Texas democrats seek refuge in passive response
It's a rather rare occurrence when lawmakers flee the state they represent to avert state troopers trying to forcefully return them to work.
During the past year it's happened in Texas. Twice.
Each time the republican-controlled state legislature has tried to bring up its power-grabbing redistricting plan, the Democrats have gone on the defensive by bolting to neighboring states, thus stalling action on the proposal.
Redistricting is an ugly process. When a state redraws the map of its U.S. congressional districts, a bruising political battle always results. Legislators from each party try to draw the districts in such a way that maximizes the number of representatives elected from their own party.
We've been lucky that we've only had to endure this mess every ten years. Until now.
A state typically only redraws its districts after the decennial census. Texas is starting to change all that. Spurred on by Rep. Tom Delay, the majority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Texas Republicans in the state legislature have undertaken a battle to redraw the map to their advantage.
There are 17 Texas Democrats and 15 Texas Republicans 2003-09-26ly serving in the U.S. House. The republicans are trying to raise their number to 21.
When the republicans first introduced the measure at the end of the legislative session last May, over 50 democratic members of the state House disappeared. They fled to Oklahoma, just outside the jurisdiction of the state troopers who were ordered by the republican leadership to find and return the absent lawmakers.
Unable to muster the number of present legislators needed to proceed, the plan could not be passed. The Democrats waited out the end of the session at a Holiday Inn and returned to Texas victoriously.
The governor, however, followed through with threats to call special sessions of the legislature until the issue was resolved. During the second special session this summer, it was the democratic senators' turn to leave. This time choosing New Mexico as a refuge, 11 Democrats held up senate consideration of the redistricting plan for weeks until one senator gave up and returned to Texas.
Since then, both the Texas House and Senate have approved differing forms of the legislation. In all likelihood, the differences will be reconciled and the Texas Republicans will almost certainly gain several U.S. House seats in the next election.
There is no law that explicitly forbids what the Republicans did, but it's just not how it's done. It may be unfair, but it's not illegal.
I concede, however, that the redistricting ploy is only unfair in that it's unprecedented. After all, Texas has become a solidly republican state and no matter how much it may imperil my dreams for a democratic majority in Congress, it seems only natural that the districts be mapped to reflect Texas's republican majority. I just think they should have waited like everyone else.
The republican criticism of the Democrats for leaving the state is rather hypocritical. If the republicans use their power to ramrod unprecedented redistricting, then surely they can't criticize the Democrats for using the only the means available to them to block it.
Neither the democrats nor the Republicans are behaving particularly like statesmen. The key though is that the Democrats are the ones on the defensive, just like the Democrats are on the defensive in the California recall and just like the democrats were on the defensive during the 2000 nationwide redistricting.
If this scheme succeeds in Texas, it will undoubtedly set an example that other state governments will follow. This is unfortunate. State legislatures have too many important issues to deal with to waste time bickering over congressional maps.
I wish the Democratic Party didn't have to stoop to the lows of unusual political maneuvering. But if this is how the Republicans play the game then the democrats have to get down there and play it with them. Democrats should no longer be content with seeking refuge in passive defenses in response to republican aggression.
In the end, maintaining political civility is less important than the ability to pursue an agenda that includes providing healthcare for all Americans, instituting real school reform, and keeping our nation's youth out of danger in unnecessary wars.
Democrats have listed California, Illinois, Oklahoma, and New Mexico
as possible target states for their own redistricting battles. The Clinton
impeachment, the California recall - as much as I hate to say it, it's
time for the Democrats to get to it. It's time for the Democrats to go
on the offensive.