- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 29, 2003

From combined dispatches

AUSTIN, Texas — Senate Republicans urged their Democratic colleagues yesterday to abandon their out-of-state walkout and work with them on a congressional redistricting plan.

“No Texas problem has ever been solved in New Mexico,” state Republican Sen. Todd Staples said.

In a move reminiscent of a walkout by House Democrats more than two months ago, 11 of the state Senate’s 12 Democrats had fled Texas for Albuquerque, N.M., on Monday. The move broke a Senate quorum and blocked consideration of the bitterly contested redistricting issue.

The Senate met briefly yesterday morning but broke after a few minutes. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, a Republican, said they would reconvene this morning. On the other side of the Capitol, the House met but also lacked a quorum, and the majority of absent members were Democrats.

Flanked by New Mexico state police on the lookout for bounty hunters who Democrats feared would be sent to haul them back to Austin, the Texas Democrats vowed yesterday to stay in neighboring New Mexico as long as it takes to stop a Republican grab for more seats in the U.S. Congress.

“It is wrong and we are prepared to fight as long as we can stand on our feet,” said state Sen. John Whitmire of Houston in a news conference outside an Albuquerque hotel.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, welcomed the Democrats with open arms and provided state police to guard against any bounty hunters Texas Republicans might send.

Republicans are pressing for more seats in the state’s 32-member delegation to the U.S. House. The Democrats hold a 17-15 advantage, which Republicans say does not reflect the state’s increasingly Republican voting patterns. Most Democrats want to keep the congressional map drawn by a three-judge federal panel in 2001.

As the Democrats walked out Monday, the first special session called by Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, to consider redistricting drew abruptly to a close. He then called a second special session, which began Monday afternoon.

The Democrats will have to stay out for as long as lawmakers are in session for the boycott to be effective. It takes two-thirds of the Senate’s 31 members to form a quorum and allow the chamber to take up business.

Republicans tried to push redistricting toward a vote in the Republican-controlled House during the regular session in May, but 51 House Democrats fled to Oklahoma to block a quorum, killing the bill.

At the time, Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick ordered state troopers to retrieve the representatives. The office of U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay also got involved, asking the Federal Aviation Administration to locate one of the Democrats’ planes.

Officials have said the sergeant-at-arms and his deputies have the authority to arrest the absent senators, but as a practical matter, the missing members are out of reach in New Mexico.

The senators’ exodus prompted Tom and Lisa Childress, Republicans who recently moved to New Mexico from Texas, to protest in front of the hotel in Albuquerque where the Democrats gathered.

“The Democrats are running away from their jobs again, and they’re getting away with it,” Mrs. Childress said. She had a sign saying, “What do you call a Democrat in Texas? You can’t.”

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