- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 14, 2003

DALLAS — Democratic state lawmakers announced yesterday from a Holiday Inn in Oklahoma that they would stay out of Texas long enough to thwart a congressional redistricting plan from passing the state legislature.

“This is the last weapon available to us,” said Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon of San Antonio. “This is our Alamo stand.”

More than 50 Democrats, enough to prevent the Republican-led Texas House of Representatives from getting a quorum to consider the new voting map, were ensconced at the motel in Ardmore, a few miles north of the Oklahoma-Texas boundary.

“Those of us here will not be an accomplice to a partisan, heavy-handed, gerrymandered Washington, D.C., play on a congressional map,” said Rep. Steve Wolens of Dallas, one of the leaders in Ardmore.

The Democrats said they planned to stay there until after tomorrow’s deadline to introduce major legislation in the 150-member House.

Three more Democrats showed up yesterday at the Statehouse in Austin, but the chamber remained five members short of the required 100 lawmakers, and Speaker Tom Craddick closed the doors and waited for the second straight day.

Texas Republicans were not amused and issued arrest warrants, activated the Amber Alert system and poured out an ocean of contempt for the Democratic lawmakers.

The bone of contention is a redistricting bill the Republican majority intended to push through Monday. It’s a bill that most agree would assure Republicans of at least three, and as many as seven, additional U.S. House seats in the next election.

Democrats hold a 17-15 edge in the Texas delegation to the U.S. House, although the state is mostly Republican and a majority of Texans voted for Republican candidates for the U.S. House.

The legislation has been pushed strongly by U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, and he led the Republican mockery of the Democrats yesterday.

“These Democrats up in Texas — they may not be patriots, but they did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night,” said Mr. DeLay, who repeatedly referred to the lawmakers at a news conference in Washington as “fugitives.”

Republicans in Austin berated the Democratic no-shows as cowards, crybabies and malcontents. “Lower than a snake’s belly,” one said. “Cowardly and childish,” said Gov. Rick Perry.

State Rep. Jack Stick of Austin said he would like to go to Oklahoma “to arrest them and drag them back here myself.”

The Texas Department of Public Safety posted an alert about the lawmakers on the lam on its Web site, prompting U.S. Rep. Martin Frost, Texas Democrat, to protest, saying the department was using the same Amber Alert system that was created to find lost children.

“The DPS knows exactly where the members of the Texas Patriots group are; however, they continue to harass legislators’ families and trivialize a serious child-safety program that is responsible for helping recover abducted children around the nation,” said Mr. Frost, who was one of the chief backers of the federal alert that Congress recently passed.

President Bush, a former Texas governor, said he had not been following the fracas but that he is confident that “Governor Perry will be able to deal with it.”

The U.S. House leader also confirmed reports that Mr. Craddick had requested the help of the FBI or U.S. Marshals on the grounds that the lawmakers crossed state lines and that redistricting is a federal matter.

Mr. DeLay said the issue was being researched by a U.S. attorney in Texas, whom he did not name. He added that, if legal, he would back such a move.However, spokesmen for both the Justice Department and FBI in Washington last night said their agencies likely would not have any reason to assist the state officers.

In Ardmore, word that Mr. Craddick had issued civil-arrest warrants for the abstaining legislators was met with anger.

“We try to talk with him, and all he does is try to have us arrested,” said Rep. Jim Dunnam, Waco Democrat and party caucus chairman.

“We decided yesterday we would stay as long as it takes,” Mr. Dunnam said later to reporters gathered last night near the Ardmore Holiday Inn’s swimming pool.

Carter County Sheriff Harvey Burkhart, a Democrat, said he would serve warrants from Texas, but when asked whether he would arrest or jail any of the Democrats, he replied: “No. No way am I going to arrest a Texas legislator.”

The Texans have also been invited to the state Capitol in Oklahoma City by Oklahoma’s Democratic governor, Brad Henry, and members of that state’s Legislature. Late last night, the group was discussing whether to accept the invitation.

Texas Rangers and state troopers visited Ardmore in business attire Monday night and talked briefly to the Texans, relaying a message that Mr. Craddick wanted them to come home. They got no takers.

In Austin, though, Rep. Helen Giddings, who tried to reach Mr. Craddick by phone, suddenly looked up in front of her home to find a state trooper there to whisk her to the state Capitol.

A teary-eyed Mrs. Giddings said she was heading to the Capitol after talking to the speaker. Mr. Craddick said later that the pickup effort had been a mistake, and Mrs. Giddings later arrived at the Capitol.

Reps. Al Edwards of Houston and Harold Dutton Jr. of Dallas, also returned.

Mr. Craddick vowed that the governor would call a special session of the Legislature soon after this session closes June 2, but a Perry spokesperson said it is premature to discuss such a possibility.

As tempers flared and lines seemed more fervently drawn in the sand, several suggested negotiation.

State Rep. Sylvester Turner, a Houston Democrat who was in the chamber yesterday, urged Republican leaders to pull the redistricting bill off the schedule, saying Democrats would then quickly return.

Mr. Craddick has repeatedly vowed not to negotiate on the matter.

“They never called me before they left or told me their problem,” Mr. Craddick said. “And I want to tell you this: If they had so many problems with redistricting, why did they not file any amendments to fix the bill?”

Mr. DeLay said Democrats are flouting the Constitution and the spirit of Texas.

“It’s just so contrary to what Texas is all about to turn tail and run and not fight for what you believe in,” Mr. DeLay said at his weekly news briefing.

A bit of levity appeared early yesterday as sergeants-at-arms locked the chamber doors, not letting anyone in or out. Rep. Suzanna Gratia Hupp, Lampasas Republican, joked with one of the officers.

“Hey officer, can we have conjugal visits?” she asked.

And some House members played cards with pictures of the runaway Democrats on them, similar to the U.S. military’s deck depicting the fugitive leaders of the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein.

Bill Sammon and Stephen Dinan in Washington contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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