August 07, 2003
Republican Senators visit Albuquerque

All of the papers are reporting on a trip taken by Sens. Todd Staples (R, Palestine) and Robert Duncan (R, Lubbock) to Albuquerque to meet with the boycotting Democrats. The basic information is the same - Staples and Duncan flew out in a private plane, met with Sens. Leticia van de Putte, Royce West, and Juan Hinojosa, attempted to persuade the Democrats to return but offered them no concessions, and the Democrats rejected their overture.

There are some variations in the stories. The Chron reports as follows:

Staples and Duncan arrived in Albuquerque Wednesday morning but did not meet with the runaway Democrats until early afternoon.

"It's been a long day," Staples said.

He would not comment on whether Perry or Dewhurst knew about their trip, nor would he say who paid for the charter flight.

Van de Putte said the Democrats were delayed in meeting the Republicans because they did not know their GOP Senate colleagues were coming.

"We certainly made the effort to get to the location as quickly as possible," she said.

Neither side in Albuquerque publicized Wednesday's meeting, and senators acknowledged it only after reporters found them at a small private airport.

Van de Putte blamed the governor's office for alerting the media.

The Express News has it differently:

The meeting was described as an effort to reach out to Democrats, and had the support of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who a day earlier said he was exploring unspecified "legal options" to yank the senators back across the state line.

Dewhurst provided the leased twin-propeller plane taken early Wednesday by Republican Sens. Todd Staples of Palestine and Robert Duncan of Lubbock. The two sought to meet with all the Democratic senators at their hotel, the Marriott Pyramid.

Duncan and Staples waited at a private aircraft office until midafternoon when Democratic Sens. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio, Royce West of Dallas and Juan Hinojosa of McAllen arrived.

Staples, who chairs the Senate Republican Caucus, invited a reporter into the conference room of the Cutter Flying Service at Albuquerque International Airport where he and Duncan had finished huddling across a table from the Democrats.

Asked to comment, Staples said repeatedly: "The only type of communication that we've had with our colleagues has been through the media. We thought it would be a great idea to see our colleagues face to face."

All three papers (the Morning News and Star-Telegram didn't file stories on this) describe the meeting as friendly, which is backed up by this blurb in the Express News:

The meeting was interrupted once by the roar of laughter audible from a hallway.

Leaving, West gave Duncan a hug, repeating words from a popular beer commercial: "I love you, man."

Hinojosa, shaking hands with Duncan, said: "Thank you, my friend."

That's a lot friendlier than what was being said in Austin.

"We cannot have 11 senators (or) 51 members of the House make up their minds one day they don't want to work on redistricting, they don't want to work on school finance, they don't want to work on a tort bill and leave the state of Texas," Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said. "That is not what the people of Texas intended when they elected us to office."


The Republicans' comments about a constitutional crisis came after Dewhurst huddled behind closed doors for an hour with 13 senators.

Afterwards, he repeated his threat that, as presiding officer of the Senate, he would have to act. Dewhurst has refused to say what legal options he is considering.

Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, predicted action any day.

"I think the stakes are much bigger than the political spoils of a redistricting plan that benefits one party or another," he said. "A constitutional crisis is not an exaggeration."

The Express News, whose coverage isn't usually this thorough, explains what kind of legal action Dewhurst might take.

A potential court action would be for Dewhurst, senators, or voters in an absent senator's district to file a petition for a writ of mandamus for their return, said lawyer Jeff Boyd, a former deputy attorney general who has returned to private practice.

Such an action would try to convince a judge to tell the senators they must come back to do their elected job.

Boyd said he hasn't been involved in discussions about possible legal remedies between Dewhurst and Attorney General Greg Abbott.

Among legal recourses, Boyd said, "the most logical one I can think of would be the mandamus."

Any long-term action would require a change to the state Constitution, something which is being proposed in a new bill that would make future walkouts useless.

On Tuesday, Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, introduced a proposed constitutional amendment that could make it harder to stall legislative action by denying a quorum, as the Democrats have done.

Currently, a quorum consists of two-thirds of the members of the House and Senate. Under the proposal, a quorum would mean two-thirds of the number of House or Senate members within the boundaries of Texas. That would mean that lawmakers who flee the state would not be counted for the purpose of establishing a quorum

As a Constitutional amendment, it would have to be approved by voters, something which I would guess would be likely.

Meanwhile, Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn continues to throw curveballs at the Governor over money that's earmarked for schools.

Strayhorn, the state's chief financial officer and a two-term Republican, is asking Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott for an opinion on the executive order that Perry issued Wednesday to disburse more than $700 million to school districts around the state.

"I want the school districts to get this money," said Strayhorn, whose signature appears on all checks issued by state government. "But I need General Abbott to show me what legal authority my office has to cut these checks."

An item pending before the special legislative session, called by Perry on congressional redistricting, would clarify actions taken during this year's regular session dealing with sending state money to local school districts.

But all business pending in the special session remains up in the air because 11 Democratic senators fled to New Mexico last week to derail a redistricting plan that would cost their party clout in Washington.

Because they left, the 31-member Senate is one member short of the quorum it needs to convene and act on legislation.

In a news conference at the Capitol, Perry said he issued the order under his "budget execution authority" to ensure that all of the state's business is not "held hostage" by the Democrats' holdout. The previous day, he announced his intention to free up $167 million for state health initiatives.

Strayhorn said she is hesitant to begin disbursing the money because her reading of state law is that the governor's budget execution authority applies only while the Legislature is not in session. But by calling lawmakers back to Austin, first in late June and again in late July when the first special session ended without a redistricting bill, Perry may have surrendered his execution authority, at least temporarily, Strayhorn said.

Got that? Strayhorn is saying that until all of these special sessions are over, the Governor doesn't have the legal authority to execute the budget. That would mean that Perry, who has blamed the missing Democrats for the delay, need only to stop calling special sessions to do what he wants to do. Oh, the irony of it all. Strayhorn sure is a lot more fun when she's playing cat and mouse with the Governor instead of sandbagging about revenue shortfalls. The Attorney General is looking into it.

Finally, Byron's Polstate post points to these two articles in the Austin Chronicle which has some more in-depth coverage.


Rep. Jim Dunnam writes in the Chron that the current map is already quite favorable to Republicans.

The Star-Telegram looks at how budget cuts have started to affect local services while carping about the $2 million plus spent so far on redistricting sessions.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 07, 2003 to Killer D's | TrackBack

Arguments like the Chronicle's just won't convince those who have on blinders. Nevermind that Texas Democrats tend to be conservative (those raging liberals Stenholm and Hall!). Republicans for redistricting say that all other data and public opinion are irrelevant except for that one category of the party affiliation of the legislators.

That alone should evince the motive behind redistricting. It's not about whether or not the elected representative is conservative or liberal: It's the party affiliation.

Cornyn himself said in 2001 that the map that the federal judges came up with 98% of what they wanted in the House and Senate maps at the time. They were so positive about it that the Republicans did not challenge it; instead, three Republicans announced that they would seek the House Majority Leader. These comments go far beyond the explanation of putting a positive spin on the outcome.

What is amusing is that my wife wrote Dewhurst a letter, saying that she was against redistricting. His response letter justified it because they were following the will of the people.

The question is which people. The answer is Tom DeLay.

Posted by: Tx Bubba on August 7, 2003 10:22 AM

That alone should evince the motive behind redistricting. It's not about whether or not the elected representative is conservative or liberal: It's the party affiliation.

So? Voting patterns favor Republicans. The districts work against Republicans. Republicans want, and rightfully believe they deserve, more representation in the US House delegation.

Cornyn himself said in 2001 that the map that the federal judges came up with 98% of what they wanted in the House and Senate maps at the time.

Yes, Republicans were satisfied with the maps for the Texas House and Texas Senate, but NOT with the US House map -- which is what this entire debate is over. EVERYONE KNEW that the US House map virtually guaranteed a 17/15 Democratic/Republican split in the US House delegation. It was a map very unfavorable to Republicans.

Posted by: Owen Courrèges on August 7, 2003 3:33 PM

Owen: So? Voting patterns favor Republicans. The districts work against Republicans. Republicans want, and rightfully believe they deserve, more representation in the US House delegation.

They deserve what the voters want. Again, you just have no logical argument when all the facts are present. The only way your argument works is to exclude all the other ballots and votes except for congressional races. The argument is whether or not these districts are gerrymandered for democrats. You say that they are based on ONE race. Yet, looking at other races, the voters in 20 of the 32 districts voted republican on other tickets. Where's the bias you're claiming?

Now, why would voters, conservative voters, even mostly Republican voters, elect a Democrat when they've elected Republicans in other races? Your argument denies this reality, but this is exactly what we have. The Republican argument is that they are Democrats, but the facts just don't show that to be the case. Perry, DeLay et al. argue that the exception is the rule.

The republican argument is a pretty good example of post hoc ergo prompter hoc reasoning. Neither reason nor public opinion is behind the Republicans on this one.

Posted by: Tx Bubba on August 8, 2003 12:48 PM