Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Legislators Flee Lone Star State to Avoid Vote

According to the Associated Press, 51 Democrat legislators from the Texas House of Representatives are holed up across the border in Ardmore, Oklahoma in order to prevent a quorum from being formed to vote on a Republican-sponsored redistricting bill they disagree with.

In order to vote on the bill before the House's Thursday night deadline, after which the bill must be scrapped, the House Republicans need the presence of their Democratic colleagues, who decided to flee the state rather than fight a battle they knew they’d lose. Instead, the Democrats intend to stay in Oklahoma until Friday morning, long oast House’s deadline:

Republicans castigated their absent colleagues for the growing heaps of bills in jeopardy of not being passed.

"We want our colleagues back," Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate, told reporters before the GOP House members convened Wednesday. He said lawmakers are only days away from completing "a historically successful session'' that will balance the state's budget without a tax bill, despite a $9.9 billion shortfall.

The House Republicans quickly adjourned to move into committee hearings, which are allowed without a House quorum as long as a majority of a committee is present.

Despite the work stoppage, Republicans remain focused on legislative business, said Gov. Rick Perry.

…Texas already has a court-drawn redistricting map, but Republicans say it doesn't reflect state voting trends and want to redo it. Their plan could add five to seven GOP House seats to the 15 the Republicans already have.

From their motel in Ardmore, Okla., the Democrats blamed U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay for the shutdown of the Texas House of Representatives.

"We have a message for Tom DeLay: Don't mess with Texas,'' said House Democratic Legislative Caucus leader Jim Dunnam. "We did not choose the path that led us to Ardmore, Okla. Tom DeLay chose that path.''

In Washington, DeLay mocked the Democratic legislators. "I have never turned tail and run,'' DeLay said. "Even when I'm losing, I stand and fight for what I believe.''...

[On a historical note, in 1988 then-U. S. Senate Majority leader Robert Byrd (D–W.Va) needed a quorum, but didn’t have enough willing members on hand to fill it. So he sent the Senate’s Sargeant-at-Arms, accompanied by the Capitol Police to every Senator’s office on the Hill to “persuade” the absent Senators to join him on the floor. One Senator, Robert Packwood (R-Ill.), locked his office door and refused to come out. When the police tried to force the door open, Packwood pushed against them but was overwhelmed in short order. He was taken out feet first and carried to the Senate Chamber.]

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