By now you've probably heard that the remaining members of the Senate, in the absence of a quorum and without any clear indication of how they might enforce it, voted to fine the boycotting Senators up to $5000 per day starting on Thursday if they don't return to Austin. The Chron has a good report:
The stage for the fines dispute was set Monday when the Texas Supreme Court refused to grant a request from Dewhurst and Gov. Rick Perry for an order forcing the Democrats to return to the Capitol.
Dewhurst called the Republican senators into a three-hour, closed-door session Tuesday. Through narrow windows, reporters occasionally could see the senators arguing heatedly.
Sen. Bill Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, who had opposed the fines, stormed angrily out of the meeting and returned to his northeast Texas home. He declined to talk to reporters on his way out of the Capitol.
Sen. Ken Armbrister of Victoria, the only Democratic senator still in Austin, registered a vote against the fines on the Senate floor. He quickly left the Capitol.
In Albuquerque, the runaway senators huddled around a computer screen to watch the Senate session in Austin over the Internet. The runaways wisecracked before hearing the proposed sanctions.
"I went from chairman of criminal justice to the chain gang," said Whitmire, who chairs the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.
Others in the room broke into a chorus of Sam Cooke's Chain Gang.
The mood grew more somber, and some senators groaned, when they heard Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, announce the fines.
Nelson's resolution gives the boycotting senators until 4 p.m. Thursday to return to the Capitol. The fine is $1,000 for the first day, then doubles each day until it reaches $5,000 a day -- or a total of $57,000 by the special session's end on Aug. 26.
The resolution also says the Democrats must pay their fines out of personal funds, so they cannot use political donations.
There was immediate confusion about what will happen if the senators refuse to pay the fines.
Dewhurst three times said the senators would not be allowed to vote in the Senate until they paid the fine.
"Prior to them coming back and voting, we expect them to pay the fine," Dewhurst told reporters on one occasion.
Then Sen. Florence Shaprio, R-Plano, interjected, "I'm not sure we can deny them the vote, but we haven't made that decision yet."
Dewhurst spokesman David Beckwith later said no decision on enforcement has been made. Beckwith said if the boycotting senators do not pay the fines, they may be denied Senate floor privileges or have their office budgets cut.
Both sanctions have problems.
Under Senate rules a senator can only be denied floor privileges on a two-thirds vote of the 31-member Senate. That would require at least one vote from among the boycotting Democrats.
The problem with cutting the senators' office budgets is that the full Senate on June 2 passed a resolution establishing the budgets. That resolution might have the force of law until overturned by another resolution, which only could be passed with the full Senate in session.
As senators gathered for the private meeting, two leadership sources said there was considerable consternation about imposing fines.
"Nobody wants to see the Senate change," said one source close to the talks, "and there's a fear this could be a permanent change to the Senate."
Heading into the meeting, Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville, said the Democrats should get the blame.
"I think they have significantly . . . harmed this body by doing what they've done," she said. "We've got to stop this, and if it takes fines to get them back to take care of our business and go home, that's what we need to do."
Dewhurst said the ongoing battle, now including fines, would damage Senate bipartisanship "not in the slightest."
And hey, according to Governor Goodhair, the fun isn't going to end any time soon.
Republican Gov. Rick Perry, voicing support for GOP senators' decision to fine Democrats who fled to New Mexico to block congressional redistricting, today indicated he will call continuous special sessions until that issue and others are resolved.
"If there is work to be done, I expect the Legislature to be here conducting it," Perry told the American-Statesman. "There is work to be done."
Asked if that means continuous special sessions, Perry said, "You can surmise that."
In related news, just as the American GI Forum announced that it would have to close its Dallas office due to the loss of $300,000 in government funding that they say is payback for opposing redistricting, the Governor's office has announced that the funding has been restored. Via Byron.
Elsewhere, the Justice Department released an inspector general's report that said that with one exception, FBI agents and Justice officials ignored requests from Republican lawmakers for assistance in tracking down the Killer D's in May.
Despite the pressure by Texas Republican leaders, several Justice Department officials quickly determined the partisan issue was a "hornet's nest" and that federal involvement would be "wacko," according to an official quoted in the report.
The inspector general found that a lawyer in DeLay's office contacted Assistant U.S. Attorney General William Moschella on May 13 to inquire about help in locating the lawmakers.
The lawyer, unnamed in the report, also contacted Johnny Sutton in San Antonio, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas. In both cases, Moschella and Sutton said the federal government wouldn't get involved.
Rob Booth is looking for online confirmation that a private citizen in Sen. John Whitmire's district has filed his own writ of mandamus, claiming that with Whitmire in Albuquerque, he's being denied representation in Austin. Sounds like crackpottery to me, but hey, you never know. Drop Rob a line at rob(at)robbooth.net or leave me a comment here if you find anything.
Doug has a suggestion for nonpartisan redistricting that doesn't depend on a commission. I haven't taken the time to compare his idea to the March 2001 Texas Legislative Council report called State and Federal Law Governing Redistricting in Texas, which Hope linked to awhile back, but don't let that stop you from doing so.
Ginger has some thoughts about the racial aspects of redistricting, and why this makes her feel disfranchised (yes, that's the right word).
Finally, a bit of humor from The Lasso:
JUST ANOTHER GOVERNOR'S DAY: Lasso was up and about early Saturday morning, buying a new pair of shoes and some cheap Terminator shades. Walking to the check-out counter, Lasso heard the sales clerk ask, "Are you going to the rally?"
Lasso looked up and saw a guy, sweaty as a field hand, with a towel and a water bottle. It was. . .
The Governor asked, "What rally?" The clerk said the anti-redistricting rally set for later that morning. The Governor said he didn't think he would be attending, that "they can rally until Hell freezes over; we're going to do what's best for Texas."
The clerk then told The Governor that the good people of McAllen didn't know anything about Austin, Texas. The Governor disagreed. The two appeared to know one another. She called him "Guv." He smiled. She said she had relatives in the Valley and she could assure The Governor that the two places — McAllen and Austin — didn't belong in the same Congressional district. The Governor moved away.
All this left Lasso with a question: What is it about these West Texas boys? They like to talk about the virtues of digging ditches and drinking well water back home, but when they come to the People's Republic of Austin they get to buying Popsicle-colored jogging shoes and sipping city water from clear plastic bottles?
UPDATE: I've added a few links to other blog posts since I first published this. Even I can't keep up with all of it sometimes!Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 13, 2003 to Killer D's | TrackBack