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Texas Democrats Flee to Neighboring State to Avoid Redistricting Vote - 2003-05-15

Democratic state legislators in Texas adopted an unusual strategy this week in a political battle with Republicans; they fled the state to neighboring Oklahoma.

On Monday, the Republican-led Texas state legislature was preparing to convene when it suddenly became apparent that virtually all the Democrats in the Texas House were nowhere to be found.

Republicans quickly ordered state troopers and the legendary Texas Rangers to round them up. But the Democrats were one step ahead of the law. They fled to neighboring Oklahoma and set up shop in a hotel.

Democrats left the state to block an attempt by Texas Republicans to redraw the state's U.S. congressional districts. The redistricting plan would change several districts and make it likely that Republicans could win at least four more congressional seats from Democrats in the next election.

Since the Democrats did not have enough votes in the state legislature to block the plan, they decided to deny Republicans the quorum they need to conduct legislative business. The legislature requires at least 100 of the 150 house members to be present to debate and pass laws.

State Representative Jim Dunnam is one of more than 50 Democrats who fled to Oklahoma. "To our families and our friends and our supporters, I would like to say thank you," he said. "We miss you. We are doing fine."

Republicans like this state legislator accused Democrats of doing the unthinkable in Texas; running away from a political fight. "What we are witnessing right now is the tyranny of the minority," said a Republican legislator.

The Democrats may have blocked the redistricting plan for now, but Republicans say they are not giving up.

Republicans took control of the Texas House in January for the first time in 130 years. During the past 40 years Texas, which at one time was a bastion of Democratic support, has grown increasingly Republican.