May 13th, 2003, 05:31 PM
saddle up! Democracy TEXAS style!
Texas House paralyzed by Democratic walkout
Redistricting at issue
AUSTIN, Texas (CNN) -- The Texas House was back in session Tuesday, but it remained paralyzed by a Democratic walkout that prompted state officials to post a political version of the Amber Alert.
More than 50 House Democrats were holed up in a motel across the state line in Ardmore, Oklahoma, out of reach of state police, whom the House's Republican majority has ordered to bring them back to Austin. The Democrats are hoping to thwart what they call an "undemocratic, unjust, and unprecedented" GOP redistricting plan that could cost them five seats in Congress.
Under House rules, the reapportionment plan would have to be brought to a vote by Thursday in order to pass this session. Republicans hold 88 seats in the 150-member House, 12 short of the two-thirds needed for a quorum.
The Texas Department of Public Safety posted a bulletin Monday on its Web site -- the same one used to alert citizens to missing children and wanted criminals -- asking for help in locating 53 Democrats "who have disappeared."
Bob Richter, a spokesman for House Speaker Tom Craddick, said four of the chamber's 62 Democrats attended Monday's session. At least two more have shown up at the Capitol since then, and a third was expected later Tuesday.
"We think we're up around 97 members. We need 100 to have a quorum," Richter said.
Craddick said House would "stand at ease" Tuesday. Unlike Monday, he said he would not require members to remain in the House chamber, but Richter said lawmakers are being asked to remain around the state Capitol.
"The important thing is that they don't drive off to the hill country and have a picnic," he said. "If we're going to get a quorum, we want to get back to work right away."
'Cowardly and childish'
Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick says the House will "stand at ease" Tuesday.
Republican Gov. Rick Perry called the walkout "cowardly and childish," and Craddick said the walkout will make a special session to pass a state budget likely.
"These members were elected to do a job. Hiding out in another state, evading DPS and the Texas Rangers, jeopardizing vital programs and standing up constituents who come to call is inexcusable," Craddick said in a Monday statement. "These 53 Democrats need to get back to Austin and get to work."
But Democrats said called the GOP-drawn redistricting plan "an outrageous partisan power grab."
The Texas Legislature failed to passed a new district map after the 2000 census, so a federal court ordered a reapportionment plan in 2001.
Under that plan, Democrats won 17 congressional seats and the GOP 15 in the November elections. But Republicans also took control of the state House for the first time since Reconstruction and proceeded to reopen the redistricting debate.
"We do redistricting every 10 years, not whenever those in power demand it," they said in a statement issued Monday.
Political observers say the plan before the House could mean a shift of up to five seats to the Republicans, giving them a 20-12 edge over Democrats in the Texas congressional delegation.
Democrats want to keep the court plan in place until the 2010 census. They said the GOP plan is being rammed through the Legislature by national Republicans, led by Texas congressman Tom DeLay -- the U.S. House majority leader.
Texas Democratic Party chairwoman Molly Beth Malcolm called the rebelling Democrats "heroes."
"Wherever they may be, they should know that Texas Democrats are rock solid in support of them," Malcolm said in a statement issued Monday. "They will triumph in the end."