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
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
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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