Is House changing the rules on maps?
Dewhurst says yes, though some in Senate say deal is in the works

By Laylan Copelin
Published October 2nd 2003 in Austin American-Statesman

Even as Gov. Rick Perry tried to tamp down Republican infighting over congressional boundaries, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst on Thursday likened negotiating with Speaker Tom Craddick and the House to bargaining with an Iranian cabdriver.

"At this late hour, I think we need to come together . . . and stop playing the Iranian cabdriver negotiations where you get what you want, then you start adding two or three other requests," Dewhurst said at a news conference.

The Senate leader's comments came after Perry urged both sides to cool their rhetoric and complete a deal on a new state map by Monday so the March 2 primaries won't be delayed.

Despite the escalation in Dewhurst's rhetoric, Senate sources reported a breakthrough in the negotiations and alerted reporters that a deal could be struck as early as today.

The Senate on Thursday offered the House two proposals. One keeps Travis County divided between U.S. Reps. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, and Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio. The other splits the county among three districts that would run to Mexico, San Antonio and toward Houston. The House's chief negotiator, Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, already has said he favors a statewide approach that would divide Travis County at least three ways. That approach also would make it easier to defeat the senior Democrat in Congress, Martin Frost of Arling- ton.

Negotiators from the House and Senate were expected to work overnight Thursday for the second night in a row.

Democrats control 17 of the state's 32 congressional districts under a 2001 court-drawn map. Republicans think they can win four or six additional seats with new boundaries.

Relations between the Senate and House have been strained all year even though Republicans control both chambers.

Since May, the Democrats distracted the Republicans from their own infighting by boycotting the Legislature twice over congressional redistricting. But with the Democrats back, the Republicans are focused only on one another.

Craddick has insisted on a congressional district for his hometown of Midland and is willing to delay the March 2 primaries if necessary.

He said his region has been unfairly represented ó often split between congressional districts ó for 40 years.

"I want a district in West Texas that represents the people I represent," Craddick said. "I'm here for my district."

Dewhurst said the Senate thought it had offered Craddick what he wanted, only to get more demands for other areas around the state.

"The current leadership of the House seems to have a style of negotiating in which they wait until the last minute, then try to pile on additional requests," Dewhurst said. "I'm not even sure they've begun nego- tiating."

Craddick denied that he has focused on Midland to the detriment of the rest of the state or that he is negotiating in bad faith. He said the House has offered several statewide maps with compromises: "They haven't been acceptable, or we haven't gotten an answer."

Dewhurst accused the House of refusing to schedule negotiations on legislation other than redistricting until Craddick gets his West Texas district, a charge Craddick's office denied.

The sniping among Republicans came as the Senate debated rules to prevent future senators from boycotting as 11 Democrats did when they stayed in Albuquerque, N.M., for 45 days this summer rather than vote on redistricting.

The Senate narrowly approved rules that would strip a senator of the privileges of seniority if he or she is absent for three days without an excuse. Office space, parking and rituals such as being governor of the day are based on seniority. The Senate, by a 16-to-12 vote, rejected a proposal to fine absent senators $1,000 a day.

The new rules, offered by Sen. Chris Harris, R-Arlington, would allow a lieutenant governor to ask the Texas Supreme Court for a court order ó a writ of mandamus ó to make a senator show up.

Debate at times was snippy between Democrats who had boycotted and Republicans who had tried to punish their missing colleagues. A couple of times, Dewhurst motioned Republican senators to restrain their comments as Democrats questioned the motives behind the rules.

When one of the boycotting senators, Judith Zaffirini of Laredo, pressed Harris about the effect of the court order, he said, "I have no answers for you, Zaffirini."