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Texas Democrats head to Oklahoma over political polemic

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May 14, 2003 Posted: 10:34 PM EDT (0234 GMT)
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.  

Texas Gov. Rick Perry urged dozens of Democratic state representatives to get back to work on Wednesday. The issue dividing them from their Republican counterparts has left the state's legislature virtually powerless for days.

The Texas House of Representatives has been silent since Monday, when about 50 Democrats walked out on debate and took up residence in an Oklahoma hotel. Democrats think that a Republican plan to redistrict parts of the state could cost them as many as five seats in the U.S. Congress.

Political rallies and news media have surrounded the Holiday Inn in Ardmore, Oklahoma, where the Democrats are staying. The hotel's conference room has been turned into a makeshift committee room, according to CNN's Ed Lavandera. Texan Democrats there say that they are protesting efforts by U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay to promote the redistricting plan.

Delay is the majority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives and a Texan. He said, "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, and that is the goal of the redistricting bill.

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But State Rep. Pete Gallego, a Texan Democrat, said that Republicans have "made redistricting more important that the real issues of Texas." He added that if the "unnecessary and unfair redistricting" plan were to be dropped from consideration, Democrats would immediately get back to work.

"This is a House technicality that says that if a third of us don't want to bring up a bill, we just don't have to be present on the House floor," said Democratic state legislator Steve Wolens.

Republicans tried several methods to get the Democrats to show up to work at the state Capitol. State troopers were sent to the Democrats' houses to ask them to return to their jobs, and a deck of playing cards with the Democrats' faces was made up to help authorities identify the missing legislators.

Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick called the Democrats "a bunch of chicken dees." He described the hardships that Republican lawmakers in Texas faced in the past, and he pointed out that Republicans nevertheless "showed up and voted for [their] constituents."

Gov. Rick Perry said, "Texas Democrats need to live up to their responsibility - their oath of office, which simply requires that they represent the people in Austin 140 days every two years. My Democrat friends, it's time to come back to work."

However, Lavandera said that the Democrats had no intention to return to the state Capitol in Austin until the governor, lieutenant governor, and speaker of the House promised that the redistricting bill would be killed.

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