Homeland Security Dept. Searches for Texas Democrats
By Jay Root
Star-Telegram Austin Bureau
Wednesday 14 May 2003
Wives have been watched. A former House speaker's plane was tracked. Federal officials have been asked to intervene. Even the El Paso Police Department has gotten involved.
The hunt for Democrats on the lam from the Texas Legislature has involved virtually every level of government, ranging from a house call by local cops to monitoring conducted -- apparently unwittingly -- by a California-based agency that normally is involved in the fight against terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.
By Tuesday night, only one House member, Rep. Helen Giddings, D-DeSoto, had been apprehended.
State Rep. Craig Eiland, D-Galveston, said he believes that the dragnet went overboard when a Texas Ranger tried to find him Monday night at the neonatal unit of the Galveston hospital where his newborn twins are recovering -- in intensive care. Eiland said he called the agent on his cellphone and told him that DPS agents had already found him in Ardmore, Okla. -- where he and most of his fellow boycotters are in self-imposed exile.
"It's unnecessary, bordering on harassment," Eiland said. "Let the good guys go back to catching the bad guys and let the politicians deal with each other."
The Texas Department of Public Safety says it's just doing its job: trying to haul in more than 50 Democrats who skipped town to block a controversial vote on redistricting.
Although their tactic isn't a crime, state law enforcement officers have the authority to arrest members of the Legislature and deliver them to the Capitol to achieve the necessary quorum. At least three divisions of the DPS -- state troopers, Texas Rangers and the Special Crimes unit -- are on the case.
"We are legally mandated to conduct an investigation as to the whereabouts of the missing House members," DPS spokesman Tom Vinger said.
Vinger would not divulge details of the hunt. Nor did he shed any light on what role, if any, the federal government might have in picking up the 51 Democrats holed up in Ardmore -- a subject made all the more confusing by statements from Republican leaders in Austin and Washington.
At the Capitol in Washington, U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, said that the speaker of the Texas House in Austin, Tom Craddick, R-Midland, had asked for the FBI or U.S. marshals to intervene.
"The speaker asked the FBI and/or U.S. marshals to go up and get these members," DeLay told reporters.
But Craddick, who a day earlier had suggested the possibility of federal involvement, said Tuesday that he made no calls to any federal agencies, saying that it was an issue for the DPS.
"I'm not into that," he said.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in San Antonio had no official comment, but a source confirmed that an unidentified person had called to inquire about federalizing the arrest warrant.
The point seems moot now. Jorge Martinez, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice, said the matter "falls squarely within the purview of state authority, and it would not warrant investigation by federal authorities."
One federal agency that became involved early on was the Air and Marine Interdiction and Coordination Center, based in Riverside, Calif. -- which now falls under the auspices of the Homeland Security Department.
The agency received a call to locate a specific Piper turboprop aircraft. It was determined that the plane belonged to former House Speaker Pete Laney, D-Hale Center.
The location of Laney's plane proved to be a key piece of information because, Craddick said, it's how he determined that the Democrats were in Ardmore.
"We called someone, and they said they were going to track it. I have no idea how they tracked it down," Craddick said. "That's how we found them."
Back on the ground, El Paso police were involved in the pursuit Monday. Two officers went to the home of state Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, and quizzed the politician's 17-year-old daughter, asking whether her dad might be in Louisiana.
Pickett's wife, Denise, said she was shocked when she drove into her driveway and saw policemen walking out her front door.
"They could have waited for me outside," said Denise Pickett. "I don't think they had any business asking a teen-age girl any questions. She was worried. She started thinking all sorts of things."
A police spokesman said the DPS had asked the officers to look for the representative.
Carol Roark of Fort Worth, whose husband, Rep. Lon Burnam, is among the Texas Democrats holed up in Oklahoma, said she pulled into the driveway of her Fairmount-area home about 7:30 p.m. Monday and was confronted by two DPS officers. She said one of them, reading from a document, told her, "I'm here on the order of Tom Craddick to arrest Rep. Lon Burnam."
Roark said the troopers then gave her a toll-free phone number to call if she found her husband.
"I just started laughing," she said. "I think it was a pretty silly use of tax dollars."
Not everybody found the police presence a nuisance. Dallas Mayor Laura Miller, whose husband, Rep. Steve Wolens, D-Dallas, is in Ardmore, said DPS officers camped outside her home Monday night.
"I felt very safe last night because there were two DPS officers who slept in front of my home," Miller said.
Staff Writers Karen Brooks, Eva-Marie Ayala, Jack Douglas Jr. and Maria Recio Contributed to This Report.
Texas Democrats Commended in Oklahoma House Resolution
By Jessica Dickerson
Associated Press Writer
Wednesday 14 May 2003
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Oklahoma's Democrat-controlled House of Representatives passed a resolution Tuesday commending Texas Democratic House members who fled that state to stifle redistricting plans they opposed.
A Republican-supported resolution that would encourage Oklahoma officials to assist Texas officials in returning the errant lawmakers to Texas failed.
The resolution commending the lawmakers, by Rep. David Braddock, D-Altus, came after dozens of Texas Democrats fled Austin, Texas, after discussing ways to derail a Republican plan to redraw Texas' congressional districts.
The absence of 58 Democrats on Monday left the 150-member Texas House short of the two-thirds quorum needed to conduct business.
The rebellious Democrats holed up in an Ardmore hotel.
The House resolution commends the courage of the Texas Democrats who "have decided to defend the rights of the minority and the more pressing needs of Texas families."
The resolution charges that a Texas congressman and the majority leadership of the House are more concerned with adding Republican members to Congress than the educational, health and other needs of Texas families.
The Democrats earlier blamed Republican U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay for interfering with redistricting.
"I don't think they're breaking their oath of office," Braddock said of the Texas Democrats. "I think they're all fulfilling it by trying to meet the needs of those that have no voice."
Some House members were concerned that a similar move could occur in Oklahoma if the House supports the Texas lawmakers.
Braddock responded by saying members of the Oklahoma House are better at working together than their Texas counterparts.
The resolution, HR 1020, passed 47-44.
Another resolution, by Rep. Greg Piatt, R-Ardmore, requested that Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry, Commissioner of Public Safety Bob Ricks, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol and other law enforcement officials assist Texas officials in returning the errant lawmakers to Texas.
Braddock commented that he wanted the Texas Democrats to stay in Oklahoma.
"This is economic development at its best," he quipped. "We want Texans coming to spend their money in Oklahoma."
The resolution, HR 1019, failed 50-46.
The resolutions do not have the force of law.
In a humorous moment, Rep. Ron Kirby, D-Lawton, read a proposal to grant Texas legislators political amnesty, welcome them to Oklahoma and grant them the honorary title of "Okie."
The proposal also called for a Cub Scout troop to be dispatched to the Red River to protect Oklahoma's border from Texas Rangers.
The idea met with laughter from most, with an occasional "boo."
Earlier Tuesday, Henry said he welcomed the Texas lawmakers, but was "not going to get embroiled in this political fight."
Republican State Chairman Gary Jones criticized Henry for allowing Oklahoma to become a safe haven for the Texas Democrats.
"These Democrat legislators south of our border are wasting taxpayers' money," Jones said. "They are behaving in an obstructionist manner and it's a publicity stunt, plain and simple. I'm embarrassed Gov. Henry and our Democrat-controlled House of Representatives would condone such a childish stunt."