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October 7th, 2003:

“If you’re going to act like Mexicans, you will be treated like Mexicans”

If this story is really true, it’s pretty shocking, even after all that’s occurred so far.

San Antonio Sen. Leticia Van de Putte says that on Sept. 18, shortly after the Democrats returned from their 45-day exile in New Mexico, she was in the members lounge and approached a Republican senator with a question: “Why are you being so punitive?”

She asked the question moments after Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, had been warned that if she parked her car at the Capitol, it would be towed and after Republicans had placed the Democrats who fled on “probation.” Any Senate Democrat absent more than 72 hours will face $57,000 in fines, levied by the Republicans.

Van de Putte, who refers to herself as a “probationer” these days, refuses to name the senator to whom she posed the question. She says one of the rules of the Senate is that anything said in the lounge is privileged. However, she told the Express-News Editorial Board on Monday what the unnamed senator said.

According to Van de Putte, the senator looked at her and said, “If you are going to act like Mexicans, you will be treated like Mexicans.”

It’s difficult to imagine exactly what the senator could have meant, but it’s hard not to read the term “Mexican” as a racial slur. In this day and age, its use is unconscionable. The meaning, at least to Van de Putte, was: If you’re going to act like a second-class citizen, then that’s the way you’ll be treated.

The unnamed senator made the remark, according to Van de Putte, in the presence of Zaffirini and state Sen. Frank Madla, D-San Antonio, as well as four other Republican senators.

What’s worse, she says that the four other Republican senators agreed. They nodded their heads and indicated that in 10 years the number of Mexican Americans will increase, but for now, Anglo Republicans have all the power — and they plan to use it.

If Van de Putte is correct, this means that five of the 17 Republican senators are Neanderthals who view the world through dangerous, racist eyes. (Ed. note: There are 19 Republican Senators, not 17.)

Why won’t Van de Putte name names? She said she doesn’t want to be accused of betraying the confidentiality of the members lounge, but she wants the public to know that it’s not just Democrats who are playing the race card — the card is part of the entire redistricting deck.

Moments after that heated encounter, Madla lividly told a news conference: “The last time that I was treated the way we were today on the Senate floor, I think I was about 6 years old when I entered the first grade. I was a little Mexican boy who had his first taste of what white supremacy was about.”

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst widely criticized Madla for raising the subject of race. Dewhurst called Madla’s remarks “simply cheap, distasteful, juvenile partisan spin.”

Why didn’t Van de Putte report the senator’s slur at the news conference the day it happened? Why wait until now?

“I was startled,” she said. Now she wants people to understand the context of Madla’s remarks, as well as the context of the Senate’s debate.

That’s just mind-boggling. I don’t know why Sen. Van de Putte took so long to speak out about this – maybe she went to Dewhurst first and got impatient waiting for him to respond, maybe she really was reluctant to violate the tradition of confidentiality, maybe she wanted to time it for maximal effect, I couldn’t say. Maybe there’ll be a fuller article tomorrow with some reactions – I’ll certainly be on the lookout. But as this stands, it’s pretty awful and someone needs to apologize for it. Via the Quorum Report.

Debate and attack

I did not catch last night’s mayoral debate, but like Beldar I’m a bit disappointed that neither Sylvester Turner nor Bill White gave definitive answers to the questions about their role in the Brenda Flores contretemps. I tend to agree with Beldar that White is guilty of nothing more than foolishness, but he’s not doing himself any favors by not simply admitting to it. I don’t think this will have the kind of legs to be an issue to anyone who’s not paying close attention, but why take the chance?

Of course, it’s easy for me to say that. The Chron does not appear to be pursuing this story, and it isn’t easily described in sound bites, so there’s a decent chance it may die a quiet death, in which case making vague noises about looking forward and moving on will suffice to distract most people whereas an admission of something that sounds like wrongdoing even if it’s just dumbassery will be a giant red flag. I suppose this is why they pay campaign consultants the big bucks.

Meanwhile, Rob notes a more substantial criticism of Bill White.

Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson attacked Houston mayoral candidate Bill White on Monday for a position he took in 1997 on the voting rights of soldiers.

White, as then-state Democratic chairman, advocated that state law be changed to prevent military personnel from voting in local elections unless they intended to return to the state after their service to establish residency.

Emphasis mine. Let me see if I’ve got this straight: A kid from New Jersey joins the Air Force and does basic training at Kelly Air Force Base before being shipped overseas. Bill White says that unless the kid plans on coming back to San Antonio after his stint abroad, he should register and vote absentee in New Jersey instead of in Texas. And Jerry Patterson has a problem with this? When I was a college student, I voted absentee in New York until after graduation when I established residence here. Does Jerry Patterson think I was discriminated against, too? Puh-lease.

UPDATE: Alex has a reasonable objection to my complaint, pointing out that folks in the military may not have any other permanent address or they may have joined the military to get away from their prior permanent address. Fair enough. I still believe that the default should be where you came from, but it should not be hard to override that.

And they’re off

Can I just say now how glad I will be to never hear the words California recall election again? I have no guess who will win, and frankly I’m finding it hard to care. Unfortunately, I suspect the only outcome that will guarantee no more recall efforts is for Gray Davis to survive, and I don’t know how likely that is. Between this and the neverending redistricting fiasco, it’s pretty easy to see why so many people hate politics.

(And is it just me, or is anyone else disappointed that Larry Flynt was a total nonentity in the campaign? I mean, the least he could have done was try to blackmail someone. He’s losing his edge.)

Look, honey! It’s the Hammer!

You know that redistricting negotiations have really fallen down when Tom DeLay swoops in to try and get a deal brokered.

“I’m a Texan trying to get things done,” said DeLay, R-Sugar Land, as he spent hours engaged in cross-rotunda shuttle diplomacy between House Speaker Tom Craddick and the state Senate leadership.

“There is progress being made. People are working together,” DeLay said. “We’re close. We’re just working out the specifics.”

[…]

Legislative sources said DeLay told Craddick last Friday that he did not want the fight over Midland to kill the entire map, which would give the Republicans at least six additional seats in Congress.

“I’m not going to talk about specifics,” DeLay said when asked Monday about that discussion with Craddick.

DeLay met for several hours Monday morning with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Republican Sens. Todd Staples of Palestine and Robert Duncan of Lubbock, who are the lead Senate redistricting negotiators.

DeLay spent most of the afternoon meeting with Craddick and two of Gov. Rick Perry’s aides, Chief of Staff Mike Toomey and Deputy Chief of Staff Deirdre Delisi.

After meeting with DeLay, Craddick left the Capitol for about an hour to get a haircut. He refused to talk to reporters.

DeLay then spent much of the evening shuttling between Craddick’s and Dewhurst’s offices. At one point, Duncan emerged from a meeting with DeLay — whose nickname in Washington is “the Hammer” — holding his arm as if it had been twisted.

I imagine Duncan was just having some fun with the reporters present, but with DeLay, you never can tell. Regardless, the story at the end of the day was the same.

“There still is no deal,” Staples said early in the evening.

Sen. Kip Averitt, R-Waco, said that what he knew of Perry’s proposal for Central Texas was unacceptable to him. He said it would turn the district of U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, into a district dominated by Tarrant County voters.

Averitt said he supports a proposed Senate map that likely would elect a Waco Republican to replace Edwards.

DeLay wasn’t the only member of the Congressional delegation making an appearance yesterday.

U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, and two members of the governor’s security detail flanked DeLay as he strode about every half-hour from Craddick’s office to Dewhurst’s office.

“We’re close,” DeLay said Monday afternoon. “Just working out the specifics.”

Yet negotiators ended the day with nothing resolved.

Brady said the negotiations were tough because every change caused a ripple effect in other areas of the state.

“Texas is the equivalent of five states,” Brady said. “If this were South Dakota, it wouldn’t be so tough.”

Well, given that South Dakota has one Congressman, it’s pretty hard to argue with that. What kind of problems is DeLay and his merry men running into?

The back-and-forth hiccupped about 8:30 p.m., when Mr. DeLay arrived at Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s office to discover that Mr. Dewhurst and lead negotiator Sen. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, had left.

It was unclear when the talks would resume, as Mr. DeLay tried to broker a deal that has so far defied the mediation skills of Gov. Rick Perry ­ who was out of state Monday to ceremoniously ring the New York Stock Exchange’s closing bell.

Yes, that’s right, our Governor is up in New York ringing bells and talking about how great things are down here as the third special session winds down. Aren’t all you Republicans gratified to know that redistricting is Perry’s top priority? Where would we be without his leadership?

Let’s get back to the negotiations. How are things going, guys?

One negotiator likened the discussions to a divorce dispute, where the parties begin with major disagreements and end up squabbling over custody of a lawnmower.

“I mean, we’re fighting over Deaf Smith County, a place most people couldn’t find with a map,” said the negotiator, who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity.

Mr. DeLay laughed and declined to comment when asked whether Republicans should have sorted out their differences while Democrats were in New Mexico, blocking a quorum for six weeks.

As a public service, here is where Deaf Smith County is. My bill is in the mail, fellas.

DeLay may find the question of why Republicans still don’t have this issue worked out among themselves, but some other Republicans aren’t laughing. Let’s see how many familiar themes we can find here.

“This is the strangest thing I’ve ever seen in my 14 years in the Texas House,” state Rep. Toby Goodman, R-Arlington, said Monday. “One would certainly think that the Republican leadership would have had an agreed-to map before we went into all of these special sessions. And here we are nearing the end of the third special session, and we still don’t have an agreed-to map.

“I am getting e-mails by the bucket saying, ‘What are you guys doing down there?’ ”

Having a plan in hand before blowing up the Lege? Check.

State Sen. Kim Brimer, R-Fort Worth, called on both players in the impasse to put the state’s overall interests ahead of any local concerns.

“There is frustration out there with our constituents that we’re bogged down with redistricting,” said Brimer, who served 14 years in the House before moving to the Senate this year. “I’m frustrated, too. I wish these guys from West Texas would quit thinking they run the whole state. It’s time to do what’s best for Texas.”

No middle ground in the Craddick/Duncan feud? Check. By the way, Kim, which person would you suggest needs to go tell his constituents that he had to break his promise to them for the good of everyone else? Shall we toss a coin for it, or is best two out of three falls fairer?

“When Texans learn that all of this is costing them $57,000 a day, not to mention the $10 million, at least, it will take to defend any map from the legal challenges, they’re going to be hopping mad,” said state Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, an El Paso Democrat who was among the 11 who left for Albuquerque.

State Rep. Charlie Geren, a Fort Worth Republican in his second term in the House, said many of the Texans he knows have already made the calculation. And Geren said he gets an earful on the topic from his customers at the Railhead Smokehouse in Fort Worth.

“Every time I go into the restaurant, I hear about the $57,000 a day it’s costing the state for these special sessions,” Geren said. “I get calls every day saying with the money we’re spending, we could be funding more of CHIP [the state-paid Children’s Health Insurance Program] or some other program. And they’re right.”

Useless waste of time and money? Check.

“How does this end? Somebody’s got to blink,” Brimer said. “The governor has got to be the one to go tell somebody to back off. If he’s going to avoid having to call a fourth special session, he’d better get the third one wrapped up.”

Goodman expressed doubts that a solution would be that simple.

“I don’t think the governor has the political capital to get it done,” Goodman said. “I don’t think Tom Craddick is going to bow to the will of Rick Perry any more than he would bow to the will of Robert Duncan or [Lt. Gov,] David Dewhurst.”

Utter lack of leadership from the Governor? Check.

Gene Acuna, Perry’s spokesman, said that although the governor was in New York on state business Monday, he has been active in the effort to find a solution.

“The governor’s office has been actively and appropriately engaged in the process,” Acuna said. “We are involved.”

Clueless quote from Governor’s mouthpiece? Yep, I think we’ve touched all the bases now.

Whatever finally happens, the effects of this exercise will be felt for awhile. I know the GOP leadership doesn’t care, but I for one will be pissed if I don’t get to cast a meaningful vote in the Democratic Presidential primary. There’s also the potential costs of moving primaries around.

A typical primary runs the state about $10 million, said Jonathan Black, a spokesman for the Texas secretary of state’s office. If the entire primary were to be moved to another date, there would be no added costs.

But if legislators decide to split the primary into two — one for congressional seats and runoffs and another for all other races — the state would have to come up with $7.2 million more.

In Bexar County, a primary costs about $250,000, said Bexar County Elections Administrator Cliff Borofsky. If the Legislature decides to have a split primary, that cost would double. Local party offices would pick up some of that tab, he said.

Carlos Guerra tots up the costs a bit differently elsewhere in the Express-News, but we’re still talking about millions of dollars and lots of extra work no matter how you slice it. There’s another cost that will be felt in West Texas.

What has been lost during these fabricated hostilities is that these cities and towns — Abilene, San Angelo, Lubbock, Brownwood, Sweetwater, Big Spring, Midland/Odessa — share a vast range of common interests that is being overshadowed and disrupted by petty, provincial bickering. These cities should be working together for the mutual benefit and economic development of all of West Texas, not working against each other for the narrow, small-scale advantage of one or two.

Abilenians don’t have anything against people in Lubbock or Midland or anywhere else in West Texas, and aside from the jockeying for position forced by redistricting, residents of those places wouldn’t have anything against us, either. Divisiveness among ourselves will only lessen this rural region’s political status and further enhance that of the faster-growing metropolitan areas to the east.

No matter where we end up with congressional districts, rifts have been torn between communities that will not be repaired overnight. The creation of antagonisms where none previously existed may be a more significant, longer-lasting and detrimental effect of redistricting than any advantage that might be gained by temporarily altering the partisan makeup of Congress.

Indeed.

Finally, here is Rep. Jim Dunnam’s account of what happened on Sunday.

A number of House members were present for the 2:00 PM House session Sunday. We arrived early, intent on objecting and amending the motion to adjourn, which we knew would be coming. Along with other members present, I asked our Deputy Parliamentarian specifically how we could be assured that our objections to the motion that day would be timely considered by the Speaker. She informed me that all we had to do was orally object when the motion was made.

I was not privy to our Parliamentarian’s conversation with the Speaker prior to convening on the dais, but we assume she advised the Speaker of our intentions since they spoke on the dais before the roll call. Immediately after gaveling in the House, which totally ignored the proper order of business, the Speaker announced that Rep. Phil King was moving to adjourn. All of the Democratic members present objected repeatedly, in the end yelling our objections since the Speaker appeared intent on ignoring us.

The Speaker immediately left the dais and the Sergeant’s office proceeded to shut down the House chamber as we informed the Parliamentarian that we had sufficient members and wanted to appeal the ruling of the Speaker regarding the adjournment motion. In brief, everyone from the Parliamentarian to the Journal Clerk and Chief Clerk left the chamber almost immediately.

This is better comedy than most of the fall TV lineup. Too bad it’s so damn serious.