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And Now The Texas Two-Step
by Steven D. Laib, J.D. M.S.
1 August 2003God Blessed Texas

Quorum rules exist to protect minorities from having decisions passed without their input and participation, not to allow disaffected dissidents to run away and stymie legitimate activities.

On July 28, 2003 eleven of Texas’ twelve Democratic State Senators reared up on their proverbial hind legs and ran off to Albuquerque rather than face another special session to deal with the redistricting question facing the Texas Legislature.  According to Talon News Service, they are “holed up at a posh hotel with the blessing of New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and protection being provided by the New Mexico State Police.”  Without these eleven members the Senate was left without a quorum and was unable to take on business as scheduled.  Those who missed the earlier version of this dance performed in the House of Representatives can check out my column written in May. 

By now it should be pretty evident to anyone watching that the Democrats are just plain being bad sports.  When they controlled the legislature their advice to the opposition was “go along to get along.”  Now, when they have the minority they have changed their stance to “I’m going to take my toys and go home, so there!”  One wonders, but not for very long, what would happen if the situation were reversed.  “Unfair tactics” would be the cry from one side.  “Foul” from another.  “Partisanship” from yet a third.  But strangely there is a great silence hanging over the proceedings.  How long it will endure is hard to determine; perhaps, until the absent Senators run out of underwear.  According to KPRC radio personality Chris Baker most of them neglected to pack properly. 

Conservatives have long been the champions of fair play and good sportsmanship.  For what it’s worth, they have gone along to get along so well for so long that they seem to have forgotten how to do anything else.  They even seem to have forgotten that the guy who is supposed to have invented political dirty tricks, Richard Nixon, was one of their own.  Ooops, I forgot.  They didn’t like what he did, either, and helped see him out the door of the White House when he got caught. 

Meanwhile, the Democrats seem to have got themselves into high gear with the Clinton administration, and haven’t tired of the advantage they receive from playing these kinds of games.  Partisanship has become a one-way street to them and they aren’t showing any signs of learning about sportsmanship from their neighbors. 

Seriously, the Democratic Party has controlled the Texas Legislature ever since the end of the War Between the States.  Change happens and not everyone likes it, but that’s life.  If they can’t stand having competition and losing gracefully they shouldn’t be in the game.  Quorum rules exist in virtually every situation where the democratic process is used to make decisions.  They exist to protect minorities from having decisions passed without their input and participation.  They don’t exist to allow a group of disaffected dissidents to run away and stymie legitimate activities.  On July 29 former State Senator Mike Richards tendered his opinion that this strategy will backfire on the Democratic Party in Texas, and that they may soon find that the Republicans can field a quorum on their own.

Today Republicans hold 15 of Texas' 32 seats in the U.S. House. They claim that this does not properly reflect the state's current voting patterns.  Some voices have suggested that the real reason for stalling the redistricting vote is to spite United States House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).  As Majority Leader, DeLay is responsible for developing the issues and policies that form the Republican agenda.  The Democrat cant is that the redistricting plan is nothing more than a power grab by Delay.  No one has loudly voiced the alternative view that the districts as presently drawn do not reflect the wishes of the voters.  It is also simply crazy to suggest that Representative DeLay would be out of line to try and bolster the number of Republican in the House.  It’s his job to do that.  And it is the job of the Democrats to do the same when they have the opportunity.  It’s just that right now the opportunity rests in Republican hands and some of us expect our elected officials to play by the rules. 

State Senator Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio said Texans deserve fair, honest government that "works for us, not against us." She alleged that the redistricting effort was unfair.  The trouble is that it is not supposed to be “fair.”  It is supposed to represent the present dynamics of the population of the state.  Partisanship has always existed in the drawing of voting districts.  The Senator should go look up the origin of the word “Gerrymander.” According to Texas Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, the Texas legislative district map drawn in 1991 and approved in 1992 was written up in a national publication as “the most outrageously gerrymandered redistricting effort in the nation, resulting in Democratic strength in our congressional delegation well beyond its representation among voters.” 

Another Democrat criticism has been the suspension of the “traditional” two-thirds majority vote to send matters to the floor for debate.  According to Dewhurst, the Democrats have claimed that Senate tradition requires a two-thirds vote on any matter, without exception. The Lt. Governor asserts that tradition and precedent actually show that the two-thirds rule has not governed in redistricting matters and in special sessions.

Dewhurst appears correct, because in the 1971, 1981 and 1992 special sessions on redistricting, the two-thirds vote was waived.  Additionally, it was not used in at least 20 other special legislative sessions during the last half-century.  In 1992 the redistricting was approved by an 18 to 12 vote favoring democratic legislators.  It also replaced an interim map drawn up by a judicial panel, which mirrors the present situation.  Then Lt. Governor Bullock purposely abandoned the two-thirds rule because, as he announced at the time, he did not have sufficient votes to get the matter to the floor.  No quorum busting activities occurred at the time and there were no protests over the rule waiver. 

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson suggested that the proposed redistricting “will trample on the rights of minority citizens who will effectively be denied representation,” and that “their votes will no longer matter."  What goes around comes around.  What about the Republican voters whose voices have been silenced for the last century and a half?  A minority is not supposed to get a louder voice than the majority of the people; only the right to be heard.  By running away the Democrats are actually denying themselves that opportunity. 

Maybe the Democrats just don’t get it, but eventually even the most fair-minded people can get fed up with this kind of shenanigans.  As a number of commentators have pointed out, the Democratic Party is lacking in leadership and is losing voters.  Quorum busting and filibusters may be their only available tactics because voters are deserting them and they haven’t the leadership to build support.  Delaying and obfuscating can only work for so long.  Meanwhile, the prospect grows larger that we could see similar actions going on in the rest of the nation, only this time the Democrats will be the ones getting shafted.  Are they going to count on the belief that Republicans will never play hardball back at them?  Of course, it may be that the Republicans will just wait until the Democrats implode on their own.  It may be a very interesting time finding out.  Hey California, Reno isn’t very far away from Sacramento.  Why not go take in a few shows!

Steven Laib is a practicing attorney.

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