Texas Redistricting Proposal Protested
Published August 9th 2003 in Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- Thousands gathered Saturday to rally against a Republican push to redraw state congressional lines and in favor of the Democratic state senators who fled to New Mexico to scuttle the effort.

``The people of Texas said 'no' once (Republicans) started drawing the maps,'' said protester Ginger McGilvray. ``They said 'no' with a strong voice and they didn't listen,'' ``So here we are, standing out here ... to show that we mean it.''

Despite muggy temperatures that neared 100 degrees, between 2,000 and 4,000 protesters rallied at the Capitol and cheered relatives of the 11 Democrats holed up in an Albuquerque hotel. Their absence has brought the Senate to a standstill because the 31-member chamber needs two-thirds of its members present to conduct business.

Several protesters chanted ``Recall Rick,'' referring to Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who has called two special sessions to take up congressional redistricting. The first effort failed after House Democrats fled to Oklahoma.

In Albuquerque, meanwhile, the absent senators received VIP treatment from a big fan -- country star Willie Nelson.

Nelson offered his fellow Texans front-row seats for Saturday night's sold-out concert an Albuquerque casino and resort, and met two of them backstage before the show.

``I think they're great,'' Nelson told The Associated Press. ``I think they're heroes and we're all very proud of them.''

``We're your outlaws, buddy,'' Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos said.

Republicans and Democrats are clashing over congressional boundaries drawn up by federal judges after lawmakers failed to come up with their own map in 2001.

Democrats argue they are not constitutionally required to redraw the lines, and that proposed maps would disenfranchise minorities and rural Texas.

``They are fighting for a Texas that I want to be a part of -- a Texas that recognizes voting rights, minority rights and above all democracy,'' Nicole Van de Putte said at the rally. Her mother, Leticia Van de Putte, is the Senate Democratic Caucus chairwoman and one of the senators who left the state.

Rep. Jim Dunnam, one of the Democrats who fled to Oklahoma, offered his support to the senators.

``It's hot ... But, I tell you what, it is August and it is noon and we're going to tell Governor Gridlock and the (U.S. House Majority Leader Tom) DeLay that we can take the heat if it takes all summer, all fall and the rest of the winter,'' Dunnam said.

DeLay has implored the Texas Legislature to redraw congressional lines to reflect the state's GOP majority. Democrats currently hold a 17-15 advantage in the state's congressional delegation.

A handful of Republicans attended the rally to voice support for the redistricting effort.

``Republicans voted for governor, lieutenant governor, Texas Senate, Texas House and Texas resident President Bush is commander in chief,'' said Dana Petroni. ``Redistricting is a legislative process not a judicial process.''

One woman carried a sign that read: ``Deserters, Duty Dodgers, Get back to work!!''