Thursday, May 15, 2003

The Lone Party State

The Lone Party State
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
May 15, 2003

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) summed it up both plainly and succinctly on the Fox News Channel when he said of the wayward Democrats in the Lone Star State legislature, “it’s like a child with a temper tantrum. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose – that’s democracy.”

Perry made his comments on Wednesday, May 14 on the heels of the 59 Democrats in the state house having fled north of the border to Ardmore, OK in Carter County. (Actually, some were said to have fled to New Mexico or even Mexico.) Republicans hold an 88 to 62 majority in the state’s lower house – the first time the GOP has enjoyed a majority in both houses in 130 years. The Democrats, not used to their new role as the minority party, are behaving like sore losers. And to the victors, go the spoils.

However, it is the contention of the Democrats in the Texas State House that they have turned tail because of a redistricting plan to which they object. Granted, some districts have been so severely gerrymandered that Eldridge Gerry is no doubt spinning in his grave.

But Greg Davidson, Executive Clerk for Gov. Perry, is not buying the Democrats’ claim. “This is a push by trial attorneys using this to discredit the leadership of the house and win back a majority in the 2004 elections,” said Davidson in a telephone interview from Austin.

According to the proposed redistricting plan, one particular downtown street in the state’s capital of Austin, a traditionally liberal bastion, would be hacked up and placed into four congressional districts. Adding to the mix, one of those four pieces would end up in a congressional district connected to the Mexican border roughly 300 miles away, noted The Washington Post of May 13. So, to be fair to the Democrats, some of the redrawn districts are loopy and make no sense, but there has to be a better way than running away.

The Texas state legislature meets for a 140 day session every two years. This years’ session is due to expire on Tuesday, June 3. One of the executive powers held by the governor is to call the legislature into a special session. Perry said the regular session could end without a state budget and with other key legislation, such as the lowering of homeowners’ insurance, laying dormant without passage.

Other executive powers the governor possesses are the ability to submit emergency matters, tagged as priority, to the legislature during the session; the ability to call a special election in order to fill a vacancy; the ability to appoint heads of agencies; and the ability to review all bills and resolutions to either sign, veto or file with no signature. Unlike a federal pocket veto, when a Texas governor commits a file with no signature, in essence, it is approved.

“I will call them back for a special session – you bet I will,” said Perry to Tony Snow on Fox News.

What the Democrats are doing is gumming up the works, by not showing up to work – work the voters elected them to perform. The voters have a greater recourse than Gov. Perry himself, said Davidson. “The governor has no power over another branch,” said Davidson.

There will be “no repercussions,” said Perry. “Come on back and do the work and pass legislation. The voters will decide on repercussions,” he added. “They’ve had their fun. They have to come home and explain to their constituents why they can’t do their jobs.”

Because Gov. Perry does not have the authority to fire the runaway Democrats the way President Ronald Reagan fired the air traffic controllers in the interest of national security, it is up to the voters to fire their legislators. The voters need to deliver a message that they sent those legislators to Austin to do a job and if those elected officials don’t do that job, by being voted out, they will be fired.

As for extradition, Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry, a Democrat, refused. Some have suggested that there is no cause to extradite these Democrats on the lam. The Democrats are on the lam because the Texas Rangers received orders to track down, arrest and bring back to Austin the lawmakers to finish their work. And, in order to elude capture, the Democrats needed to cross state lines, rendering Texas authorities impotent by virtue of being outside their jurisdiction. That extradition is used to return a lawbreaker to the jurisdiction where the law was broken is the excuse used by those supporting the Democrats, claiming no broken laws, no extradition.

Under the Rules of the House – 78th Legislature, Rule 5 – Floor Procedure; Section 8: “…All absentees for whom no sufficient excuse is made may, by order of a majority of those present, be sent for and arrested, wherever they may be found, by the sergeant-of-arms or an officer appointed by the sergeant-of-arms for that purpose, and their attendance shall be secured and retained.”

It appears evident that the words “wherever they may be found,” should give the Texas Rangers or other state authorities carte blanche to arrest the miscreant Democrats even in Oklahoma or New Mexico. Mexico may be another kettle of fish, however.

The Texas state constitution also supports the forceful retrieving of the missing Democrats. Article 3 – Legislative Department; Section 10 – Quorum; adjournments from day to day; compelling attendance says, “Two-thirds of each House shall constitute a quorum to do business, but a smaller number may adjourn from day to day, and compel the attendance of absent members, in such manner and under such penalties as each House may provide.”

Could the Democrats be guilty of breach of contract? After all, they were elected to serve throughout a 140 day session and are not living up to their end of the bargain. Could the Democrats be guilty of reckless endangerment? By abandoning their jobs, they have left hundreds of bills unattended – bills designed to improve the quality of life and protect all Texans – Democrats, Republicans, Independents and those not affiliated or even old enough to vote.

While many  people both inside Texas and on the outside looking in are getting a good chuckle from the runaway Democrats, this is no laughing matter. The Democrats are behaving like spoiled brats who have fled because they are not going to get their way as they have for the past 130 years. Their actions are unprecedented and should not go unpunished. The truant Democrats have no right to play fast and easy with state resources, nor do they have the right to hold the state of Texas hostage while they take their equipment and scurry from the field like little leaguers spurned by the rest of the team.

Sanford D. Horn is a writer and political consultant living in Alexandria, VA.

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