Texas Democrats defy GOP power grab

ARDMORE, Okla. – The power grab by President George W. Bush, his advisor Karl Rove, and U.S. Majority Leader Tom DeLay to redraw Texas congressional districts in order to send up to seven new right-wing extremists to the U.S. House of Representatives suffered a serious setback when 53 Democratic lawmakers on May 12 boycotted the Texas House of Representatives.

The legislators left Texas and went across the border to Ardmore, Okla., where they vowed to stay until Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick withdraws a redistricting bill that would reduce urban and rural representation, significantly strengthening the affluent suburbs. They thereby deprived the House of a quorum.

The Texas Democrats in a joint statement said, “We did not choose our path, Tom DeLay did. We are ready to stand on the House floor and work day and night to deal with real issues facing Texas families. At a time when we are told there is no time to deal with school finance, and when we must still resolve issues like the state budget crisis and insurance reform, the fact that an outrageous partisan power grab sits atop the House calendar is unconscionable …

“By our actions today, we are fulfilling our responsibilities to our constituents and upholding the oaths we took to serve the people of Texas,” the statement continues.

“The redistricting plan scheduled today before the Texas House of Representatives is the ultimate in political greed – it is undemocratic, unjust and unprecedented. It’s a power grab by Tom DeLay, pure and simple. The current congressional plan has been ruled by our United States Supreme Court to be constitutional and in compliance with the Voting Rights Act. Elections have been held, and we should respect the will of Texas voters.”

If the Democrats are able to stay out of the state until May 15, they believe they will have effectively killed hundreds of bad bills.

A steady stream of protest has hit the Capitol all through the legislative session focusing on:

* Budget cuts of practically all state services.

* Calculated destruction of the public educational system by dismantling school finance structures, drastically cutting funds, and pushing vouchers and privatized school schemes.

* Outright attack on health care for the poor, disabled, and workplace accident victims.

* Outright attack on unions.

* Curtailment of every Texans right to sue and win damages.

The labor movement has fully mobilized behind the Texas Democrats. Texas AFL-CIO President Joe Gunn heaped praise on the House members who left town to break a quorum. He said, in a press statement, “They are resisting an unprecedented partisan power play that has run roughshod over the needs of Texas.”

The walkout began on Sunday, May 11 before the legislature convened on Monday. In a well organized effort, House members left town and sent letters to Craddick advising him that they would be absent until further notice and that he should lock the voting devices at their chairs on the House floor. Craddick had a fit.

He locked the doors of the House chambers and wouldn’t let the Republican members and the three Democratic members who did not participate in the walkout leave.

By Monday night, the Democratic legislators had been found in Oklahoma and Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) troopers were dispatched to bring them home. But the wayward legislators, who were staying at a hotel in Ardmore, refused to return. By Tuesday, DPS troopers had surrounded the lawmakers’ hotel, but Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry, a Democrat sympathetic to the walkout, sent Oklahoma state police to stand between the legislators and DPS troopers.

Craddick and Gov. Perry, another extreme right winger, resorted to fascist-like tactics to intimidate the legislators and their supporters. DPS troopers in Texas put the families of the absent legislators under surveillance. Associated Press reported that Texas Rangers visited the hospital where the premature twin infants of Rep. Craig Eiland, (D-Galveston) were staying. When they didn’t find him there, they went to his home at 10:30 at night, after the news services were reporting that the Democrats had been found in Ardmore.

And troopers told an aide of Rep. Elliot Naishtat of Austin that it was a felony to withhold information about the representatives’ whereabouts, which was untrue.

Ed Sills, communications director for the state AFL-CIO, reported that “U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay told AP [that] he checked out whether the federal government could send marshals after the representatives.” It was also reported that Republicans explored the possibility of using the Patriot Act to arrest the lawmakers as terrorists.

The Democrats do not stand alone in their actions. Newspapers across Texas called for scrapping of the Republican redistricting plan.

“The map finally kicked out of Crabb’s committee ... is a textbook example of everything wrong with the redistricting process. It was largely done in secret,” stated the Waco Tribune Harold.

“At a time when Texas is grasping for pennies to immunize Texas children, legislators don’t need to waste resources giving booster shots to political power plays,” the Houston Chronicle said.

A similar power play with redistricting is also taking place in Colorado.

The authors can be reached at pww@pww.org