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Senators cancel trip to Laredo

As of yesterday, several of the Texas 11 were planning to make a quick trip to Laredo to attend a hearing on their federal lawsuit today. There were concerns that such a trip carried risks.

[Governor] Perry has said he will call a third special session on redistricting but will not say when. If he called one immediately, and any of the boycotting senators were in Texas and forced back to the Capitol, it would restore a quorum in the 31-member Senate.

Perry said the Democrats should fear arrest.

“I don’t think the lieutenant governor has any other option,” he said. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, with the approval of senators present at the Capitol, could issue an order for the arrest of quorum breakers in Texas once a session was under way.

But the four senators planning to attend the court hearing said they don’t expect that the governor will call a sudden session to trap them.

“We’re comfortable that we can get to the federal courthouse and get out,” said Sen. Royce West of Dallas. “I do not believe the governor would stoop to that level.”

West and Sens. Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso, John Whitmire of Houston, Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa of McAllen and Judith Zaffirini of Laredo plan to fly to Laredo this morning and return to Albuquerque immediately after the hearing. The plane they are taking has room for two more, and other senators also were considering making the trip.

The Democrats hope a favorable court ruling would enable all of them to return to Texas.

As of late last night, the Senators decided to heed warnings of their arrest and have cancelled their trip.

Democratic consultant Harold Cook said the group cancelled the trip after the Democrats obtained “credible evidence” that Gov. Rick Perry intended on calling another special session and “deputized officials” would try to detain the senators.

Cook did not say what the evidence was, but said a Republican senator advised his Democratic colleague not to return to Texas today.

“They haven’t come this far just to get caught,” Cook said.


The Senate Democrats believed they could return to Texas safely because the special session had expired. But they became concerned, Cook said, when they began hearing reports that Perry might call lawmakers back to Austin today for another session. The Democrats then could have been detained if they were in Texas.

The hearing is expected to continue today without the senators. The senators had planned to meet again Wednesday night to decide whether they are staying in New Mexico or returning to Texas.

The Express-News has more details:

“Because of very credible information that we have gotten out of Austin, no senators will be making the trip this morning,” Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio said early today. “We felt there was a possibility that we would be caught and trapped, and so we wanted to act with extreme caution.”

Van de Putte, head of the Senate Democratic Caucus, said that senators had met till after midnight before finally deciding the risk was too great.

They feared that Gov. Rick Perry would quickly call a third special session of the summer while the five to seven senators would be inside the courtroom at the Laredo district court for a 9 a.m. hearing.

“The risk would have been too great to be trapped,” she said.

She said that earlier in the day, lawyers for the Texas 11 had advised them not to make the Laredo trip.

“A Republican Senate source in Austin (Tuesday night) indicated it was in their best interests not to go to Laredo,” said Harold Cook, an adviser to the Democratic senators here.

Sources close to the senators had cited concerns that plans were being made late Tuesday to have the Senate sergeant at arms in Laredo.

Among the strongest rumors that initially caused them to cancel their plan, Democrats here heard two senators preparing to leave Austin were intercepted at the airport and asked not to leave.

The unidentified senators were told their presence would be needed for an important meeting to be held this morning. The Senate and House adjourned Tuesday, and no legislative business was scheduled for today.

Still no word when the next special session will be. I’d guess at this point that Gov. Perry is waiting to see if the federal lawsuit gets dismissed or not. The Texas 11 are weighing their options as well.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio, chairwoman of the Senate Democratic Caucus, said the senators would make a decision on when and whether to leave New Mexico later in the week.

Some Democrats said they would fight Mr. Perry as long as it took.

“Let’s get it on,” said Sen. Mario Gallegos, a retired firefighter from Houston. “I’ve fought fire before. They cool down but then they flare back up. I know how to fight. Let’s do it.”


Still, there was talk of a possible return to Austin among the senators, weary after weeks away from home.

[Sen. Royce] West said if the federal court in Laredo ruled against them, the lawmakers might have to return to Austin.

“But let me assure you that once they get their map out that it’s not over with, because we will continue to fight the issue through the Justice Department end of it, and ultimately it will end back in the judiciary,” he said. “This is long from over.”

Several of the articles quoted Lt. Gov. Dewhurst as saying he’d made a new proposal to the Democrats. Sen. Van de Putte confirmed that they had spoken, but denied that anything new was offered. The Quorum Report mentioned a rumor yesterday that said a “watered down” redistricting proposal that would give the GOP 18 seats was being discussed and possibly delaying the introduction of the new boundaries until 2006. I have to say, if that’s true and if there’s a map already drawn for it and if there were ironclad carved-in-stone guarantees that no other map would be up for debate and if the sales pitch for this proposal included dropping all fines and other sanctions against the Texas 11 and their staff, I’d consider that an acceptable compromise. Doesn’t look like it’s any more than rumor, though.

Remember that Scripps-Howard poll from yesterday, the one that showed that people opposed redistricting and the Texas 11 boycott? Turns out they also asked about how the Governor is doing.

According to the Scripps Howard Texas Poll, 48 percent of Texans disapprove of Perry’s job performance, his highest disapproval rating ever — and equal to that of former Gov. Ann Richards in 1994, the year she lost the governor’s job to George W. Bush.

Perry’s 44 percent approval figure tied his fall 2002 numbers.

The Texas Legislature hit an all-time low in the summer poll, with only 22 percent approving of the job lawmakers are doing. Sixty-eight percent disapproved.

That’s a 30-point rise in the disapproval ratings from 2001, when 47 approved and 38 disapproved of the Legislature; in the spring, 32 percent approved and 53 percent disapproved.


About 35 percent of respondents approve of the job Republican David Dewhurst is doing as lieutenant governor while 39 percent disapprove and 26 percent couldn’t answer. Twenty-seven percent approve of the job House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, is doing. Thirty-three percent disapprove and 40 percent couldn’t answer.

State Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn had relatively strong ratings, with 45 percent approving and 23 percent disapproving, but a third said they didn’t know or couldn’t answer.

The low approval ratings for Gov. Perry confirm what Democrat-aligned pollster Jeff Montgomery discovered last month. Once again, though, he’s not up for reelection until 2006, and he’ll have another regular Legislative session to work on his image in the meantime.

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  1. Kevin Whited says:

    I suspect when Perry reminds voters he held the line on taxes when most states raised them, his numbers will rebound. With all of the (mostly negative) publicity over redistricting, I’m surprised his numbers haven’t sagged further. Very surprised, actually.

  2. With all of the (mostly negative) publicity over redistricting, I’m surprised his numbers haven’t sagged further. Very surprised, actually.

    It’d be more interesting to see how his numbers broke down across Rep-Dem-Ind. I’d guess Reps think of him very favorably, Dems think the opposite, and Inds…I don’t know. According to the graphic the Chron had yesterday, the S-H poll assumed 36% R, 25% D, 28% I (which leaves 11% for who-knows-what). Given that, I’d have to assume his numbers are mediocre among Inds, but I couldn’t say how much, nor could I say whether they would be better or worse than one would expect given the (agreed, generally negative) publicity.

  3. hope says:

    I have to start reading your blog before I do a redistricting post!

  4. Redistricting Updates from Off the Kuff

    Yeah, I’m just getting back into the routine, here in Austin, so I’ll be back to covering the details of the redistricting fight soon, but for now, Charles has great coverage. Today, the Democratic lawsuit saying that Republicans intent to…

  5. Here’s an interesting blurb from the Quorum Report, Kevin:

    New state laws will generate an additional $2.7 billion in revenue this biennium, a total that is 5 to 10 times greater than a typical session, Comptroller Carole Strayhorn said in a morning press conference.

    Strayhorn admitted she was surprised by the total but danced around the issue of whether she thought Governor Rick Perry had reneged on his “no new taxes” pledge. Despite the Capitol press corps’ attempt to pin down an answer, Strayhorn would only say she was simply passing along the facts and not judgments.

    Of course, that doesn’t mean that Strayhorn didn’t hint about her thoughts.

    “What I’m telling you today is that Texans are paying more for less,” Strayhorn said. “Texas is great, but we can do better. We can be leaner, not meaner.”

    Maybe Perry has more than just the redistricting mess to worry about concerning his eventual popularity.