Lawmakers on the Lam
BOISE, Idaho -- When last we left the saga of Texas' few living elected Democrats, they had fled the state pursued by minions of the law -- legislators on the lam. These courageous citizens, fleeing vile Republican oppression in their state capital, took refuge at the Holiday Inn in Ardmore, Oklahoma.
Reporters embedded with the law-breaker law-makers in Ardmore say the perps remain unrepentant.
Meanwhile, back at the capitol, mighty was the wrath of the Republicans left holding session without a quorum. Bills died by the dozens as the lawmakers wanted by the law bollixed up the legislative works (bills not passed through second reading as of May 15 die automatically, a bit of legislative process the fleeing Dems cunningly used to their advantage).
Gov. Goodhair Perry, who keeps saying he wants more civility and bipartisanship, denounced the AWOL solons as "cowardly," childish" and "irresponsible." It was a bad day for bipartisanship.
Everyone mourned the death of legislative civility while colorfully cursing the other side. Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick, the tyrant whose insupportable conduct forced these brave heroes to leave their native heath (you getting the spin here?), said he refused to negotiate (typical!) and that the Killer D's were embarrassing the state of Texas. What with one thing and another, it's hard to embarrass Texas (the price of gasoline has gotten so high, women who want to run over their husbands have to carpool now), but it is kind of embarrassing to have a government that decides to cover a $10 billion deficit by taking services away from the poorest, the weakest, the most frail, oldest and youngest Texans.
The manhunt continued despite the presence of a swelling press corps in Ardmore. Gov. Perry asked neighboring governors to arrest the perps on sight. The attorney general of New Mexico obligingly put out an all-points bulletin on any politicians who favor health care and oppose tax cuts for the rich. U.S. House Majority Leader Tom (the Hammer) DeLay, who caused the walkout with a stupefying redistricting map, threatened to send the federales after the recalcitrant D's. Yup, he wants to send the FBI and the U.S. Marshals to bring the runaway solons home in cuffs.
As you can see, cooler heads are hard to find.
Now on the redistricting map that touched off this mess, I have seen maps that are works of art. I have seen districts that look like giant chickens and districts that look like coiled snakes. But this map is a masterpiece, a veritable Dadaist work reminiscent of Salvador Dali's more lunatic productions. Unfortunately, the D's may not have much of a legal argument here. True, it has been 50 years since a legislature has overturned a court-ordered redistricting plan; on the other hand, nothing says they can't. The courts have said gross political gerrymandering is impermissible, but it's a tough area of law.
Many years ago, when Delwin Jones was redistricting chairman, an aggrieved member addressed him: "Dell-win, lookahere what you have done to mah district. It's got a great big ball on the one end, then it runs in a little bitty strip for 300 miles, then there's a great big ball at the other end. Damn thing looks like a pair of dumbbells. Now, the courts say the districts have to be com-pact and con-tiguous. Is this yer idea of com-pact and con-tiguous?" Delwin pondered deeply before replying, "Wha ell, in a artistic sense, it is."
Thursday brought us a kinder, gentler Speaker Craddick, the Disney version if you will. Come home, he said, all is forgiven. Redistricting is dead. There will be no retribution. This was widely disbelieved by a churlish press corps.
Back in Ardmore, the Fun Capital of southern Oklahoma, Democrats prepared to board buses after midnight (the final deadline and death knell for the dread redistricting act) and return to duty.
They come home heroes to their people. A Boise Democrat said he planned to confront the state's legislative D's with headlines and pictures of the Texas Killer D's and to label the montage, "Democrats With Cojones." Unfortunately, it was pointed out, there aren't enough Idaho Democrats to break a quorum.
This episode has nothing to do with "payback." The Texas congressional redistricting plan currently in effect was drawn by the courts and was a great disappointment to Democrats. It is not outrageous Democratic gerrymandering: Texas Republicans vote for D's like Charlie Stenholm because they like them.
Nor is Speaker Craddick's session-long performance combining the best elements of "Dracula" and "The Eggplant That Ate Chicago" payback for some heavy-handed Democratic domination. For the past 10 years, the speaker of the House has been a decent, honorable and exceptionally fair man named Pete Laney. If you don't believe me, go ask George W. Bush. (Of course, Laney does sound exactly like Boomhauer on "King of the Hill," but that's a different problem.)
In 35 years I can remember only one Texas speaker who behaved as odiously as Tom Craddick. The guy's name was Gus Mutscher, and Craddick and I both fought against him.