October 06, 2003
Guess what? Still no map!

And so the Sunday drop-dead deadline has whooshed past with map in sight and the Lege adjourned until Wednesday. What a glorious mess this is.

Hardly any ink was expended on the reason for the Republicans' failure, since the reason hasn't changed since the get-go: Tom Craddick wants a Midland district, Robert Duncan doesn't, and never the twain shall meet. The big issue now is what to do with the primary date.

Secretary of State Geoff Connor has said that if a plan is not adopted by midnight today he will not be able to conduct a primary as scheduled on March 2. Connor, the state's chief elections officer, said the primary would have to be moved to March 9.

"I know the Senate was very determined to get this done before we had to change any primary dates," said Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, one of the Senate negotiators. "We have, in essence, missed that deadline."

Duncan said that if a redistricting bill is passed, the primary date will have to be pushed back for the new congressional district lines to be used in the 2004 elections.

"Right now, we don't have any choice if we want to move a redistricting bill forward," said Duncan.

But Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, leader of the House negotiators, said he does not believe that deadline is firm. He said once a redistricting agreement is reached, negotiators will ask Connor to reassess whether the primary date must be moved.

"I think there's a little bit of flexibility. I'm going to rely on the secretary of state," King said.

If a redistricting bill is passed, it would not take effect until 90 days after Gov. Rick Perry signs it. Connor's office then would need enough time to allow candidates to file for the races, print ballots and hold early voting.

The primary date was shifted from March 9 to March 2 under a bill approved during the regular legislative session. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, said the primary was moved so it will not be held in the midst of the public school spring break.

Branch last week said he did not believe there were enough votes in the House to move the primary back to March 9.

King and House Speaker Tom Craddick said they have the votes to move the date. Duncan said he did not know whether the Senate could support the date change.

By moving to March 2, Texas joined some of the nation's largest states in holding a presidential primary on the same day. The other states include California, New York and Ohio.

"If the primary is moved from March 2, Texas Democrats will have no voice in who will be the nominee of the Democratic Party," said state House Democratic Chairman Jim Dunnam of Waco.

Dunnam said most candidates will have been winnowed out of the race either before or on March 2.

"I'd like to have a voice in who is going to oppose George Bush," Dunnam said.

Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, described moving the primary as un-American.

"That's something that happens in other places," Coleman said. "We don't move elections in the United States of America to make room for power grabs."

Interestingly, as the Express News reports, the chambers are adjourned until Wednesday in observance of Yom Kippur. You may recall that previously, the House voted down a motion to not meet during Yom Kippur on the grounds that Governor Perry's deadline was more important. As has been the case since this redistricting fight began, the Republicans forced an action without being able to follow up on it.

Once it became known that the committee negotiations had broken down again and that the Lege would adjourn, the real action from yesterday was set in motion.

With redistricting at an impasse, both legislative chambers had been out of action since Thursday. But they had to reconvene Sunday to avoid breaking a state constitutional requirement that prohibits either chamber from taking more than three consecutive days off during a legislative session.

So [Speaker Tom] Craddick called the House to order to hear a motion to adjourn until Wednesday. But just as he was slamming down his gavel to make the adjournment official, about a dozen Democrats shouted their objections.

If Craddick had not ignored them, the Democrats would have offered an amended motion to call off the session and send House members home. And it might have worked because almost none of the Republican members had shown up to vote it down.

"Our intention was to move to adjourn sine die and put an end to all of this," said Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, using the Latin phrase that translates roughly to "without a set date" and is legislative slang for calling it quits.

Democrats later accused Craddick of ignoring House rules and operating in a "dictatorial" fashion. Through a spokesman, Craddick, R-Midland, said that the Democrats were late in announcing their objection and that the gavel fell before their voices were raised.

"He didn't know what they were up to," said Bob Richter, the speaker's press secretary. "He knew there were certain troublemakers out on the House floor, and [House leaders] were expecting something, but they didn't know what it was."

More on this from the Statesman.

Outnumbering the Republicans 12-2, the Democrats tried to turn a routine adjournment into a coup. They attempted to amend the motion to adjourn for the day and end the third special session over congressional redistricting.

But one of the two Republicans, Speaker Tom Craddick, would have none of it.

He gaveled the House to adjournment until Wednesday as the Democrats yelled their objections. The speaker then stormed off the House floor.

"He called us Chicken D's," said Rep. Rick Noriega, D-Houston, recalling Craddick's nickname for the 51 Democrats who fled to Oklahoma in May to stop a vote on congressional redistricting. "But I never saw anyone run as fast as he did. It was a complete act of cowardice."

The rare Sunday meeting had been called in case Senate and House Republican negotiators had resolved their differences over their versions of a new congressional map. They hadn't, so Craddick expected a routine adjournment in which only one member shows up to make the motion to adjourn.

Instead, Rep. Jim Dunnam, the leader of the House Democrats, had organized a dozen Democrats to be on hand to fight any attempt to make the House meet today, Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year. Austin Reps. Elliott Naishtat and Eddie Rodriguez were among the dozen.

But when the Democrats realized they outnumbered the Republicans, they thought they'd try to end the special session altogether.

Dunnam said the speaker's quick gavel was another example of an autocratic leader with a Republican majority overrunning the Democrats -- even when the Republicans didn't show up. He said Sunday's brouhaha is likely to end up in litigation over a final map.

Craddick, through press secretary Bob Richter, said a speaker has two choices when there is no quorum to conduct business: put out a call for missing members or adjourn

Pretty funny, if you ask me. The Express News says that according to the House parliamentarian (an employee of the Speaker), a motion to adjourn sine die cannot occur without a quorum. There's a can of worms I'd rather not open.

So anyway, there probably won't be any further news until Wednesday. The special session has one week left to go - it expires on October 13.

Finally, Carl Leubsdorf of the Dallas Morning News takes a ride on the Hutchison for Governor bandwagon. Expect to see more of this if Perry is forced to call a fourth session.

UPDATE: Austin TV station KVUE filmed the Dems' attempt to adjourn sine die. Judge for yourself if they objected before the gavel hit the podium. Registration required. Via the Quorum Report.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on October 06, 2003 to Killer D's | TrackBack

Dumb question, but if the Democrats outnumbered the Repubs 12 to 2, then only 14 Senators were present out of 31. Doesn't a quorum require a majority of Senators to be present?

Posted by: Brian J. on October 6, 2003 7:48 PM

Actually, it was the House, not the Senate. As I understand it, House rules say that a quorum is not needed for a motion to adjourn. In fact, only Craddick and Phil King, who made the motion, were supposed to be there. The Democrats took advantage of that but were not recognized, so their motion to amend the motion to adjourn was not taken up. As noted, the House parliamentarian says that a quorum is needed for a motion to adjourn sine die, but that may be a partisan opinion. I've not researched it myself, but I'd bet there's no precedent.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on October 6, 2003 9:32 PM

Here's what the Bible has to say on the issue:

Leviticus 23:27-32

On exactly the tenth day of this seventh month is the day of atonement; it shall be a holy convocation for you, and you shall humble your souls and present an offering by fire to the LORD.

You shall not do any work on this same day, for it is a day of atonement, to make atonement on your behalf before the LORD your God.

If there is any person who will not humble himself on this same day, he shall be cut off from his people.

As for any person who does any work on this same day, that person I will destroy from among his people.

You shall do no work at all. It is to be a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwelling places.

It is to be a sabbath of complete rest to you, and you shall humble your souls; on the ninth of the month at evening, from evening until evening you shall keep your sabbath.

For all you Biblical literalists out there, it seems pretty clear.

Posted by: Matt on October 6, 2003 9:53 PM