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Texas Democrats Make a Run For the Border

Aired May 13, 2003 - 19:41   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: You know the phrase when the going gets tough, the tough get going? You're about to meet some Texas politicians who have actually taken that literally.
Here's Ed Lavandera with the Texas application of that phrase.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just north of the Texas border, a group of about 50 Texas Democratic representatives have turned this Holiday Inn in Ardmore, Oklahoma, into a mini Texas state capital.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This it right here. That's right.

LAVANDERA: There are political rallies.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is about vote voting rights.

LAVANDERA: A swarm of news media and a hotel conference room has been turned into a makeshift committee room. All this, they say, to protest Texas Republican efforts to pass a new Congressional redistricting plan being pushed by U.S. Representative Tom DeLay.

BARRY TELEFORD (D), TEXAS HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: We have a message for Tom DeLay: Don't mess with Texas.


TELEFORD: This is a House technicality that says that if a third of us don't want to bring up the bill we just don't have to be present on the House floor.

LAVANDERA: Texas Republican leaders did try to get the Democrats to show up at the state capitol. State troopers were sent to their homes door to door to force them back to work. A deck of playing cards with the Democrats' faces was also made up to help authorities identify the missing legislators.

And one Republican had a simple message asking Democrats and E.T. to call home.

Actually, most Republicans didn't find this political stunt very fun. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that's what they are is a bunch of chicken dees. How do you think the Republicans have felt the last 130 years? Their hands have been tied. The last two or three sessions we've had members busted off committees, we've had our bills killed and yet we showed up and we voted for our constituents.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Texas Democrats need to live up to their responsibility, their oath of office which simply requires that they represent the people in Austin for 140 days every two years. My Democrat friends, it's time to come back to work.


LAVANDERA: And that is the big question, how long the Texas Democrats will stay here at this Holiday Inn in Ardmore, Oklahoma just a few miles north of the Texas border. They say they're prepared to stay here as long as it takes. In fact, they've calculated that they could kill this redistricting legislation if they stay here until Thursday or perhaps Friday and they're prepared to do that as long as the governor, lieutenant governor of the Texas and the speaker of the house in Texas continue to try to push this redistricting bill through the legislature. And until they promised not to do so they stay they'll stay here until that legislation gets killed.

And as one protester here who has shown up this afternoon says that these Democrats were supposed to have run for Texas, not for the border -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Ed Lavandera, it is bizarre. We're going to have more on this right now. Thanks very much, Ed.

Want to get a little more background on the debate in the Texas legislature. Christy Hoppe is a staff writer who covers Texas politics for "The Dallas Morning News." She joins us from Austin.

Christy, I got to tell you I haven't spent much time in Texas but this is the strangest thing I've ever seen. You got these Democrats hiding out in some motel in Oklahoma and you've got the Republicans printing up playing cards with the missing Democrats faces on it.

Can you explain to a -- to, you know, -- to -- to a jaded New Yorker what is going on?

CHRISTY HOPPE, DALLAS MORNING NEWS: I don't know why you think it's strange. This is just Texas.

Yes, they are playing a giant game of chicken. They are -- the Democrats are holding out in another state where they can't be arrested and Republicans want them to come home so they can take up important business, redistricting on the top of that list.

COOPER: It's a strange situation that -- I mean, some people are actually saying these Texas Democrats are actually more powerful by hiding out at the Holiday Inn in Oklahoma than they are if they were doing their job.

HOPPE: Absolutely.

The Democrats number 62, out of 150-member House. It's the first time they've been a minority party in 131 years and they don't like the way that that coat fits. So the Republicans, at the same time, are moving through an agenda that's been stymied forever. And so they're having, well, growing pains, but these growing pains feel more like a divorce.

COOPER: You know, the Texas Rangers say they always get their man but I guess they can't in this case because they need the permission of Oklahoma authorities and those Oklahoma authorities aren't giving permission, is that right?

HOPPE: That's correct.

I mean, the arrest warrant, you've got to understand -- that were issued weren't issued by a judge or magistrate or anybody like that. They were written up by the parliamentarian of the Texas House and it basically is about Texas House rules. You have to be there to conduct business and so it's really not enough for any authority or out of state especially to round up a nest of renegade Democrats and drag them back down to Texas.

COOPER: All right. So the deadline for this bill is Thursday. What's going to happen?

HOPPE: Well, we don't know. But somebody's got to give eventually. If House Speaker Tom Craddick decides that the redistricting bill is going to stay and he's not going to be buffaloed into anything else, then the Democrats stay where they are and a lot of things die, not just redistricting.

COOPER: What is this going to do to these guy's political future? I mean, is there any outrage in Texas over this? I mean, it's -- you know, it's all very sort of amusing and funny and ha-ha, they're in this motel. But, you know, they're not showing up for their jobs.

HOPPE: No, and there are a lot of people who are quite angry about it and at the same time it's funny because cutting and running is being touted as heroics among a lot of Democrats.

They saw that this redistricting bill was being ramrodded through. They find it highly partisan. It comes after an already blistering long session. The Democrats said enough is enough, we can't stop it with our votes, we'll is stop it with our feet.

COOPER: All right. Hey, Christy, it was great talking to you. We appreciate you joining us. Thank you very much.

HOPPE: You bet.

COOPER: All right.


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