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Gutsy Texas Democrats refused to roll over

With thousands of Minnesota’s poor and communities of color to be further pushed into “harms way”, as a result of proposed budget cuts, Representative Keith Ellison, DFL-Minneapolis,… With thousands of Minnesota’s poor and communities of color to be further pushed into “harms way”, as a result of proposed budget cuts, Representative Keith Ellison, DFL-Minneapolis, is warning that the four-day secession from the Texan State Legislature by 51 members of their House of Representatives two weeks ago, is a lesson for Democrats here.

“All over the country, not only in Texas and Minnesota, we have seen these dramatic (budget) cuts that have affected the most vulnerable members of our community. We would not be opposed to a shut down (of the Legislature) as my constituents feel like we have already been shut out,” said Rep. Ellison.

Speaking to the DFL-led Senate decision to accept Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s no new taxes pledge, Rep. Ellison said, “I agree that certain fractions of the Democratic Party could have fought longer, but I cannot say that in the House Caucus that is so – because we are being out-voted so much, we are just tired and maybe our friends in Texas were pushed to this same point where the feeling is, we have nothing to lose.”

Rep. Ellison responded to a brief from Texas Democrat Representatives Terri Hodge (Dist. 100) and Dr. Jessie Jones (Dist. 110), all were guests on last week’s “Conversations with Al McFarlane Public Policy Forum.”

Texas House Democrats, in a self-imposed exile that led them some 32 miles outside the jurisdiction of Texas law enforcement officials who had civil warrants to bring them back to the Capitol in Austin, succeeded in depriving their Legislative House of a quorum. The move was designed as a move to block a Republican-backed bill to redraw their state’s congressional districts.

The Texas Legislature, which meets once every other year for approximately five months, is nearing the end of its 140-day session. The deadline for the House to consider the proposed redistricting bill was at midnight two weeks ago. The Democrats said they had accomplished what they set out to do when they checked into a Holiday Inn hotel in Oklahoma.

Republicans took control of the Texas Legislature in January for the first time since the Civil War. They are eager to redraw Texas’ congressional-district map, which federal judges drafted two years ago. Republicans say it cheats their party.

Democrats say it’s an abuse of power to reopen a process that normally takes place only once every 10 years, after each Census. “If you allow a state legislature to go back and revisit redistricting every time there’s a change in power, we could be doing this every session,” Rep. Dan Ellis was reported to have said at the end of the four-day exile.

The fight between the two parties has national implications because redrawing the districts could give Republicans a majority in Texas’ 32-member congressional delegation, the largest except for California’s. (Democrats hold a 17-15 edge in the Texas delegation.)

That would widen the GOP’s narrow majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Rep. Hodge noted that a lesson is available for Minnesota: “Sixty-two votes is always less than 88 (in referring to the power structure in the Texas House) and we lost on many issues, but when it got to the point of redistributing – that what was a little too much.

“We too, like other states are faced with very, very big budget deficits and our primary concern was to work out the issues that really affect our constituents – health care, care for the elderly and the removal of 500,000 children off health care benefits. The drawing of the new maps was the last straw,” said Hodge.

She added: “We understand that power is great, but sometimes you have to learn, you just can’t always mess with Texas. We decided that they aren’t going to mess with the Democrats.”

The lesson for Minnesota, she said is: “Even when you are small in number, if you pic

May 26, 2003
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