May 12, 2003
A few questions and answers about the walkout

I just posted this over at the Political State Report and wanted a copy here as well.

Question: How can the Dems do this?

Answer: The State Constitution gives them the right:

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.

The Constitution can be amended - it happens all the time here - but that requires a bill being passed that authorizes an amendment to be voted on at the next election.

Question: Aren't the Democrats risking a backlash from the voters?

Answer: Yes, but probably not much of one. As this post shows, only a handful of Democratic state reps were in any kind of close race in 2002. My guess is that there will be little if any electoral fallout.

Question: But won't this ruin the normally collegial atmosphere of the State House?

Answer: The House has been pretty partisan for some time now. The Senate remains collegial and relatively non-partisan (which is why in part the Senate was less enthusiastic about redistricting). It's quite telling that Pete Laney, the former speaker who was a booster of George W. Bush, is among the walkouts. Basically, the Republicans have voted in lockstep this session, rejecting dozens of Democratic amendments to the budget, all on party-line votes, and Speaker Craddick has given most of the good committee seats to his cronies. Add in the fact that several House Dems were redistricted out of jobs in 2002, enough for Republicans to win a majority of seats and then some, and there would seem to be little for them to lose.

Question: Will this make a redistricting bill more likely to pass in the Senate?

Answer: My gut says no. First, I'd have to guess that Sen. Eddie Lucio is less likely to vote in favor of bringing up the redistricting bill in the Senate at this point. If that's the case, then the bill will die in the Senate no matter what else happens.

Second, I haven't seen any reaction so far from Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, who chairs the Senate. Dewhurst is no friend of the Democrats, but he's been on a collision course with Governor Perry and Speaker Craddick, both of whom have dumped his budget efforts and school finance reform bill. The latter, which passed the Senate unanimously, was Dewhurst's crowning achievement, but Perry has insisted it can't be passed this session. Given that House Bill 2, which would greatly increase the Governor's power at some cost to the Lt. Governor, is also in danger of being scuttled by the walkout, I can't help but think that Dewhurst is not particularly broken up by this turn of events.

Question: So what can the Governor do about this? There has to be a budget passed, right?

Answer: Right. Governor Perry will almost surely have to call a special session of the Legislature to finish the budget work. He can present legislation for the special session as noted here), so this issue could come up again. Special sessions are limited to 30 days, so traditionally they've been called to deal with a single specific issue. It's possible Perry could include redistricting in a special session, but at this point he's got other legislation to worry about.

Question: So what will ultimately happen?

Answer: Beats me. There's now been a lawsuit filed to stop the redistricting bill as well, so this may all turn out to be moot, at least for now. We'll just have to see.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 12, 2003 to Killer D's | TrackBack

The same state constitution, of course, also firmly places the power of redistricting with the legislature (never mind that judiciaries here and elsewhere have managed to start to share a power that in most places is explicitly reserved to the representative branch of government), whatever its partisan makeup at any given time.

Posted by: Kevin Whited on May 13, 2003 7:52 AM

True. However, the reason that redistricting was done by a three-judge panel last time around is because the Lege couldn't agree on a map. It's not like the judges prevented them from trying. They tried and failed.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on May 13, 2003 8:19 AM

here's what i don't understand: how can the Craddick issue warrants for their arrest and have state troopers pick them up? If they haven't broken any laws, and in fact are not suspected of breaking any laws -- since in the state Constitution gives them the right to do this -- how can they be arrested? Isn't that a misuse of state authority?

Posted by: lisse on May 13, 2003 1:02 PM

lisse: That's in the Texas Constitution, too.

[a smaller number than a quorum may]...compel the attendance of absent members, in such manner and under such penalties as each House may provide.

Posted by: Michael on May 13, 2003 1:09 PM

thanks michael!

Posted by: lisse on May 13, 2003 1:21 PM