- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 24, 2003

DALLAS — The 11 runaway Texas Senate Democrats cooling their heels in an Albuquerque, N.M., hotel for almost a month to avoid voting on a Republican-controlled redistricting bill likely will return Wednesday to Texas.

Wednesday is when a federal judge in Laredo will begin hearings on a lawsuit filed by the absent Democrats, a pleading that claims the Republican redistricting plan is unfair to minorities, and that state leaders — all Republicans — have violated state law by fining them and threatening them with arrest the moment they set foot back in Texas.

The second special session of the 78th Texas Legislature ends tomorrow. It will have been a 30-day waste of time, money and patience as the missing senators denied a quorum.

Gov. Rick Perry has vowed to call a third special session, an in-your-face challenge to fellow Republicans who for the first time in more than a century have solid control in both legislative houses in Texas.

Some among Mr. Perry’s own party have urged him to wait awhile — to let the rhetoric cool. The governor has said little, except to constantly urge the missing senators to “come home and do your work.” He has not announced plans for a third try at remapping the state’s voting districts.

As the battle becomes more partisan, with the extreme factions of both parties most vocal, a liberal group called MoveOn.org has a Web site (www.moveon.org) and a goal of collecting $1 million to defray the expenses of those who fled to New Mexico. The group said yesterday that it had raised more than $870,000.

The Democrats have maxed out many a credit card in their New Mexico sojourn since July 28 and face massive fines and penalties — as much as $57,000 per senator — levied by Republicans left in Austin. The Democrats also were stripped of staff parking facilities and strapped with limitations on postage allowances and other privileges until the fines are paid.

Some longtime reporters in Austin claim the contentiousness in the capital city over this is intense and smoldering.

“It’s going to be tough for everybody to sit down amicably after this and forget what happened and some of the things that were said and done,” said Pete Marberry, a Houston lobbyist.

Mr. Perry said last week that “messages were being sent directly, indirectly, subliminally to come on back and go to work. Nobody’s just sitting here on our hands and going, you know, ‘I’m not going to blink.’”

He said Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and other senators had been in contact with the missing Democrats.

That brought a response from Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio, who is in Albuquerque: “I don’t know who he’s talking about. Nobody has contacted me.”

The Democrats fled to New Mexico last month because Mr. Dewhurst, the presiding officer of the state Senate, said he would scuttle the usual requirement of a two-thirds vote to debate legislation.

With Republicans controlling 19 Senate seats to Democrats’ 12, all it took was for the Democrats to stick together — and no specific bill could have made it to the floor for debate. Mr. Dewhurst’s plan to ignore the two-thirds rule meant that if the Senate met and had a legally constituted quorum, the Republican-pushed redistricting bill would pass easily.

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