September 02, 2003
Whitmire to return to Houston

Sen. John Whitmire has announced that he will return to Houston tonight, thus abandoning the ongoing boycott of the Senate in an attempt to kill redistricting.

Whitmire, who had not even unpacked his bags after returning today from Houston where he spent the Labor Day weekend, said his decision to return to Houston was not well-received by his fellow Democrats.

"There were varying degrees of disappointment is all I can say," he said. "The bottom line is that, redistricting is real important but there are other equally important issues such as allowing the Senate to function as it always has where people respect each others opinions. That is not the current situation.

"It's my job and my responsibility as dean of the Senate to attempt to restore some civility to the Senate and that's why I think we need closure to this matter."

Whitmire indicated he would keep his options open as to whether he would flee again if Gov. Rick Perry calls another special session to deal with redistricting.

"Disappointment" is a good word for it. The Quorum Report has statements by the remaining Senators and Whitmire's Houston colleague Sen. Rodney Ellis, both of which are Word docs and both of which convey that disappointment rather clearly.

The Chron has the best coverage of what Whitmire did while he was in Houston over Labor Day. He certainly wasn't sneaking around. His departure is the top story or close to it in all of the majors.

So now what? Well, Gov. Perry still hasn't announced another session yet, while Whitmire claims he may flee again if he feels it's necessary. If and when another session is called with a quorum present, it will be interesting to see if any of Lt. Gov. Dewhurst's good-cop lets-all-work-together rhetoric will mean anything or if some variation on either the King or Staples maps are rammed through again. In any event, the GOP still has to settle on a map that both chambers will pass, something they didn't do in special session #1.

It will not surprise me if Perry takes no action until after the September 13 election. The tort reform amendment, Proposition 12, is a huge GOP priority. I'm just speculating, but Perry may be under some heat to pay attention to other issues like that one instead of calling sessions at which nothing gets done. The Chronicle's theory about Perry not wanting to give Democrats a rallying point before this election may also have some validity. It may already be too late for a map to be agreed upon, passed, and reviewed by the Justice Department in time for 2004 primaries even if the Lege were reconvened tomorrow given that there's no consensus for one particular map within the GOP yet. Even with all that, the first thing that'll happen after a map passes will be a court challenge. Given all that, Perry may as well wait and try to hammer out an agreement among the differing factions (such as Sen. Robert Duncan, who wants to keep Rep. Charlie Stenolm's district intact, and House Speaker Tom Craddick, who wants a new district that includes his hometown of Midland) before having another go at it.

That all assumes a certain amount of leadership and patience on Gov. Perry's part, two qualities he's not exactly flaunted lately. So as usual, take my guesses with the standard measure of salt. We'll know when we know.

UPDATE: Updated stories from the Chron, Express-News, Statesman, Morning News, and Star-Telegram.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on September 02, 2003 to Killer D's | TrackBack


My speculation is that Sen. Whitmire has either a deal made, or a plan for a deal, that he'll be able to argue is for the best of his party under the circumstances. He must have spent the day today trying to get the other 10 on board with it, without success. In any event, the one thing I'm sure of is there's more to this than presently meets the eye.

Thanks for the links, Charles, you're a real-time blogger!

Posted by: Beldar on September 2, 2003 7:14 PM

That's the problem with Dems. Don't quite have the fight in them. Righties would be lock stepped here.

It still ain't over.

Posted by: Maccabee on September 2, 2003 7:58 PM

Thanks, Beldar. And I think you're right - there's more going on than we know right now.

After all this, Maccabee, I don't think it's quite fair to say the Dems lack fight in them. They've been fighting uphill for a long time now, and if Whitmire thinks there's nothing more to be gained by their current course of action, I have to respect that.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on September 2, 2003 10:37 PM

Again, thanks for the handy links.

Connect the dots between the quotes in the various papers. I believe he's concluded that there is an unacceptable risk that the "blocker bill" tradition (misleadingly referred to as the "two-thirds rule") will be forever abolished as a result of this fight, not just for redistricting but for all Senate proceedings.

If that happens, it would indeed dramatically change the nature of the Texas Senate -- and the powers of a minority-party Texas Senator, who'd be reduced to watching bill after bill pass on straight party-line majority-rule votes without any influence from the minority party. Winning another battle on redistricting -- keeping the current district map for one more cycle -- may not be worth the price of losing that war.

Posted by: Beldar on September 3, 2003 9:03 AM