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Morning roundup

As everyone knows by now, the “Texas 11” Democratic State Senators are holed up in Albuquerque, thus denying the Senate a quorum and scuttling (for now) the second special session which was called yesterday afternoon, immediately after the first session was adjourned. Though there is no organized boycott on the House side, that chamber may also have quorum problems:

On the House side Monday, members remained in the chamber between special sessions. Only 85 members were present, 15 short of the quorum that’s needed to conduct business, when the second special session began.

Both chambers plan to reconvene this morning, though there’s little chance the Senate will have enough members to do business. The House also might be out of business for awhile. Democratic leaders said they don’t think the House will have a quorum any time soon.

“I would hope not. There’s no reason to be here,” said Rep. Jim Dunnam of Waco, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

But [House Speaker Tom] Craddick assured reporters the House would be ready to do business today with 100 members.

Democrats made their move amid fear that they would have been locked in to the Senate chamber otherwise.

[Sen. John] Whitmire said that Democrats — who had prepared a contingency plan that included two chartered planes — feared that [Lt. Gov. David] Dewhurst would then have moved quickly to order the Senate doors locked to prevent a walkout.

By the time Dewhurst convened the Senate for the second session about 4 p.m. Monday, the 11 Democrats were already airborne. The only Democratic senator to stay behind was Ken Armbrister of Victoria, who said he supported his colleagues’ effort but preferred to try to work out a redistricting compromise.

Dewhurst spokesman Dave Beckwith denied that the lieutenant governor had been preparing a trap for the dissidents.

“There wasn’t going to be a surprise where they got locked in. There were no surprises planned,” Beckwith said.

It seems unlikely that any extraordinary measures will be taken to track the Texas 11 down, but they’re wary anyway.

Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, said the dissidents would remain in Albuquerque, where they checked into a Marriott Hotel, “as long as it takes.”

“We’ve got lawyers,” he said, adding the Democrats were prepared to fight any steps to get them back. He said they already had notified the office of New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, that they were visiting his state.

Gallegos said the Democrats had heard that Republican officials back home were planning to hire “bounty hunters,” or private investigators, to round them up. But Beckwith replied, “I don’t think it will come to that.”

Before he knew for sure that the Democrats had left Texas, Dewhurst said Senate officials were considering hiring off-duty police officers to assist in tracking down the missing senators. He said he doubted that Texas Department of Public Safety troopers would be used.

The use of DPS troopers and Texas Rangers to aid House officials in tracking down the Democrats who fled to Oklahoma created controversy.

The state attorney general’s office advised Dewhurst on Monday that the Senate sergeant-at-arms or officers appointed by him “have full legal authority to arrest absent senators ‘wherever they may be found.’ ”

And Assistant Attorney General Jeff Boyd told reporters that he would advise the DPS to go after the absent senators.

But as long as the senators are in Albuquerque, Dewhurst added, “From a practical standpoint, there’s not much we can do.”

However, a stalled ruling in the lawsuit by Rep. Lon Burnam against DPS leaves the matter open from a legal standpoint.

When 51 House Democrats went missing in May, Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick ordered DPS officers to locate and haul them back to the Capitol.

State Judge Charles Campbell ruled on July 10 that Craddick overstepped his authority and could not use DPS officers as a resource. Campbell was expected to make a final ruling in the lawsuit filed by Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, on Monday, but postponed his decision for further review. Burnam filed the lawsuit in May to stop what he alleged was the destruction of documents that were gathered to find the missing House Democrats.

Campbell, a visiting judge who once served on the Court of Criminal Appeals as a Democrat, said he would not consider how the outcome of the lawsuit would affect the Senate.

“This lawsuit is not on behalf of the Texas Senate,” Campbell said. “There is no reason to include them because they’re not a party of the suit.”

Attorneys for Burnam argued that because the House and the Senate are members of the Legislature, they are under the same rules and should be considered in the suit. If a senator approached Burnam to be added to the suit, Senate members could be added quickly, said Art Brender, a lawyer for Burnam and chairman of the Tarrant County Democratic Party.

The stalled ruling gives Dewhurst the option of asking for DPS assistance in bringing the senators back because the case would not apply to the Senate, only the House.

However, Dewhurst said he would not use DPS officers to bring them back.

One tack the Republicans will take this time is to protray the Democrats as being on vacation.

Mr. Dewhurst predicted the wayward Democrats “will lose the public relations battle” by traveling to a vacation spot.

Asked whether he considered Albuquerque a vacation destination, the lieutenant governor said, “I certainly think it’s more of a vacation spot than Ardmore.”

[Sen. Leticia] Van de Putte said Democrats chose Albuquerque because of available medical facilities that could aid Sen. Eddie Lucio of Brownsville, recuperating from a heart attack earlier this summer.

“Even though my doctor opposed it, I knew how important it was to have 11,” Mr. Lucio said.

FWIW, I’ve been to Albuquerque, and with all due respect it’s as much a vacation spot as Houston is. Santa Fe or Ruidoso, now those are vacation spots.

The Democrats say they will stay away for as long as it takes, but they will return if the 2/3 rule is restored.

“We did not want to be here,” Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, said here at a news conference, hours after two private jets delivered the 11 senators safely out of state.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s call for a second special legislative session to consider redistricting forced them to break a Senate quorum the same afternoon, Van de Putte said, and breaking a quorum was “one of the tools granted to us under the Texas Constitution.”

She said the Democrats would return home if Gov. Rick Perry canceled the redistricting effort or if Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst agrees to restore the Senate rule that allowed them to block that effort in the special session that had ended just hours earlier.

The rule that keeps the Senate from debating bills without a two-thirds majority also has been used by Republicans in the past to block redistricting proposals by Democrats in the majority, Van de Putte said.

Senators said they were prepared to stay away the full 30 days the special session may last.

“Anything to kill this session,” said Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo.

The Dems also note that the 2/3 rule has killed redistricting efforts before.

The Democrats noted that former colleague Republican Sen. David Sibley of Waco and a coalition of Republican senators used the Senate’s two-thirds rule in 2001 to block a congressional redistricting bill.

“Two years later, now that every single African-American and Hispanic member of the Texas Senate wants to use the same rules to stop consideration of the same issue, suddenly they want to change the same rules,” the Democrats said.

As always, stay tuned for more.

Editorial spotlight:

The DMN has the Top Ten Reasons why this second special session is a bad idea.

The Statesman says there’s simply no need to redraw the lines.

The Express-News says Gov. Perry should pull the plug.

The Star-Telegram says this is a bad investment which is costing the state money it can ill afford.

No opinions on this subject today from the Houston Chronicle (which has been strongly anti-redistricting from the beginning), Waco Trib, El Paso Times, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, Corpus Christi Caller, or Midland Reporter-Telegram.

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  1. Adam Rice says:

    I’m genuinely curious: If the 2/3rds rule can be suspended, why don’t the Republicans just suspend the quorum rules as well?

  2. Michael says:

    The 2/3rd rule is a tradition, dating back to the 1950s, (aka the Time Wherein Texas Republican Memory Runneth Not).

    The quorum is written into the state constitution. I don’t think the Rs really want a state constitutional convention now, because there’d be a lot of support for independent redistricting. 🙂

  3. Adam – The quorum rule is specifically in the state Constitution, while the 2/3 rule in the Senate is a tradition. An explanation of how that works is here and here. Basically, that means that changing the quorum rules requires a Constitutional amendment, while the Senate 2/3 rule is at the discretion of the Lt. Governor, who presides over the Senate.

  4. Adam Rice says:

    I figured it would be that. Too lazy to do the research.