Things continue to be a mite sticky for Republicans in Austin, with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst letting out a little steam over Speaker Tom Craddick's negotiating style.
Frustrated by negotiations over congressional redistricting, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst on Thursday accused Speaker Tom Craddick of negotiating like an "Iranian cabdriver."
Craddick earlier in the day had denied Senate accusations that the House is negotiating in bad faith. Craddick spokesman Bob Richter later declined to comment on Dewhurst's remarks.
"We would prefer to negotiate with the senators face to face rather than through the news media," Richter said.
Dewhurst said Craddick for months has set only one condition for a new Republican redistricting plan for the state: a district that can be won by someone from Midland.
But as deadlines for passing a plan draw near, Dewhurst said Craddick and House negotiators have suddenly added more demands. Those include drawing a Dallas-area U.S. House district that can be won by state Rep. Ken Marchant, R-Carrollton.
"At this late hour, I think we need to come together on a map ... and stop playing the Iranian cabdriver negotiations, where you get what you want and then you start adding two or three other requests," Dewhurst said.
Sen. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, the lead Senate redistricting negotiator, said Craddick is insisting that West Texas be resolved before any other portion of the state is negotiated. Staples said that is threatening a total breakdown of the redistricting process.
"If one person wants to implode the entire negotiations because of a certain set of parameters that are unreasonable, then the Senate cannot do anything about that," Staples said.
Dewhurst said Craddick also was not letting any conference committees meet on other legislation until the West Texas issue is resolved. Richter said that is not correct.
The Senate and House have passed different plans, and a conference committee has been trying to iron out the differences. Dewhurst and Senate negotiators said they were at the bargaining table for 12 hours, starting Wednesday afternoon.
Asked to respond to Craddick's comments that the Senate was stalling talks, the author of the Senate plan, Sen. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, was interrupted by Dewhurst.
"Give me a break," Dewhurst said. "Staples has drawn 274 maps at last count. I am not sure that (House members) have even begun negotiating. Every time (Senate conferees) ask (Rep. Phil) King a question, he has to run back and check signals with the speaker. It is clear they have no negotiating authority."
Despite the escalation in Dewhurst's rhetoric, Senate sources reported a breakthrough in the negotiations and alerted reporters that a deal could be struck as early as today.
The Senate on Thursday offered the House two proposals. One keeps Travis County divided between U.S. Reps. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, and Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio. The other splits the county among three districts that would run to Mexico, San Antonio and toward Houston. The House's chief negotiator, Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, already has said he favors a statewide approach that would divide Travis County at least three ways. That approach also would make it easier to defeat the senior Democrat in Congress, Martin Frost of Arling- ton.
Negotiators from the House and Senate were expected to work overnight Thursday for the second night in a row.
The House and Senate recessed until Sunday afternoon in hopes that a deal can be hammered out by then.
That timetable would keep alive Gov. Rick Perry's and Mr. Dewhurst's hopes of final passage by Monday, thus avoiding the need to push back the March 2 primary. If the bill is not passed by Monday, the Republican leadership is concerned that the district lines won't be in place in time for candidates to file for congressional seats for a March 2 primary.
With that possibility in mind, the House on Thursday sent an elections bill to a conference committee that could be used to delay either the filing period for congressional seats, or the election, or both.
Democrats oppose such a postponement because it would cost Texas its role in influential "Super Tuesday" balloting for their party's presidential nominee.
In addition, some Republicans, especially in the Senate, warn that such a delay could legally complicate the process of getting U.S. Justice Department approval of the map. Officials review electoral changes to ensure that they do not diminish minority voting power.
Some quiet resistance to a delay has surfaced for another reason: After three special sessions and months of messing with redistricting, lawmakers of both parties are quietly grumbling about the need to end the process.
"You can't go through this three times and have the Republicans blow it up over a parochial thing like Midland," said Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, adding that as long as the GOP has the legislative votes to move the election, the game can continue.
"There's never an absolute deadline around here," he said. "I have never been opposed to a September primary."
The DMN also has news on the other action taken yesterday, regarding future sanctions for quorum busting, defined as an absence of at least 72 hours without a "justified reason":
Approved on a virtually party-line vote reflecting continuing tension over the Democrats' quorum-busting during the second special session, the new rules would strip an offending senator of seniority-based privileges, such as choice offices or parking spaces.
Four Republicans broke ranks to help Democrats defeat a GOP proposal – by a 16-12 vote – that would have slapped an additional $1,000 penalty on truant senators.
"This rather symbolic, $1,000-a-day fine gives additional incentive for people to stay here and do their job," said Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, who offered the measure.
Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, said the fines would only hurt Senate staff members. Under the defeated amendment, most of the fines would be paid from a senator's $408,000 annual payroll account.
"What is fair about that, penalizing those hard-working state employees?" Mr. Whitmire said.
"All the farmers that come in here every day are talking about [redistricting]," Kris Thomas said as he stood outside his Lubbock Cotton Growers Gin, a cooperative that processes about 40,000 bales a year.
Thomas has been managing operations here for nearly 10 years. Before that, he worked on a farm and before that grew up on one. He says he knows the business, knows the players and knows firsthand what many farmers want.
And if it means losing Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Stenholm, it's not congressional redistricting.
"We want the same maps we have now," Thomas said. "Any redistricting plan where the districts change, we're going to lose a voice. How can we possibly be for that? How can that possibly be in our best interest?"
"Charlie Stenholm has done more for us than most of the Republicans have," he said. "And now there's a scheme to take him away? You sort of scratch your head on that. ... The guy has seniority. If we lose that, how are we going to get that back?"
One hundred thirty-seven miles to the south, fellow West Texas Republican Ernest Angelo expresses a mixture of exasperation and disdain.
While those in Lubbock talk about furthering agricultural interests, Angelo and others in Midland talk about petroleum interests. While Lubbock residents talk about preserving two friendly congressmen, Angelo and other Midlanders complain that they lack even a single hometown boy.
And Angelo, for the life of him, cannot understand why any Republican would oppose a plan that puts the pressure on Democrats. All this coddling of Stenholm is a disgrace, he said.
"I think it's unfortunate that these Republican versus Republican differences come down to protecting a Democratic congressman," said Angelo, a petroleum engineer. "I don't think the rank-and-file Republicans are for that. I think the leadership [in Lubbock] are out of touch with the voters."
"The Permian Basin has not had someone who is knowledgeable about the oil industry representing them since the early '60s," Angelo said. "The people in the oil and gas industry would like to see someone elected to Congress that we don't have to educate about oil and gas issues when they get there."
[T]he House voted Thursday to adjourn until 2 p.m. Sunday for possible debate — which could go on beyond sundown — on any map approved by House-Senate conferees. House Speaker Tom Craddick said that if there is no map to be considered Sunday, the House would convene Monday.
Monday is Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement that begins at sundown Sunday. For Jews, the day is marked by fasting, daylong prayers and not working.
In an attempt to avoid a conflict with Yom Kippur, Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, on Thursday asked the House to adjourn until 8 p.m. Monday, when the observance would be over.
"I'm told by some of our members on the floor that they will have to be out of here by 3 o'clock p.m. (Sunday) so they can make their arrangements to observe the holiday," Dunnam told colleagues. "And I know and you know that we wouldn't do this on Easter."
Dunnam's motion was rejected, and the House, by a 66-35 margin, then voted to convene Sunday afternoon.
Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston and one of three Jews in the House, said he had informed the House leadership about the holiday conflict.
"The possibility is that I will have to either choose to not follow the teachings of my religion or not be here to vote on an important issue," Hochberg said.
"It appears that the desire for redistricting is so strong that respect for people's religious beliefs gets trampled in the process," he said.
Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, another Jewish lawmaker, said the schedule leaves him in a difficult position.
"I think it's unfortunate and insensitive to insist on scheduling the House to convene on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in Judaism, when there is no legislative necessity to do so," he said. "People of all faiths should be outraged."
Naishtat said he could attend a Sunday session that begins at 2 p.m. but would have to leave by early evening.
"I don't work on Yom Kippur. I spend part of the day in synagogue and part of the day reflecting and atoning for my sins," he said, adding he has made no decision on what he would do Monday if the House is in session.
Rep. Steve Wolens, D-Dallas and the third Jewish member of the House, was unavailable for comment Thursday.
The Senate's only Jew, Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, said she will observe the holiday and not be in Austin for Sunday or Monday sessions.
"I'm disappointed, but the problem is we have a deadline," she said. "And that deadline is Monday."
"We are a victim of circumstances over which we have very little control at this moment. Time is the enemy and it landed on a very difficult day for me," she said.