Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

State House Dems go for a walk

Holy parliamentary procedures, Batman! At least 52 Democratic members of the Texas House have walked out of the legislative session in protest of redistricting and other legislation. This means there are fewer than 100 members present, which is not enough for a quorum, so all business has ground to a halt.

I’m going to quote most of the Chronicle story, as it’s pretty incredible:

At about 10:10 a.m., Speaker Tom Craddick ordered the House chamber locked so no one could leave. At 10:30, he ordered the House sergeant at arms to use whatever means he had available to arrest the missing members and bring them back to the House. Typically, when such a call is put on the Legislature, the Texas Department of Public Safety is called in to carry out that order.

The House walkout not only blocked the redistricting bill, but any action on all other bills on the calendar. The House cannot convene without at least two-thirds of the membership, or 100 members, present on the House floor under legislative rules.

The crisis erupted this morning when, less than 30 minutes before the Texas House was due to convene, the letters of 52 Democrats were delivered to the Republican leadership informing them they would not be present.

Here is the text of the letter that each legislator sent. The Austin-American Statesman says the number of walkouts is fifty-three. The San Antonio Express-News has a list of all missing members. Someone please remind me to send Jessica Farrar some flowers when this is all over.

One of the organizers told the San Antonio Express-News in today’s editions that the action was planned as retaliation against the Legislature’s Republican leadership.

The lawmakers were preparing for the trip Sunday night and were packing clothes to allow them to stay away for four days, a legislative source told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. That would be until the deadline for preliminary passage of major bills in the House.

The plan by Democratic House members, if successful, would derail and likely kill major pending bills that have been termed a priority by the Republican-controlled Legislature.

“We’re leaving, and we’ll stay gone ’til Thursday,” one member from South Texas, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the newspaper.

Richter said a special legislative session would have to be held immediately after the regular session ends June 2.

The story doesn’t say who “Richter” is, but Patrick informs me in the comments that “The Richter in question is likely Tom Craddick’s Press Secretary, Bob Richter”.

Several of the legislators who planned to be absent said they were expecting the worst.

“I guess we will be called obstructionists, or maybe worse. But we are making a statement,” said a South Texas legislator. “If this is going to be the only way to stop bad legislation from being rammed down our throats, then so be it.”

The latest group of quorum-busters planned to leave the state to avoid having state police detain them and forcibly return them to the House floor, if necessary.

“DPS or the Rangers can’t exactly come get us if we are outside of Texas,” said one legislator.

Several sources said some of the members were to board a plane leaving from a Central Texas airport to rural Oklahoma. A separate group would fly to New Mexico, while a third group left by bus for New Mexico, according to the sources.

The last time quorum was broken was 1979, in the State Senate. The Express News has the most background on this:

The Democrats’ move mirrors a similar action by a group of 12 Texas state senators 24 years ago this month, who defied then-Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby by refusing to show up at the Capitol.

The action of the “Killer Bees,” as the dozen came to be known, provided a sea change within the Democratic Party, which then controlled state politics as completely as Republicans do today.

The Killer Bees hid out in a West Austin garage apartment while Department of Public Safety troopers, Texas Rangers and legislative sergeants-at-arms unsuccessfully combed the state for them.

[…]

In the 1979 incident that captured national media attention, Hobby was pushing a bill to require a separate presidential primary, which would have allowed conservative Democrats to vote in the Democratic primary for most races, then vote in a Republican primary to support former Gov. John Connally for president.

“Connally had just turned Republican after spending all his political career as a Democrat, including his stint as governor,” recalled then-state Sen. Carlos Truan of Corpus Christi. “So we were not crazy about the idea of giving him a leg up.”

Truan said Sunday that he and the other 11 senators were “very, very adamant” about their stand.

“We were quite concerned about how we were being portrayed,” he said, “but I think history will show that we did the right thing.”

The group was dubbed “Killer Bees” after Hobby declared, “you never know where they’re going to show up next,” former Sen. Ron Clower told the Austin American-Statesman in 1999.

Other accounts have Hobby saying the group was “about as useful as killer bees.”

The decision to hide out was made fairly quickly after one of the senators’ aides agreed at a breakfast meeting at her home to let the legislators stay in an apartment in her detached garage.

“We were very concerned about getting caught by the DPS, but at the same time, it was kind of hilarious to watch some of the most powerful members of the Texas Senate, dressed in business suits, crawling on their bellies from the house to the detached garage apartment,” Truan recalled, laughing.

The group managed to stay gone for four days, despite a widespread manhunt, and Hobby eventually gave in, withdrawing the measure from consideration.

The Killer Bees were greeted as heroes.

“We could not believe how many people turned out and cheered us,” Truan said.

But Truan cautioned that such drastic tactics aren’t for the faint of heart.

“They better be prepared to pay the political consequences for their actions because there will be a hell of a price to pay,” Truan said. “Breaking a quorum is a very, very major thing.”

Three of his fellow colleagues should know. They were defeated for re-election as Ronald Reagan swept into the White House in 1980.

There are a lot of things one can do in the Texas Lege to kill bills you don’t like – just ask Arlene Wohlgemuth, who killed 52 Senate bills with one parliamentary procedure in 1997 in what became known as the Memorial Day Massacre. This, however, is pretty darned extreme. I’m in awe of the backbone these folks are showing, but in more than a little fear of the possible repercussions. We’ll see how it goes.

Travis County Democrats are sponsoring a rally in favor of the 52 strikers (typically, the Harris County Democrats have zip on this). Some material for this post was taken from the Burnt Orange Report.

UPDATE: Fixed error concerning the identity of “Richter”.

Related Posts:

  • No Related Posts

39 Comments

  1. Patrick says:

    The Sergeant at Arms is Rod Welch. The Richter in question is likely Tom Craddick’s Press Secretary, Bob Richter. He used to be with the San Antonio Express News.

  2. citizen Able says:

    It does seem pretty drastic given the possibility that the redistricting could be killed in the Senate or after the fact in a lawsuit.

    Does this mean that the votes to stop redistricting in the Senate aren’t there?

  3. Does this mean that the votes to stop redistricting in the Senate aren’t there?

    At last report, there were still enough votes to keep redistricting from coming up in the Senate. I suspect this was merely the fulcrum, since the Dems have been unable to stop pretty much anything this session, thanks to GOP cohesiveness and sheer numbers.

    Patrick – thanks! I’ll fix the error.

  4. Michael says:

    Texas is still trying to run the state on the 1873 constitution, which seems to provide a great deal of power to a small group of legislators to derail legislation. My guess is that they’re going after HB 2, which increases the power of the governor.

  5. Michael says:

    snerk!

    From the Austin American Statesman
    Tip line
    Let our State desk know if you seen any of the missing Democratic legislators today.

    Oh, yeah, the boys in Austin should be proud…

  6. Go Killer Ds!

    Note to self: send nice note to Jessica Farrar for joining the walkout. I am proud of Texas Democrats for standing up and showing cojones, even if it’s only by standing up to leav…

  7. My guess is that they’re going after HB 2, which increases the power of the governor.

    That would be the 400+ page bill that Tom Craddick admits most legislators haven’t read yet. Clay Robison had some interesting thoughts about this on Sunday:

    The measure probably includes some valid, cost-cutting ideas, but it also probably includes some bad policy and potential landmines that could blow up on lawmakers later. Few legislators, besides Swinford, are likely to have read much of the bill, but political opponents may find something buried deep within it to turn against them in months to come.

    Not too many years ago, then-Sen. Grant Jones of Abilene, the influential chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, joined his colleagues in giving routine approval to a sunset bill revising the operations of the Texas Department of Human Services.

    The next year, an ambitious and well-funded opponent used one little-noticed provision in the bill to help unseat Jones. The provision would have allowed the state to obtain liens against the homes of some Medicaid recipients after they died.

    The language was largely procedural. It wasn’t designed to send heartless bureaucrats circling, buzzardlike, over deathbeds.

    But heartless was exactly how it was portrayed in a hard-hitting TV commercial aired — eight days before the election — by Jones’ successful opponent.

    Food for thought.

  8. Patrick says:

    Speaking of ads, I can see the GOP ads now.

    Scene from the nearly empty State House floor.

    VOICE OVER: “With the state facing a $9.9 billion dollar shortfall and pressing legislation, 53 Democratic Members of the House threw a tantrum and abandoned their jobs to serve Texas and decided to play a games of hide and go seek.”

    Cut to a shot of “Representatives” shooting pool in a New Mexico bar.

    “With bills on education, social services, crime, and roads all awaiting action, the state of Texas spent $140,000 sending DPS officials around the state find them and to get them back to work doing the business of Texas.”

    Cut to needy child, empty classroom or road in need of repair depending on the polling data.

    “Texas doesn’t have time to play games or any use for those who play them on our time.”

    Fade Out

    Also I can envision a whole set of spots playing on a “Where’s Waldo?” theme across the state.

    This is a gutsy move. Most of them will be alright in safe Democratic districts but it could really cost some people in tight districts.

  9. There are a lot of dweebs from both parties in the Legislature but our House and Senate sure prove more entertaining than their national counterparts. This is why I vote. 🙂

  10. This is a gutsy move. Most of them will be alright in safe Democratic districts but it could really cost some people in tight districts.

    Ironically, State House redistricting means there are very few contested seats currently held by Dems. Only Patrick Rose in District 45 was in a real dogfight last time, and he was one of the few (if not the only) Dems to unseat a Republican incumbent. Take a look at the returns and you’ll see what I mean – lots of Dems and Reps running with no major party opposition, lots of lopsided results.

  11. Karin says:

    Here’s the News8Austin report. Gov. Goodhair is annoyed: “‘The action by these Democrats is cowardly and childish. Their behavior is analogous to the pouting child who doesn’t like the way the game is going and stomps off the field,’ said Gov. Rick Perry in a press release. ‘This childish prank endangers tens of thousands of Texans who stand to lose access to health care by blocking passage of medical malpractice reform that is crucial to enabling doctors to continue to practice medicine.'”

  12. ‘This childish prank endangers tens of thousands of Texans who stand to lose access to health care by blocking passage of medical malpractice reform that is crucial to enabling doctors to continue to practice medicine.’

    Wow, that’s rich. I’m just speechless.

  13. David Block says:

    I would say that the cost of the now certain special session should be taken from the disticts of those who walked.

  14. Michael says:

    David,

    That would be far cheaper that the cost of HB 2. However, this is perfectly acceptable parliamentary procedure.

    We could take it from the Congressional District of Tom Delay, along with the costs of his Metro roadblocks. Scouts from teams across the country are looking at Delay, because he has the “triple threat” ability to impede government at the local, state, and federal levels.

  15. This is not an acceptable parlimentary procedure. House Rules allow the arrest of members who attempt to thwart a quorum. If this were accetpable, then Texas Rangers wouldn’t be hunting down legislators who have gone into hiding.

    Moreover, it should be noted that there is not one single instance of Republicans using the same tactic. This is indeed juvenile — a temper tantrum by a minority party — and it reflects badly on all Texas Democrats.

  16. Michael says:

    Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose, Owen. Didn’t think you’d be a swing vote in 2004, anyway.

  17. Ginger says:

    Of course it’s not a legitimate parliamentary procedure. *Democrats* are doing it.

    I think the costs of the special session ought to be split by Tom DeLay’s district and Tom Craddick’s. If we’re talking disincentives, those are the folks who are most in need of changing their ways.

  18. Patrick says:

    Chuck, you’re right about the low number of really competitive races. But looking at the last returns, the Democrats in Districts 18 (Ellis), 34 (Capelo), 35 (Canales), 45 (Rose), 56 (Mabry) and 137 (Hochberg) won their elections with margins of roughly 2000 or less. All of them walked and would be the 6 I would concentrate on. Of those, I’d believe Rose, Eliis, and Mabry are the most likely to have problems. Hochberg’s margin of victory was 1092 but turnout was very low in his district. Capelo and Canales may be a little less vulnerable, but Canales is a first termer.

    If the GOP were able to turn 4 of the 6 the official walkout number is down to 49, not enough to break the quorum.

    There were others absent for different reasons including 8-10 Republicans. It is unkown if the other Dems could be persuaded to fill the ranks. Probably so, but if the GOP showed it was able to pick up seats on the issue, some Representatives may think twice about it.

    I believe that 25% of the 1979 “Killer Bees” lost the next election.

  19. Patrick says:

    Ginger, it is clearly an effective way of obstructing the business of the House and it falls within the parlimentary rules.

    But any tactic that results in the DPS being sent to escort you back to work is certainly questionable regardless of party. You certainly don’t want to have pictures of DPS officers escorting Dems back to Austin. (Really bad visual for a campaign.) The obstructionist label stuck in the US Senate races during the last election and the GOP will use it here, too.

  20. Michael says:

    I dunno, Patrick. I think that pictures of mass arrests in Oklahoma would do wonders for the National Democratic party (spun as “republican strongarm tactics we don’t want here”), even if they didn’t do anything in Texas. And it won’t change my vote for or agaist Jessica Farrar if she gets dragged in chains to the statehouse.

  21. Patrick says:

    Michael, Perhaps. But the DPS won’t be able to arrest anyone in Oklahoma. They can “offer to escort them back” but nothing more.

    While this will firm up the support of your base and please don’t take this the wrong way – your vote doesn’t really matter in this case. You are a committed partisan that the Dems can count on.

    The fight in competitive elections is always for the 20-25% of voters in the middle the political spectrum. It is how that bloc of voters view sthese events or can be persuded to view these events that is most important in a political sense.

  22. Ginger says:

    Yep, and that’s why it’s so crucial to get the word out that this is all about that asshole Tom DeLay and his attempt to gerrymander the congressional districts, and that asshole Tom Craddick and his mismanagement of the House.

    Which is a large part of the problem. Not all of it–I mean, my god, we mustn’t stop all those important bills like banning human cloning–but that’s ultimately what the fight is over. I’m just glad someone in this state noticed that the choice was between fighting and dying.

  23. Patrick says:

    Ginger, I think the phrase “between fighting and dying” is a little over the top. I don’t think that anybody is trying to kill anybody.

    The GOP just wants to claim what they view is rightly theirs – a majority of the seats in the Texas delegation in the US House. And guess what, they’re right. They should have a majority of the seats. Based on the last several elections in this state it is hard to dispute that the GOP is the dominant party. So when redistricting comes around it should be expected that the GOP would pick up some seats. Sorry dems da berries.

    The problem that we have here is the method. Tom DeLay’s plan has two problems…it’s too greedy and it’s Tom DeLay’s. The GOP should by rights pick up 2-3 districts not 5. And having the most ham-fisted partisan Republican in Texas come up the plan was a serious mistake. With him as the bill’s godfather, the Dems knew that this was not likely to be something up for negotiation. Such is the nature of things DeLay. I’m a Republican (despite what Owen may think) and I think DeLay is an a-hole. So is John Lindsay, by the way.

    The perverse gerrymandering actually works to weaken the plan when it goes to the courts which it would. But the Dems can’t count on that.

    The last problem is that we have a State House where both parties are in new roles and really aren’t comfortable in how to effectively govern from their new positions. The GOP reps are too organized, too monothilic for their own good. But the Dems have got to figure out a way to more effectively deal with a minority postion that to walk out. That’s not going to cut it.

  24. The Killer Ds

    Kuffner has the recap on the Dem’s walk/hideout in Austin/Ardmore. I’m sure it’s a sign when I consider news like

  25. The Killer Ds

    Kuffner has the recap on the Dem’s walk/hideout in Austin/Ardmore. I’m sure it’s a sign when I consider news like

  26. Law on the Lam!

    So, have you heard the news? I think this is just hysterical. In order to prevent gerrymandering and the Republicans…

  27. Law on the Lam!

    So, have you heard the news? I think this is just hysterical. In order to prevent gerrymandering and the Republicans…

  28. Ginger says:

    Um, bluntly, Patrick, if you don’t think Tom DeLay is out to cut the throat of the remaining Texas Democrats, you’re either not paying attention or you’re dumber than a post.

    You’re absolutely right that the method is the problem. When you try to ram a piece of crap down someone’s throat, you can’t be surprised when the people involved fight back. As one of the constituents who would be told to bend over by this plan, I strongly support my representative’s efforts to torpedo it. It’s not like they weren’t going to have to call a special session anyway.

    Tom DeLay is your problem, as are Lindsay and Craddick (not to mention the cojone-less wonder we have for a governor). This Legislature is y’all’s watch. Go get your team to clean up their act and I’ll be glad to ask my representative to come back.

  29. Patrick says:

    Ginger, Perhaps I did not make myself clear enough. I agree that DeLay plan clearly overreaches. I believe I called it “too greedy”. I don’t dispute that Tom DeLay is a partisan a-hole. It’s darn near indisputable. The GOP “take” from redistricting should be 2-3 seats, not the 5 or more aimed for in DeLay’s plan. Wouldn’t you agree?

    When you try to ram a piece of crap down someone’s throat, you can’t be surprised when the people involved fight back.

    I’m not surprised, but when the Dems in the Senate have got your back and can keep it from debate on the Senate floor as Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos claimed and Chuck reported on May 7, why pull this stunt? There’s a reason that breaking the quorum is so stunning and that’s because it’s done so rarely. Do it too often and it rapidly loses it’s effect. They wasted a chit that could have been reserved for another key issue.

  30. Michael says:

    Patrick:
    Maybe it’s a backbone-inducer for a wavering Senate dem. If any of the twelve crossed now, they better plan on changing their letterhead permanently.

  31. Patrick says:

    True. Maybe they knew something about the solidity Senate votes that Barrientos didn’t or something changed in the last few days. Otherwise this is boneheaded.

    What do you think they would have settled for when it comes to redistricting? We know 5 is out, but do you think 2 or 3 would have worked or do you think the intent was to keep the 2002 districts in tact at all costs?

  32. What do you think they would have settled for when it comes to redistricting? We know 5 is out, but do you think 2 or 3 would have worked or do you think the intent was to keep the 2002 districts in tact at all costs?

    Speaking for myself, I could have accepted a redistricting plan that 1) didn’t look like a bowl of spaghetti, and 2) shifted 2 or 3 seats to the GOP. I mean, I wouldn’t have liked it, but the argument about 56% of the voters casting ballots for GOP Congressional candidates would carry a lot more weight with me if in the end the GOP was expected to get 56% of the seats, instead of the 62% that the DeLay plan would give them.

  33. Michael says:

    I dunno. This is even further into speculation-land than my last comment, but I think there might have been some plans they’d’ve gone for, especially if it was an “accept the Dewhurt plan or we’ll end up with the DeLay plan” situation.

    Or maybe not. If they let it get to the floor, the DeLay map could have come back as an amendment and then where would they have been?

    I can’t find a reference, but I’ve seen claims that there are 5 majority republican districts that have elected democrats for various reasons (no good repub candidates, likeable dems, incumbent power,etc). If that’s true, then DeLay isn’t trying to make simple majorities that he can get by biding his time, he’s trying to grab the whole bag of marbles now.

  34. Patrick says:

    If we’re going to play in the real world, I’d say a 2-3 pickup would be reasonable as long as that doesn’t involve ditching a Dem seat that already has a Republican majority in place. If the GOP can’t win that see, then tough noogies.

    I’d see love to have 2-4 seats that are split farily evenly between parties from rural, suburban and urban areas. Contenders for those seat would have to work to win the middle and wouldn’t neccessarily be as partisan. They could really debate the issues and it would force them to look for creative ways to solve problems not just a precanned dogmatic crap. The leadership and new ideas coming from these districts could….oh, sorry, I got a little screwed up there.

    Back to the real world. Whew. Really debate issues? Creative problems solving? What the hell was I thinking. They’d sling mud because except for rare situations honest discourse is dead.

  35. Jennie Crittendon says:

    God Bless you House Dems and Gov. Richardson.

    Jennie Crittendon, Jackson Michigan

    517 – 522 – 3364 A fund needs to be set up to help with expenses. The Republicans are always,
    like con-men playing a scam. They love little
    games. I called the number for Pat Robersons
    700 club and told them I was not praying to
    take three judges off the Supreme Court, I was
    praying to bring our troops home. His “money making scam”, is all about money and
    more money and Republicans. He is no more holier
    than me. By the way , didn’t he lose quite a sum of money not long ago in one of his investments?

    Someone needs to put Robertson and Bushball and
    mouth full of water ball(radio station personality
    in a bag of flour with salt and pepper in it
    and shake ’em up good.

  36. Jennie Crittendon says:

    God Bless you House Dems and Gov. Richardson.

    Jennie Crittendon, Jackson Michigan

    517 – 522 – 3364 A fund needs to be set up to help with expenses. The Republicans are always,
    like con-men playing a scam. They love little
    games. I called the number for Pat Robersons
    700 club and told them I was not praying to
    take three judges off the Supreme Court, I was
    praying to bring our troops home. His “money making scam”, is all about money and
    more money and Republicans. He is no more holier
    than me. By the way , didn’t he lose quite a sum of money not long ago in one of his investments?

    Someone needs to put Robertson and Bushball and
    mouth full of water ball(radio station personality
    in a bag of flour with salt and pepper in it
    and shake ’em up good.

  37. Go Killer Ds!

    Note to self: send nice note to Jessica Farrar for joining the walkout. I am proud of Texas Democrats for standing up and showing cojones, even if it’s only by standing up to leav…

  38. Kuff's World says:

    Ardmore, three years later

    Three years ago today, politics in the state Capitol were thrown into chaos when fifty-two Democratic members of the State House made a midnight trek to Ardmore, Oklahoma, in order to break quorum and prevent a bill to redistrict Congressional…

  39. Kuff's World says:

    Ardmore, three years later

    Three years ago today, politics in the state Capitol were thrown into chaos when fifty-two Democratic members of the State House made a midnight trek to Ardmore, Oklahoma, in order to break quorum and prevent a bill to redistrict Congressional…