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October 06, 2003

Primary Likely to be Delayed

By Byron LaMasters

Today is the deadline to pass a redistricting map that would be able to go into effect by the March 2nd primary as 90 days from now (the time it takes for a law to become effective) is the filing deadline for the primary. Only a two-thirds majority in both houses could shorten the 90 day wait (which won't happen becuase Democrats would oppose the move). Thus the only solution for Republicans after today would be to move the March 2nd primary back. The Houston Chronicle reports:

"Republican infighting over congressional redistricting Sunday apparently will cost Texas its spot in the "Super Tuesday" primaries that could decide who is the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004.

The House and Senate had planned to come in Sunday to debate a final GOP congressional redistricting proposal. But after negotiations between Republican legislators broke down Saturday, both chambers met briefly, then adjourned until Wednesday.

Secretary of State Geoff Connor has said that if a plan is not adopted by midnight today he will not be able to conduct a primary as scheduled on March 2. Connor, the state's chief elections officer, said the primary would have to be moved to March 9.

"I know the Senate was very determined to get this done before we had to change any primary dates," said Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, one of the Senate negotiators. "We have, in essence, missed that deadline."

Duncan said that if a redistricting bill is passed, the primary date will have to be pushed back for the new congressional district lines to be used in the 2004 elections.

"Right now, we don't have any choice if we want to move a redistricting bill forward," said Duncan.


If a redistricting bill is passed, it would not take effect until 90 days after Gov. Rick Perry signs it. Connor's office then would need enough time to allow candidates to file for the races, print ballots and hold early voting.

Moving the primary might also cause problems among Republicans. Dan Branch is quoted here as opposing such a move:

The primary date was shifted from March 9 to March 2 under a bill approved during the regular legislative session. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, said the primary was moved so it will not be held in the midst of the public school spring break.

Branch last week said he did not believe there were enough votes in the House to move the primary back to March 9.

King and House Speaker Tom Craddick said they have the votes to move the date. Duncan said he did not know whether the Senate could support the date change.

Of course, the change in the primary date would also have national implications:

By moving to March 2, Texas joined some of the nation's largest states in holding a presidential primary on the same day. The other states include California, New York and Ohio.

"If the primary is moved from March 2, Texas Democrats will have no voice in who will be the nominee of the Democratic Party," said state House Democratic Chairman Jim Dunnam of Waco.

Dunnam said most candidates will have been winnowed out of the race either before or on March 2.

"I'd like to have a voice in who is going to oppose George Bush," Dunnam said.

Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, described moving the primary as un-American.

"That's something that happens in other places," Coleman said. "We don't move elections in the United States of America to make room for power grabs."

The drama on Sunday was in the House, where a dozen Democrats attempted to shut down the session. The Fort Worth Star Telegram reports:

While Republican legislative leaders continued to squabble among themselves over congressional redistricting, a band of Democratic lawmakers hatched a plan Sunday that could have killed the process, which they have been fighting since spring.

But the plan, which came on the day that legislative leaders needed to have an agreement on redistricting without moving the March 2 primaries, was scuttled by Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick, who was unaware of what the Democrats had been planning.

Here's how it happened:

With redistricting at an impasse, both legislative chambers had been out of action since Thursday. But they had to reconvene Sunday to avoid breaking a state constitutional requirement that prohibits either chamber from taking more than three consecutive days off during a legislative session.

So Craddick called the House to order to hear a motion to adjourn until Wednesday. But just as he was slamming down his gavel to make the adjournment official, about a dozen Democrats shouted their objections.

If Craddick had not ignored them, the Democrats would have offered an amended motion to call off the session and send House members home. And it might have worked because almost none of the Republican members had shown up to vote it down.

"Our intention was to move to adjourn sine die and put an end to all of this," said Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, using the Latin phrase that translates roughly to "without a set date" and is legislative slang for calling it quits.

Democrats later accused Craddick of ignoring House rules and operating in a "dictatorial" fashion. Through a spokesman, Craddick, R-Midland, said that the Democrats were late in announcing their objection and that the gavel fell before their voices were raised.

"He didn't know what they were up to," said Bob Richter, the speaker's press secretary. "He knew there were certain troublemakers out on the House floor, and [House leaders] were expecting something, but they didn't know what it was."

Democrats were, of course, outraged:

"In the Texas House of Representatives, the rules have no meaning under Tom Craddick's leadership," said Rep. Paul Mabry, D-Waco. "He blatantly, blatantly defied the written letter of the law as set out by the House rules."

Craddick later issued a statement in which he said that because there was no quorum present, his only options were to recognize a motion to put a call on the House or adjourn.

And here:

"He called us Chicken D's," said Rep. Rick Noriega, D-Houston, recalling Craddick's nickname for the 51 Democrats who fled to Oklahoma in May to stop a vote on congressional redistricting. "But I never saw anyone run as fast as he did. It was a complete act of cowardice."


Dunnam said the speaker's quick gavel was another example of an autocratic leader with a Republican majority overrunning the Democrats — even when the Republicans didn't show up. He said Sunday's brouhaha is likely to end up in litigation over a final map.

The drama continues.

Posted by Byron LaMasters at October 6, 2003 12:03 PM | TrackBack


Hi folks:

I'm new to Texas having just moved here from Alaska where the Republican-controlled State legislature is even more crazed than it is here.

Question I have is this: What chance would the Democrats have in killing a vote to delay the primary? It looks like they won't be able to hold off redistricting forever, but it seems to me that the Democrats could walk out of a vote to delay the primary, forcing the State to use the existing map through 2004 elections. Is that even conceivable?

Posted by: Kent Lind at October 6, 2003 04:15 PM

I'm no longer certain whether failure to produce a quorum would stop anything at this point, since Craddick in particular seems determined to force something (anything?) through at this point.

At the risk of jinxing things, I hope the Killer D's are seriously considering not showing up on Wednesday (this time, Shreveport should be chosen, just so no favoritism is shown). I THINK that would end this special session, forcing yet another one. Eventually, it'll be too late to get the lines in place for 2004 (it probably is already, given the legal war that will take place instantly upon passage of ANY new plan, since the feds will probably enjoin any changes pending a SCOTUS decision in the Pennsylvania case, and, potentially, a referral back of the Georgia Senate case that was decided earlier this year).

To a certain extent, the need to change the primary date is just wishful thinking by the R's, since it's hard to realistically expect any new plan to get over the legal hurdles in time for the 2004 election.

Posted by: precinct1233 at October 6, 2003 05:09 PM

Well, they can jack off all they want without a quorum, but anything they produce won't be worth the paper it's written on. Even the most Republican court in the state will be forced to invalidate any law passed without a quorum. That much I DO know.

Excuse my ignorance but when does the regular session start in Texas? Seems to me that the Democrats won't be able to really block anything that comes up in the regular sesson because they'll be obligated to be there for the budget and other essential work.

Posted by: Kent Lind at October 6, 2003 09:07 PM

Excuse my ignorance but when does the regular session start in Texas?

I haven't lived here much longer than you, so I don't know exactly. But I do know the regular sessions run from about February through May of odd-numbered years. (Hopefully someone else can be more precise.) The Texas Lege doesn't have a regular session in even-numbered years.

Posted by: Mathwiz at October 6, 2003 09:18 PM

Texas has a biennial Lege. Only meeting every other year in odd years for a few months. Some say we did it so that the Lege could only screw us over as little as possible.

Posted by: Jacob M. at October 6, 2003 09:59 PM

So basically if they don't delay the primary now, they have to wait until 2005?

Seems like the Democrats could certainly prevent the GOP from delaying the primary if they played hard ball again.

Am I missing something?

Posted by: Kent Lind at October 7, 2003 12:11 PM

No, they don't have to wait till 2005 to DeLay the primary. Our wonderful state has given the Guv the power to call as many special sessions as he or she sees fit. Guv. Goodhair could call another special session of the Lege that deals with redistricting, but the Lege could then also vote to move back the date of the primary. But any new map that comes out will have to be approved by the Justice Dept. as well as withtstand the almost certain lawsuits against it. I'm 99% sure that's how it would work. Of course, with the way this state has been transformed into a banana republic, nothing outrageous would surprise me.

Posted by: Jacob M. at October 7, 2003 04:37 PM
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