Thursday, September 25, 2003

Texas Gov. Rick Perry said yesterday that the national Democratic Party leadership overplayed its hand when it tried and failed to prevent Republicans from increasing their representation in Congress.

Democratic lawmakers made national headlines by hiding out in New Mexico to avoid a congressional redistricting vote in the Republican-dominated Texas Legislature.

“Democrats will pay the price with voters” for their tactics, Mr. Perry told editors and reporters in a meeting at The Washington Times.

Yesterday, the state Senate approved on an 18-12 vote a redistricting map similar to one passed earlier by the state House, ending a four-month battle in a decisive defeat for the Democrats.

Mr. Perry said Texas Democrats’ flight to avoid a quorum was a violation of the state constitution, “which clearly states” that legislators must stay put in Austin and do their jobs.

“Six months from now, voters won’t remember the issue was redistricting but will remember that Democrats didn’t show up for work,” he said.

Mr. Perry, a Republican, was lieutenant governor of Texas when President Bush was governor. Mr. Perry, in Washington for the day, said yesterday that he was heading to New York and other cities to promote Texas as a good place for residents, businesses and tourists.

In Washington, Mr. Perry spoke at the Heritage Foundation and the offices of Americans for Tax Reform.

In a year in which many states have resorted to raising taxes to cover huge budget deficits, Texas eliminated a $10 billion shortfall without raising taxes and enacted a budget that called for $2.6 billion less in spending than in the previous budget, he said.

He said, however, that the budget solution wasn’t perfect. “We raised some [user] fees and fines, but for the first time since World War II, the Texas Legislature this year spent less of its general revenue than in the previous budget cycle.”

Mr. Perry, who was elected with 35 percent of the Hispanic vote, vetoed a bill to grant driver’s licenses to illegal aliens — the opposite of what California Gov. Gray Davis did in signing a similar bill.

Also, despite opposition from the powerful, Democrat-aligned trial lawyers lobby, the Texas Legislature — which meets 140 days once every two years — enacted “historic tort reforms that will be the model for other states,” he said.

The reforms put limits on lawsuits and caps on pain and suffering awards.

Mr. Perry said the redistricting impasse ended when state Sen. John Whitmire, an influential Democrat, decided that Democrats were hurting themselves by staying in New Mexico to prevent a quorum. Mr. Whitmire then persuaded his colleagues to return to Texas and let the redistricting vote take place.

“The Democrats made a tactical error and lost substantial public support. People go to work every day in Texas — Democrats, Republicans, independents,” Mr. Perry said. “They do not accept the idea that you run off to Oklahoma or New Mexico.”

Surveys, he said, showed that voters disapproved 2-to-1 of the Democrats walking out — even though the people were much more closely divided on the redistricting issue.

“People don’t pay attention to redistricting,” he said. “In six months, they won’t remember why these guys ran off. But I bet you they’ll remember that they did run off.”

Mr. Perry, who earlier in his career served in the Senate as presiding officer, said Mr. Whitmire had told him that once Democrats in Congress started to stage-manage the Texas redistricting fight, everything changed.

Mr. Whitmire, according to Mr. Perry, concluded that “it was no longer about redistricting but about national politics,” that the national party leaders were using the issue as an excuse for bashing President Bush, and that Mr. Whitmire didn’t want to play their game anymore.

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