"Special session will steer legal fees to
attorneys." July 15, 2003
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said Gov. Rick Perry will call a second special session, if necessary, to pass a redistricting plan.
Congressional redistricting has hit a snag in the Senate but the battle to redraw the lines is not over.
Gov. Rick Perry is expected to call another special session on redistricting if the Senate impasse continues through the current special session.
Don't underestimate how serious Perry is about redistricting.
He's already told Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst that if senators can't come together on a plan, he'll call a second special session.
"Yes, he did," Dewhurst said in response to a reporter's request for a confirmation.
Lawmakers will have another special session to face, if they don't figure out redistricting.
However, there is still a chance that a congressional redistricting map could pass in the current special session.
For this to happen, certain traditional Senate rules would have to be changed and Dewhurst has said this is an option.
"To undermine tradition would be to spell the demise of bipartisan cooperation in this legislative body," said Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas.
"It just shows the tremendous pressure being placed on the leadership and some members," said Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston.
This special session on congressional redistricting is costing taxpayers $1.7 million.
While the objective to redraw the lines is on the brink of failure, there are still some senators who believe this is a worthwhile cause.
"I think in the vein of fairness it would be fair to see what type of map we can put together that adequately addresses the members' issues," said Sen. Todd Staples, R-Palestine.
Even though the process has hit a snag, it is still moving forward.
Sen. Chris Harris, R-Arlington, is currently drawing a map, which is expected to be ready for public review soon.
Key senators declared a House-passed redistricting bill dead on arrival Tuesday and promised an alternative to better reflect growing GOP strength without dividing communities and robbing rural Texas of its influence in Congress.
"I've talked to a number of senators, both Democrat and Republican, and they've got some problems with the House map," said GOP Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate.
Democrats attending a redistricting hearing in Dallas said a bipartisan bloc in the Senate was ready to prevent the House map from reaching the Senate floor.
"It's a pig with lipstick on it," declared Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas.
Even U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who has pressed the Legislature to redraw congressional boundaries to boost GOP seats, called the House map "a good start" that the Senate probably will change. GOP leaders said they remain undeterred in the task of redrawing congressional boundaries during the special legislative session. Democrats held out hope that they still can block passage of a new map.
The Republican-controlled House gave approval early Tuesday to a redistricting plan, rolling over Democrat objections that the proposal was partisan gerrymandering that diminished the influence of rural Texans and racial minorities.
Democrats hold a 17-15 edge in the state's congressional delegation. The House map could increase the GOP's seats to 21, experts say.
But Senate criticism of the House plan Tuesday came on several fronts.
Sen. Kenneth Armbrister, D-Victoria, a potential swing vote, said he could not vote for the House proposal because it would give suburban voters too much influence over rural districts.
Sen. Bill Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, complained that the House-passed map would unacceptably subdivide East Texas.
"It obliterates northeast Texas, the part of the state I represent," said Mr. Ratliff. "Texarkana would be represented by somebody from east Dallas County, and I don't think the people in my district would agree with that."
Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, sponsor of the House plan, said congressional lines should reflect the growing Republican shift in the state, where the GOP holds every statewide office and controls both chamber of the Legislature.
"This is a fair and equitable map of Texas that clearly recognizes our voting patterns," he said.
Getting to the floor
Senate rules require a two-thirds vote before any debate is allowed. Democrats, who hold 12 seats in the 31-member body, could block a vote, but Republicans are cautiously confident they can persuade enough Democrats to bring the matter up for consideration. Once a bill is up for debate on the Senate floor, it can be amended there or changed in a conference committee of House and Senate members. And only a simple majority - 16 members of the 31-member Senate - would then be necessary for passage.
Mr. Ratliff said that before voting to consider redistricting, he would need a promise that a later conference committee would not send back a bill similar to the House proposal.
"I will have to have assurances," he said. "I will have to be comfortable that the map will not come back ... that does anything that the House map does."
Mr. Dewhurst sought to offer that assurance, saying that Senate members of a conference committee would require that any final plan would have to closely mirror a Senate version that he promised would have bipartisan support.
"We're going to look over that House map over the next several days," he said. "Can we fix it so we can reach a consensus? If not, how should we draw a map so we can reach a consensus here in the Senate."
Some Senate Democrats stepped up the pressure on members of their own party in an effort to keep them from defecting.
"This is a defining vote. You can't be a Republican and a Democrat on this. You've got to choose," said Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston. "If you're a Democrat office holder and you vote for a Republican redistricting plan, I would think that Democrats in a primary would look very unfavorably toward you."
Tuesday, a Senate committee held hearings in Dallas on a new redistricting map.
Sen. Leticia Van De Putte, D-San Antonio, echoed the complaints of many Democrats who said the special session on redistricting, called by Gov. Rick Perry, was a waste of taxpayer dollars.
"What we have here is a solution looking for a problem," said Ms. Van De Putte, who is head of the Democratic Senate Caucus.
Even some Republican senators in Dallas had problems with the House proposal. Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, said the House map was flawed.
"I do think it will be amended. The Senate has it's own ideas," she said. "Some of the senators have already expressed concern with West Texas, East Texas and some pairings that they thought were unfair."
Ms. Shapiro said she did not think Mr. West had the votes to prevent a plan from coming up for Senate debate.
Sen. Chris Harris, R-Arlington, said he had not seen the House plan and would come up with a map of his own.
"I've not been counting heads," he said. "I've been going to public hearings and listening to the people."
More than 500 people jammed into a room at the University of North Texas in Dallas for the Senate hearing.
They carried signs that read, "Scrap the map" and "Don't Dance With DeLay."
Democratic Reps. Martin Frost of Arlington and Max Sandlin of Marshall testified against the proposal.
"Tom DeLay is asking that the Texas Legislature start a holy war that will be picked up by other Legislatures all over the country, and it would put this country into chaos," Mr. Frost told reporters.
Mr. DeLay has rejected that and said the new map is designed to reflect Texans' increased support of Republicans.
Mr. Sandlin, who brought more than 100 supporters with him from East Texas, sparred with Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, over the five-minute limit imposed on those who testified at the hearing.
One of several senior Democrats at risk under the House plan, he said rural and minority voters were being ignored.
"It makes sure that there is no rural representation. It makes sure that there's no minority representation," he said. "We have to make sure that voters and not Tom DeLay decides who their congressman is."
Staff writer Robert T. Garrett contributed to this report.
AUSTIN - The Texas House approved a Republican-backed congressional redistricting map early Tuesday that would probably end the political careers of several veteran Democrats.
House members broke almost entirely along party lines on the redistricting plan, which could favor Republicans in all but 11 of the state's 32 seats in the U.S. House. The vote was 83-62 and capped more than nine hours of debate. The measure now goes to the Senate.
"This is a fair and equitable map of Texas that clearly recognizes our voting patterns," said Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, the plan's primary author.
The state has swung decisively to the GOP, he said, and district lines should reflect that.
Frustrated House Democrats said they couldn't stop the bill as they did in May when 51 of them fled to Ardmore, Okla., for four days.
"This is fruitless," said Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, as he watched Democratic supporters use sock puppets in the House gallery to ridicule Republican speakers and their relationship to U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, who backs redistricting. "I wish I was in Ardmore."
The battle will shift to the Senate, where a dozen Democrats could potentially block its consideration - if they stick together and the GOP majority doesn't jettison a long-standing procedural rule. Republicans hold 19 Senate seats, two short of the two-thirds majority required before a bill can be brought up.
If the Senate considers redistricting, it would probably amend the House plan.
For instance, Sen. Bill Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, said last week that he couldn't "support any plan that could result in someone from the Dallas-Fort Worth area representing northeast Texas." Under the House plan, as many as four districts with pieces of rural northeast Texas could be dominated by the Dallas-Fort Worth suburbs.
The plan that Republicans were poised to push through the House could force retirement for up to six white Democratic incumbents, including Ralph Hall of Rockwall and Chet Edwards of Waco.
Under the existing districting setup, Democrats last fall won 17 of Texas' 32 congressional seats. But Mr. King said Republicans could win up to 21 seats under the House plan.
During the debate, Democrats invoked Nazi Germany, South Africa's former apartheid system, Liberia's civil war and Mexican general Santa Anna as they strained to underscore how deeply they oppose the plan.
"Mr. Speaker and members, democracy was destroyed in Liberia," said Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, who said he supports President Bush's decision to send U.S. military advisers to the war-torn West African nation.
"The people's voice was not being heard, and we as defenders of democracy have a duty to fix it," he said. "The people of Texas have spoken, and it's very clear to me: The people do not want new congressional lines."
Mr. King reiterated Republican displeasure that existing districts, drawn by three federal judges, kept the broad outlines of a 1991 plan that Republicans viewed as a Democratic gerrymander.
The judges' map "didn't reflect changes in the voting patterns or in the Texas population," Mr. King said. "The federal courts have run our prisons and run our schools, and it is not appropriate."
He said electing additional GOP congressmen would help President Bush fulfill his agenda during a potential second term.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Jim Dunnam of Waco said the Republicans' effort goes far beyond what Democrats did in 1991.
"Go try and find a map in 1991 where we paired a Republican sitting member or where we threw out a Republican sitting member," Mr. Dunnam said. "It didn't happen."
The Republicans can't recruit viable candidates and beat incumbent congressmen such as Mr. Edwards and Mr. Hall, although the two represent districts tilting to the GOP, Mr. Dunnam said. He accused Republicans - led by Mr. DeLay, the U.S. House majority leader from Sugar Land - of attempting to achieve their political goals in a backdoor manner.
Democrats placed on a dais at the front of the House a foot-high pile of witness-affirmation forms from citizens who wanted to speak against Republicans' effort to redraw congressional boundaries. It dwarfed a small stack of forms signed by people in support, said Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio.
But Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, said the Democratic Party paid to transport and give lunches to many of the people who attended field hearings on the subject.
The House plan, which Mr. King drafted over the holiday weekend with help from Rep. Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington, targets four white Democrats in addition to Mr. Hall and Mr. Edwards. They are Nick Lampson of Beaumont, Max Sandlin of Marshall, Charlie Stenholm of Abilene and Jim Turner of Crockett.
Backed by Republican colleagues, Mr. King fended off Democrats' proposals to keep the current districts, create a new Hispanic-dominated district and redraw lines to put Mr. DeLay in a predominately black Houston district now represented by Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee.
"Not one additional minority-opportunity district has been created, even though 60 percent of the state's growth over the past decade has been Hispanic," complained Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio.
Rep. Richard Raymond, D-Laredo, said GOP lawmakers have disregarded public opposition to what they are doing, even refusing to allow testimony on their latest map in committee Saturday.
Mr. Raymond said the map was drafted last Friday in a legislative office building near the Capitol. Mr. Raymond displayed a photo he took of the room, which had newspapers taped over the windows and a sign, "Private Meeting - Do Not Enter."
That sign "symbolized the entire redistricting process," he said.
Mr. Krusee, a redistricting committee member, said the panel spent hours hearing testimony on previous maps. Private meetings on legislation aren't unusual, he said.
"Every bill we've ever done was written behind closed doors," Mr. Krusee said.
The Senate Jurisprudence Committee will hold a redistricting hearing at 3 p.m. Tuesday in Dallas at the University of North Texas System Center, 8915 S. Hampton Road.
AUSTIN, TX (2003-07-08) Standing next to a tall stack of papers and measuring them with a ruler, Rep. Mike Villarreal (D-San Antonio) said the 12-inch stack represents the number of citizens who voiced their opposition to the Texas Legislature taking up the issue of congressional redistricting. Next to the 12-inch stall stack was a one-inch stack Villarreal said represents those who were in favor of taking up the issue. That alone is cause to recommit the legislation, HB 3, back to a House committee, he said on the House floor Monday.
Villarreal was one of numerous Democratic members of the House who stood to express their opposition to the legislation that passed out of the House Redistricting Committee on Saturday and came to the floor for debate Monday. Democrat after Democrat spoke against the bill, with some urging their colleagues in the Senate to block the bill from coming up in that chamber. When the dust settled, all of the proposed amendments to the bill had been tabled and the bill was passed to third reading by an 84-61-2 vote.
The vote came shortly before midnight, with Speaker Tom Craddick then adjourning the House until 12:01 a.m. so the bill could be taken up on third reading, where it passed by an 83-62-2. The one-vote change was due to Craddick casting an "aye" vote. The House then adjourned until 10 a.m. Thursday.
"This is a process that has been riddled with irregularities," said Villarreal of the committee process regarding HB 3, asking that the House send the bill back to committee "to cleanse it."
He said Texans "expect their opinion to count" but that taking up this bill shows their opinion is not as important as that of the members of the legislature. He agreed with Rep. Eliot Naishtat (D-Austin) that Texas citizens would then view the committee process as a "sham" and that the legislature is seeking to put its own interests over that of the people of Texas.
Thus, said Villarreal, if the problem is not corrected on the House floor, "it will be corrected at the polls."
Committee substitute author Rep. Phil King (R-Weatherford) continued to assert that the bill had a fair hearing, that field hearings were conducted fairly and that the legislature is bound by law to draw congressional lines.
"The map you have before you today respects communities of interest ? cities, counties, economic centers," said King. He said he went to "great extremes" to honor the spirit and the letter of the law regarding the Voting Rights Act as he drew congressional lines. He called the proposal a "fair and equitable map for Texas" that clearly recognizes voting patterns in the state.
Rep. Richard Raymond (D-Laredo) asked King if there was not an "overwhelming public sentiment" at recent public hearings asking that the legislature not take up congressional redistricting. King only conceded that a number of persons at the hearing testified against the proposal.
After Raymond repeatedly brought up what occurred in the hearings, King said "Whatever occurred in the committees is in the record, and the record speaks for itself," hoping to steer Raymond to consideration of the substitute before the House rather than delving into what happened in the field hearings.
King did note there was a great deal of organization by the Democratic Party that resulted in bussing of individuals to some field hearings to increase the number of persons in opposition. "We're here today...this is the map that is the result of the hearing process, and I'd be glad to answer any questions about this map and what it constitutes. We followed the law in both spirit and in letter."
Raymond said "not a single citizen in Texas was allowed to testify on the current proposal," noting that the current bill was adopted on Saturday.
Reps. Jim Dunnam (D-Waco) and Ruth Jones McClendon (D-Dallas) claimed there were witnesses who filled out witness affirmation cards and were not allowed to testify at the Saturday hearing. "On Saturday, another map was produced and there were witnesses in the audience who came to testify and they were not allowed to give testimony on the latest map," said McClendon. "The problem is that the committee record does not show (that) because the witnesses were never called up my Mr. (Joe) Crabb (committee chair) to testify."
Rep. Rick Noriega (D-Houston) continued the exchange regarding public testimony on the map revealed Saturday. "On July 5, there's not anyone - anyone - either for or against that gave testimony on this new product," he said.
"Didn't the court approve the congressional maps for Texas already?" asked
Rep. Al Edwards (D-Houston).
King said the court was given instructions by the attorney general's office to "maintain all incumbencies and draw in two additional districts." The remainder was a "recodification" of the existing map.
Rep. Robby Cook (D-Eagle Lake) pointed out that not a single member of the Redistricting Committee is from a rural area of the state, and once again voiced his opposition to the bill because of the negative impact he said it would have on rural areas.
King said sending the bill back to committee is "unnecessary." Time is short, he said, and delaying action on the bill would likely not change a single House member's vote.
Villarreal's motion to recommit the bill to committee was tabled.
Dunnam then made a motion to postpone consideration until 10 a.m. Thursday. He said many are probably seeing the map for the first time because King said last Thursday there would be no more changes to the map. Then a "significantly different" map appeared and was voted out of committee on Saturday.
"What is the rush?" asked Dunnam, noting the Senate is still holding hearings and taking testimony from the public. "There's no reason for us to act on this today. The people deserve to have a few days to have input."
Before a vote on the motion to postpone could occur, Rep. Joe Deshotel (D-Beaumont) offered a point of order. It was overruled
The House then voted to table Dunnam's motion to postpone consideration of the bill.
A series of amendments were brought to the floor, all of which were tabled. Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon (D-Dallas) offered a complete committee substitute, which she identified as the current plan. She said it is a legal plan that will not require court scrutiny and millions of dollars to defend in court. "If you really want a plan that's fair to both political parties, the current plan has 20 strong Republican opportunity districts - 62.5 percent of the congresssional seats," she said, which is far more than the 58 percent of Texas voters who voted for Republican congressional candidates in recent elections. She said it also protects the voting rights of Hispanics and African-Americans in Texas. It provides 11 minority opportunity districts, she said of the current plan.
"If you want a plan supported by the vast majority of Texans, the current plan is the one you should support," said McClendon.
The McClendon amendment was tabled.
Numerous Democratic members of the House spoke against the bill before the final vote was taken. Rural members said it would destroy rural districts and leave them without representation. Minority members said it would destroy the voting abilities of minorities in Texas. The spoke of "vengeance" and "power grabs" and an "unfair process," and noted that in many districts voters put Republicans in statewide offices while electing Democratic members of Congress. They spoke of the costs of passing the bill - the $1.7 million for a special session and the millions it will cost to defend the bill in court, noting how that money could better be spent on school textbooks and health care for indigent children.
One's attitude on whether the Legislature or courts should draw congressional district maps depends a lot on who's in charge.
In 2003, when Republicans rule in the Legislature, Republican Gov. Rick Perry and Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick say it's a legislative responsibility worth calling a $1.7 million special legislative session. A map drawn by a three-judge federal court in 2001 needs to be undone, they say.
But in 2001, Perry and the Republicans said they'd leave it to the federal court. At that time, the Texas House of Representatives still had a Democratic majority, and Democrat Pete Laney was speaker.
After a House-passed congressional map died in the Republican-controlled Senate, Perry wrote to legislative leaders in July 2001 saying he wouldn't call a special session on the topic.
Though Texans might prefer it, he said, "I believe Texans would be even more disappointed if we expend considerable sums of taxpayer money to call the legislature into a special session that has no promise of yielding a redistricting plan for Congress."
The three-judge federal court later in 2001 drew a map that added two new Republican districts, but didn't punish Democratic incumbents. So Republican U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Sugar Land decided the lines needed to be redrawn.
In May of 2003, House Democrats fled to Oklahoma to break a quorum to kill another redistricting bill during the regular legislative session. But Perry obliged DeLay by calling a special session that began Monday.
Now, with Republicans in charge in both the Texas Senate and the House, Perry apparently thinks Texans believe it's worth the expenditure, because there presumably will be a result.
The last time a three-judge court redrew Texas congressional districts was in 1996. The three judges then - all appointed by Republican presidents - found three of Texas' 30 congressional districts at the time paid too much attention to race.
They gave then-Gov. George W. Bush a chance to call a special session to draw the districts. He refused. So the judges drew new lines for those three districts.
They did so over the objections of then-Speaker Laney and then-Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, the Democrat who presided over the Texas Senate.
The ripple from the three districts affected 10 others. The judges decreed that in those 13 districts, filing would reopen for special elections to be held with the Nov. 5 general election.
Bush later said he thought the court had done as good a job as was possible. But Laney thought they should have waited and let the Legislature do it.
"I still maintain redistricting is a legislative duty," said Laney - almost seven years before he joined 50 other Democrats on the lam, in what may turn out to have been a futile effort to keep the Legislature from redrawing the court's map.
One last note: This time around President Bush's political adviser Karl Rove, who as an adviser four years ago called for an independent redistricting commission, has called at least one GOP Texas senator to ask him to vote for DeLay's map.
Dave McNeely's column appears Thursdays. Contact him at (512) 445-3644 or [email protected] .
In Texas, the fight over redistricting has returned. Unwilling to take "no" for an answer, Republican governor Rick Perry has called state lawmakers back for a special session devoted almost exclusively to ramming through a Tom DeLay-inspired, GOP power grab. Specifically, Republicans are looking to redraw the state's congressional map through an unprecedented bit of gerrymandering -- a move that would hand up to five state House seats to the GOP, and eliminate its slim Democratic majority.
When the GOP first tried this in May, of course, Democratic legislators skipped town to Oklahoma, where they hid out until the bill died. In response, state and national Republicans all but called out the National Guard in their efforts to bring the runaway Democrats back to Austin, efforts that soon evolved into the scandal known as "Texasgate."
So now the Republicans are trying again, fresh from milquetoast investigations into their abuse of the Department of Homeland Security and the Texas police in the hunt for the missing Democrats. This time, however, the Democrats aren't running. As the Associated Press observes, if 11 of 12 Senate Democrats vote against it, the bill will die, but the final outcome is anyone's guess: a few key members say they still haven't decided how to vote. Nevertheless, Democratic leaders were defiant on Monday, calling Republicans "puppets" for their slavish obedience to Tom DeLay, the House Majority Leader and Dallas Republican who is orchestrating the redistricting campaign from Washington.
"'This week is independence week, and we're going to find out this week whether the Texas Legislature is still independent from the partisans in Washington, D.C.,' Rep. Jim Dunnam of Waco, House Democratic Caucus leader, said just before Monday's special session started." Things got ugly even before the session began, however, as lawmakers held public hearings all across the state last week. Curiously, Democratic legislators who opposed redistricting the last time around were assigned to hearings far away from their home districts -- punishment for their walkout, they say. The meetings themselves were often angry affairs, with public sentiment generally opposed to the special session, which will cost Texas taxpayers some $1.7 million during a time of massive budget cuts.
As Rob Richie and Steven Hill opine on Working for Change, Democrats -- and the public -- are right to feel outraged over the Republican push.
Traditionally, redistricting was an ugly, once-a-decade tug-of-war that helped determine each state's voting districts. Now, they write, thanks largely to Republican efforts in the last decade, the "re-redistricting" contagion is spreading from state to state, an increasingly acceptable tool in the arsenal of rabidly partisan politicians.
"For many Americans the fierce partisan battle over redistricting must seem far out of proportion to its importance, especially when compared to pressing issues like taxes, education and jobs. But policy-making is grounded in the electoral structures that determine representation, and no part of that structure is more important than the legislative district lines that carve up the state and determine local partisan majorities. ...
It was bad enough when redistricting occurred only at the start of each decade, but now the greedy partisan grab has spurred a new phenomenon -- mid-decade 're-redistricting.' Recently Colorado Republicans jammed through a revised plan to shore up their one vulnerable incumbent. Now Texas Republicans have decided that gaining as many as seven additional seats is worth any editorial outcry and partisan fury that their upcoming power grab will inspire.
Does redistricting make a difference? You bet it does. Virginia Democrats in 2001 won their first gubernatorial race since 1989. But Republicans went from barely controlling the statehouse to a two-thirds majority. How? That's right -- Republicans drew the district lines before the election."
The editors of the Washington Post are disturbed, too. Noting that "serious questions remain unanswered about how the last round was fought," the Post worries that if DeLay, Perry, and Co. succeed in redrawing the map, it will set a terrible precedent.
"Redistricting normally takes place once a decade, and given how ugly and partisan a business it typically is, its rarity is a good thing. A state's congressional districts certainly shouldn't change whenever one party has the raw power to redraw the lines. The Texas plan, if not defeated, risks creating a dangerous new norm by which redistricting wars go on continuously.
The public still deserves an explanation -- and mid-cycle redistricting is still a terrible idea."
AUSTIN - Republican Gov. Rick Perry expanded the scope of the special legislative session today to 28 additional areas as some Democrats complained Republicans are pressuring senators into backing a congressional redistricting plan.
The redrawing of congressional district lines was the initial reason for the special session, which began Monday amid partisan clashes.
Perry said most of the items he has added to the "call" of the 30-day special session were debated in a government reorganization bill that failed during the regular session.
"By opening the call to these specific issues, I am confident representatives and senators will make efficient use of this time in Austin to make state government more efficient for the people of Texas," Perry said.
Some House Democrats had a different opinion.
By expanding the agenda, Republicans can make deals with senators on pet issues in exchange for supporting redistricting, said Rep. Garnet Coleman, a Houston Democrat and chair of the Legislative Black Caucus.
"We just don't believe that this process should be corrupted any further by the governor," Coleman said. "Why is it that he's trying to blackmail the senators? ... We know our senators will hold firm and not be involved in that kind of activity."
House Democrats thwarted Republican attempts to redraw the districts during the regular session by leaving the state for Ardmore, Okla., for four days in May and blocking a quorum, thus halting debate.
This time, those Democrats say the Texas Senate, where there are enough Democrats to block debate on a bill under routine Senate rules, will have to stop the legislation.
Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said he doubted senators' votes on redistricting would be swayed by the passage of other bills now eligible for consideration.
"In the Senate, we tend to be a fairly independent and unpredictable group, and I would be really surprised if anybody was selling their vote on redistricting," Ellis said.
Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said most legislators have been approached by members of Congress -- Republicans and Democrats alike -- about redistricting. He said DeLay and other congressmen have visited him.
"But at the end of the day, we're going to do what we think is right here in this Senate," he said, adding that presidential adviser Karl Rove also has discussed the subject with him.
Even before Perry's proclamation Tuesday, lawmakers were filing bills in anticipation that the Legislature would tackle more than redistricting this month.
Among issues now on the agenda are legislation relating to civil asbestos claims; abolition of such agencies as the Texas Commission on Private Security and the state Aircraft Pooling Board; a study of privately run prisons; and strengthening of the governor's powers.
One of the items would address whether to exempt from public records laws the governor's office budget proposal working papers. That measure failed during the regular session, which ended June 2.
Meanwhile, bickering continued over congressional redistricting. Democrats again claimed Republicans are bowing to the wishes of U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who has said he would like more Republican members of Congress from Texas.
Right now Democrats hold a 17-15 advantage in the delegation, even though all the statewide elected officials in Texas are Republican.
Democrats tried unsuccessfully Monday in the House Redistricting Committee to halt or stall consideration of a redistricting bill. Their efforts failed in party-line votes.
That meeting "proved the House redistricting process is a corrupt, partisan exercise driven by Republicans who brazenly shut out the voices of the people and turned their full attention to Tom DeLay's call," said Rep. Richard Raymond, D-Laredo.
Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, said he was planning to unveil a fair redistricting map Tuesday, although shortly before a House Redistricting Committee was to meet to hear public testimony on it the proposal was not available to the public.
House Democratic Caucus chairman Rep. Jim Dunnam of Waco said the map was being drawn in secret and that it's fast pace toward House floor debate was keeping citizens from having input. A debate before the full House is expected Monday.
AUSTIN, Tex., June 30 - For most of the past century, redistricting has been a fairly predictable though often contentious ritual. Every 10 years, state legislators would use the new census data to redraw Congressional district lines, and the party in power would usually manage to draw maps that gave it an advantage.
Now, thanks to a determined effort by United States Representative Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, with the quiet support of the White House, that tradition may be crumbling, as legislatures draw new districts whenever they have a partisan advantage.
Today, the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature opened an extraordinary special session devoted solely to redrawing the state's 32 Congressional districts. If Republicans succeed in doing so, they could remove five or more Democratic congressmen and help their party consolidate its hold on power in Washington.
Republicans did much the same thing last month in Denver, pushing a new map through the Colorado Legislature specifically to shore up the seat of a freshman congressman who won office with a 121-vote margin. And Democrats are threatening retaliation in New Mexico and Oklahoma, while dropping hints about taking the redistricting battle to big-game territory: Illinois and California, where far more seats are at stake.
This amped-up partisanship on the state level could soon make redistricting battles a recurring feature of the political landscape, experts say, reviving the 19th-century practice of redrawing political maps every time a legislature changed hands.
Democrats warn of an even more corrosive effect if local governments, too, begin to treat redistricting as simply another arrow in the quiver of political tactics.
State Representative Garnet F. Coleman, Democrat of Houston, said, "This would be like on any city council, if they said, `We're going to redistrict because nobody likes Joe - the majority of us just don't like him,' and guess what, Joe's constituents can't even stop it."
Mr. DeLay, a former Texas legislator himself, has been candid about his reasons for pushing for a new Congressional map, telling reporters at one point, "I'm the majority leader, and we want more seats."
In Colorado, the last three days of the state legislative session were roiled in May when, with Karl Rove, the president's top strategist, lobbying lawmakers by telephone, Republicans pushed through a new Congressional map. It gave Bob Beauprez, a Republican who narrowly won election to Congress last fall, a district with a 29,000-vote Republican edge in registration, and excluded from it the home of Mike Feeley, the Democrat he had narrowly defeated.
The Democratic attorney general, Ken Salazar, has challenged the redistricting with a lawsuit.
While the turmoil in Colorado received little notice, the battle in Texas captured national attention last month, when 51 Democratic members of the state House fled in chartered buses to Ardmore, Okla., holing up in a Holiday Inn for four days until a crucial procedural deadline passed. By denying Republicans a quorum, they killed a redistricting bill for the moment, but the ploy came at a price in scorn from late-night comedians and seemed to alienate many Texans.
The special session called by Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, could last 30 days, making a similar run for the border impractical. Democrats are saying that they will make their stand in Austin, come what may.
But public opinion in Texas could shift in their favor as the special session - and its $1.7 million cost, weeks after lawmakers closed a $10 billion budget deficit - focuses greater attention on redistricting.
Since Thursday, a series of hastily arranged hearings across the state has drawn large, boisterous crowds. In Brownsville, near the Mexican border, hundreds of protesters wearing "Deny DeLay" stickers shouted one session to an abrupt close.
Democrats also attacked an e-mail notice about the hearings, sent out by Republicans in Houston, with a photo of Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee, a Democrat who is black. "She'll be there to express her views," it said, without identifying her. "Will you be there to express yours?"
The battle over redistricting has rendered the bipartisan comity in Austin made famous by former Gov. George W. Bush a distant memory. But to Republican strategists, that is not necessarily a bad thing.
"Bipartisanship is where both parties gang up against the people," said Grover G. Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, a conservative group, who said that split legislatures were more likely to raise taxes. "I want to take the partisanship in Washington and drive it into the 50 states," added Mr. Norquist, who is closely watching the redistricting fights.
Some Texas Republicans - including Governor Perry and Tom Craddick, who became speaker of the state House in January when the party took control for the first time in 130 years - argue that the state's Congressional delegation, with 17 Democrats and 15 Republicans, does not reflect Texas voting patterns, in which nearly 60 percent of the votes cast for Congress last year were for Republicans.
They say the current Congressional map is just an old Democratic gerrymander. And they say that although the Constitution requires the legislature to draw district boundaries, the current map was drawn by a panel of federal judges.
Others note that Republicans chose at the time to let the judges redraw the Congressional districts rather than compromise with Democrats who still held the majority in the state House.
John R. Alford, a professor at Rice University who was an expert witness for Governor Perry in the 2001 redistricting litigation, said the Republican Party knew at the time that the state Legislature, with its own new district map, was about to swing to Republican control in 2002.
"Republicans used the court-drawn plan as a place to park redistricting until they could address the issue when they were in control of the House and obviously better off in the Senate," Professor Alford said. "You give it to the courts knowing that, after 2002, you'll take it back."
He also disputed that the current Congressional map was a Democratic gerrymander, noting that voters in several districts, who choose Republicans for virtually every other office, have split their tickets to re-elect moderate Democrats.
"You can't have a gerrymander where six of the Democratic seats have Republican majorities," Professor Alford said.
Once Republicans took control of the state House in January, Mr. DeLay began pressing for a new Congressional map, spending several days in Austin and dispatching the head of his political action committee, Jim Ellis, here to help draw a new map. Mr. DeLay's office referred calls to Mr. Ellis, who did not return several telephone messages.
The map that emerged last month would have carved up the districts of United States Representatives Martin Frost and Lloyd Doggett, two Democrats in otherwise safe seats in Austin and Houston. But it also endangered the districts of moderate Democrats like Charles W. Stenholm, a longtime leader of the centrist Blue Dog coalition in the House; Jim Turner, a ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee; and Max Sandlin, a member of the Ways and Means Committee and chief deputy minority whip.
Mr. Norquist said the point of the exercise was to help remove centrist Democrats from Congress, leaving only the most liberal behind.
"Sheila Jackson-Lee will be the spokesman for the Democratic Party, and ought to be," he said. "She accurately reflects what the Democratic Party is about."
Indeed, Richard Murray, a professor of political science at the University of Houston, who has studied the Republican map, said it could eventually leave Texas without a single non-Hispanic-majority district represented by a Democrat.
"His plan basically envisions all Democrats elected to Congress being either from Hispanic-majority or African-American-majority districts," Professor Murray said.
Once adopted, any map would still face scrutiny by the Justice Department and, most likely, a new round of litigation before being implemented. Republicans in the state House today said that they would unveil a somewhat modified map on Tuesday morning. The outcome of the special session, however, is likely to be decided in the state Senate, where Republicans hold a 19-to-12 edge. By longstanding Senate tradition, a two-thirds vote is necessary for any bill to be brought to the floor for a vote, meaning Republicans must first win over two Democrats.
Those said to be considering such a vote are Ken Armbrister of Victoria, Frank Madla of San Antonio, and Eddie Lucio Jr. of Brownsville. In return, Republicans are said to be dangling support for medical schools for the border region and El Paso to entice Mr. Madla and Mr. Lucio, and more federal money for Texas to satisfy Mr. Armbrister.
The Republican lieutenant governor, David Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate and is considered the most powerful official in the state, has signaled his intention to honor the two-thirds vote requirement, and says he fully expects to obtain the 21 needed votes for redistricting.
But Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst, who has cultivated a reputation for consensus-building, has not flatly rejected the idea of bypassing the two-thirds requirement in favor of a simple majority.
From Washington, at least, Republican partisans say they are confident that Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst, if pressured, will do the right thing for his party if it falls short of 21 votes. "The whole world is watching," said Mr. Norquist. "He can't possibly screw up."
Tomorrow begins the troubling special legislative session called by Gov. Rick Perry to redraw Texas voting districts. Calling lawmakers back to Austin could cost as much as $1.7 million, which could have been better applied elsewhere around the state after a regular session of harsh budget cuts. (Not to mention the cost of litigation that is sure to follow.) But that cost will pale in comparison to the ill will and political disharmony that taking up a one-sided redistricting bill will engender in Austin and Washington.
State Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, is pushing a redistricting map that he says would allow Republicans to win 19 of 32 Texas congressional districts to give Republicans a majority. The remapping scenario presented in the regular legislative session carved out bizarrely shaped voting districts that joined communities of widely varying interests and wholly unrelated geography for the purpose of furthering this self-serving GOP aspiration. That plan was thwarted only when Democrats broke a legislative quorum and ran out the session clock by fleeing to Ardmore, Okla. With no new tricks to pull out of their hat, House Democrats are expected to be steam-rolled this special session.
In the meantime, Democratic Party members are accusing Republicans of rigging public hearings on redistricting to favor their cause. They complained Republicans refused to reveal proposed line changes prior to the special session. Democratic leaders further huff that the result of the proposed lines will be 22 Republicans in Congress, rather than the 19 that GOP leaders claim. Texans had better get used to a lot more of the same kind of political bickering in the wake of this fight -- battles that are bound to spill over from the purely political to policy- and lawmaking.
One example of the partisan rancor this redistricting power grab already has sparked, is U.S. Rep. Chris Bell, a freshman Democrat who stands to be drawn out of his district. Bell said he stopped working with U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay -- widely seen as the architect of the redistricting plan -- on a guided bus project that could be an alternative to a Houston rail system. At the state level, where lawmakers are supposed to be working together to solve crucial and complicated school finance issues, the tit for tat could get uglier still. Texans will be worse off for it.
For now, state senators are set to operate in the special session under a traditional rule that lets any 12 senators block any piece of legislation. That rule has required senators to work with each other in order to build consensus. But what consensus can come about when redistricting plan proponents are making no bones about taking as much power as possible for themselves, despite all evidence showing no such mid-decade redistricting is called for?
When Democrats held the majority in Texas and schemed to gerrymander districts their way, we complained that party politics took too much precedence over the interests of the voters. That complaint is valid still.
If nothing else, lawmakers should give renewed consideration to legislation and a related constitutional amendment Wentworth has prefiled. Beginning after the 2010 Census, the amendment would turn over redistricting questions to an independent, bipartisan citizens commission. Think of it as a way to avoid the sort of destructive partisan fighting that Perry has welcomed to Texas by convening this ill-advised special session.
It's full speed ahead for congressional redistricting at the Lege. Field hearings of the House Redistricting Committee -- divided into three five-member subcommittees -- are being held today (Thursday) in Lubbock, San Antonio, and Brownsville and on Saturday in Dallas, Houston, and Nacogdoches. The special session called by Gov. Rick Perry to address re-redistricting -- or "perrymandering" -- begins Monday.
When the House committee first proposed a new congressional map in May, Democrats complained that no hearings were scheduled outside Austin or in Spanish-speaking regions of the state -- not only bad karma for the GOP, but a potential violation of the federal Voting Rights Act. State Rep. Richard Raymond, D-Laredo, filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Dept. of Justice and then a lawsuit (still pending) charging that the process has already violated the VRA.
Raymond, along with San Antonio Democrats Ruth Jones McClendon and Mike Villarreal (who is theoretically vice-chairman of the committee) are not much happier with the hearing schedule devised by House Speaker Tom Craddick, which sends all three out of their shared congressional district -- that of U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio -- to Lubbock (Raymond and McClendon) and Brownsville (Villarreal) for Thursday's hearings. In a letter to committee Chair Joe Crabb, R-Atascocita, the trio complains that committee members who support redistricting were assigned to hearings in their own districts. "We are concerned that our assignments may result from our being the three committee members who have most vigorously opposed this unprecedented mid-decade redistricting effort." Indeed.
Not that these field hearings are expected to have much impact on whatever map finally emerges from the House. The nominal sponsor of the map approved in May, Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford -- designated water carrier for U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay -- said last week that, in response to local opposition, he's considering dividing Travis Co. into only three districts instead of four. (The 800-plus Austinites who pilloried the committee at its sole public hearing May 3 apparently had some effect.) The real action is expected to be in the Senate, where the swing Democratic senators -- Eddie Lucio of Brownsville, Ken Armbrister of Victoria, and Frank Madla of San Antonio -- are under heavy pressure to deliver the two votes Republicans need to bring a map to the floor. Lucio (who had a mild heart attack last week but is expected to attend the session) says he is opposed, but both Armbrister and Madla have suggested that the right local incentives might persuade them to jump. (The Senate Jurisprudence Committee, chaired by Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, will hold its own field hearings beginning next week and running through July 7 in Laredo, McAllen, San Angelo, Houston, and Dallas.)
However, the two waffling D's could be offset by two balking R's, Sens. Bill Ratliff of Mount Pleasant and Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio. Ratliff, who publicly complained about King's map's treatment of his Northeast Texas district, has gotten a personal presidential arm-twist via Karl Rove. Wentworth, who chaired the Senate Redistricting Committee in 2001, is filing his own map, along with his perennial proposal that redistricting be taken away from the Lege and given to an independent nonpartisan commission. But the Capitol buzz is that Perry would not have issued the call if Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst had not guaranteed the Senate votes to do the deed. In his call, Perry explicitly linked redistricting to (already promised) funding for border health care -- a direct threat lobbed at Lucio and Madla, evoking the charge of "political blackmail" from Raymond.
One experienced Capitol observer told Naked City, "I expect they'll come out of the Senate committee with a revised map that can be sold as 'moderate' -- giving the GOP three or four new seats instead of the five or six DeLay wants -- and that will provide the cover for at least two of the Dems to drop their opposition."
For the complete list and schedule of redistricting field hearings, see the Texas Legislature Online at www.capitol.state.tx.us
State Sen. Jeff Wentworth wishes his efforts to have Texas redistricting performed by a citizens' commission had already been successful. It could have saved the San Antonio Republican from casting a tough vote.
Although Democrats blocked Republican U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's effort to force state lawmakers to draw new congressional districts in May, Republican Gov. Rick Perry has called a special legislative session to do just that. The session begins Monday.
That is despite the reluctance of several senators to bring up the highly divisive subject. Even their presiding officer, Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, initially had no enthusiasm for the issue but has now agreed with Perry, House Speaker Tom Craddick and DeLay to try to round up the votes.
Wentworth knows how bloody the issue is. He headed the Senate Redistricting Committee in 2001, only to see every plan fail to get the two-thirds vote necessary for Senate debate.
"Having legislators decide district boundary lines results in a politically charged and highly contentious atmosphere, partisan wrangling, gerrymandering and federal lawsuits," Wentworth said earlier this year.
The topic's white-hot nature was underlined by the most publicized event of the 2003 legislative session: the flight of the Killer D's.
Rather than stand by and watch while DeLay rammed a map down their throats to kill off senior Democratic congressmen and replace them with freshmen Republicans, all but seven of the 62 House Democrats boycotted the session for four days to stop the House in its tracks.
A few years ago, Wentworth described his own incredibly gerrymandered Senate district to show how Democrats in 1991 had packed it with every Republican possible, hoping to elect more Democrats elsewhere. His district wandered from northern San Antonio about 100 miles to wrap around Austin on the west and pick up a fraction of Travis County, en route to some Williamson County Republicans.
Wentworth's crusade for a citizen commission began more than a decade ago, when he was still in the Texas House. Former state Rep. Patricia Hill, R-Dallas, had proposed the idea earlier, and Wentworth has filed the proposal again for consideration during the special session.
Twelve states have some form of redistricting commission aside from their full legislatures.
Under Wentworth's Senate Joint Resolution 6 filed during the 2003 regular legislative session, "Republican and Democratic caucuses of the Senate and the House would each elect two voting members, for a total of eight. These eight members would select a nonvoting chairman."
Elected officials, political party leaders and registered lobbyists would not have been allowed. If the commission failed in five votes to pass a plan, it would have fallen to the Texas Supreme Court to do so.
The proposal went nowhere, as always.
Democrats killed it in the past. But now that the Republicans control the House and Senate, many are eager to return the gerrymandering favor.
If the Republicans want to take over the state congressional delegation, they will have to overcome a venerable Texas Senate tradition and an unpredictable group of senators.
For the Democrats to lose on this partisan issue, it will take at least two and perhaps more Senate Democrats to vote with Republicans to even bring up the issue of congressional redistricting.
Under a tradition that's evolved since the 1950s, a two-thirds vote of the senators present is required to get a bill to the floor for debate.
Without that tradition, Republicans could easily bring up the issue, because they control the Senate 19 to 12.
But the Senate appears unlikely to surrender that tradition, and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said this week that he's "inclined" to keep it. The lieutenant governor's powers, however, are actually granted by the Senate, and thus the power lies with the senators, a majority of whom determine the rules of debating bills.
Just two years ago, Republicans took advantage of the tradition themselves, using 12 GOP senators to stop state redistricting plans and throw the issue to the Legislative Redistricting Board and to the federal courts.
Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, said of the tradition Tuesday, "I don't know a senator who favors changing it."
Wentworth explained that the necessity of a two-thirds vote to debate a bill frees the Senate of radical notions from either side.
"It protects the conservatives from wacky liberal bills," he said. "And it protects liberals from wacky conservative bills."
That means Gov. Rick Perry, backed by U.S. Majority Leader Tom DeLay and state Speaker Tom Craddick, eventually would need the backing of 21 of the 31 senators to reverse the 17-to-15 Democratic lead in the congressional delegation. Perry is weighing whether to call the Legislature back into a summer session to redraw the congressional map so that Republicans will dominate.
Last month, 52 House Democrats stopped a congressional redistricting bill by fleeing the state. This time, however, the battle is expected to be in the Senate.
At first glance, it would seem easy to get 21 senators to agree to debate the bill. But senators' allegiances have been known to shift and are not always based on party loyalty. Sometimes personal ambition or the prospect of help for their constituents can turn a vote.
That's the challenge for Perry and the Republicans who want a new congressional map.
Here's a look at seven senators who at one time or another have been viewed by Capitol observers as swing votes on the issue.
Eddie Lucio, Jr. D-Brownsville
There's a reason Perry stepped over the Senate rail and challenged Lucio when he changed his vote last month to bring up an bill helping asbestos manufacturers. Among senators, Lucio is known to change his mind. Many don't count his vote when they are polling to see whether they have the 21 needed to bring up a bill.
Lucio said several months ago that he might vote to bring up a redistricting bill. Now he's less sure. Once, Republicans planned on drawing a congressional district for him to run for. But when the state Senate districts were redrawn, Lucio drew a two-year Senate term instead of a four-year term and was faced with the choice of either running for re-election or running for Congress. Lucio said Tuesday that he has decided to run for re-election to the Senate.
As for congressional redistricting, Lucio said Tuesday: "Given the economic situation, it should not be included in the call (for a special session). I don't think redistricting has a chance to go anywhere this late in the game."
Lucio said trading the current Democrats with seniority in Congress for freshmen Republicans would not help his constituents. But if redistricting does come up, Lucio said, Hispanic districts should be created along the border, from Laredo to El Paso.
Ken Armbrister, D-Victoria
He's the Republicans' favorite Democrat in the Senate. Elected from a Republican-leaning district, Armbrister angered Democrats by helping George W. Bush in his presidential campaign. Until recently, Armbrister said he might support a new congressional map if he liked what it did with the rural areas. No more. An Armbrister staffer, Mike Sizemore, said the senator wants Congress to help Texas before he votes for a Republican congressional map.
"Today, he's a firm 'no,' " Sizemore said. He said Armbrister wants Congress to take care of teachers who cannot collect Social Security benefits of their deceased spouses. He also wants more money for Medicare, trauma care and the state in general.
"This is a defining moment," Sizemore said, quoting his boss. "The president is from Texas. The majority leader is from Texas. When they work on these problems, they can come talk to me (about redistricting)."
Bill Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant
He is known for putting principles before politics. Republicans don't count him as an automatic vote. Indeed, on Tuesday, Ratliff said he's not committed. As for a new congressional map, he said: "I want to see what it does to East Texas. I'm not going to vote for it just because it's handed to me."
Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio
He has long believed that the populace, rather than the politicians, should decide redistricting. As chairman of the Senate's Redistricting Committee two years ago, Wentworth said he had a congressional plan but couldn't get the votes to consider it. Thus, it went to the courts. Wentworth said he would vote to bring a plan up for debate, but he said the House version last month dissected too many communities, including Austin, which was divided into four congressional districts.
Mario Gallegos Jr., D-Galena Park
He was once rumored interested in running for Congress. No more. Gallegos said he was angered that congressional maps two years ago did not give Hispanics a majority district in Dallas or along the border or unite Hispanics into one district where he lives.
Gallegos said he opposes bringing up congressional redistricting. He said it doesn't make sense to oust white Democrats with seniority who support his constituents with more federal aid than freshman Republicans would. He said the lean state budget, which cut aid to his constituents, only underscores the need to keep a Democratic majority in the state delegation in Washington. He admits that the House Republicans offered him the Hispanic district he wanted: "It was the biggest softball I've ever seen."
Frank Madla, D-San Antonio
He is fertile ground for Republicans. On congressional redistricting, he said Tuesday: "I'm not necessarily opposed to it. I don't know whether it's necessary." Other Democrats said Madla is interested in seeing what he can get for his district in exchange for his vote.
"I'm not going to commit one way or the other," he said. "I may reintroduce my wine bill." That legislation would allow wine makers to ship to Texans directly to their residences.
John Whitmire, D-Houston
Eyebrows were raised two years ago when Whitmire was one of the few white Democrats saved in the new Senate map. Some pointed to the fact that Andy Taylor, the Republican's chief redistricting lawyer and first assistant to Attorney General John Cornyn, was his law partner at the firm of Locke Liddell & Sapp.
Whitmire says he was saved because he represents a district with a majority of minority voters, a legal hurdle with federal judges. "Andy Taylor is an acquaintance, not an ally," Whitmire said. "He wouldn't hesitate to do in a Democrat even if we're part of the same law firm." Whitmire said a special session on congressional redistricting is unnecessary and would put undue pressure on young members, their families and their careers to take more time away from them.
"You'll start seeing divorces and problems," he predicted. "If there is one certainty in life, it is that I'll vote against redistricting.
AUSTIN -- The state Senate, which so far has taken a back seat to the House on congressional redistricting, is jumping into the fray by scheduling its own committee hearings on the politically charged issue.
The Senate Jurisprudence Committee tentatively set public hearings in Laredo, San Angelo, Houston, McAllen and Dallas, beginning Saturday.
Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, the committee chairman, said Monday that the schedule is not final, but he expected the hearings to end on July 7, one week after the special session on redistricting convenes.
Gov. Rick Perry, meanwhile, made the session official Monday by filing the necessary proclamation with the secretary of state.
The governor set a starting time for 10 a.m. June 30 and designated congressional redistricting as the only agenda item. The session can last as long as 30 days, and Perry can add other issues after the session begins.
Duncan said the Senate hearings, which grew out of discussions with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, were planned to help compile "an independent record that we can rely upon in developing a redistricting plan."
The House Redistricting Committee already has scheduled separate subcommittee hearings in Houston, Dallas, Nacogdoches, San Antonio, Lubbock and Brownsville. The Houston hearing will begin at 9 a.m. Saturday at Texas Southern University.
The House took the lead on redistricting during the recent regular session. But a walkout by more than 50 Democratic legislators, who fled to Oklahoma to break a quorum and shut the House down for four days, killed a GOP-backed bill before the Senate had a chance to take up the matter.
Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, one of the Democratic dissidents, questioned the value of either set of public hearings.
"They are late and disorganized, particularly on the Senate side. The House side isn't much better," he said.
Duncan said he had no preconceived ideas about how congressional district lines should be redrawn, despite the strong interest of Perry and other GOP leaders in increasing Republican strength in Congress.
"I'm really going to try to keep an open mind 'til I see the entire map," Duncan said.
The senator said he hadn't discussed redistricting with U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay or anyone from the White House, but welcomed their contributions.
"DeLay is a Texas citizen, and he would be entitled to have as much input as he wishes," Duncan said.
"It's important that we hear from all of Texas. I haven't heard from the White House. If they have any input, it's their prerogative to submit it," he added.
DeLay, R-Sugar Land, has been the primary force behind the redistricting effort, intended to increase the number of Republicans elected to Congress from Texas. Democrats now hold a 17-15 edge in the delegation.
Barring another Democratic walkout, a new redistricting map is expected to pass the House during the special session. The Senate presents a higher hurdle because of long-standing rules requiring a two-thirds vote to bring legislation to the floor.
AUSTIN House Democrats took the lead to kill a congressional redistricting plan during the regular legislative session.
Now, with a special session on the same issue starting soon, the focus and pressure could shift to the Senate where Democrats are in the minority but are strong enough in numbers to block a bill for debate.
"I'm hoping we can convince the senators to stand up and fight what we perceive as an injustice," said Rep. Joe Deshotel of Beaumont, who fled the state for four days in May with fellow House Democrats. The move by the Democrats broke a quorum in the House chamber and stopped a proposed redistricting bill from passing.
Lawmakers during the 2001 legislative session could not agree either on how to draw the districts so the current map, which gives Texas Democrats a 17-15 majority in Congress, was drawn by the courts.
Gov. Rick Perry last week called lawmakers back to Austin for a special session to begin June 30, saying "duly elected officials, not federal judges, should be responsible for drawing district lines."
Republicans, spearheaded largely by U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, have argued that results in state elections show that Texas should have more GOP representatives in Congress. Every statewide-elected office in Texas is ruled by a Republican.
While the Texas House was in chaos over redistricting in May, the typically bipartisan Senate continued passing legislation, while watching the House show from the sidelines.
This time around, though, it seems unlikely that the House can pull off another walkout because they would have to stay out of sight for 30 days, and Perry could continue to call special sessions.
That could put the pressure on the Senate Democrats to block a redistricting plan.
Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, said he had support from enough senators to block a redistricting bill from debate on the floor during the spring session but now, "It's a whole new ball game.."
He said the pressure was on the Democrats.
"It's on everybody and certainly the senators," Barrientos said.
The Senate is ruled 19-12 by Republicans but Senate rules, set by the senators, dictate that it takes two-thirds of the chamber's 31 members to agree to bring an issue to the floor for debate. That means only 11 votes would be needed to kill the bill.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst's office said that rule will stay in place and Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Todd Staples said he has not heard any talk in the Senate about doing away with the rule.
Staples of Palestine applauded Perry's call for the special session.
"I think Texans deserve representatives in Washington who represent Texas values and who will support our Texas president," Staples said, adding that he feels strongly that lawmakers have a constitutional responsibility to draw and adopt a redistricting plan, not leave it up the court.
Staples is optimistic about the Senate fellowship that sustained most of the regular session will continue during the special session.
"Redistricting is certainly not a new issue. We just dealt with this in 2001 and while partisanship tends to have a role in redistricting, I think the Senate will maintain its decorum and try to do what's best for Texas," Staples said.
In a statement last week, Dewhurst said that if a fair redistricting plan is approved in the House, he would work to get it approved in the Senate.
Sen. Bill Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, said he talked last week to Karl Rove, a political adviser to President Bush, about redistricting.
"He was wanting my assessment as to whether or not the votes were available and the nature of the inquiry was if we have a reasonable bill, can we get the votes," said Ratliff, who said he told him that depended on what reasonable means.
"Reasonable is in the eye of the beholder," said Ratliff, who said he needs to look at the redistricting plans before deciding whether he would support them.
"I knew that he was in favor of (redistricting)," Ratliff said. "But he wasn't putting pressure on me."
In Houston last week, Perry said redistricting is an issue for the Texas House and Senate, not a White House or a U.S. congressional issue.
"My recommendation to folks in Washington who have an interest in this, I'm sure is to stay up there and take care of our business, and we'll take care of these congressional lines," Perry said.
AUSTIN - When a Texas governor calls a special session of the Legislature, it usually means there is a pressing problem facing the state. After all, a special session costs taxpayers more than $1 million.
That's why some Capitol observers are scratching their heads over talk of a possible special session on congressional redistricting this summer. Does anyone really believe that redistricting congressional lines is one of the most important issues facing Texas? Or are Gov. Rick Perry and House Speaker Tom Craddick, both Republicans, simply bent on getting revenge on the Democrats for killing redistricting efforts during the regular session?
It's hard to believe that Perry would really want to bring up this controversial, divisive issue again. You may remember that on May 12, during the regular session, 51 Democrats fled to Ardmore, Okla., to break a quorum so the House couldn't take up redistricting. That episode has spawned all kinds of inquiries, not to mention straining already tense relations between Republicans and Democrats.
The Legislature is supposed to redraw districts every 10 years based on U.S. Census population figures. They failed to agree on a plan in 2001 and left it up to a three-member federal panel. That doesn't sit well with Republicans, headed by U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who have been urging lawmakers to change the congressional districts to reflect the GOP voting trend in the state. Republicans hold all statewide offices, but Democrats have a 17-15 edge in the state's congressional delegation. The redistricting plan could increase the number of Republican districts to 20.
But even if Republicans succeed in redrawing congressional lines, they may not get a majority. Several Democrats currently have won election to Congress in Republican districts. Voters often support incumbent congressional candidates because they are well known and hold key positions on committees, not because of their party affiliation.
Perry won't say whether he will call a special session on redistricting, but he is clearly considering it. His indecision on the matter has forced lawmakers, state workers, legislative staffers, journalists and others to put their summer plans on hold. You'd have to search long and hard to find a lawmaker who is excited to come back to Austin so soon after the grueling 140-day special session that ended June 2. Most of them couldn't wait to flee the Capitol after the session ended.
Whether they'll be back anytime soon is up in the air at this point. One day we hear that Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick has reserved rooms for redistricting hearings around the state. And the next day, Craddick's staff says there will be no hearings until or if Perry calls a special session.
Journalists continue to pester Perry about the possible special session and their inquiries are apparently irritating him. "Go ahead and go on vacation" Perry told reporters on a recent trip to Temple to sign homeowners insurance legislation. "Why don't you take the rest of the summer off, all of you." But perhaps Perry is most irritated with Republican Lt. Gov. David
Dewhurst, who recently dampened the congressional redistricting hopes of the governor and Craddick. Dewhurst has said he would likely continue a tradition that allows two-thirds of the 31 senators to agree to debate congressional redistricting. That spells trouble for congressional redistricting because 11 of the 12 Democratic senators could kill the redistricting plan by not agreeing to debate it.
Dewhurst says redistricting is not the most pressing issue facing the state. And he also sees the issue dividing the Senate, which he worked hard to unify this session. Perry must make sure the lieutenant governor and the Senate will allow debate over redistricting. Otherwise, a special session would be futile.
The real solution to redistricting lies in a proposal that state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, has pushed for years. Wentworth advocates putting the redistricting process in the hands of an independent, bipartisan citizens committee. Not surprisingly, lawmakers have rejected the idea every time Wentworth proposes it.
It's time for them to rethink their opposition and try something new.
How could it be worse than what we have now?
Ty Meighan is chief of the Scripps Howard Austin Bureau and can be reached at 512-334-6640 or [email protected]
Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst probably will maintain a long-standing Texas Senate tradition that would give Democrats more influence should Gov. Rick Perry call a special session to redraw the state's congressional lines.
Dewhurst told the Houston Chronicle editorial board Monday that he is "inclined" to use a procedure that would allow debate on redistricting only if two-thirds of the state's 31 senators agreed to consider the issue. Such a rule was in effect during the regular session that concluded last week.
It would mean 11 of the state's 12 Democratic senators could kill GOP efforts to add Republicans to the state's U.S. House delegation.
Dewhurst is unenthusiastic about taking up redistricting because he considers it politically divisive. A Democratic senator from Houston said the lieutenant governor's inclination to use the two-thirds rule probably is intended to preserve a cooperative spirit rather than to help Democrats.
While Perry has not called a special legislative session, Republican legislators have said they expect him to call one this summer to consider redistricting and government reorganization.
Dewhurst said redistricting could increase partisan rancor to the detriment of other important issues, such as school finance.
Perry is expected to call a second special session later this year or early next year to consider public school finance.
Although Republicans now hold every statewide office, the state's congressional delegation comprises 17 Democrats and 15 Republicans.
Dewhurst said he supports the idea of Republicans gaining congressional seats to reflect their strength among Texas voters, but does not want to destroy the bipartisanship he worked for during his first session as lieutenant governor.
"(Redistricting) is not the most pressing issue," Dewhurst said. "I hate to see it come into the Senate because it will be divisive. Lots of good will is threatened by redistricting."
Perry and House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, support a plan proposed by U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, that could allow Texas Republicans to gain as many as many as six more seats in Congress.
Redistricting was discussed mostly behind the scenes in the early part of the recent legislative session, which was dominated by a state budget crisis.
But the battle moved to the forefront May 12, when more than 50 Democratic state representatives bolted for Oklahoma to break the House quorum and prevent a redistricting vote.
Perry spokeswoman Kathy Walt said it is too early to speculate about Dewhurst's strategy in the event of a special session.
"Unless and until the governor calls a special session for that topic, there is nothing to be gained by talking about that particular maneuver," Walt said.
Craddick spokesman Bob Richter said that because of uncertainties about redistricting in the Senate, the speaker would prefer that the Senate consider the issue before the House does if a special session is called.
"We know we can get a bill passed in the House, but there is no reason to get a lot of blood on the carpet if we can't get through the Senate," Richter said.
Each session, the Senate puts a bill atop the schedule that is called a "blocker bill." The bill usually has little consequence, but it is deliberately kept from floor debate. Under Senate rules, that means that all other bills must get two-thirds approval to be considered out of sequence.
The blocker bill in the regular session was SB 220, which would have encouraged counties to beautify their parks. It never passed the Senate.
Dewhurst indicated he also would use a blocker bill if there is a special session.
Having the two-thirds rule in effect would not necessarily jeopardize a redistricting plan because at least two Democratic senators -- Ken Armbrister of Victoria and Eddie Lucio of Brownsville -- have indicated they are on the fence about allowing debate.
On the other hand, Republican Sens. Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio and Bill Ratliff of Mount Pleasant have expressed reservations about redistricting.
State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, said he doubted Dewhurst wanted to impose the two-thirds rule specifically to prevent a redistricting discussion.
"What he is doing is recognizing a Senate tradition that I think every senator likes," Whitmire said. "By having a two-thirds rule, every senator is important and must be talked to regardless of political party or region of the state."
AUSTIN -- Gov. Rick Perry is preparing to call a special legislative session for July on congressional redistricting and government reorganization, two well-placed Republican legislators told the Houston Chronicle on Wednesday.
One lawmaker said he was informed that a 30-day session could begin about June 30. He said he expected Perry to announce the special session next week and the House Redistricting Committee to hold public hearings throughout the state before lawmakers convene.
The other legislator said a member of the governor's staff identified July as the special session month and listed the same two issues.
"They told me July. My information was very specific," the lawmaker said.
Both sources asked not to be identified.
Perry spokeswoman Kathy Walt wouldn't confirm or deny the reports. But she said the governor's vacation schedule was "up in the air."
"If the governor decides to call a special session on any issue, he will announce it at the appropriate time, along with the subject matter of the special session," Walt said.
Two other Republican legislators said they had been advised by the governor's office not to make vacation plans for July, and several other lawmakers of both parties said they expected to be summoned back to Austin this summer.
A session on redistricting and government reorganization would be in addition to the special session that Perry already has promised on school finance, the sources said. That session is expected this fall or next year.
Another topic that could be added to a special session is a bill, which also died in the closing hours of the regular session, to put limits on the number of students that can be admitted to state universities under the so-called 10 percent law.
That law guarantees college admission to students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school classes. But University of Texas officials are seeking limits so they can have more control over admissions to UT's flagship campus in Austin.
A GOP-backed bill that would have redrawn Texas' congressional districts to increase the number of Republicans in office died during the regular legislative session when more than 50 Democratic legislators fled to Oklahoma to shut down the House for four days.
The redistricting measure had the strong support of U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, as well as Perry and state House Speaker Tom Craddick.
A government reorganization bill -- one version of which would have increased the governor's powers over state government -- died during the closing days of the session, which ended Monday.
Talk of a special session on redistricting drew sharp criticism from Democratic legislators and one prominent Republican.
"It's irresponsible. It's a waste of tax dollars. Tom DeLay ought to stay in D.C. and let us alone," said Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus and a leader of the Democratic walkout that killed the previous redistricting effort.
According to some estimates, a special session, which can last a maximum of 30 days, could cost $1 million or more.
Only the governor can call special sessions and decide what issues legislators can consider. Although each session is limited to 30 days, there is no limit on the number of sessions the governor can call.
Dunnam declined to say what strategy Democrats, who are outnumbered in the House and the Senate, would pursue to kill a new redistricting bill.
"We have a lot of options, and we are united on the issue," he said.
Sen. Bill Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant and a former lieutenant governor, said he knew nothing of Perry's summer plans, but he called a special session on redistricting "inadvisable, at least on the Senate end."
Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, the Senate sponsor of the government reorganization bill, which died in a dispute between House and Senate negotiators, said he hadn't "heard a peep from the governor or his staff" about plans to try to revive the bill in a summer session.
Ellis noted that although the measure failed during the regular session, many of its provisions that were necessary to help balance the new state budget were added to other bills.
Rep. David Swinford, R-Dumas, House sponsor of the bill, said he didn't know if there would be a summer session but added: "This year has been full of surprises.
"I'm about sick of the whole deal right now, but I'll be ready," he said.
Chronicle reporter Janet Elliott contributed to this story.
Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) plans to call on the White House today to release a list of any efforts to help Texas authorities round up Democratic lawmakers who slipped out to Oklahoma to block action on a redistricting bill earlier this month.
Several prominent Democratic officials and consultants plan to try to make an issue in coming days of any federal resources used to aid backers of the redistricting plan, which was championed by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.). These Democrats assert that what they call "Texasgate" would have provoked a furor if it had involved officials of the Clinton administration.
Lieberman, a presidential candidate and the ranking Democrat on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, says in a letter to White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. that he considers it "completely unacceptable that any government official would think it appropriate to use federal taxpayer dollars to help one political party settle an intra-state partisan feud."
Lieberman offered no evidence that the White House was involved. The Department of Homeland Security has acknowledged that its Air and Marine Interdiction Coordination Center responded to a request for help from Texas authorities tracking the missing representatives. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta has ordered a review of the response by Federal Aviation Administration officials after DeLay's staff asked them for help tracking a lawmaker's plane. While the Texas Democrats were in Oklahoma, the deadline passed for the Texas House to vote on the redistricting plan.
In the letter, Lieberman asks Card to help assemble "a complete picture of what happened by determining whether any White House officer or employee or any officer or employee of any federal agency was contacted by anyone seeking information about or federal assistance in Texas' search for Democratic legislators."
A White House spokeswoman responded: "As we've said before, the facts and circumstances involving any contacts that took place will be explored by the appropriate agency and in this case, that's the Department of Homeland Security."
Some fellow Democrats criticized Lieberman for doing too little to publicly pressure the White House on its ties to the collapsed Enron Corp. when his party controlled the Senate and Lieberman was chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee, which Republicans used to frequently investigate President Bill Clinton.
The senator said this weekend on "Fox News Sunday" that in the Texas case, "there could be a federal law violation, there could be a misuse of federal resources and an abuse of power."
Lieberman plans to send similar letters to the Justice and Transportation departments today.
Rebel Texas House Democrats are back from their self-imposed exile in Oklahoma that killed a GOP redistricting bill.
But a mystery deepens over whether Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick and the Texas Department of Public Safety called the Customs control center in California into searching for the plane belonging to the leader of the boycotting Democrats -- a request that left the impression the plane was in trouble.
"I don't know the procedures of the DPS," Craddick told CBS' Bob McNamara. "I don't know what they can do, can't do, should do, shouldn't do."
But what the Texas Department of Public Safety did do was order all its records in the search for the Democrats destroyed.
An e-mail addressed to "Captains" says "any notes, correspondence, photo's etc that were obtained pursuant to the absconded House of Representative members shall be destroyed immediately. No copies are to be kept."
"Why are they in such a hurry to get rid of this evidence? What is there that someone wants to hide? I think we need to find out," said Democrat state Rep. Kevin Bailey.
In response a Department of Public Safety statement said the records were destroyed because, "We are prohibited under the code of federal regulations from keeping intelligence information that is not related to criminal conduct or activity."
"I think anytime it looks like law enforcement is being manipulated, it's more than just a small problem," said former U.S. Attorney Tom Melsheimer.
Texas Congressional Democrats say it's more than a problem -- it's a coverup.
"More and more this situation is echoing the mistakes of Watergate," said Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Texas.
One Texan even suggested a possible coverup could go as high as U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.
"Never known as "Timid Tom" it is time for Mr. DeLay to join us in getting immediate disclosure and end the stonewalling," said U.S Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas.
Though Majority Leader DeLay was an architect of the mortally wounded Texas redistricting plan., his office denied any role in helping find the missing Texas House democrats.
In the meantime, back in the Texas House, many of the promises of bi-partisanship after the runaway Democrats came back are all but forgotten.
AUSTIN -- Several hundred supporters gave a hero's welcome early today to more than 50 returning Democratic legislators, whose four-day flight to Oklahoma succeeded in killing a Republican-backed congressional redistricting bill.
Now that the redistricting measure pushed by U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay is dead, the Democrats said they would concentrate on helping Republicans balance a state budget and crack down on high homeowners' insurance rates during the remaining 18 days of the legislative session.
"Government is by the people and for the people, and we had to go to Oklahoma to say government is not for Tom DeLay," said Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, a leader of the insurgent group, which fled to Ardmore, Okla., on Monday to break and quorum and prevent the House from conducting business.
Most returned to Austin in two chartered buses about 3:30 a.m. today after a midnight deadline for passing the redistricting bill had passed. A few drove or flew back home.
A few hours later, they emerged from the Capitol to be greeted by cheering supporters, waving banners and signs.
Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, thanked Democrats for their support during the group's self-imposed exile.
"It was that support that every day helped us keep our morale up," he said.
The 51 exiled Democrats congratulated each other for enduring four days away from a Republican-dominated Texas House chamber and avoiding the reach of state troopers who were ordered to round them up for thwarting a quorum.
As the Democrats' two charter buses pulled up to the Capitol, Rep. Pete Gallego said, "Hey, guys -- be proud of yourselves. We really made a difference."
The buses had departed late Thursday from a hotel in Ardmore, 30 miles north of the Texas state line, just before the redistricting bill died in Austin. A midnight deadline passed with no vote -- due to a lack of a House quorum caused by the absent lawmakers.
Legislators' first stop in Austin about 3:30 a.m. CDT today was a hotel where they had first met Sunday night to finalize their plans to leave the state. A number of Democrats were picking up their vehicles at the hotel.
Friends and relatives greeted the returning lawmakers at the hotel.
"It feels good. It's good to be back," said Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston. "We're tired and we slept some. And we should be ready to continue working on the floor today. We have bills on the calendar."
As sleepy lawmakers retrieved their luggage from the buses, some apparently picked up the wrong personal items.
"I'd feel a lot better if my bag wasn't missing," said Rep. Lon Burnam, D- Fort Worth. "Probably, one of my half-asleep colleagues took it."
Forty-seven of the legislators came back aboard two charter buses that crossed the Red River about 11:15 p.m. CDT. Three others drove cars back and one flew.
"I'm pretty excited about it," Gallego said just before the first bus crossed the state line. "People are really tired. They're ready to get back to Texas."
As the bus rolled across the wide bridge over the Red River, Gallego announced to cheers, "It is 11:16 and we are in the state of Texas."
About a dozen Denton County Democratic Party supporters met them at the Texas Welcome Center.
In Austin, Gov. Rick Perry and legislative leaders worked on plans to salvage a new state budget and other key bills before lawmakers adjourn June 2. The Democratic action against redistricting also stalled the other legislation.
More than 50 Democratic state representatives drew international attention when they fled to Ardmore to prevent the state House from gaining a quorum.
As they spent their final day in Ardmore, new details emerged about the official search for them when they began their exodus from Texas on Monday.
A federal agency within the Department of Homeland Security said it had been asked by the Texas Department of Public Safety to help search for a plane that carried one of the Democratic dissidents -- former Speaker Pete Laney -- to Oklahoma.
The agency said it was given the impression the plane was missing or in distress with Laney and other legislators aboard.
The report prompted Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., a Democratic presidential candidate, to call for an investigation. He and other Democrats complained that tracking Laney was an improper use of federal resources.
Looking ahead Thursday to the final two weeks of the session, Perry insisted there was enough time to enact his three major priorities -- the budget, a bill enacting changes in civil justice laws and legislation addressing high homeowners insurance rates.
"There is absolutely no reason we're not going to have a successful session, even with all the excitement," he said.
The governor, a Republican, declined to discuss the congressional redistricting bill that sparked the Democratic walkout Monday, the day the measure was to have been debated on the House floor.
He also didn't want to talk about the walkout.
"We've got work to do. Someone else may want to talk about this. I don't ... I hope they (Democrats) have a safe and speedy trip home," he said.
The governor's political committee, however, joined an e-mail effort Thursday urging Republicans to pack the House gallery -- and wear red -- for the dissidents' return today.
Democrats, meanwhile, were planning a hero's welcome for the lawmakers outside the building.
The maverick Democrats, 51 of whom spent four days in a motel in Ardmore, were scheduled to arrive by bus at the Capitol shortly before the House convenes at 9 a.m.
"Now that we've been able to kill redistricting -- at least for this session -- we're ready to go back and finish the remaining issues," Rep. Craig Eiland, D-Galveston, said as the group prepared to leave Ardmore.
"We're ready to move on," he added.
The dissidents were praised Thursday by Democratic members of Texas' congressional delegation -- whose futures were on the line in the redistricting fight -- and by other Democrats nationally.
The redistricting bill and more than 200 other pieces of legislation officially died at midnight Thursday, the deadline for bills originating in the House to win tentative House approval.
"Redistricting dies with all the other House bills at midnight tonight," Speaker Tom Craddick said Thursday. He adjourned the House -- at least those members who were there -- several hours before the deadline.
Craddick said he wouldn't take any steps to resurrect redistricting before the regular session ends, and he declined to speculate whether it would be on the agenda should lawmakers have to meet later in special session.
Perry would be forced to call a special session this summer if the Legislature failed to complete work on a new state budget because the current budget -- necessary to keep state government operating -- expires Aug. 31.
The governor didn't want to discuss a special session either.
"Looking past June 2 is just not on my radar screen right now," he said.
Rep. Beverly Woolley, R-Houston, chairwoman of the House Calendars Committee, was reluctant to give up on redrawing congressional boundaries.
"Never say never. Sometimes ghosts reappear," Woolley said. "Texas is a Republican state by all voting population, and they (Republicans) deserve to have greater representation in Congress. Sooner or later, we will redistrict. This is not over."
House Bill 1, the new state budget, already was being negotiated by House and Senate conferees before the Democratic walkout. Work on the measure continued while the House was shut down because Democrats on the conference panel remained in Austin.
Several other bills necessary to balance the budget without raising state taxes -- a goal of Republican leaders -- are still up in the air. One is House Bill 2, a major government reorganization bill that died Thursday night.
Leaders seemed confident, however, that portions of House Bill 2 could be added as amendments to related Senate bills, which have until May 27 to be acted upon by both bodies.
Technically, each of the dead House bills could be revived on a two-thirds vote, a requirement that Democrats could block in the case of the redistricting bill. But Craddick said he wouldn't entertain such motions, anyway.
House Bill 4, a major proposal putting new limits on medical malpractice suits and other civil claims, is still alive because it already has won House approval.
In Ardmore, Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, said the maverick Democrats spent part of Thursday "decompressing."
Asked if the decompression involved a case of whiskey sent to the legislators by Willie Nelson, Coleman replied: "No. We got rid of smoke-filled rooms and whiskey a long time ago."
Melissa Drosjack and the Associated Press contributed to this story
WASHINGTON ó Those close to Tom DeLay say he always harbored a secret ambition to be speaker of the House ó of the Texas House, that is.
Mr. DeLay, majority leader of the United States House of Representatives and former state legislator who loves the rough and tumble of Texas politics, has touched off a rumble in his home state with his push for a new districting map that would almost certainly hand Republicans four or more additional seats in Congress, at the expense of Democrats.
In addition to virtually shutting down the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature, the dispute has brought bitter sniping in Washington between Mr. DeLay and House Democrats from Texas, who accused him today of Nixonian tactics. The Democrats pointed to his suggestion on Tuesday that it would be fine to deploy federal authorities to track down more than 50 Democratic legislators who had fled the Texas House for Oklahoma and so deprived the chamber of a quorum.
"Not since Richard Nixon and Watergate 30 years ago has there been an effort to involve federal law enforcement officials in a partisan political battle," said Representative Martin Frost, one Texas Democrat whom Mr. DeLay would like ousted. Mr. Frost dubbed the majority leader Tom Nixon DeLay.
Democrats also fired off a letter to the Justice Department, the F.B.I. and the Department of Homeland Security asking whether any federal resources had been used in pursuit of the Democratic legislators holed up in Oklahoma. Those lawmakers headed across the state line on Monday when, after they had bolted the Texas House, Speaker Tom Craddick ordered their arrest and return. (That order was effectively lifted today when the House, which since Monday had been in a state of "standing at ease," finally adjourned, as it typically does at the end of every day. Adjournment allowed Republicans to hold committee hearings, and lifted the "call on the House," under which state troopers had been required to round up the missing Democrats.)
Mr. DeLay's reopening the Congressional districting process is a good example of the bare knuckles politics he likes to practice. Congressional redistricting typically occurs only every 10 years, after the census. Undertaking it in between times, in what amounts to midstream, is aggressive and rare; Democrats say that except for a more modest effort this year by Colorado Republicans ó an effort that is itself headed for the courts ó they can find no other time in the last 50 years when a state engaged in midstream redistricting without a court order to do so.
Mr. DeLay and his allies say the Legislature is only fulfilling its constitutional responsibility. They note that the proposed map would replace one drawn by a panel of federal judges after the last census but before the 2002 election, when the Legislature was unable to decide on one of its own. The judges' map, they say, was based on the previous map, drawn up by Mr. Frost, a leading Texas Democrat, at a time more than 10 years ago when his party controlled the Legislature.
"This redistricting decision is one the Legislature is obligated to do," said one Texas Republican, Representative John Culberson, a former state legislator who challenged his Democratic colleagues on the House floor here today.
Mr. DeLay also frames the quest for a new map as an example of democracy in action: it would give Republicans a majority of the Congressional delegation in a state where they control all statewide offices and both houses of the Legislature. At present, the delegation has a Democratic majority, 17 to 15.
The absent state lawmakers are described by Mr. DeLay as cowards and shirkers. "Representatives are elected and paid for by the people," he said, "with the expectation that they show up for work and do the people's business and have the courage to cast tough votes."
Congressional Democrats maintain that what Mr. DeLay is really doing is protecting his own job, by using his considerable muscle in Texas as a cushion against the possibility of Republican losses in House elections elsewhere next year. Colorado has just completed its remapping, which would bolster a Republican seat, and Republicans have similarly eyed Georgia but met resistance from Democratic legislators.
"It is easier, I think, for Tom to manipulate these lines, whether it is Texas or Colorado or Georgia, than it is to win elections," said Representative Lloyd Doggett, another Texas target of Mr. DeLay.
The whole matter will no doubt wind up in court if the Legislature adopts the proposed map. In the meantime, Mr. DeLay's chief spokesman, Stuart Roy, seemed not overly concerned today when Democrats lined up at a news conference to take on the majority leader.
"Today's speakers line," said Mr. Roy, mindful of Democratic lawmakers who might be out of a job under a new map, "is tomorrow's unemployment line."
The proposed congressional map that sent Democrats running across the state line this week would strike another blow at rural Texas' once-mighty political clout.
From Oklahoma and Washington, D.C., Democrats on Tuesday said their opposition to the proposal is about more than protecting their party: It's about protecting Texans who live outside the cities and suburbs, they said.
"This plan doesn't just destroy Democratic representation . . . it destroys rural representation," said U.S. Rep. Max Sandlin, D-Marshall, who represents Northeast Texas communities that would be dominated by suburban Dallas in a proposed congressional district.
"East Texas has had tremendous battles with Dallas over water rights. It is absolutely ridiculous to have a Dallas Congress member represent East Texans concerning water rights," he said. "And you can go issue by issue."
Rural Democrats holed up in Oklahoma say some Republican colleagues have privately worried that they'll end up with U.S. House members who know more about cul-de-sacs than crops. But rural GOP lawmakers in Austin deny that they've aired such concerns.
Some of those Republicans said their proposed congressional districts are plenty rural. Others acknowledged they'll be in districts dominated by the suburbs. But they said that's nothing new, and that it's hard to avoid when 85 percent of the state's 21 million residents live in metropolitan areas, according to the Census Bureau.
"Ever since I've been involved in politics, we've had congressional representation from the (Dallas-Fort Worth) Metroplex, and we've had good representation," said Rep. Betty Brown, R-Terrell.
The controversial map was created by House Republicans, at the urging of U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, to ensure that most of the state's 32-member congressional delegation is Republican. Democrats now have a 17-15 majority.
The proposed map reflects the fact that some of the most powerful Republican voting blocs are in suburbs and small cities. Even districts that appear to be heavily rural have strong urban or suburban influences.
"The people love it," Rep. Sid Miller, R-Stephenville, and vice-chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said of District 17 north of Austin. "It takes us out of metropolitan Abilene and makes us a true rural district."
Almost 10 percent of the new district's residents would be in suburban Fort Worth and one-third would be in the Waco area. That's hardly an urban center like Houston, but Miller acknowledges that voters there might have some different interests than those in the surrounding country.
At least a half-dozen other districts would cover hundreds of miles of rural Texas but have most of their voters in slivers of suburbs outside Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin.
There's District 10, which now includes most of Austin and is represented by Democrat Lloyd Doggett. On the new map, it starts in northeast Austin and rolls through nine rural counties before reaching the Houston suburbs.
More than two-thirds of its 650,619 residents would live in Harris or Travis counties.
"We'll be represented by people driving fancy cars instead of pickup trucks," said Rep. Chuck Hopson, D-Jacksonville. His East Texas legislative district would be split into two districts: one that meanders to Dallas and the other to Houston.
Republican state Sen. Todd Staples of Palestine in East Texas agrees he'd like to see his constituents represented by a rural representative. But he said his Dallas-area congressmen have always kept an eye on rural interests. He also noted that the federal government doesn't often get involved in rural-suburban disputes such as water rights.
"By virtue of the state's population and geography, with any plan you're going to have mixed representation," he said. "You'd like to make communities of interest, no doubt. But being able to pass the Department of Justice standards creates hurdles in accomplishing that."
WASHINGTON ñ House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, whose redistricting plan lit the fuse of Austin's political firestorm, mocked "fugitive Democrats" Tuesday with a photo of the Texas Capitol dome superimposed over a hotel in Ardmore, Okla.
"These Democrats up in Oklahoma ñ they may not be patriots, but they did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night," said the Sugar Land Republican, playing on a series of television ads (although the hotel in question is actually a regular Holiday Inn).
Democrats in the Texas congressional delegation, though, said Mr. DeLay was forcing the Legislature to work on increasing Republican congressional power rather than addressing issues like education and health care.
"Tom DeLay would be perfectly happy in the old Soviet Union," said Rep. Martin Frost, D-Arlington. "He wants one-party government. He doesn't believe in a two-party system."
Both sides said that, if implemented, the DeLay-backed plan would dramatically shift the political makeup of the Texas congressional delegation, thereby giving the GOP a bigger edge in the House as a whole.
Democrats have a 17-15 advantage within the Texas congressional delegation. The proposed plan would create at least 19 districts with distinct Republican majorities.
Mr. DeLay said his preferred map reflects the state's political makeup: "The Republicans are the majority in the state of Texas, yet we are a minority in the Texas delegation."
Democrats said the existing map, put in place after the 2000 census, already favors Republicans in at least 20 districts, but the GOP has been unable to produce winning candidates in five of them. They said Mr. DeLay wants lock-solid GOP districts.
"He just wants to enhance his power here in Washington," Mr. Frost said. "He doesn't care about what's in the best interests of Texas."
Mr. DeLay said he discussed the matter briefly with President Bush after a congressional leadership breakfast last week at the White House.
"As I was walking out, I said, you know, that redistricting is ongoing," Mr. DeLay said. "And he said, 'Well, good, I'd like to see that happen.' "
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