August 16, 2003

Now that Fair And Balanced Friday is history, I can go back to talking about redistricting. Both sides are dug in for the long haul, though neither side knows where the finish line is. Republicans are talking about postponing primaries to give them more time to get a map approved, but Democrats say they can't do that without a quorum.

The big news from yesterday is the imposition of extra sanctions on the Senators and their staffers.

Acting under provisions of the state Constitution that allow a legislative majority to "compel" attendance whenever a quorum is broken, the Senate Republicans on Tuesday ordered fines against the boycotting Democrats. The fines will total $57,000 for each missing member if they do not return by the end of the special session on Aug. 26.

The Republicans on Friday voted to enforce the fines by taking away certain senatorial privileges until the missing members return and pay the fines.

"We don't want to penalize our colleagues. We just want them to come back," said Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, sponsor of the resolution.

If the Democrats do not return and pay the fines, they and their staffs will lose parking on the Capitol grounds, state cell phone use, all purchasing for their offices, staff passes to the Senate floor, travel, use of conference rooms and subscriptions. Their postage will be limited to $200 a month.

Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, said his staffers told him they were told they would not have Capitol parking spaces on Monday. A staff member for another one of the boycotting senators said the Senate postal service refused to pick up their office mail Friday.

The Dems continue to be defiant - their staffers are talking about taking the bus if they can't park. Meanwhile, the GOP continues to play good cop/bad cop.

"We don't want to penalize our colleagues," said Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, who made the motion to penalize her colleagues. "Our whole goal is to get them to come back, let us work together and resolve this issue."


Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the Senate's presiding officer, said the GOP senators had no choice but to take action to compel the Democrats to return. More penalties could be added next week, he said.

"I think at the end of the day, the most important thing that the senators were concerned about is making sure that each of our 11 colleagues out in New Mexico has the complete ability to represent their constituents. Their offices remain open, functioning," Dewhurst said of the penalties approved Friday. "But we have 11 friends and colleagues who have violated the Texas Constitution."


The 11 Democrats, who fled to block GOP efforts to redraw congressional maps and end the current 17-15 Democratic majority in the state's U.S. House delegation, say they will end their boycott if Gov. Rick Perry takes redistricting off the special-session agenda or Dewhurst agrees not to consider any map unless two-thirds of the Senate agrees to do so.

Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, called those demands unacceptable.

"They're saying, 'If you will just raise the white flag of surrender, then we'll come home.' We're not going to do that," said Wentworth, whose district includes portions of southern Travis County.

Of course, coming back without the 2/3 rule is raising the white flag of surrender for the Democrats. You can bet any sum of money you like that the minute there's a quorum, the Senate will be voting on a bill, any bill. The Democrats know this fully well, and they have good reason to not trust any "come let us work together" rhetoric.

The GOP also continues to push the dishonest "come back and fight" line:

"This is a bad example to our children, for them to see our state senators run away from an issue and not stay and fight," said Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville.

Let's clear this up once and for all. The Democrats already stayed and fought, through the entire 30-day first special session. They fought by the rules, and with the support of their Republican colleague Sen. Bill Ratliff, they won. The Republicans refused to concede, and thus called another special session with rules more favorable to themselves. The Democrats quite rightly refused to play in a game that was rigged against them. I'd call that a damn good example to set.

Some people have mentioned the one-day 1993 walkout by Republican Senators as the prime example of GOP hypocrisy in this fiasco, but I don't consider that to be really comparable. Besides, there's a much better example of hypocrisy, courtesy of the Quorum Report.

In 1997, Senator Drew Nixon (R-Carthage) was arrested and convicted of soliciting a prostitute who turned out to be an undercover police officer.

Democratic Lt. Governor Bob Bullock arranged for his release and ultimately testified in court as a character witness on his behalf.

Nixon continued to serve in the Senate while he was incarcerated on weekends in a correctional facility.

Many of the Republican senators standing behind Lt. Governor David Dewhurst at today's press conference were in the Senate when it happened.

Not a single Republican rose to seek sanctions against a colleague who was a convicted sex offender. Maybe that was because he was the 16th Republican and Nixon's presence at that time afforded them their one vote majority. [NOTE: As a later entry in the QR reports, the margin was 16-15 in the Democrats' favor at the time.]

More significantly, not one Democrat attempted to make any political hay out of Nixon's troubles. A little well orchestrated publicity could have tarred the other Republican members as well as Nixon. He could have conceivably been forced by public opinion to resign, thereby putting what was then a marginal swing district back in play.

It would have certainly strengthened Bullock's partisan hand.

Yet, the fundamental collegiality of the Senate in combination with the protection of a Lt. Governor who had in his life suffered similar demons all worked to allow Nixon to participate unencumbered by sanctions or personal criticism.

But while they could countenance a convicted sex offender in their midst, Texas Republican senators struck what may be a fatal blow to Senate collegiality by punishing colleagues who, whether right or wrong, believe they are acting from deeply held principals and convictions.

Keep that in mind the next time you hear Dewhurst say that this fight won't hurt Senate working relationships in the future.

Editorials (most links via Save Texas Reps):

The Statesman lauds the Wentworth bill while once again criticizing the GOP leadership and Tom DeLay.

The Star-Telegram says that Gov. Perry's fight for redistricting was lost in 2001 when the State Senate districts were redrawn:

This fight was decided on July 24, 2001, when the Legislative Redistricting Board adopted a map outlining the current boundaries for state Senate districts. The map created 11 districts that were strongholds for Democrats.

And guess what? Those 11 districts today are represented by the senators who are holed up in an Albuquerque hotel.

They can stay there for a very long time -- or at least until sometime this fall, when it's too late to draw new congressional districts for the party primaries next spring.

Here's the important point: They face no political danger back home.

They're Democrats sticking up for a Democratic cause: maintaining their party's 17 seats in Congress. The voters in their own districts back home are -- mostly by huge majorities -- Democrats.

The Morning News suggests a compromise.

The Statesman has the best line so far:

On the local circus scene, the stalled second special session of the Legislature called by Gov. Rick Perry to force a redistricting bill degenerated further this week. Lawsuits went flying back and forth, and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst levied fines against the 11 Democratic senators who absconded to New Mexico to prevent a quorum and kill the redistricting effort. All that led one exasperated observer of this soap opera to say, "They're only about a week away from giving one another wedgies."


Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 16, 2003 to Killer D's | TrackBack