Lone Star Stalled

AUSTIN, Texas — In an act of political subterfuge, at least 53 Democratic legislators packed their bags, disappeared from the Capitol and apparently scattered across the Southwest on Monday as Texas Rangers searched for them, bringing a divisive legislative session to an abrupt halt.

Under state law, Republicans — who control the governor’s mansion, the state Senate and the state House for the first time since the 19th century — need 100 of 150 legislators on the floor of the House before they can conduct the people’s business.

Now they don’t have a quorum, and with Thursday the last day legislation can be sent to the Senate, the conservative agenda they’ve effectively waited 130 years to advance could die.Outgunned, Texas Democrats Vamoose, The Los Angeles Times, 5/13/2003

Good for the Texas Democrats. Among the neat little tricks the Republican majority is trying to pull is a congressional redistricting plan that takes gerrymandering to a new extreme, creating one district that is 300 miles long and one mile wide in places. That’s crap partisanship that has nothing to do with the interests of democracy in the slightest, and if the only weapon the Texas Democrats had to keep it from happening was to hie out of town, then that’s exactly what they should have done — and did. I feel ideologically consistent on this one since if the situations were reversed and the Republicans pulled the same maneuver, I’d congratulate them as well. That the Democrats’ maneuver also keeps the Texas Republicans from slashing money for textbooks and yanking health benefits for 250,000 kids is just a nice bonus.

Texas Republicans, of course, are calling the Democrats cowards: “It’s not a disgrace to stand and fight, but it is a disgrace to run and hide,” says Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick. This is like calling someone a coward because he won’t stand in front of a steamroller and let it run him over. Staying in front of the steamroller may not be cowardly, but it is idiotic; much better to slip over to the side of the steamroller and yank out its battery. Anyway, I wouldn’t put much stock in the Republicans’ whining, since if the situations were reversed they’d be doing the same thing, and Rush Limbaugh and the conservative chorus would be praising them for their courageous stand. Let’s not pretend at this late point that Republicans stand for anything more than political expediency; if they did the Democrats wouldn’t have had to high-tail it out of Austin.

The best line of this whole fracas comes from the New Mexico attorney general, who when asked to extend the Texas Rangers the jurisdiction to compel any Texas legislatures found in that state to return to Texas, refused to do do, but then added: “I have put out an all-points bulletin for law enforcement to be on the lookout for politicians in favor of health care for the needy and against tax cuts for the wealthy,” she said (she’s a Democrat).

Well, you won’t find any of those in Texas right about now. Which says most of what you need to know about Texas.

20 Comments on “Lone Star Stalled”

  1. Man, there are times I absolutely love living in this state, and this is one of them. A friend of mine is absolutely horrified that this happened — I’m doing my best not to giggle around him.

  2. I think they should call them “lily livered cowards”, spit some tobacco juice, and go back to the saloon for some whiskey.

  3. Speaking as one of Texas’ newest residents, I’m not really sure how I feel about this. I understand that the Dems are pretty much otherwise unable to stop the redistricting plan, which I think is abominable, but it’s still hard for me to agree that this is the proper behavior for elected officials. It is my understanding that this has happened before, FWIW.

    What will truly be interesting is seeing how many of these people get re-elected. Ideally, I’d like to see it result in a more evenly balanced legislature, but I just don’t have that much faith in my fellow voters. I spent too much time in California to have that kind of faith.

  4. I’m most concerned with political use of the Texas Rangers (the state police, not the baseball team). According to NPR, Rangers staked out a hospital where a legislator’s wife was giving birth to twins in hope of arresting him and bringing him to the statehouse.

    How does one political party get the authority to arrest of members of the other party for political disagreement? Would an arrested Democrat be glued to the floor and forced to vote?

  5. They get the authority because, if I remember correctly, they have laws that prohibit the absence or a legislator or something to that effect. When it was apparent that the Dems had fled, the Speaker of the House of Texas Representatives invoked that law.

  6. Regarding Craddick – I think one of the absent dems should come back just long enough to confront him and say “Nyah nyah nyah, takes one to know one!”

    Okay, I know I’m having a nice laugh at Texas’ expense, but I stood 4 years of similar things in MN having Jesse Ventura as Gov.

    I mean I stood the wisecracks. I think Jesse was a pretty good Govenor.

  7. I’m surprised they tried that 300-mile by 1-mile district. The Supremes killed North Carolina’s redistricting plan a few years back because one district ran alongside Interstate 85 from roughly Charlotte to near Raleigh. The district map looked like a small intestine.

  8. I’d like to continue on the “how many of them are going to get re-elected thread”, because I think the answer will be close to “none”. Texans tend to be conservative and vengeful (our current president being a shining example of both); I’m sure the next time the Lone Star populace heads to the polling booths, this memory still fresh in their collective minds, the Republicans will steamroll to victory and then be free to pass their entire agenda whether the Donkeys show up or not.

    The Democrats did a bang-up job of winning a battle, but this could cost Texas liberals a much more important war.

  9. I’m not sure I’d place so much faith in the voting public’s collective memory. The House Bank scandal happened in early 1992, if I recall correctly, but Barbara Boxer still managed to be elected Senator from California that year, despite being one of the worst offenders. Maybe things are different here in Texas (I’ve only been here two weeks — what do I know?), but my perception in general about voters is that they’re very much concerned with “what’s going on now” as opposed to “what happened a few months ago” or “what happened last year.”

    To argue that the AWOL legislators will eventually be booted out of office also presumes that people will place more emphasis on the idea that they left the state rather than the fact that they took a chance and did what they thought they had to do to prevent obvious gerrymandering from taking place. I won’t argue that the state doesn’t need redistricting, but it could be done better. I’d like to hope that my fellow voters would prefer to vote for the Dems who walked over the Republicans who created a 300 mile x 1 mile district.

    Of course, as I’ve said before, I lived in California too long to have too much faith, but we’ll see.

  10. First of all, sniping at Texas’s culture should be beneath all of us.

    Secondly, the Repubs are redistricting just like the Dems did for nearly 130 years. That’s right 130 years. The house just became majority R for the first time since Reconstruction this year. So the sour grapes from the Dems is a bit hypocritical.

    Lastly, I’m of two minds on the redistricting itself. Gerrymandering by whichever party is despicable and it should be illegal. But I live in an area that would likely shift from progressive liberal Democrat Lloyd Doggett to Libertarian Republican Ron Paul under the new plan (that would be a change for the better as far as I’m concerned).

  11. Geez Jimmy, who put the burr under your saddle?

    Personally, I thought the movie “Fargo” was hilarious, and it did an awesome job sniping at my (Minnesota) culture.

  12. I partly agree with Jimmy, but only partly.

    There’s a long tradition of gerrymandering in all states. After the census results are available, the party in power controls the line drawing to its advantage. It’s traditional to avoid intestine-shaped districts and to pretend the lines were drawn to keep communities intact.

    Rep DeLay said outright that the purpose of this redistricting is to increase the number of Republicans. How arrogant do you have to be to drop all pretense of fair play?

    BTW: The post-census redistricting is already in place and approved by the courts. The justification for redrawing the lines between censuses (censii?) should be *much* higher than political advantage.

  13. Tripp,

    I wasn’t inferring that anything you wrote was sniping. Comments about the myths of Texas’ past are fine, expected, and can be funny. We’re Texans afterall, we invented our lore.

    The sniping I was referring to was the lumping of all Texans into one mindset because of the preceived actions of either the President or the Texas Republican Party. Feel free to criticize the man/men/women to your heart’s content, just don’t generalize the entire population by your opinions on the actions of those folks.

    Again, I wasn’t, and am not, referring to anything you wrote.

    Oh, and my saddle is burr free.

  14. Well Dang, Jimmy, now what am I going to do with all my other Texas cliches?

    Wanna hear a Minnesotan? “See ya later. I’ll be going now then.”

  15. How anyone can defend what those absentee-legislators are doing is beyond me. They were elected to do a job, but rather than do their job they are running away like spoiled little brats when they don’t get their way.

    They even had the gall to send a letter to the legislature stating they would come back if re-districting was pulled. Which, as far as I can tell, is extortion. In this country the majority rules. The majority of Texans elected republicans, which means the majority of Texans want republican bills passed. The minority is not allowing the will of the people to be done unless their demands are met. That is extortion.

    And for the record, I don’t care if it was a republican holdout or a democratic one. Subverting the will of the people in this way is despicable no matter who does it. Thwarting the democratic process should be, and in Texas is, illegal. The speaker had every right and legal authority to use the Rangers to bring the criminals back. The fact that they fled across state lines to avoid capture indicates they knew what they were doing was illegal.

    I’m terribly disgusted by the democrat’s actions in this case, and the fact that anyone can support what the democrats are doing is amazing.

    If anyone would care to explain to me how you can defend elected law-makers who willfully break the law, I’m listening.

  16. Technically, they are doing their job, IE representing the interests of their constituents. It stands to reason that, being democratic, they obviously were elected by democrats, who benifit from being in a democratic area. Therefore, they are representing the best interests of their party and constituents against a blatant power grab by the party in power. Fair play to the dems, I say.

    As for the majority rules comment, In a Republic the majority does not in fact rule. Thats largely the point of having a Republic, to prevent the majority from screwing over the minority.

  17. “In a Republic the majority does not in fact rule.”

    Good point, however I don’t think it changes my argument. The point of having a republic is not to let the minority screw ever the majority either, and what the run-away democrats are trying to pull is rule by minority.

    They most certainly are not doing their job, which is exactly my point. I don’t really think the reason why they left is important, only that they left.

    Having said that, if redistricting is the issue than fine, we have ways of dealing with bad bills being passed that do not involve dereliction of duty. As several people posted above, bogus districts have been drawn before and been dealt with in ways that did not involve fleeing the very jurisdiction these people are supposed to represent.

    Also, if I remember correctly, the current district lines were drawn by a special panel, and not the house, because the then-democratic controlled house failed to get them drawn in time and the courts had to step in and redraw the districts following the last census, which means the democrats have only themselves to blame for the current situation. The leader of the missing democrats was the speaker when the lines should have been drawn following the last census, he didn’t get it done.

    Why don’t we take him to task for not doing his job then either, rather than praising him for failing to do his job yet again?

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