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Texas governor to Democrats: 'Go to work'

Dems to GOP: Drop redistricting plan

Gov. Rick Perry urges Democratic state representatives to return to Austin.
Gov. Rick Perry urges Democratic state representatives to return to Austin.

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Correspondent Jason Overstreet of KDFW reports on the Democrats' walkout of the Texas legislature during a reapportionment fight (May 13)
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AUSTIN, Texas (CNN) -- Republican Gov. Rick Perry Wednesday urged about 50 Democratic state representatives holed up in neighboring Oklahoma because of a redistricting dispute to return to the state Capitol and "go to work."

"Day in and day out, there are pieces of legislation that members don't agree with," Perry said at a news conference. "The democratic process is to debate and vote them. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. All the people of the state of Texas are asking is to let democracy ... work."

Perry said that if the Democrats care about issues such as children's health care, "they'll come back to Austin and go to work."

But Democrats responded that Perry and his fellow Republicans would be to blame if the standoff continues.

"We want to be absolutely clear," State Rep. Pete Gallego told reporters at a hotel in Ardmore, Oklahoma, where the Democrats are staying. "Drop consideration of the unnecessary and unfair redistricting, and we all go back to work immediately in Texas."

Ardmore is just across the state line and beyond the jurisdiction of Texas State Police, whom the House's Republican majority has ordered to bring them back to the state Capitol. Without a quorum of two-thirds of the House members, legislative business has come to a standstill.

start quoteThe democratic process is to debate and vote ...end quote
-- Gov. Rick Perry

The Democrats say they would lose as many as five seats in Congress under the Republican redistricting plan, which they contend is being pushed by U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, the majority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives and a Texan.

"They've made redistricting more important than the real issues of Texas," Gallego said in his poolside news conference. "Texas children, teachers, homeowners, really shouldn't be held hostage by Tom DeLay and his attempt at a very partisan power grab."

On Tuesday, DeLay's office released a statement saying, "Texans deserve representation that reflects their values and beliefs.

start quoteDrop consideration of the unnecessary and unfair redistricting, and we all go back to work immediately in Texas.end quote
-- State Rep. Pete Gallego

"Fifty-six percent of Texas voters cast their vote for a Republican congressional candidate last fall, yet Texas sends more Democrats than Republicans to Congress. We're trying to change that," he said.

A shift of five seats to the Republicans would give them a 20-12 edge over Democrats in the Texas congressional delegation and help the GOP in its effort to keep control of Congress.

The Democrats now have a 17-15 advantage in the Texas delegation.

The walkout has paralyzed the state House for three days. Under Texas House rules, unless a redistricting bill is brought to a preliminary vote by Thursday, it needs the support of two-thirds of the lawmakers to be considered. Republicans hold 88 of the 150 seats, not enough to force the issue.

On Tuesday, Republicans exhibited a deck of cards bearing the lawmakers' pictures -- similar to those issued to U.S. troops to help identify fugitive Iraqi leaders -- and milk cartons bearing the images of the missing lawmakers.

Democratic state representatives from Texas meet in a makeshift office in a hotel in Oklahoma.
Democratic state representatives from Texas meet in a makeshift office in a hotel in Oklahoma.

There were a few light moments on Wednesday, with a handful of Republican lawmakers playing catch on the floor of the House in Austin and Democrats in Oklahoma taking breaks from their meetings to stroll by the pool and chat with reporters.

The walkout is similar to a 1979 gambit by a group of 12 state senators, dubbed the "Killer Bees," who hid out for several days to block changes to the state's presidential primaries.

The Texas Legislature failed to pass a new district map after the 2000 census, so a federal court ordered a reapportionment plan in 2001. November's elections gave Democrats their 17-15 edge in congressional seats, but Republicans took control of the state House and Senate, and reopened the redistricting debate.

Democrats want to keep the court plan in place until the 2010 census.

In Washington, some Republicans poked fun at the walkout in Texas, but Democrats pointed to a 1988 incident in the U.S. Senate, when Republicans in that chamber boycotted a debate on a campaign finance reform bill.

-- CNN correspondents Ed Lavandera and Jonathan Karl contributed to this report.


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