July 13, 2003
Sine die?

Here's a scenario I hadn't considered from the state Senate: Pass a redistricting bill that they like, and then adjourn, leaving the House to take it or lump it:

One way out was outlined on Harvey Kronberg's Quorum Report newsletter. Kronberg reported that senators are considering sending a revised map back to the House and then promptly adjourning, in what is known at the Capitol as "sign-ee dye." (Actually, it's sine die, Latin for "without a day.") Adjourning for good would then put House members in a quandary. With senators gone, there would be no one to negotiate with, so it's either adopt it, or go home without having changed a thing.

Senators supposedly have been mulling a strategy for weeks now, but the talk became louder when they adjourned for the weekend on Thursday. The ploy would be a mainline fix for political junkies, but more important, it would make a loud statement of principle. It would be a strong message that the Texas Senate won't cave in to pressure from U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who hijacked both chambers and the Governor's Mansion during the regular session to try and ram a redistricting plan down our collective throats.

The reason for adjourning is to prevent the issue from being sent to a joint House-Senate committee, where any map approved could be adopted by a simple majority vote in both chambers. As noted on the Quorum Report:

In yesterday's Senate Jurisprudence Committee hearing, attorney J. Gerald Hebert told the panel, "... a vote for suspension is a vote for the final map." That statement encapsulated the problem facing both Democrats and rural Republicans.

If the Senators vote to suspend the rules and bring up a congressional redistricting map, rural Republicans and Democrats could quickly be marginalized by the floor vote and more importantly, the conference committee. After the 2/3s necessary for suspending the rules, every other juncture requires only a simple majority.

The main problem I have with this scenario is that there are a number of other items on the agenda for the special session, and at least some of them, like the various government-reorganization bills, have fairly broad support. I can't see the Senate announcing that they've approved a map, then voting to shut down without considering any other piece of legislation. It seems to me that would be a much stronger rebuke to Rick Perry than the hypothetical Senate map would be to Tom DeLay. Of course, since it was Perry who called this session, thus dumping this dead raccoon on their collective front porch, that may have some appeal. I just don't think it'd be enough.

Now, if the Senate clears the other items on the agenda first, then votes on redistricting, I could see this happening. Surely the Kip Averitts and Robert Duncans of the group have recognized that while their interests in passing a more Republican-friendly map while not carving up their own territory currently coincide, thus yielding enough votes to kill the House map in a straight up-or-down vote, a joint committee could produce a map that screws them but not others. It's a multiplayer Prisoner's Dilemma game, and I'd guess they'd be worried about losing.

We'll know soon enough, I guess. Via Civic Dialogues.

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

Wow, Chuck. Without a doubt you are the strongest Texas politics blogger I've run into. Do you even spend time to walk Harry anymore? :-) Awesome pair of articles on the redistricting swamp in Austin.

Posted by: B. K. Oxley (binkley) on July 13, 2003 2:50 PM

By coincidence (?), this is exactly the strategy the California Senate is planning to use for our budget crisis: pass a horrible bill that borrows $10 billion, and then adjourn! The Assembly can then take it or leave it while the senators are all home sipping margaritas.

What's not to like?

Posted by: Kevin Drum on July 13, 2003 6:41 PM

Yikes...will the machinations never end??

I do like this strategy; it would be nice to see some politicos with the cojones to stand up to Tom DeLay's quest for empire.

Posted by: Jack Cluth on July 13, 2003 7:48 PM

This is a much better plan than fleeing the state to Oklahoma.

Posted by: B. K. Oxley (binkley) on July 14, 2003 7:52 PM