When Texas Governor G.W. Bush ran for president, he claimed that he had brought bipartisan cooperation to state government. But as soon as Bush’s party took control ofboth houses of the state legislature and the governor’s mansion, they began a power grab to make their 2002 electoral gains permanent by re-drawing the Congressional districts of Texas. Although Democrats in the House were able to stop them during the regular session of the legislature by fleeing to Oklahoma to deny a quorum, Gov. Rick Perry called a special session of the legislature that began June 30.

In order to provide cover for the process, six House Redistricting Hearings were called for June 26 and 28. Democratic Party Chairperson Molly Beth Malcolm immediately released a statement blasting the Republicans for concealing the fact that they already had a redistricting map and a proposal ready to vote on. She blamed U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay for forcing partisan redistricting. Unions and other progressive organizations called for turnout at the hearings.

The results may not have been pleasing to GOP operators. News reports from each hearing indicated that “anti-redistricting” people vastly outnumbered those in favor. Most of the hearings were raucous events with many loud interruptions. In Brownsville on the 26th, one Republican committee member failed to appear.

State Rep. Kino Flores, the only Democrat on the panel, took advantage of the situation to step outside while the crowd shouted down the panel’s exasperated Republican chairperson. Eventually, the proceedings were shut down. The G.I. Forum, a Latino civil rights organization, was credited for the big turnout.

The Houston hearings on June 28 exposed a critical tactic of the Republican Party in Texas and elsewhere. In the legislature, the GOP has been successful in using its power to make committee assignments to woo some minority legislators to their side on critical votes. When 51 legislators ran away to Oklahoma, some Democratic minority officeholders remained in the capitol and expressed loyalty to the Republican leadership.

In Dallas, union and civil rights advocates joined in singing, “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me ’round, turn me ’round, turn me ’round” over the shouts of the Republican panel chairperson. Rep. Martin Frost told the crowd gathered outside that Republicans planned to divide his district into four pieces and submerge the minority voters into Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson’s district in “a clear violation of the Voting Rights Act.”

Republicans argue that they are entitled to redistrict because their candidates swept the 2002 elections. Democrats argue that redistricting always follows the 10-year census, rather than every election.

The Lubbock newspaper started an on-line opinion poll after their hearings on June 26. On June 29th, they reported that 59 percent of respondents agreed on the question, “Are the Republicans being greedy with redistricting plan?” while only 37 percent disagreed.

Most newspaper reports indicate that the House Democrats will not be able to prevent a quorum by fleeing to Oklahoma as they did during the regular legislative session. Consequently the GOP proposal should pass handily.

Democrats think they can stop the power grab in the state senate where passage requires a two-thirds majority. However, Gov. Perry has let it be known that he has major financial inducements for Latino Democratic senators who vote with the GOP.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org

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