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Texas Democrats: Now You See Them, Now You Don't

Aired July 29, 2003 - 19:48   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, Texas political observers are experiencing deja vu all over again. Less than three months after House Democrats fled the state to avoid voting on redistricting, Senate Democrats have now done the exact same thing. The Texas secretary of state has issued a warrant for their arrest.
Ed Lavandera has the story in Austin.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN DALLAS BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): When some 50 Texas House Democrats ran for the border two months ago, the feisty group stayed at a $70-a-night Holiday Inn in Ardmore, Oklahoma. But Texas state senators are said to have a more refined and dignified style. So these Democrats chose a more stately hideout, a Marriott hotel in downtown Albuquerque, New Mexico, $160 a night.

The political bickering has cranked up again in Texas.

STEVE OGUEN (R), TEXAS STATE SENATOR: The Democrats ought to come back and do their job.

LETICIA VAN DE PUTTE (D), TEXAS STATE SENATOR: We call on Governor Perry to stop playing politics and start telling the truth.

LAVANDERA: Eleven Democratic state senators flew out of Austin on two private jets as soon as Texas Governor Rick Perry called a second special session to debate a government reorganization plan. Democrats say that's a fancy way of pushing a Congressional redistricting bill, which would likely give Texas Republicans another 5 to 7 seats in Congress.

ROYCE WEST (D), TEXAS STATE SENATOR: Redistricting is not a priority. The priority is in the state of Texas, should be solving the public school finance problem, dealing with health and human service issues, dealing with our tax structure.

LAVANDERA: There are several redistricting maps on the table. Literally, some of those maps are still sitting on desks inside the Senate chamber, which has been locked while Democrats remain on the loose. Republicans say the Democrats should just stop running away from the redistricting issue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No Texas problem has ever been solved in New Mexico. Today, we are here to invite our colleagues to return to Texas. Come home. Join us at the table and help us draw a fair and balanced Congressional redistricting map.


LAVANDERA: It was two months ago Texas House Democrats went up to Oklahoma. They've had several -- a couple special sessions here this summer. Essentially Texas House Democrats have lost their bid in stopping that redistricting bill. The Texas House has passed its own versions. All the eyes are now on the Texas Senate to stop -- the Democrats in the Texas Senate to stop the redistricting bill. So the Texas Senate Democrats that are in Albuquerque say they're willing to stay in Albuquerque for the length, the duration of this special session. That will be 30 days to stop it from happening.

By the way, only one Texas Democrat in the Senate did not make the trip to Albuquerque -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Ed Lavandera, it is just a fascinating story. Thanks very much.

Well, you won't find many Texas Democrat in the Texas Senate these days, as Ed pointed out. But you'll find plenty of them in New Mexico. And that's where we're going to go right now.

Senator John Whitmire and Senator Leticia Van de Putte join us now. They join us live from Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Thanks very much for being with us.

Senator Whitmire, I want to start off with you, you were elected to represent the people of the state of Texas. How are you doing that from Albuquerque?

SEN. JOHN WHITMIRE (D), TEXAS STATE SENATOR: Been very busy today representing my district and the people of the state of Texas, talking with my colleagues about a number of issues, primarily about this redistricting issue, the decision to come here. So we have been in constant touch with our constituents, our district, and our Austin offices. So probably been two of the hardest working days in recent weeks and months, so...

COOPER: You know, I think I'm not...

WHITMIRE: How can we represent our district?

COOPER: Obviously...

WHITMIRE: We do a real fine job of representing our people out here.

COOPER: All right. Obviously, you know, from people who are outside the state who are just following this, I mean, it's certainly a unique circumstance -- well, I guess not that unique. It happened once before with the House Democrats. But certainly unique to the state of Texas thus far.

What is so bad about this redistricting, in your opinion? I mean, I know it -- I guess it maybe goes against the Democrats and therefore I understand politically why you don't like some of the changes that the GOP is making in Texas, but isn't that just the luck of the draw?

WHITMIRE: No, sir. I wish we had time to really get in-depth.

There are many Republicans, such as the mayor of Lubbock, Texas, who is a former Republican Party chair, very much opposed to it. So there are Republicans and Democrats across the state opposed to this because we had redistricting two years ago. We've had elections. So the Republicans would like to redraw the lines, take the names and faces out of those districts that were elected by the people and redraw the map. So that is the major issue.

But the reason that we're in Albuquerque is because the Senate leadership chose to suspend and take away a long-time Senate tradition of requiring two-thirds of the senators, a blocker bill as we call it. You must have two-thirds of the Senate to agree to bring up a bill. For this only item they've decided to go to a simple majority of 16. What that does, it disenfranchises the senators. And we feel so strongly about this that we want the rules to be kept the same as they were during the first called special and during the regular. It is so important to all the people of Texas that the state Senate operate as we have...

COOPER: But there's now going to be this special session ...

WHITMIRE: ...requiring us to sit down and work --

COOPER: There's now going to be this special session.

WHITMIRE: Well, but....

COOPER: I mean, how long can you stay away?

WHITMIRE: But the question ought to be posed -- we can stay as long as we need to represent our district.

The question ought to be to the leadership is -- why do you change the rules in the middle of the game? That's what allowed us to come to Albuquerque. If they will go back today to the rules that we were operating under yesterday, before the new called session, we'll be on the first plane back to Austin. We are ready to debate redistricting. We think it is wrong. We're unalterably opposed to changing the lines after the people have spoken. But we don't mind debating it on its merits or lack of. We want the rules to be the same for this issue as they are on the others.

An example, the governor opened the call today to other issues, meaning that we will take up transportation and school funding. Can you believe that the two-thirds rule, the Senate tradition will apply to those two issues but not to redistricting? Totally unfair and it disenfranchises the senators' districts that can't -- decided to come to Albuquerque.

And I will suggest to you many Republican senators agree with us on this issue. COOPER: All right. Senator John Whitmire, appreciate you joining us to talk about why you're in Albuquerque, New Mexico instead of Austin. We'll be following this closely.

Also want to apologize. We had planned to talk to Senator Leticia Van de Putte. We had audio problems yet again tonight. Couldn't get her hooked up in time. But we appreciate you joining us, Senator Whitmire.


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