Over 50 Texas Democrats Remain on the Lam
By April Castro
Tuesday 13 May 2003
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Three Democrats returned to the Capitol on Tuesday, but more than 50 remained on the lam in Oklahoma, frustrating Republican efforts to push through a plan to redraw the state's congressional districts.
The rebellious Democrats were holed up at a hotel in Ardmore, Okla. They sneaked out of Austin on Sunday after spending several days discussing ways to derail a GOP plan to redraw the districts that seeks to increase the number of Republican seats.
With 58 Democrats gone on Monday, the 150-member House was unable to muster the two-thirds quorum needed to conduct business. House Speaker Tom Craddick called the House to order Tuesday morning but even with the return of three Democrats, there still were enough missing to block any House business.
The three returning Democrats were welcomed back into the House chamber with hugs and supportive words from their Republican colleagues. One Democrat, Rep. Helen Giddings, fought back tears as she stated her desire to stop the redistricting plan.
The defiant Democrats in Oklahoma said they would stay away until Republicans agreed to drop the redistricting plan.
``It's totally up to Craddick, and he has been so advised,'' one of the Democrats told The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity. ``If he'll get redistricting off the calendar, we'll be right there bright and early.''
Craddick said he was not interested in negotiating.
Republicans constructed signs and gimmicks ridiculing their colleagues. They plastered the Democrats' faces on milk cartons, and state Republican chair Susan Weddington, borrowing from the ``most wanted Iraqi'' cards, announced she had playing cards featuring the missing legislators.
House rules allow state troopers to arrest lawmakers and bring them back to the Capitol. On Monday, Craddick had ordered troopers to find the missing lawmakers, arrest them and bring them back to Austin. Several agents arrived at the Democrats' hotel in Ardmore on Monday night but they did not have jurisdiction outside of Texas and did not have a warrant issued by Oklahoma authorities.
Instead, the troopers asked the legislators to board their aircraft and return home, but the lawmakers refused.
The capped months of tension between Democrats and the newly-in-control Republicans.
``They're legislative terrorists and their leaving today is a weapon of mass obstruction, blocking hundreds of pieces of legislation,'' Republican Rep. Dan Branch said Monday.
The Democrats said they were taking a stand for fair treatment of the minority party. They said U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, had pushed the Texas House to take up the issue of congressional redistricting instead of more pressing matters, such as the state budget.
``There are some issues that are important to us, important to all Texans,'' Rep. Pete Gallego said.
The state already has a court-drawn redistricting map, but Republicans say it doesn't match state voting trends and want to redo the plan. Their proposal could add five to seven GOP House seats to the 15 already in Republican hands. The state has 32 members in the U.S. House.
Redistricting had been scheduled on the House calendar for Monday. The deadline for preliminarily votes on House bills is Thursday or they risk dying for the session, which ends June 2.
The Texas House cannot convene without at least 100 of the 150 members present. The body has 88 Republicans and 62 Democrats. Four Democrats had stayed behind and the whereabouts of four others were not known.
The missing Democratic lawmakers spent Monday in a hotel conference room, where large sheets of paper taped to the walls were used as makeshift chalkboards and long tables were filled with laptop computers, stacks of papers and notebooks.
They said they discussed school financing, homeowners insurance and other issues.
Republican Gov. Rick Perry lambasted the Democrats for deserting the Legislature, saying ``we might as well shut this building down and let it become a museum because the work of the people is through.''
The Republicans and the few Democrats who were left milled around. Some left the chamber and were elsewhere in the Capitol. They weren't be required to stay on the House floor Tuesday as they had all day Monday.
Craddick said Perry assured him he would call a special session after the regular session if it's needed.
The walkout came 24 years to the month since a group of 12 Texas state senators defied then-Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby by refusing to show up at the Capitol.
Some of the ``Killer Bees,'' as the 12 Democrats came to be known, hid out in a west Austin garage apartment while troopers, Texas Rangers and legislative sergeants-at-arms unsuccessfully combed the state for them.
Far too Far
By Molly Ivins
Tuesday 13 May 2003
They just went too far, that's all. This session of the legislature has been as brutal, callous and indifferent to the welfare of the weakest, the most frail, youngest and oldest Texans as it is possible to get. The level of pure meanness is stunning. They have just gone too damn far.
The session was pretty well summed up by Rep. Senfronia Thompson when she illustrated what was going on by taking the House rulebook to the podium with her and dropping it on the floor. There is no rule of procedure, fairness, common sense or decency that has been observed by the Republican majority in the Texas House.
This is not about partisan politics -- although that has certainly reared its ugly head. In case you hadn't noticed, every major newspaper in this state has criticized the plans and performance of the legislature this session, often in harsh language. Those wild-eyed radicals at the Dallas Morning News and Houston Chronicle are just disgusted with the tacky display these people have been putting on.
There is no excuse for this, and blaming it on the deficit will not wash. We all knew going in that some terribly hard choices would have to be made, but what in the name of heaven was the governor thinking when he had handicapped people arrested? These were citizens who came to their capital to protest budget cuts affecting them, and they get arrested. Maybe it was because they were in wheelchairs -- don't even have to be hauled away, they can just be rolled away.
Most of us thought it was pretty funny when Rep. Debbie Riddle popped out with her now-classic statement: "Where did this idea come from that everybody deserves free education, free medical care, free whatever? It comes from Moscow, from Russia. It comes straight out of the pit of hell."
Amusing as that was, the House has been doing its dead-level best to destroy both public education and public health. They've taken 250,000 poor children off the Children's Health Insurance Program, and the schools are in dire straits. As the Austin American-Statesman pointed out in an editorial, these same fine thinkers did manage to find $10 million to appropriate for cow research and $300 million for Gov. Perry to woo companies to Texas.
Of course, there have been some lovely moments we can celebrate, like the day Speaker Tom Craddick decided that the new ethics reform law should be debated in a backroom, closed-door session. Amazingly enough, the proposed ethics law was weakened and watered down behind the closed doors.
I think a special salute for clear thinking should go to the House for its amazing decision to cut the program that pays for medications for mentally ill people who are out of prison on probation or parole. Is this brilliant? Now these people will be wandering around the state without their meds.
The latest flap is over a congressional redistricting map that is so bad it's actually funny. Of course, the thing was passed without public hearings, because as Rep. Joe Crabb explained, "The rest of us would have a very difficult time if we were out in an area -- other than Austin or other English-speaking areas -- to be able to have committee hearings or to be able to converse with people that did not speak English." Sometimes you have to wonder what planet these people are from.
That was the proverbial straw for the Democrats, 53 of whom left the state or went into hiding Sunday to break the quorum, thus bringing legislative business to a halt. They've already been dubbed the Killer D's, after the tradition of the Killer Bees in 1979. Believe me, stopping the legislature from functioning at this point is high public service.
Speaker Craddick called it a "stunt." The R's have been pulling stunts every day of this session, and don't write it off as payback for heavy-handed Democratic rule. Speaker Pete Laney ran a fair House, and everyone knew it -- these people are disgracing themselves and the state.
The way things got to such a sorry pass is that the R's have been running on rote, lockstep voting. No Democratic amendment gets considered on its merits, no matter how sensible it is. Shell bills get introduced, and then whole sections are amended on the floor, in a parody of legislative process. Much time has been spent on gay-bashing and trying to take away abortions rights. I'm starting to think right-wing Republicans all have an unhealthy fixation on sexual behavior.
The choices on how to spend money couldn't possibly make Republican "values" any clearer. We can spend money on corporate welfare, but not on people's welfare. We can't cover health insurance for our teachers, but we must have brush control.
The creepy thing about the far-right Republicans, who are definitely in the majority in the House, is not that they are dismantling government because they won't raise taxes, they're dismantling government because they think it shouldn't help people. They really think health and human services should not be provided. It's an old line among liberals that anti-choice people care more about the unborn than they do about the born, but I'm telling you that it's not just some clever line -- these people are writing it into the state budget.