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Texas Dems threaten House walkout

By J. Lyn Carl,

Austin, TX – If rumors are correct, the official "nose counter" in the Texas House is sharpening his pencil this morning.

Rumors of a walkout by Democratic members of the House to prevent a quorum have surfaced. Some unidentified Democrats have told media sources they plan to leave the state until Thursday. Without a quorum, the House would not be able to take up legislation.

At least 51 members would have to be absent when the House is slated to go into session at 10 this morning in order for there not to be a quorum.

"If it happens," said Austin political consultant Tony Proffitt Monday morning, "it's one of those once in a couple of decades political maneuvers." The last time such an incident occurred was in the late 70s when a group of Texas Senators dubbed the "Killer Bees" hid out in an Austin apartment to stall legislation in the Senate.

"It would be a radical move to slow down or derail legislation moving in the House," said Proffitt. "And it might not be politically popular with some people. They would probably be viewed as obstructive by some or they would be viewed as saviors by others.

"It cuts both ways if it happens."

Without a quorum, some major legislation still on the table for the House would be halted - the budget bill, insurance reform, tort reform, school finance, state reorganization, sunset bills and others. The lottery sunset bill looms large, as does other legislation awaiting House debate, because they provide funding for a budget that is $9 billion in the hole.

A walkout would just be the political maneuver du jour for the House in one of the most memorable - and many hope forgettable - sessions in House history.

In recent days, points of order have been the sticking points in the House that have prevented legislation from moving. Just Saturday, a point of order early-on ended debate on HB 2, the state reorganization bill.

"The point of order has become the political maneuver of choice," said Proffitt. "There have always been points of orders to raise concerns, but this session a good bit of them have been partisan. It's one of the few legislative maneuvers the Democrats have."

If there is a walkout as threatened, said the former political adviser and spokesman for the late Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, "it looks like it's all about (Congressional) redistricting."

Proffitt said a walkout would provide a "bold political statement."

"Redistricting always is radioactive," he said, "because it's so partisan."

Should the Congressional redistricting plan pass the House, who knows what will happen to it in the Senate. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst seems less than eager to take it up. Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos (D-Austin) says there aren't enough votes to pass it. Rumors are that Democrat Ken Armbrister of Victoria would vote for it and Republican Bill Ratliff of Mount Pleasant would vote against it.

"When redistricting hits the floor," said Proffitt, "people tend to vote their own personal ambition or the interest of their districts."

When the Killer Bees incident occurred in 1979, said Proffitt, it was over a bill that would have helped then-Gov. John Connally's presidential aspirations. The rumored walkout during the 78th Legislature centers on redistricting. "What's interesting is that it's usually over political stuff more than legislative stuff, which is the same thing that triggered the Killer Bee incident," he said.

"A presidential primary bill started the Killer Bee incident and this session it's redistricting. Once again, it has to do with political ambition."

"This has turned into a legislature of 'what can happen next,'" said the political consultant. "If a walkout occurs, it would certainly be a backlash against (Congressman) Tom DeLay's efforts to put a real partisan twist to the redistricting issue, especially after the attorney general ruled the legislature could, but wasn't required to, take up congressional redistricting.

"And if it happens, the effect will be that it shuts down the House and its legislative momentum."