Thus sayeth Gov. Perry: The magic date for the redistricters is October 6.
"We start running into some time restraints. The 6th (of October) is somewhat of a drop dead date from the standpoint of getting some work done," said Perry.
"We're not going to go past the 6th. We're going to get our work done. We're not going to have a fourth called session."
Oct. 6 is an important date because a state constitutional provision requires bills to become law 90 days after the governor's signature.
If Perry signs a redistricting bill on Oct. 6 or later, it would not take effect until after the close of candidate filing for the 2004 elections. Democrats could then argue in federal court that the election already is under way with the current districts and that the new map should not be used.
A law can take effect immediately only on a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate. House Democrats have enough votes to block immediate effect.
The spin is a little different in the Express News, which indicates that Perry is putting the screws on the joint committee but is running into some things he can't control right now.
Perry said he was optimistic a solution would be reached by Wednesday, but would not elaborate. He said if the conferees can't agree by Wednesday, "we start running into some time restraints."
Even as Perry said conferees would work this weekend, the author of the Senate map and that body's lead negotiator flew home and was not expected to return to Austin until Sunday night.
Aides to Sen. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, said a funeral and a long-standing family commitment Saturday would keep him in his Piney Woods hometown for most of the weekend.
The other four senators on the conference committee also were spending the weekend in their districts but would be available if needed, their staffers said.
House staffers involved in redistricting, who had been told Thursday by Craddick to ditch their weekend plans, said negotiators were not scheduled to meet today.
Often, conference committee members meet informally to try to work out differences in bills passed by the two bodies.
Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, who leads House conferees, said he expected to meet Staples one-on-one to "determine what it is that I got to have and what it is that he's got to have."
"Then we can figure parameters and how to go about reaching a compromise," King said.
The two lawmakers met at least twice Thursday, with their latest meeting going into the early morning hours Friday, their staffers said. They couldn't reach an accord.
While Perry said he still hopes for a speedy solution, King said he expects slow going over a vexing West Texas problem that pits Republican heavyweights against each other.
Dept. of Analogies with Unintended Implications:
[House Speaker Tom] Craddick wants a congressional district centered in his hometown of Midland. The oil and gas region around Midland now is part of a congressional district anchored by the larger Lubbock, an agricultural city.
Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, head of the committee that drew up the map the Senate approved, wants Lubbock to keep its district.
Neither appears willing to compromise, and several House members, including two appointed by Craddick to the conference panel, said the speaker was unlikely to back down.
"It's like the king facing the rook on the chess board," said a House member who asked that he not be named. "It is preordained who is going to eat whom. (Craddick) in this case is the king, and we all know the king gets what he wants."
The Star Telegram also thinks Queen Craddick (apparently, I'm going to have a hard time not calling him that) will win.
Some Capitol observers said Duncan might have a hard time defending his preference for West Texas, especially if Craddick can persuade the other three senators to come around to his way of thinking.
"The speaker has been able to get what he wants all year," said Harvey Kronberg, publisher of the Austin political newsletter, Quorum Report. "So Duncan is the one who's under pressure."
Our local legislators — led by State Sen. Robert Duncan, who is chairman of the Senate Jurisprudence Committee — have stayed strong and held fast to try to protect our representation in West Texas. We appreciate their efforts and urge Sen. Duncan to hang in there as the Senate continues its battle over redistricting.
Meanwhile, a new critic of redistricting has sprung up: Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who in an interview to be televised tomorrow chided Perry and his minions for pursuing redistricting over school finance reform.
"The Legislature is spending their time climbing up hills when we have a mountain looming out there...And the mountain looming out there is school finance reform," said Mrs. Strayhorn
"The most important issue that this state needs to address right now is school finance," she said.
"The state has got to pick up more of the share. Homeowners have to have property tax relief, and we've got to have equity" of funding among school districts, she said. "That's a huge challenge. That's what in a real bipartisan way we've got to address and address now."
Finally, the MoveOn campaign appears to have struck a nerve.
Dave Beckwith, a spokesman for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, said MoveOn was delivering a "very harsh message."
He said Texas senators were "being used as part of a national, anti-Bush effort to lure more minority voters away from the Republican Party, where Bush has had some (recruitment) success in the past."
Beckwith and some conservative business groups also have tried to make an issue of the fact that the official Web site of the Communist Party of the United States recently included a link to MoveOn.
The link, which Smith said MoveOn was unaware of, has since been removed.