- The Washington Times - Friday, May 16, 2003

DALLAS — The Texas legislature reconvened yesterday with a quorum after four days of waiting for 51 Democrats boycotting the session over a congressional redistricting bill to return from hiding out in Oklahoma.

House Democrats were jubilant they had sidelined the legislation, as Republicans quietly tried to pick up the pieces to bring a contentious session to a successful close by June 2.

“In the short term,” said Pete Gallego, a Democrat from Alpine, “we certainly proved that Texas is a two-party state again. But long term, I feel fairly certain that there will be a price to pay for sticking to our principles, and some may indeed be paying a heavy price.”

The 51 Democrat House members who ran out of state to avoid being beaten on an admittedly pro-Republican redistricting bill, drew applause and praise from many as they showed up for the opening bell and posed for pictures with supporters.

A few dissenters booed and motioned with thumbs down.

“I drove all the way from Waco to be here,” said one gallery spectator, Edith Grimsley. “You can be sure I won’t vote for my cowardly representative again next year,” she snapped, pointing to Jim Dunnam, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus and a leader of the Sunday-night getaway.

Thursday night at midnight any bills that had not been up for floor debate — including the remapping proposal personally hand-crafted by U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay — were declared dead in the House.

Mr. Dunnam and 50 others — protesting a new map of congressional districts that most specialists say would increase Republican seats by three to seven next year — left Austin Sunday night and holed up for four days in Ardmore, Okla., 30 miles north of the Texas-Oklahoma line.

They returned, most of them in two unmarked buses, yesterday morning about 3:30 a.m., some of them cheering as they crossed the state line into Texas about 11:15 p.m. Thursday night.

The often vitriolic rhetoric that marked the first four days of the impasse seemed muted yesterday.

Republican Gov. Rick Perry didn’t want to talk about it. Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick cooled the fray, predicting the 78th Legislative Session would be successful in many important areas.

Though politeness and at least superficial congeniality reigned yesterday, an undercurrent of animosity lingered and some predicted the biggest political walkout in state history would not soon be forgotten.

More succinctly put, some Democrats placed in leadership posts by Mr. Craddick and who joined the Ardmore dissenters might be replaced.

San Antonio’s senior member of its House delegation, Democrat Robert Puente, acknowledged his days as a committee chairman may be over. He reached back in history for solace.

Mr. Craddick has been in the House 34 years, but many years ago he was stripped of a chairmanship for “standing up for what he believed in,” Mr. Puente said.

“Obviously I’d like to remain chairman because I feel I am doing a good job,” he added.

Several calls to Mr. Craddick earlier in the week went unanswered, he said.

And while legislators shoved aside their differences and dug in for two more weeks of intense rewriting and positioning of bills, outside influences reignited the uproar.

In Austin a group called Texans for Legislative Ethics filed an official grievance with the State Bar of Texas, asking the lawyers organization to investigate whether the Democrat lawyers who went to Oklahoma (21 were listed) “committed criminal acts by evading arrest, hindering apprehension, interfering with public duties, interfering with Texas peace officers’ exercise of their authority and performance of their duty.”

James Logan of Austin, chairman of the TLE, said the bar association should investigate the matter thoroughly to seek “what disciplinary measures are appropriate.”

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