July 13, 2003
Focus on the Senate

With the Senate adjourning for the weekend so various members can draw their own Congressional maps, the time is ripe for Sunday newspaper edition articles on the heartaches of being an undecided member of that chamber. Here's the Chron story, which spends about half of its ink on Sen. Frank Madla.

"I'm on the fence," Madla said last week. And, he added, he intends to stay there, at least publicly, until shortly before the Senate votes, and that may not be for another week.

Calling his position "very difficult," Madla is one of at least three senators considered swing voters on a procedural, two-thirds vote requirement that will determine whether redistricting can proceed in the Senate. The others are Democrat Ken Armbrister of Victoria and Republican Bill Ratliff of Mount Pleasant.


Madla's office has received thousands of phone calls, e-mails and other communications on the redistricting issue. It received 1,200 one night last week alone. All but a handful oppose redistricting.

The 30-year legislative veteran and lifelong Democrat is unhappy that the governor has called the Legislature into special session to tackle the controversial issue.

"I'm not pleased that we're here doing redistricting. I just don't see redistricting as an issue that the people that I represent want to be discussed. It's not even on (most people's) back burner," he declared.

Madla said he also opposes -- as do many senators of both parties -- the redistricting plan passed by the House. But he said, nevertheless, that he could vote to clear the way for Senate debate. It's all about pragmatic politics, he explained.

"When you look at the makeup of the leadership in Austin right now, they're all Republicans. And I keep asking myself how can I best represent and provide for the constituency that elected me. Part of that answer is being close to the leadership," he said.

"I have no way of knowing how the leadership is going to react should I vote with the Democrats. And as such, I'm concerned that I could be jeopardizing my standing, perhaps jeopardizing my ability to be able to better represent my constituents," he added.

Madla is reluctant to discuss specifics, but there are several potential factors that may affect his decision.

For one thing, a fledgling branch of Texas A&M University in San Antonio, one of Madla's priorities, will need future, significant state funding.

The senator also remembers that Democratic leaders haven't always sided with him in previous legislative battles.

And thanks to Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Madla chairs the Senate Intergovernmental Relations Committee, an assignment important to a senator whose far-flung district includes numerous cities and counties between San Antonio and El Paso County.

Madla said he hasn't discussed redistricting with DeLay, Perry or anyone on the governor's staff and has discussed it only once with Dewhurst, the Senate's presiding officer.

Madla said Dewhurst hasn't pressured him. And he didn't want to speculate on what kind of retribution, if any, Republican leaders would seek to impose if he helped to block a redistricting bill.

"Do I worry about what the reaction will be if I decide to vote with the Democrats? It has to be a consideration. Yes, I worry," Madla said.

He said he would be "very, very surprised if the lieutenant governor would do anything in the future to try to hurt my political influence."

But asked about the possibility of retribution from Perry, he replied, "I'm not sure."

Madla said he hasn't had a Democratic or Republican opponent since first winning election to the Senate 10 years ago, after serving 20 years in the House.

He indicated he plans to seek re-election when his term ends in 2006 and suspects he will have a Democratic primary opponent if he sides with the Republicans now.

"That doesn't worry me," he said.

You know, I'm finding it really hard to have any sympathy for Madla. For one thing, his will-I-or-won't-I act has been the best thing to ever happen to him in terms of publicity. I can understand him trying to shake down the Governor for his pet issues, but please don't make it like it's something purer than that. My gag reflex is a lot more sensitive these days, you know?

If all those cards and letters from his constituents aren't enough to influence Madla's decision, maybe this will:

Friday in Fort Stockton, the Tejano Democrats of Texas called on Madla to oppose any form of redistricting, saying it will segregate Hispanics and confine Latino political power to urban barrios and the border.

"DeLay's map is racist because it proposes to resegregate Texas politics," said Juan Maldonado, the group's chair. "Sen. Madla is a good guy, but he's just repeatedly said that he's not made up his mind. This is so important that if he hasn't made up his mind, we want to help him."

Probably not. I'm sure Madla figures that 2006 is a long way off, and it'll be hard to maintain enough outrage to fuel a successful primary challenge by then.

If you still haven't made up your mind for some reason and you live in Austin, you can tune in to KLRU, your PBS station, today and this coming Friday for "Texas Legislature - Reform or Revolution, Part II", which "focuses on redistricting, which is the main item on the special legislature's agenda". If anyone does watch this, please drop me a note and let me know what you thought of it.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 13, 2003 to Killer D's | TrackBack