|Tom DeLay- Corporate Whore|
ARDMORE, Okla., May 15, 2003
Rep. Paul Moreno, far right, joins other Texas Democratic Representatives in prayer at a hotel in Ardmore, Okla. (AP)
"Way to go. Stand your ground."
A note Texas Democrats claim to have received from Willie Nelson
Congressman Tom DeLay, a Republican, apparently asked a staff lawyer if federal officers could intervene in the dispute. (AP)
(CBS) Several Democratic Texas Congress members have asked federal law enforcement agencies to disclose any help they gave to state officials trying to locate Democratic state lawmakers who've fled the state to block a vote on redistricting.
Most House Democrats secretly left the state Sunday night to prevent Republicans from pushing through a bill that would redraw boundaries for U.S. congressional districts that were already adjusted once after the 2000 census.
The Democrats fled Texas to avoid the reach of state troopers, who had been told to round them up, until that order was rescinded Tuesday night.
House rules allow for the arrest of members who intentionally thwart a quorum — which requires at least 100 of the body's 150 members to be present.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that an arm of the Homeland Security Department was asked by what the paper called "Texas law enforcement" to locate an airplane belonging to former Democrat House Speaker Pete Laney.
The agency tried to find the plane but failed.
All but one of Texas' congressional Democrats demanded that U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and FBI Director Robert Mueller disclose whatever help was provided.
U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, the driving force behind the Texas redistricting effort, said Tuesday that he consulted an attorney in his office to determine for Craddick whether FBI agents and U.S. marshals could be used to arrest the Democrats.
"This ought not to be Tom DeLay's personal police force," said U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas.
Nearly 300 miles from the Texas Capitol, the 51 "missing" House Democrats are whiling away their days at a Holiday Inn, chatting on cell phones by the pool, snacking at Denny's and caucusing in a conference room.
The standoff compelled the speaker to adjourn the House on Wednesday so Republicans could do committee work. Democrats say they won't be back until Friday, by which time the redistricting bill will die unless two-thirds of the House approves it.
"You get to a point where you draw a line in the sand and make a stand on principle," said Democratic state Rep. Pete Gallego. "We've reached our limit."
Republicans are furious the redistricting bill and hundreds of others are being lost to the ticking clock; the regular session ends June 2. "This is not democracy, it is extortion," said GOP Rep. Dianne White Delisi.
The Young Conservatives of Texas released a list of the "Top 10 Differences Between Fugitive Texas Democrats and Saddam Hussein." "Saddam ran an oil-for-food program. Texas Fugitive Dems are running a blackmail-for-quorum program," was number three.
Republican Gov. Rick Perry accused the Democrats of jeopardizing bills that address the multibillion-dollar state budget, children's health care and homeowners insurance. "I don't think the people of the state of Texas appreciate the work stoppage, the walking away from the important issues of the day," he said.
Others in Texas and Oklahoma are hailing the Democratic House members as heroes. Dozens of Democrats have flocked to Ardmore, about 30 miles north of the state line, wearing patriotic attire and bearing fruit baskets, balloons, cookies and barbecue.
Several newspapers across Texas also support the lawmakers.
"If they (House Democrats) believe their principles are worth fighting for, and they have only one means to fight for them, it's difficult to fault them for it," the Houston Chronicle said in an editorial.
Democrats deny that their absence threatens important state programs. They said Wednesday evening that they offered to come home immediately if House Speaker Tom Craddick promises not to bring up redistricting.
Later Wednesday, several Democrats said they had not gotten a reply from Craddick, who has repeatedly said he won't drop the redistricting proposal.
But the lawmakers said they had received bandannas, whiskey and a note from country singer Willie Nelson, who wrote "Way to go. Stand your ground."
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