On the Lege

Sine no die

The second called special session of the 78th Legislature came to an end this week, not with a bang but a series of whimpers. The official end came Tuesday morning, when the House and Senate adjourned sine die after a few minutes of nonbusiness, and the Republicans and Democrats immediately returned to the more pressing media wars. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, flanked by Republican senators, told reporters he remains disappointed that the absent Senate Democrats, aka the Texas 11, "weren't here to do the work we're required to do" -- that is, congressional redistricting. Dewhurst called redistricting "absolutely eventual," and said the Democrats should realize that they have to come home "sooner or later."

In response to questions, Dewhurst acknowledged that Republicans hadn't yet agreed on a redistricting compromise for West Texas -- where Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, and House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, have stalemated over which of their cities should anchor its own district. (Currently, both are in District 19, represented by newbie Randy Neugebauer, R-Lubbock.)

Dewhurst said he had spoken to the Democratic senators on Monday and offered some new suggestions, but declined to be more specific. Should Gov. Perry, as expected, call a third special session, Dewhurst said he would restore the two-thirds "blocker bill" for Senate procedure, "after we pass redistricting." Addressing the absent Democrats, he said, "Don't let yourself win two skirmishes and lose the war."

The Senate accomplished no business at all in 30 days -- the previous meeting, Aug. 22, lasted all of 36.9 seconds, according to the official webcast -- while the House passed dozens of honorary resolutions, and a handful of bills that vanished with the Senate wind. It went largely unnoticed that the House also could not muster a quorum in its final meetings, lacking not only many Democrats but a third of its 88 Republican members. Waco Democrat Jim Dunnam suggested that the House shut down Aug. 22, but Speaker Craddick refused to recognize such a motion.

Following Tuesday's adjournment, Dunnam and other House Democrats totaled up the bill for the two special sessions -- $3.4 million at the going rate -- and called on the governor and the Republicans to drop redistricting and focus on public schools, health care, etc. On Wednesday, Laredo Federal Judge George Kazen began hearing the Texas 11's lawsuit against David Dewhurst, et al., for dropping the two-thirds rule and imposing fines and sanctions on the absent senators. "They're resting their entire argument on a friendly judge in Laredo," said Dewhurst. "If they win there, it will immediately be appealed to the 5th Circuit or the Supreme Court."

Although both sides expect a "cooling-off period" (at least until after Labor Day) before Gov. Perry calls a third special session, seven of the Texas 11 -- who had planned to be in Laredo for Wednesday's hearing -- abruptly canceled their trip after rumors started flying that Perry would do the deed immediately, apprehend one or more senators once they returned to Texas, and "compel" them to return to Austin to form a quorum.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Justice informed the Texas secretary of state by letter that it does not need to give "preclearance" under the Voting Rights Act of Dewhurst's decision to drop the two-thirds rule. This decision was expedited at the state's request, and made without input from the Senate Democrats -- although they had been scheduled to meet with DOJ representatives this week. Civil rights attorney Gerald Hebert, who is representing the Dems in Laredo, said it's up to the federal courts to overrule the DOJ. Hebert, who formerly worked at the DOJ, told Quorum Report that "the Bush-Ashcroft Justice Department is the most politically corrupt administration ever to administer the Voting Rights Act. Time and again they put politics above law enforcement and minority voting rights."

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

David Dewhurst, 78th Legislature, redistricting, Texas 11, Robert Duncan, Tom Craddick, Jim Dunnam, George Kazen

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