Wear their shoes for a minute.
For Democrats, there is no reason to come back from New Mexico to vote. They'll lose, and what they have now is better — for their party and in many cases, their constituents — than what they'd get if the Republicans get enough people corralled to hold a vote on congressional redistricting.
For Republicans, this is getting old. They got a majority in the last elections, fair and square, and they ought to be able to pass a law — even a redistricting law — without the minority holing up in some other state for refuge. The Democrats aren't playing fair, and the waiting game is wearing out. If Republicans can't get their map through, they'll want revenge.
Both sides are wondering how it came to this, and part of it has to fall on management — not for the politics, necessarily, but for this ugly case of legislative constipation.
The governor, the lieutenant governor and the speaker knew three weeks in advance that they would have a session, that it would start on June 30, and that it would be about congressional redistricting. So why didn't they have a map in hand, lawyered and laminated, when lawmakers got back to Austin? State Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, told the House Redistricting Committee on the second day of the session that he'd been up until the wee hours of the morning drawing his map. When the House finished a few days later, they sent over a map that didn't have the support of a majority of the GOP senators, much less the Democrats.
Sen. Todd Staples of Palestine took the lead in the Senate, after Chris Harris, R-Arlington, bailed out. His map got out of the Senate committee on a 4-3 party-line vote before starving for sufficient support from the full Senate. Like King, he got to the committee saying he'd been working all night. You might wonder why they didn't just load up a map they liked, lawyer it, gather up their votes and then call a session and ram it through. Members from both parties grumble that the longer this takes, the better things are for Democrats.
Some of the rules noodlers on the Senate side went looking for a way out of the dilemma early this week, hoping to find a way to remove or disqualify the senators who went to New Mexico, and by doing that, turn the senators who stayed into an adequate number. But there is no penalty for leaving.
A Texas governor leaves the state, and the lieutenant governor gets the duties and the paycheck (which turned into a nice bonus check for then-Lt. Gov. Rick Perry, who got the pay when George W. Bush was out auditioning for a higher post).
When Texas lawmakers leave the state, their powers remain intact. In some cases — witness Ardmore and Albuquerque — those powers are actually enhanced. The law and the rules allow the state to declare a lawmaker ineligible, but they have to be incapacitated, or nuts, or something extreme. And long absences for ailing lawmakers haven't resulted in removal: Sens. Greg Luna, D-San Antonio, and Tom Haywood, R-Wichita Falls, died after long illnesses but were never disqualified. Luna blocked a school voucher bill by sending a letter to then-Lt. Gov. Perry asking him not to call a vote without giving Luna enough time to leave his hospital bed and get to Austin for the vote. There was never an open discussion of disqualifying him at the time.
They finally concluded what they suspected in the first place: State law doesn't penalize a lawmaker who leaves the state, either by taking away their power or by lowering the number of people needed in Austin to get business done.
Not All Voters Like Holdouts, But Some Do
The last round of legislative redistricting laid the foundation for the Senate's current jam.
When Texas House members hopped on the buses and went to Ardmore, several of the Democrats took the road trip at some political peril. The House still has a dozen districts, give or take, that could be won by either a Democrat or a Republican. Some of them are Republican districts that, for local reasons, are still held by Democrats. The holders of those seats — many of them Anglo males — took the greatest risks in going along with the May walkout. And they'll find out in the next election cycle just which sort of career moves they made, whether the voters agreed or not.
But in the Senate, there are only a couple of districts that could be considered swings, and only one where a wrong step by a Democratic senator could get him beat. Ken Armbrister, D-Victoria, continues to win in Republican territory. And his voting is conservative enough to fend off challenges from the land of the elephants. He is also the only Democrat in the Texas Senate who didn't go to Albuquerque. But there is a big difference between the Senate and the House in this regard: You can accumulate one third of the Senate without getting any Democrats to take a big risk. Armbrister can opt out and there are still enough Democrats to break the quorum. And the 11 senators who went to New Mexico are all representing voters who might have bombed them for staying in Austin.
A Democrat in hostile territory (or a Republican, but that's for another day) has to keep Republicans and Democrats and independent voters happy. They can't stray too far into that partisan stuff. That's the danger for someone like Reps. Chuck Hopson of Jacksonville or Dan Ellis of Livingston, or John Mabry of Waco, to name a few.
There were only nine Republicans in the Senate last time redistricting was fought, during that now semi-famous special session. There wasn't a blocker bill, because Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock had the votes to pass a plan, but not enough to bring it up for consideration. The plan that passed 18-12 was a dud anyhow; a federal judge tossed it and the elections were held under a court map. That one resulted in the elections of some new Republicans, and the next time the Senate convened for a full session, there were 13 Republicans on the floor. That would have been enough to engineer a walkout, but the reason for a stunt like that — redistricting — was gone.
In 2001, Republicans in the Senate used the two-thirds rule to block consideration of legislative redistricting plans passed by a Democratic majority in the House and favored by a Democratic majority in the Senate. By blocking the votes then, the minority was able to throw the mapmaking to the Republican-controlled Legislative Redistricting Board. The LRB voted 3-2 in favor of the House and Senate maps that are now in place (and that resulted in a 88-62 GOP majority in the House and a 19-12 majority in the Senate), and that was that.
Lawmakers didn't draw a congressional map, either — they didn't get any maps into law. The congressional map was drawn by a three-judge federal panel that took the old map, adjusted for population and for the Voting Rights Act that protects minority districts, and then called an election. That's the map now in place. Voters, favoring incumbency over party loyalty, elected 15 Republicans and 17 Democrats. In five of those districts, voters elected Democrats to Congress right after they pulled the lever for Republican John Cornyn for U.S. Senate just before they moved back to the GOP column to vote for Rick Perry for governor.
Just before the first special session croaked, there was an effort to revive the bill taking away performance reviews of state agencies and public schools from comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn. That's back with the new session. Strayhorn is still talking with former aide Mark Sanders, who worked for Tony Sanchez after leaving the comptroller's office. And the governor's office isn't amused: They sent word to Strayhorn that e-Texas will be in trouble as long as Sanders is lurking.
Anything's Possible When You're in Love
House Republicans got lemons and made lemonade when Democrats didn't show up on the second day of this new special session. House Speaker Tom Craddick pulled in a member at a time and when there were 100 people on the floor of the House — the overwhelming majority of them Republicans — he started suspending rules.
They introduced new bills that were replicas of what passed in the other special session just days before, skipped committees, and voted them out of the House and on to the Senate. The redistricting bill, for instance, took about 20 minutes to get from the icebox to the dinner table. When they were done, they had dumped most of the work on the Senate and they decided to break for a week. Among other things, that allowed members to go to a legislative conference in Washington, D.C.
In its rush, the House passed an elections bill authored by Rep. Mary Denny, R-Aubrey. She was counted among the lawmakers on hand when members registered for the second special session.
But the folks answering the phones in her capitol office this week said she was not available and that she hasn't been in town since the House broke a week earlier to make room on their calendars for a conference in San Francisco. In fact, she was honeymooning in Lake Tahoe when the first special session ended, when the second one began a few minutes later, and when her legislation was introduced, zipped through the House and passed on to the Senate.
Though she'd been counted as "present" at one point, she was on the list of absent members when her bill passed. Denny carried the same bill, apparently in person, during the first special session.
• Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, said she made sure the Democrats were going to a place with good medical facilities, noting Sen. Eddie Lucio's recent heart attack. Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, apparently thought that was a sympathy ploy, and said Lucio had been out playing golf with other senators in Austin before the New Mexico excursion. Lucio, who now calls Wentworth "doctor," says he did play golf and is feeling better. But he only lasted seven holes before tiring out.
The state Republican Party is trying to run off one of the members of the State Republican Executive Committee, accusing him of letting others listen in on a conference call that eventually was reported in the Houston Chronicle.
But the party won't talk about their investigation or what they're doing. They sent a notice to Thomas Whaley asking for his resignation by the end of July, or demanding that he appear at a secret hearing in about three weeks in Austin. The letter was apparently drafted by the party's general counsel, but a spokesman for the Party said SREC proceedings are secret and said the staff of the Party didn't know the details. Chairwoman Susan Weddington ducked our calls, through the same spokesman, citing the same desire for secrecy.
The Chronicle's story concerned a conference call where party regulars — there are two SREC members from each of the state's 31 Senate districts — talked about their responses and spin when talking about budget issues. Whaley is apparently being accused of letting others listen in, and of allowing someone — knowingly or not — to make a tape recording that was then passed along to the newspaper. It's not clear whether he's being accused of making the tape himself, or of letting the reporter in, or of allowing one of those things to happen.
Anyhow, the Chronicle's report apparently embarrassed Weddington by quoting her proposed spin for members of the SREC: "If you're used to getting a government subsidy, you don't like it when you don't get it. But it doesn't mean you're going to be harmed. It doesn't mean you're going to be without any other options." She added that families who lose Children's Health Insurance Program coverage would buy their own and "maybe have a little less disposable income or a little less inheritance from Mom and Dad."
Whaley was a surprise candidate at the last Republican state convention, where SREC members are elected by delegates. He'll find out later this month whether the party wants him to stay.
Something Less Controversial: School Finance
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst offered a weak carrot to the boycotters, naming the members of the committee that's supposed to cook up school finance plans for a special session next spring. The House members of the committee were named, and began meeting, several weeks ago. And Gov. Rick Perry has named three of the four members he'll have on the committee. Dewhurst named the six members from the Senate, and then Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, who chairs education (and this committee, too), said meetings will start next week. She'll be joined on the public school finance panel by Sens. Teel Bivins, R-Amarillo; Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville; Steve Ogden, R-Bryan; Todd Staples, R-Palestine; and Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio. The higher education panel, also headed by Shapiro, will include Sens. Kip Averitt, R-Waco; Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock; Kyle Janek, R-Houston; Royce West, D-Dallas; and Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo.
Dewhurst dropped a couple of hints about school finance in the process, saying he thinks the panel will try to finish by the end of this year, in anticipation of a special session after the March primary elections (there has been talk of a school finance session taking place as early as October, but that's apparently out). And if you'd missed it in earlier remarks on the House side, he and Shapiro made it clear that they'll be studying adequacy as they work on school finance. Short form for code breakers: Equity in funding is when every school district gets the same amount of money per student; adequacy is when each school district gets enough to provide kids with adequate educations.
Texas Supreme Court Justice Craig Enoch, one of three justices whose terms expire next year, says he won't run for reelection. In fact, he'll resign by the end of this year to make way for a replacement on the court. Enoch, who was a Dallas appellate judge at the time, ran for the high court in 1992. He beat Oscar Mauzy, a former state senator and a strong liberal on the court who'd been targeted by tort reformers angry with what they considered a pro-plaintiff court.
Enoch got his start as a judge in 1981, when then-Gov. Bill Clements appointed him to the district court bench in Dallas. Clements promoted him six years later, naming Enoch to an open spot at the 5th Court of Appeals. He remained there until running for the state's highest civil court. He'll be ending his second full term on the Texas Supreme Court at the end of next year.
Enoch said he has no immediate plans, but will "embark on a new career path." That could mean anything from law firm work to corporate work. He'll base whatever he does in Austin (both kids are in high school). He said he's leaving a court "recognized, nationally, for its well-reasoned opinions, its pioneering limits on judicial campaign contributions, and its commitment to judicial educational excellence." It's an all-Republican court now, and Enoch is third in seniority, behind Chief Justice Tom Phillips and Justice Nathan Hecht, who went on the court in 1988 and 1989, respectively.
Two other justices — Harriet O'Neill and Stephen Smith — also end their terms next year. Smith is new to the court — he was elected last year to an unexpired term. O'Neill, elected in 1998, is coming to the end of her first term. One other slot could open before the elections: Justice Priscilla Owen, who's fourth on the seniority list, is hoping to win U.S. Senate confirmation of her nomination for a place on the 5th U.S. Court of Appeals.
No recent governor has been able to name a majority of the members of the court. If the Owen confirmation comes through — an open question, given the U.S. Senate battle over her promotion — Gov. Rick Perry would be able to nominate her replacement as well as Enoch's. Owen is the last George W. Bush appointee still on the court. Phillips was first appointed by Clements, and will be his last appointee on the court. Justices Wallace Jefferson and Michael Schneider are both Perry appointees. The only other Perry pick — Xavier Rodriguez — lost to Smith in last year's elections.
Money and Hostages
That $800 million we scribbled about three weeks ago is back, but the landscape has changed. Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn popped the lock on those funds by saying lawmakers could do a couple of simple things that would free up about $800 million. She said then that the money should be spent on health care services cut by lawmakers during the regular session.
The people in the Pink Building ignored the second part of that presentation, but worked on legislation that would free up the money. Now that the Democrats are gone and Republicans want to lure them back, Gov. Rick Perry and others say the runaways are preventing the state from spending any of that money on health care. Perry says $167 million of the total could be put in place for health care before the new budget takes effect on September 1. The Democrats responded by saying the governor should drop redistricting instead of holding the health care recipients hostage.
And some of the number crunchers watching this stuff say some of the money — about $372 million — might be available even if the Legislature fails to act. There are two ways to get to it: Have the Legislature appropriate, which can't be done while the Senate is broken, or let the Legislative Budget Board take care of it. That can't take place if, as now, the full Legislature is in session, even if it's not functional.
Junk Food, Crazy Talk & Some Other Stuff
Soft drinks would be banned at elementary schools and limited in middle schools under rules proposed by Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs, whose agency has taken over the child nutrition programs that had been at the Texas Education Agency. She's put out rules for "Food of Minimal Nutritional Value, or FMNV" that would allow soda pop at high schools. In middle schools, it wouldn't be allowed at mealtimes. And in elementary schools, carbonated drinks and sweet drinks that contain no natural juice would be banned altogether (existing contracts with soda companies would be honored, but not renewed). Also on the banned list: certain candies, like gummy bears and hard candy and marshmallows and licorice. The new rules are taking effect as you read this, and you can look at the full thing if you click here.
• State Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, a former Democrat who switched parties to take on a popular Democratic congressman (Jake Pickle of Austin) after her own turn as a popular mayor of Austin, is not, not, not, "absolutely not" switching back to the Democratic Party.
This is just the sort of vaporous rumor you can't find in a respectable daily newspaper (and, for political reporters, the sort that the editors often won't let in), but it's been gathering steam in the background of the very visible mud-wrestling between the comptroller, the governor, the lieutenant governor and the speaker.
It stems from Strayhorn's noisy disagreements with the leadership over the last several months. The Republicans say she's been promoting "Democratic" programs like Texas Next Step, which would cover tuition costs at some colleges for Texas kids, appearing at press conferences with teacher unions, and suggesting new state money should go first for health care programs. If you squint, you can see the outline; in fact, some of the things she's done would position her for a switch if she wanted.
But if you turn on the lights and study it, it's hooey. First, she says so, and second, her voters are on the Republican side of the ledger, where she's been a top vote-getter among statewide candidates.
• Texans have tried to amend their constitution 587 times so far, managing in the process to make 410 changes to the original document. We get to try 22 more times in September, and if you want to study up, or help someone else study up, there are a couple of good places to look. The Texas Legislative Council put out a 150+-page booklet that gives the pros, the cons, and the enabling legislation for each amendment. That's online at their website.
The House Research Organization did a synopsis of the amendments on the September 13 ballot that's available online now, and will soon be available in print (the TLC booklet is already printed and available from that office). HRO's version is at their website.
Political People and Their Moves
Carolyn Purcell, executive director and chief information officer of the Texas Department of Information Resources, is retiring at the end of the month. She's headed that agency since 1994, overseeing the development of the state's website, it's Y2k preparations (remember that panic?) and a bunch of other information technology projects. She didn't say what she'll do next, and the board hasn't picked her replacement...
A couple of Texans are on their way to posts on the federal bench. The U.S. Senate confirmed the appointments of Lee Yeakel III of Austin and Kathleen Cardone of El Paso. Both zipped through the process, winning recommendations from the two Texas senators, appointment by president George W. Bush, then consent from a Senate committee and the full Senate within three months. Yeakel is currently on the 3rd Texas Court of Appeals in Austin; Cardone is a visiting state district judge. While those appointments were sailing, another was crashing on the shoals; for a third time, Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owens failed to win enough votes from the full Senate to get a spot on the 5th U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans...
President Bush nominated Pam Willeford — an Austin Republican and family friend — to be the U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland and to Liechtenstein. She's the president of Pico Drilling and already got one appointment from Bush; when he was governor, he named her to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which she now chairs...
Texas-born lawman LaFayette Collins, a veteran of the U.S. Secret Service, the Vietnam War, and four years at the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, might be on his way back to the federal government. U.S. Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn of Texas have recommended him to be the next U.S. Marshal for the western district of the state. That territory includes Odessa, where Collins was born, and stretches from El Paso to Waco and south to Austin and San Antonio...
Mike Liddell, an Austin Democrat who founded Campaign Momentum to help put political campaigns on the Internet, has moved east to put together the Internet marketing for U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman's campaign for president. Liddell's highest-profile gig until now was the Tony Sanchez for Governor effort...
Sure enough, the Texas AFL-CIO retired its president, Joe Gunn, at a crowded dinner, then elected Emmett Sheppard, the union's secretary-treasurer, in his place. The new secretary-treasurer is Becky Moeller of Corpus Christi. She's the first woman elected statewide in that outfit's history.
Quotes of the Week
Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, asked whether Gov. Rick Perry should take congressional redistricting off of the agenda to lure Democrats back to work on other business: "Senators don't tell the governor what to do. The governor tells senators what to do."
Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio, leader of the Senate Democratic Caucus, saying she and ten others will come back only if redistricting efforts are abandoned or if the Senate's "two-thirds rule" is reinstated for the special session: "If the rules can be changed because they don't get their way in regular session or another special session, what's to say that's not going to happen on school finance or on another important issue?"
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, countering rumors that "bounty hunters" were hired to go get Dems: "You're not going to see senators brought back in handcuffs as long as I'm lieutenant governor."
White House spokesman Scott McClellan, asked whether anyone on that end had talked with anyone on this end about congressional redistricting: "I don't know if there have been any recent ones or not. Certainly, I know that Karl Rove has always kept an active interest in Texas politics. And there have been some discussions that I've already noted a while back. But I don't know of anything recently. I just haven't checked on it."
Texas GOP chairwoman Susan Weddington, after AWOL Texas senators toured the New Mexico Capitol: "We would be more than happy to arrange for a free, guided tour of the Texas Capitol, starting with the Senate chamber, if the Democrats would simply return home and get back to work."
Southwest Airlines, in a weekly email that landed on the morning Senate Democrats left the state: "This week's Featured Destination is New Mexico with air fare specials to/from Albuquerque."
Texas Weekly: Volume 20, Issue 8, 4 August 2003. Ross Ramsey, Editor. George Phenix, Publisher. Copyright 2003 by Printing Production Systems, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission from the publisher is prohibited. One-year online subscription: $250. For information about your subscription, call (800) 611-4980 or email biz@ texasweekly.com. For news, email ramsey@ texasweekly.com, or call (512) 288-6598.