Democrats back, fined and disappointed

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The runaway state Senate Democrats have returned back to Texas, and both state and local political figures voice their opinions on how this will affect the future of politics in Texas.On July 28, eleven Democratic state senators fled Texas to New Mexico in protest of a special session to redraw the Texas Congressional districts. This followed a similar Democratic walkout in the state House of Representatives in May, with 59 congressmen staying in Oklahoma to protest a redistricting bill. With the 11 senators missing, the Texas Senate was not in quorum and could therefore not legally make any legislation.The argument has been made on the Democratic side that allowing the now mostly Republican Texas Legislature to redraw the maps is gerrymandering and a violation of the district borders established by the U.S. Federal District Court in 2001, and more specifically, will harm the representation of minorities in the state.Republicans have countered by stating Texans have voted Republican steadily and increasingly throughout the 1990s, and the 2001 Texas Senate, which was mostly Democratic at the time, failed to adjust the district lines to accommodate this changing trend in 2001, and that minorities will not be underrepresented following the redistricting.David Beckwith, spokesman for Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, said 56 percent of Texans vote Republican and 65 percent support President Bush, but these figures are not represented properly in the U.S. House of Representatives.”The current congressional lines do not reflect this demographic,” Beckwith said.Beckwith said as far as the claim that the proposed lines are gerrymandering is concerned, the Almanac of American Politics stated the 1991 Congressional district map was heavily gerrymandered in the Democratic favor. The new maps being proposed in the Texas Senate and House of Representatives would properly represent the political make-up of Texas.Beckwith added the Democrats in both state legislative houses who protested the redistricting line tried to use minority rights as a political issue to avoid giving up power.”We don’t think that only Democrats can represent minorities,” Beckwith said. “We’re very proud of our minority following.””What they’re saying is anything that harms Democrats also harms minorities. The new map does not touch eight of the 11 largely minority districts, and the remaining three would only be adjusted by about one percent.”Political science professor John Holcombe said the result of the two walkouts would result in a greater polarization of politics in Texas.”I would take this as a strong sign that the party division is very strong,” Holcombe said.Holcombe said with the senate walk out, the Democrats had just enough people to prevent a quorum. When Senator John Whitmire returned home on Sept. 2, the quorum was reinstated and remaining in New Mexico became a moot point for rest of the senators, who all returned on Sept. 15.”I give Whitmire some credit, because the institution is more important than one issue,” Holcombe said.As far as the impact that the redistricting would have on the state, Holcombe gave two responses.”In the districts that are being changed, the voters were electing Democrats,” he said. “But Republicans are the majority, and to the victor goes the spoils, so they get to draw the lines.”There was also controversy about fines that were to be imposed on the senators for leaving the state.”The Democrats have a good point, there was not a quorum of the senate,” he said. “I suppose it could go to court. To me it seems more symbolic. The Republicans were upset the Democrats broke quorum.”He said that by dropping the charges, the Republicans found a way to save face against “punishing” the Democrats for bringing national attention and embarrassment to the state by the walkout. Holcombe added that the Democrats did not respond correctly to results of their actions by trying to avoid punishment.”The notion of civil disobedience is you ignore the law but face the consequences,” he said. In the end, Holcombe said the reason for the walkout was over who had control of the state.”A big consideration was power, it was ‘I can make you!’ and ‘No, you can’t!’,” Holcombe said.He also said the walkout may set a negative precendent, and future arguments may also result in politicians fleeing the state.”That’s the problem with leaving on the basis of principle, because it you can do it, someone else can do it too,” he said.Holcombe said the test to find out how the polarizations have effected the state will be in future skirmishing between Democrats and Republicans over laws.”The main thing to watch is if future compromise is made more difficult,” Holcombe said.Currently, Huntsville and the rest of Walker County are located in state District 2, which is represented in the U.S. House of Representatives by Democratic congressman Jim Turner. Holcombe said this would soon change following the two plans proposed in two Texas Legislative houses.”The version that passed the House had Walker County with Montgomery Country, which would place us in a Republican district,” he said. “The senate version splits Walker Country.””Supposedly in the House version, they would gain six seats, and the senate version, they would gain three seats,” Holcombe said. “It’s always very intense, because it decides which party has the most votes.”Holcombe said the arguments being made now all seem to be made by Republicans over the shape the bills being proposed. Whatever choice is made, he said there was a good chance Walker County would not remain in District 2.With the proposal in the House, Walker Country would become part of District 8, and with the Senate proposal it would be divided between districts 8 and 31.A spokesman for Congressman Turner said his office had no official comment on the redistricting issue until it was resolved.