- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 14, 2003

DENVER — Another state-legislative redistricting fight boiled over yesterday as Colorado’s attorney general took his own secretary of state to court, while the standoff surrounding absent Democratic legislators continued in Texas.

Attorney General Ken Salazar called on the Colorado Supreme Court yesterday to block the new congressional redistricting law, sparking an outcry from Republicans who accused him of overstepping his authority.

His lawsuit asks the court to stop Secretary of State Donetta Davidson from enforcing the new district lines in the 2004 elections, arguing that the boundaries, chosen last year by a judge, cannot be drawn twice in the same decade.

“It’s my view that one of the responsibilities that I have as attorney general is to represent the people of the state of Colorado and to represent the integrity of the election process in our state,” said Mr. Salazar yesterday at a news conference.

But Republicans called the move a breach of Mr. Salazar’s oath of office, noting that state law requires the attorney general to defend the secretary of state in the event of a lawsuit.

“It’s unprecedented for an attorney general to sue his own client,” said Richard Westfall, who served as solicitor general under former Attorney General Gale A. Norton.

Senate Majority President John Andrews, a Republican, said Mr. Salazar had allowed his political affiliation to overtake his legal judgment. As the state’s top elected Democratic official, Mr. Salazar is seen as a leading candidate to succeed Republican Gov. Bill Owens.

Colorado’s legal battle over redistricting comes as Texas’ legislative stalemate continued yesterday, with 51 Democrats camped out at a Holiday Inn in Oklahoma, vowing to stay out of Texas and beyond the reach of state police assigned to arrest them, and Republicans fuming in Austin and refusing to negotiate for their return.

Both sides blamed the other for the lack of a quorum in the 150-member Texas House of Representatives, preventing the legislature from taking up the Republicans’ redistricting plans — or anything else.

Several important bills appeared to be heading down the drain as tonight’s midnight deadline for floor debate on House-sponsored bills drew closer, although the House could debate legislation emanating from the Senate side before the legislative session closes June 2.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said Texas Senate leaders have been combing through stalled House bills, determining what they must salvage. With the lone exception of a bill to close a franchise-tax loophole, which will net Texas an extra $250 million a year, the Senate could salvage any bill needed for the state budget to pass, Mr. Dewhurst said.

The absent Democrats said they would return to Austin immediately if Republican Speaker Tom Craddick would remove the redistricting bill, which Republicans expect to add three to seven of their party to Texas’s U.S. House delegation.

Gov. Rick Perry and Mr. Craddick both said such “blackmail” would not work.

Mr. Perry said the Democrats “are running out on millions of everyday Texans who are depending on their representation. There are serious issues here that require a serious debate. But instead of helping to pass these reforms, Democrats are now blocking them.”

“Then we will return Friday morning,” said Rep. Jim Dunnam of Waco, head of the House Democratic Caucus.

Yesterday afternoon, tired of hearing about his caucus not doing its duty, Mr. Dunnam criticized Washington and U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican.

“Let me point out that last week Congressman DeLay wasn’t in Washington, attending to his duties as a national leader. He spent several days in Austin and he missed at least 15 roll calls as he took those days off to work on this redistricting effort,” he said from Oklahoma.

Several U.S. House members from Texas gathered on Capitol Hill yesterday to show their support for their colleagues on the lam, comparing the “51 heroes” to Sam Houston and Rosa Parks.

Rep. Martin Frost, whose district would be written off the map by Republicans, took particular issue with Mr. DeLay’s efforts to have federal law enforcement bring back the wayward legislators.

“Not since Richard Nixon and Watergate 30 years ago has there been an effort to involve federal law enforcement officials in a partisan political matter,” said Mr. Frost, referring to “Tom ‘Nixon’ DeLay.”

“Shame on Tom DeLay,” he said. “That is not in the American tradition.”

Hugh Aynesworth contributed to this report from Dallas and Charles Hurt contributed from Washington.

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