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Texas Democrats return home

Flight prompted by fight with GOP over redistricting

Texas Democrats wave from the steps of the state Capitol in Austin after their return from a self-imposed exile.
Texas Democrats wave from the steps of the state Capitol in Austin after their return from a self-imposed exile.

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AUSTIN, Texas (CNN) -- Texas Democratic lawmakers returned triumphantly from their self-imposed exile Friday, telling enthusiastic supporters at a rally outside the state Capitol that they had killed -- for now anyway -- a Republican redistricting plan that would likely have thinned their ranks in Congress.

"Government is by the people, for the people, and we had to go to Oklahoma to say that government is not for Tom DeLay," said state Rep. Jim Dunnam, chairman of the Democratic Caucus in the Texas House of Representatives.

A group of 51 Democrats from the Texas House fled last weekend to Ardmore, Oklahoma, a move that deprived the Texas House of a quorum and brought legislative action to a standstill. Democrats said they took that step to prevent passage of what they described as an unfair redistricting plan pushed by Delay, the powerful majority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives and a fellow Texan.

The redistricting plan, which Democrats say would have cost them five congressional seats, died in the House when it could not be voted on by midnight Thursday. Republicans, however, have said they may bring the plan up again in a special session this summer.

The flight across state lines became the subject of late-night lampoons and biting commentary. By holing up in a hotel in Oklahoma, the Democrats were out of the reach of Texas law enforcement authorities, who were told to round up the rebellious lawmakers and bring them back to the Capitol.

Texas Democrats wait aboard a bus in Ardmore, Oklahoma, before heading home.
Texas Democrats wait aboard a bus in Ardmore, Oklahoma, before heading home.

In addition to infuriating Republicans, the Democrats' absence shut down all business on the House floor, stalling up to 500 bills and costing the state of Texas some $700 million, according to House Speaker Tom Craddick, a Republican.

The Democrats, however, savored their victory Friday, even if the broader legislative battle over redistricting is far from over.

"No matter what happens, democracy won in this event," Dunnam said.

The crowd cheered and waved signs reading, "51 Heroes," "Welcome home, Hero Demos" and "We're Proud of You."

While state legislatures typically redraw district lines every 10 years after each census, Republicans in Texas moved ahead with a plan this year.

In Washington, DeLay defended the move, saying, "Texans deserve representation that reflects their values and beliefs." He noted that all statewide officeholders and a majority of the Legislature are Republicans.

Several black Democrats refused to join the walkout because the redistricting plan would have created a majority African-American congressional district.

CNN Correspondents Ed Lavandera and Jeanne Meserve and Producer Mike Ahlers contributed to this report.


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