doctor opposed it, I knew how important it was to have 11," Mr. Lucio said.
Ms. Van de Putte warned the Republican leadership against trying to arrest lawmakers. Democrats complain that proposed maps would dilute the influence of minority voters.
"I think that would send a horrible message to the people of the state of Texas that their minority legislators are so opposed to the diminishment of voter rights for minorities that they did have to keep them locked up against their will," she said.
ESCAPING TO NEW MEXICO
Democratic state senators who left for Albuquerque on Monday:
Gonzalo Barrientos, Austin
Rodney Ellis, Houston
Mario Gallegos Jr., Houston
Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, McAllen
Eddie Lucio Jr., Brownsville
Frank Madla Jr., San Antonio
Eliot Shapleigh, El Paso
Leticia Van de Putte, San Antonio
Royce West, Dallas
John Whitmire, Houston
Judith Zaffirini, Laredo
REMAINING IN AUSTIN:
Kenneth Armbrister, Victoria
Senate rules require that two-thirds of the chamber support a bill before it can be taken up for debate. Mr. Dewhurst has said he would bypass the rule so that only a majority of senators would need to support a bill for it to be debated during a second special session on redistricting.
That vow and one by Mr. Perry to keep calling special sessions until a redistricting plan was approved drove the Democrats from the state, Ms. Van de Putte said.
"When the lieutenant governor said he wouldn't honor the two-thirds rule, we decided to break quorum," she said.
One stayed behind
Sen. Kenneth Armbrister of Victoria, the only Democrat who did not leave the chamber, said he did not judge those who left. He said he stayed because he wanted to ensure that rural Texas had a voice in the process.
The House has already approved a map, which could have given the GOP as many as 21 seats in the delegation.
The House sponsor of the redistricting bill said that he continues to negotiate with his Senate counterpart and is open to talking across party lines but not long distance to New Mexico.
"I'm willing to work with anybody Republican or Democrat. We need to do our work at the Capitol, where it's in the public view no shuttle diplomacy," said Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford. "When you leave town, you're saying we are not interested in negotiation. We just want to kill the process."
Attorney General Greg Abbott suggested that the senators could be pursued across state lines, not necessarily by the DPS, but by the Senate sergeant-at-arms and his staff.
Mr. Abbott issued an opinion advising Mr. Dewhurst that the sergeant and his deputies have the legal authority to arrest AWOL members "wherever they may be found."
But, as a practical matter, Mr. Dewhurst said, the missing members are out of reach.
"The Texas Constitution does not apply here. They [DPS officers] have no jurisdiction," said Sen. John Whitmire of Houston. "We are protected by the laws and due process of New Mexico."
The senators' situation took center stage in a hearing Monday on a continuing court fight over state police authority to hunt the House members who fled earlier. Visiting State District Judge Charles Campbell, who had earlier issued a preliminary ruling that DPS has no power to hunt lawmakers, told lawyers that when he issues his final order it is unlikely to include a ban on hunting senators, since no senators were parties to the lawsuit.
Assistant Attorney General Jeff Boyd said he would advise the DPS that there's no legal reason the agency could not be used to hunt the senators within Texas. But an attorney for the Democrats disagreed.
Staff writers George Kuempel and Pete Slover in Austin and special contributor Zelie Pollon in New Mexico contributed to this report.
Online at: http://www.dallasnews.com/latestnews/stories/072903dntexredistrict.d42fd54e.html
All that time at the Marriott for all those vagabonds must be costing someone a pretty penny.
A quorum is not a tool. It is a protection of the peoples rights! Quorums are designed to insure that the people's voice will be heard during legislation by insuring that a majority of legislators are present during debate and voting. Should disease or other disasters keep legislators from the capitol the quorum keeps the minority from passing legislation during the absence. The quorum also protects the peoples rights by compelling a majority of legislators to be present, preventing the legislators from being lazy or lackadaisical in their duties.
A quorum is not a tool, it is a protection of the people's rights and these Senators are abusing this legal protection.
Obstructionists is a very accurate term for these people.
GET THE HELL OUT OF MY STATE AND GO DO YOUR F****** JOB!
I'm tired of this petty crap.
These aren't Texans.
(a) The legislative per diem is $125.
(b) The per diem is intended to be paid to each member of the legislature and the lieutenant governor for each day during the regular session and for each day during any special session.
Who pays their expenses while they are "boycotting"?
My very question in post #1 as well.
I strongly suspect that Texas taxpayers are, but I don't know for sure.
When the Texas House 'RATS (aka Chicken D's) did this last May, it was 'reported' that they paid their own expenses (un-reimbursed) and did not get their pay while they were out. I'm still skeptical regarding that, however . . .
You would have to look at the past two election cycles to see them all as they have four yr terms with 1/2 running each two years... the Republicans gained three seats in the 2002 election going from a 16-15 split to a 19-12 split.
"Do we have a quorum?"
"Yep looks like it. Does anyone object?"
"No one objects? OK we have a quorum."
My immediate thought was: why not continue to call special sessions right through the next election cycle? If they remain out of state their re-election efforts will be hurt big-time, and if they go back to Texas they can be herded into the assembly chamber for a quorum vote. I just hope the Texas Republicans have more balls then the Republicans in the U.S. Senate....
Works for me. Get the 'RATS OUT and the GOP in, one way or another! I agree, this cannot HELP the 'RATS in the eyes of the Texas voter. Running away instead of representing their constituents - and I thought the Senate was supposed to be 'above' a lot of this garbage. Sheesh !
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