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Dems absent again - from court hearing

By J. Lyn Carl,

Ausitn, TX – Hoping to avoid a close encounter of the worst kind, the handful of Texas Senate Democrats who had planned to leave their New Mexico hideout for a hearing on their lawsuit in federal district court in Laredo today have changed their minds.

A half dozen or so of the 11 who boycotted the Second Called Session of the 78th Texas Legislature for 30 days until it ended Tuesday had planned to fly to Laredo for the hearing on motions related to their lawsuit. They are in New Mexico, you will recall, to bust a Senate quorum and prevent a contentious congressional redistricting issue from coming to the Senate floor.

Their plan worked. The special session ended Tuesday with nary a bill passed, nary a quorum present, and nary a Republican happy.

With the special session ended, the "call on the Senate" has ended as well. Unless the Senate is in session, the Senate sergeant-at-arms and his officers have no authority to arrest and return the absent senators to Austin. The 'Texas 11' felt they would be relatively safe making a trip to Laredo. After all, said Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) Tuesday, the Mexico border is "10 minutes" from Laredo.

Then the rumors started to fly.

Word around the capitol was that there was a grand scheme being hatched by the Republican leadership. Spies in New Mexico would announce when the Senate Democrats left that state by plane. Spies in Texas would announce when they arrived on terra firma of the Lone Star State.

Gov. Rick Perry would then sign a proclamation calling for a Third Called Session to start immediately. The Senate sergeant-at-arms and/or his appointed agents would "arrest" the Democrats when they stepped off the plan and "compel" their attendance at the session in Austin, where Republican members would be waiting patiently in the Senate chamber. Add the "captured" Senate Dems to the waiting Repubs and voila, instant Senate quorum!

Sound like a plan?

Might have been - but for a capitol snitch.

Let's face it. It's really, really hard - if not impossible - to keep a secret at the big pink granite building.

Rumors started hatching, word started spreading?and the capitol rumor mill had reached New Mexico.

Some say it might even have been a Republican snitch who alerted the Dems in New Mexico.


How about Sen. Bill Ratliff of Mount Pleasant? Ratliff is the only Republican openly opposed to congressional redistricting. He signed a letter with 11 of the 12 Senate Democrats saying he was "unalterably" opposed to it. The highly respected senator once elected by his peers to serve as lieutenant governor would not even appear on the Senate floor for a vote on sanctions on his absent Democratic colleagues.

How about Republican Sen. Robert Duncan of Lubbock? Duncan and House Speaker Tom Craddick of Midland are at odds over proposed congressional maps and how their own hometowns are affected by the newly drawn districts. Tuesday Duncan said negotiations are continuing over the West Texas brouhaha but admitted there might not be a solution. That was before Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst stepped in to put a more positive "spin" on the issue, saying they are "working on a number of different solutions," the two sides "are a lot closer" and "we're making progress."

How about Sen. Ken Armbrister of Victoria? Armbrister is the only Democrat who stayed behind when the 'Texas 11' fled to New Mexico. He hid behind a shield of staying to try to protect rural Texans in the redistricting battle.

Or maybe someone else?

Rumor is that Duncan and Ratliff are not the only Republicans opposed to redistricting. They just happen to be the only two who have said so publicly. Democratic opponents have said from the start that numerous Republicans would be as happy as the Democrats if the proposed plans never saw the light of day.

At any rate, when the rumors reached New Mexico, the missing Dems reconsidered their return trip to Texas and decided - wouldn't be prudent...not gonna' happen.

Dems to Republicans - "Your move."