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  A Texas-Sized Temper Tantrum
by Steven D. Laib, J.D. M.S.
16 May

After dominating the Lone Star State for over a century, Texas Democrats recently discovered they don't like the redistricting process they pioneered and perfected.  To protest, they are staying at a nice hotel and avoiding their legislative responsibilities.

May 12, 2003 was a banner date in the annals of political misbehavior, as 59 members of the Texas House of Representatives went into hiding or outright left the state instead of sitting to vote on a congressional redistricting plan, the outcome of which was a foregone conclusion.  All of the missing Representatives were Democrats.  Of the 3 Democrats who remained, one, Ron Wilson, was quoted on Houston Radio KPRC on the reason he did so: “The Constitution and my constituents demand it.”  By not appearing the missing legislators left the House without a quorum, and unable to do business

The Texas House presently has 62 Democrats and 88 Republicans.  A quorum under Texas is at least 100.  "We refuse to participate in an inherently unfair process that slams the door of opportunity in the face of Texas voters," the Democrats said in a statement read by state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston.  Governor Rick Perry called the walkout a "childish prank."  House Speaker Tom Craddick said, "It is a disgrace to run and hide."  Craddick may have more than a point. 

Ever since the end of the War Between the States the Democratic Party has dominated Texas government.  With rules favoring the majority, Democrats were able to consistently draw district boundaries to favor their Party’s candidates.  Now that Texas voters have changed their tune, elected a Republican a legislative majority, Republicans to most major state offices, the Democrats have decided that they no longer want to play by the rules, or put up an honorable opposition before going down to defeat.  Somehow this doesn’t make sense when that is what their opponents have done for so long.

Currently, Texas is districted under a plan drawn up by a judicial committee when the legislature punted following the 2000 census.  The United States Constitution mandates that state legislatures redistrict every ten years and, the judicially drawn districts will remain in effect only so long as they are not replaced by legislative action.  The legislature is now attempting to do just that. 

While the Democratic walkout was aimed primarily at the redistricting bill, it may kill dozens of other House bills, including a government reorganization bill to create $227 million in savings and help balance the state budget, another for residential property tax relief, bills to ban human cloning, to make it a crime to kill or injure an unborn child, to prohibit employers from taking out life insurance policies on their workers, and to require signed parental consent for a minor to get an abortion. 

According to some sources, the redistricting plan, promoted by U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, would give Republicans an opportunity to pick up four to seven seats in the national legislature.  There is some reason to believe that some of these seats may go to ethnic minority candidates where conservative minorities are more common than in many other areas.  For example, the current favorite in the upcoming Houston mayoral race is conservative Orlando Sanchez, a Hispanic immigrant.  Thus, there could be a racial, as well as political, element present in the Democratic agenda.  Jim Ellis, a political aide to Rep. DeLay, believes that Texas Democrats are following orders from national Party figures such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco.  He may also have more than a point. 

Traditionally, whenever redistricting takes place the winner crows and the loser whines, but life goes on, and each accepts the situation.  Recently, however, politics has become extremely partisan, and as Democrats have been less successful, they have turned to non-traditional methods of operation or outright obstruction when they can’t get their way.  Witness the current blockade of President Bush’s judicial appointments on partisan grounds, and the Robert Toricelli/Frank Lautenberg swap in New Jersey last election cycle. 

What it comes down to is a case of sore loser’s disease.  This is not the conflict between the Roman Plebeians and Patricians, which led, in 494 BC, to the plebeians leaving Rome to set up an alternative government.  We are not dealing with one section of society attempting to subjugate another.  We are dealing with an ordinary part of the process of political change ordained by our Constitution.  Modern Democrats, not having their way as often than they like, are not willing to accept the same situation forced on Republicans for so many years.  In a distinct showing of lack or class, disrespect for the electorate, and dishonor to their official duties are now taking their toys and going home. 

It is a sad testimonial to all of the hard work, idealism, dedication and expectations of the Constitutional Convention, which wrote our governing document two centuries ago.  Not expecting this kind of childish behavior they never set down remedies for such situations.  Neither has anyone else in the state legislatures since.  Officials who are concerned about maintaining legislative power should be aware that this kind of conduct frequently leads to a weakening of that power as governments are forced to come to terms with the fact that they are not going to be able to work under the old rules.  They find ways to enact new rules, expecting that they will prevent future problems.  Often they do, but at the expense of popular sovereignty.  It was this process of squabbling which helped set the stage for the Roman Principate and the transition from Republic to Empire. 

While some may believe that this walkout is a legitimate parliamentary maneuver, they are missing the point that these people were elected to do a job, not walk out in protest of something they don’t like.  With any luck, many of them will be tossed out next election.  Meanwhile, this writer has only one thing to say to the ones responsible.  “When are you going to Grow Up?”

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