Democrats Wage Guerrilla Warfare

M. Junaid Alam redjaguar at
Tue May 13 16:10:50 MDT 2003

Texas Democrats Hole Up in Holiday Inn

By Scott Gold, Times Staff Writer

AUSTIN, Texas -- They weren't hiding at the French Consulate or looking
at Whitewater property in Arkansas, as Republican comics suggested in a
list of the "Top Ten Places to Find Fugitive Democrats."

Instead, most of the Democrats, who disappeared from Austin on Monday
and brought the legislative process to a standstill, turned up at a
Holiday Inn in picturesque Ardmore, Okla.

It was an act of political subterfuge as at least 53 Democratic
legislators packed their bags and disappeared from the Capitol. Texas
Rangers were put on the trail and finally found them in Ardmore where,
without arrest power, offered to take them home. But the Democrats said
they weren't going anywhere until Thursday, when a legislative deadline

The Democrats' gamble -- walking out, going on strike and opening
themselves to accusations that they are behaving like spoiled
schoolchildren -- appears to be paying off.

Local newspapers and analysts today pinned the blame for the fiasco
squarely at Republican leaders who, they said, have destroyed a long
Texas tradition of bipartisan cooperation in mere months this spring.

The final straw, the analysts said, was a Republican-friendly
congressional redistricting plan pushed by U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay -- one
that was "grossly twisted," a commentator said, and "drawn up behind
closed doors."

Under state law, Republicans -- who control the governor's mansion, the
state Senate and the state House for the first time since the 19th
century -- need 100 of 150 legislators on the floor of the House before
they can conduct the people's business.

Now they don't have a quorum, and with Thursday the last day legislation
can be sent to the Senate, the conservative agenda they've effectively
waited 130 years to advance could die.

The Democrats' maneuver came, not coincidentally, as Republicans were
preparing to redraw congressional districts, allowing the GOP to take as
many as seven congressional seats away from Democrats in the next
election cycle.

Democrats now hold a slim majority of the state's congressional seats,
and the GOP plan could cement the Republican Party's hold on power in

Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick, a Republican, was not impressed by the
walkout. "Get back to Austin and get back to work," he warned the

As his compatriots whistled the Star Spangled Banner on the floor of the
House, Craddick ordered the chamber's doors locked. Then, citing an
obscure provision in the Texas Constitution allowing members of the
House to demand a quorum of their peers, he asked the chamber's
sergeant-at-arms to find the Democrats.

It was unclear how Republicans learned of the Democrats' whereabouts.
The rebel lawmakers were planning a news conference today.

At midnight, legislators in jeans and casual shirts milled about a
conference room near the rear of the Oklahoma hotel lobby. Rep. Pete
Gallego of Alpine said the lawmakers arrived Sunday night. Asked how
long they would stay, he said, "That remains to be seen."

According to published reports and interviews with aides and legislative
officials, the Democrats not only hatched a secret plan to escape
Austin, they leaked false plans to the Republican leadership in recent
days to cover their tracks.

Some of the legislators didn't know where they were going until they
left, said aides who have since spoken with them by telephone.

And correctly assuming that Craddick would send troopers and Rangers to
arrest them, they split into groups and headed for several states,
including Oklahoma and New Mexico.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry dispatched his attorneys Monday to ask neighboring
states whether his troopers and Rangers could make arrests there.

The redistricting plan is audacious even by the standards of Texas
politics. One of the GOP's new congressional districts would be composed
of two Republican-leaning areas, one north of Austin and one in the Rio
Grande Valley -- 300 miles away. The two areas would be connected by a
mile-wide ribbon of land and have been dubbed a "community of interest."

Democrats say U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a Republican from
Sugar Land, Texas, is behind the push for the new congressional

DeLay could not be reached for comment.

"We did not choose our path. Tom DeLay did," the missing Democrats said
in a prepared statement.,1,4347

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