- The Washington Times - Friday, June 6, 2003

DALLAS — Gov. Rick Perry is planning to call a special session to deal with the congressional-redistricting issue that caused 51 Democratic legislators to run off and hide for four days last month in Ardmore, Okla., legislative officials said.

Texas’ 78th state Legislature closed business Monday night with members of both parties much more cordial than in those days of early May and with accomplishment in a few areas, despite the early partisan wrangling.

But the truce might not last long.

Earlier this week, Mr. Perry, a Republican, bragged about what the Legislature accomplished despite the incident — in particular, home-insurance reform, tort reform and a balanced budget without raising taxes. He refused, however, to talk about when the redistricting fight might be resumed.

Upset that Republicans wanted to redraw the lines, the 51 House Democrats fled to Oklahoma to avoid being beaten on the pro-redistricting bill, a move that shut down legislative business for four days and temporarily killed the redistricting plan.

Most of the talk the past few days has been about the need for a special session to deal with the much-maligned “Robin Hood” plan of funding state schools.

The governor has not set definite dates for the special session. The usual call is for a 30-day session. The last was in 1992 by then-Gov. Ann Richards.

As the spotlight focused on a new school-funding plan, few wanted to talk much about the explosive redistricting issue, a push orchestrated by U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay to draw congressional districts so that Republicans would win five to eight additional seats in next year’s elections.

“It’s just too partisan,” one Austin political expert said. “It’s still too raw. Perry won’t take a chance. Special sessions generally aren’t used for partisan legislation.”

But in recent days, interest has shifted from the school-funding issue to redistricting.

Several legislators, told that they shouldn’t take July vacations, leaked the governor’s supposed plans to newspapers. Others who would be heavily involved were told quietly that a special session was coming, not in the fall as expected, but by the end of this month.

Almost all those tipsters have insisted on anonymity because, they said, they don’t want to rile the governor or other leaders, but the volume of the message has increased rapidly the past two days.

Mr. Perry has avoided a “yes” or “no.” All the governor will say is that special sessions are sometimes necessary, and that if he calls one, it will be because the state needs it.

If a special session is called, he said in San Antonio on Thursday, “legislators will be there to take care of business, and we’ll be taking care of business whether in the summer or the fall.”

Rep. Mike Villareal, San Antonio Democrat, told the San Antonio Express-News that he expects statewide hearings on redistricting to be scheduled soon.

“A reliable source close to the speaker told me we would be back for redistricting. This rumor has been offered from a number of voices, not just one,” he added, referring to Speaker Tom Craddick, a Republican. Mr. Villareal is vice chairman of the House Redistricting Committee.

Rep. Jim Dunnam, Waco Democrat and one of the leaders of the Democrats who fled, refused to comment about how his compadres might react to another effort to pass the Republican-drawn bill.

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