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May 12, 2003 10:12 AM   Subscribe

Democrats in GOP-dominated Texas House stage mass absence to break quorum It comes as a stinging response to Republican tactics to redraw districts that are favorable to Republican outcomes
posted by The Jesse Helms (21 comments total)
"The plan stretches boundaries many miles and in odd configurations to draw in minorities from separate areas of the state,"

Sounds like a regular old gerrymandering that they're fighting. Good luck to them.
posted by Blue Stone at 10:24 AM on May 12, 2003

As much as I'd love to bash Texas Republicans, I just can't do it since the Georgia Democratic party did some unbelievable redistricting to keep their majority. Can you say gerrymander? Check out this map for the Congressional districts. The Georgia democrats balled things up so badly in the last election, they let a redneck Republican from south Georgia named Sonny get elected governor by lying to teachers and reviving the confederate flag on the state flag issue. He's the first Republican governor since the Civil War. If I'd have known that was going to happen, I would've voted or something.

The only proper way to decide redistricting is to use independent comissions to minimize the corruption.
posted by monkeyman at 10:40 AM on May 12, 2003

Democrats in GOP-dominated Texas House stage mass absence to break quorum

Fighting immaturity with immaturity. Good tactic. Just makes you love politicians, doesn't it?
posted by oissubke at 10:47 AM on May 12, 2003

gerry manders is in congress now? i always loved him on 'leave it to beaver'.
posted by quonsar at 10:53 AM on May 12, 2003

Fighting immaturity with immaturity.

What's immature on either side? This isn't just about Texas -- the redistricting plan would almost guarantee a Republican House for the next ten years. The Reps aren't going to pass that up. The only tactic left for the Dems is to deny the Reps a chance to vote on it. Both sides are using laws and parliamentary procedure to further their party's interests.
posted by joaquim at 10:54 AM on May 12, 2003

gerry manders is in congress now? i always loved him on 'leave it to beaver'.

And I heard his son sings the Hip Hop.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 11:06 AM on May 12, 2003

This is serious stuff. As Joaquim said, the Republicans are trying to lock up the Congress for a very long time. The orders are coming straight down the pike from Tom Delay, Karl Rove and W himself. The same thing's happening in Colorado. Not only that--they are cutting up Austin into 3 separate districts (vertically slicing up Travis county into 3 pieces). With a drive of less than 5 minutes, you could be in each district. Instead of the voters picking their representatives, the representatives are picking the voters. There's more details here.
posted by timothompson at 11:22 AM on May 12, 2003

The would-be quorum-busters planned to leave the state to avoid being located by the Department of Public Safety or Texas Rangers, who could detain them and forcibly return them to the House floor.

Whoa. Is this only a Texas thing ("Please come with me, Sir - and no sudden movements"), or can any absent lawmaker be returned to the House at gunpoint?

Twenty-four years ago this month, a group of 12 Texas state senators defied then-Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby by refusing to show up at the Capitol. The "Killer Bees,"' as they came to be known, hid out in an Austin apartment while state troopers, Texas Rangers and legislative sergeants-at-arms unsuccessfully combed the state for them.

What an image - what a great short story that would make.
posted by gottabefunky at 11:43 AM on May 12, 2003

Whoa. Is this only a Texas thing ("Please come with me, Sir - and no sudden movements"), or can any absent lawmaker be returned to the House at gunpoint?

It's not a Texas thing.

US Constitution, article 1 Section 5. :

Each House shall be the judge of the elections, returns and qualifications of its own members, and a majority of each shall constitute a quorum to do business; but a smaller number may adjourn from day to day, and may be authorized to compel the attendance of absent members, in such manner, and under such penalties as each House may provide.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:54 AM on May 12, 2003

Don't mess with Texas' mess!
posted by DenOfSizer at 12:28 PM on May 12, 2003

Redistricting at will may be legal, but it sets a very destructive precedent. The Texas Republicans already redistricted in response to the 2000 census. In a short-sighted effort to gerrymander their numbers up, they are opening the door to endless redistricting battles for years to come.

If the Republicans succeed in this, then the Democrats will have to use the same tactics next time they get the power to do so. Gerrymandering is nasty enough, but gerrymandering more than every ten years will have an even more corrosive effect on democracy in this country.

Still, you have to admire their willingness to bring the whole system down in order to achieve greater power over it.
posted by smrtsch at 1:03 PM on May 12, 2003

A little back story on the redistricting:

The move to redistrict targets only five districts in Texas - all five are part of the seven districts that traditionally support Deomcrats. The districts in question are all currently served by pro-peace, pro-environment, pro-choice representatives.

The request to redistrict was initiated by Tom DeLay (none of the districts are DeLay's own gerrymandered district) and was kept in secret from the voters of Texas until late April when the story broke.

The hearings for the redistricting were held on May 3rd, when a number of counties and cities in Texas held elections - meaning that a number of representatives could not be present at the hearings.

Every major newspaper in Texas who has covered the redistricting plan has come out against it. The Fort-Worth Star-Telegram said that DeLay's plan is "raw, shameless politics and shows little regard for the residents who'll be affected or the taxpayers who'll foot the bill for the inevitable legal challenges. . . . It also blatantly invites rejection by the U.S. Justice Department under the Voting Rights Act by diluting minority voting strength. . . . If the state hasn't enough money to pay for basic services for thousands of children, elderly and disabled residents, it certainly can't afford another round of needless legal bills."

DeLay claims that the redistricting will help minorities but most of Texas' minority rights organizations are against the plan. DeLay's responsed to the minority senators and representatives who are against the plan by claiming that "they are more Democrat than they are minority." (Dallas Morning News, 4/25/03).

If you'd like to help stop this Republican fueled grab for power, please call:

Speaker of the Texas State Legislature, Tom Craddick

Texas Legislature Redistricting Chair, Joe Crabb
posted by DragonBoy at 1:23 PM on May 12, 2003

As Joaquim said, the Republicans are trying to lock up the Congress for a very long time. Yes, timothompson, and as Joaquim also said, Both sides are using laws and parliamentary procedure to further their party's interests. (As well they both should.) This is an ongoing process in most states that rarely gets national attention. Some legislatures have succeeded in moving redistricting to appointed commissions, with the idea being that at least the executive and legislature will be able to guide the outcome, but the judicial branch usually tends to get involved regardless, and in recent years has even involved itself in actually drawing the maps rather than (as in the past) deciding the validity of one versus another.

And if you want gerrymandering, be sure to check out the court-approved House District 4 which was designed to give Chicago an Hispanic Congressman (Luis Gutierrez has held the seat ever since). Partly it succeeded because Chicago is so reliably Democratic that the Republicans had few objections. Another example is North Carolina's I-85 District designed to elect a minority congressman. (It's now history.) There may be value in gerrymandering to increase minority representation, but it is surely offset by the weakening of prohibitions for less worthy reasons. In any case, redistricting fights took place in almost every state following the 1990 census, and in fact led to changes in law and procedure that have made the adjustments from the 2000 census somewhat less severe and politically bruising (but judges still do too much of the redistricting). In states that gain or lose congressional seats, however (Texas gained two), the stakes are higher, because they involve political life-and-death boundary lines.

The National Conference of State Legislatures Redistricting information resource. Poke around and you can probably find the info on your state's redistricting from a decade ago, including all local and federal lawsuits. Also, an interesting redistricting scorecard by a grad student who notes that the process has, overall, reduced the number of competitive districts.

It is unusual for a state to redistrict outside of the required schedule, but not unheard of. If you're looking for analogues, the GOP has just done the same thing in Colorado.

In the end I would caution against sweeping statements such as lock up the Congress. Electorates do, after all, change: California was once thought a Republican lock; the suburbs were thought of as GOP shock troops. The immigration issue tipped the Hispanic demographic back toward the Democrats, though, and California went heavily for Gore in '00; and most close-in suburbs these days are heavy on the leans-Democrat soccer-mom demographic (as well as increasingly minority), one reason we've had both parties trying to appeal with health care and education initiatives. It's even arguable that this sort of redistricting could backfire by making formerly safe Republican seats weaker or simply more liberal on average, leading to a wave of RINO candidates in the Jeffords/Snowe mold. (Some have argued, for example, that minority-majority districts have had the mirror-image effect of making majority-majority representatives less attuned to minority needs, because they represent fewer of them.)

If redistricting out of cycle becomes a favored tactic (and with the electoral balance otherwise seemingly set in stone, it may well), the electorate will likely be the loser, and the political discourse the poorer for it.
posted by dhartung at 2:19 PM on May 12, 2003

US Constitution comment: Isn't that for the federal level? Would it apply to the states? Does anyone know of a Texas law the Dems are breaking to warrent state troopers?

What is this country coming to?!
posted by evening at 5:31 PM on May 12, 2003

Turns out the Texas Constitution has a provision similar to the U.S. Constitution about "compelling" absent members to attend.

Article 3, Section 10: "Two-thirds of each House shall constitute a quorum to do business, but a smaller number may adjourn from day to day, and compel the attendance of absent members, in such manner and under such penalties as each House may provide. "

What a mess.
posted by evening at 5:54 PM on May 12, 2003

Clearly, these Democrats must hate freedom. Send 'em back to Kreblechistan!
posted by drstrangelove at 7:51 PM on May 12, 2003

Very interesting post, TJH. Hot and spicy democracy, Texas-style!
posted by UKnowForKids at 8:22 PM on May 12, 2003

The local San Antonio talk radio pundits were up in arms over this "disgrace" and "fiasco" without once noting that the issue was over gerrymandering.

Not. Even. Once.

They did call in instapundits from GOP thinktanks to comment on how the Democrats were being "oppositional" since day one, and how they kept "refusing to learn how to act like a minority party" and how they were "rejecting the clear will of the majority of Texans."

Last time I checked, they had to represent the clear will of the people in their respective districts, not 'Texans'. Dipshits.

I've already made a note of the names of the SA reps who high-tailed it-- so I can vote for them again next term. Gerrymandering is wrong no matter which side of the aisle they come from.
posted by Cerebus at 5:31 AM on May 13, 2003

Not to mention that if they were representing the will of the majority of Texans, why did they have to sneak it in at the last minute so that the public wouldn't have a chance to complain about it.

It's getting to the point in this country where you have to break the law to do the right thing. I'm proud of these folks.
posted by RylandDotNet at 11:14 AM on May 13, 2003

The local San Antonio talk radio pundits ...

Those wouldn't happen to be Clear Channel stations, would they? The CC stations in Austin are spouting the same pap.
posted by whatnot at 3:05 PM on May 13, 2003

Infinity too. I thought KTSA host Ricci Ware was going to blow out a vein.

I don't listen to WOAI on general principles. I only listen to KTSA for Brad Messer anyway (or when KSYM is playing crap I can't stand).
posted by Cerebus at 7:46 PM on May 13, 2003

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