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Forgetting the Alamo
May 20, 2003
By Barbara O'Brien

In a stunning reversal of long-cherished states' rights doctrine, Texas Republicans now favor a strong national government with the power to dictate policy to the states.

Texas has long valued independence. Beginning with the struggle to separate from Mexico, Texans have resisted efforts by politicians in far-away national capitals to control its affairs. By allowing politicians in Washington to dictate Texas policies, today's conservative Texans have turned their backs on roughly 175 years of Texas history.

This sea change in policy became apparent recently when U.S. Representative Tom DeLay (R-Sugarland) ordered Republicans in the Texas legislature to push through a redistricting plan that would favor Republicans, including Tom Delay, in future elections. The Republicans should have reminded DeLay that a federal office holder, even one from Texas, has no authority regarding Texas state legislation.

Instead, the Texas GOP said, "We hear, and obey."

There is a long-established practice of redrawing congressional districts every ten years, after the census. Following this practice, Texas redrew districts after the 2000 census. This map was approved by the Texas Attorney General, a Republican. The map was also approved by the U.S. Supreme Court, which declared it was in compliance with the Voting Rights Act.

In short, there was no reason to redraw the districts other than to stack the deck against Democrats. Specifically, the proposed redistricting was aimed at grabbing five U.S. House seats from the Democrats in 2004. It also would have turned many rural districts into suburbs of Dallas and Houston, thereby depriving rural Texans of a voice in their legislature.

The Democrats believed they had a duty to stop the redistricting, and the only way they could do so was to leave the state and deprive the Texas legislature of a quorum. Thus, most of them spent last week holed up in a Holiday Inn in Oklahoma.

The GOP yelled that the Dems were cowards; they should have remained in Austin and put up a fight. But as Molly Ivins pointed out, "The way things got to such a sorry pass is that the R's have been running on rote, lockstep voting. No Democratic amendment gets considered on its merits, no matter how sensible it is. Shell bills get introduced, and then whole sections are amended on the floor, in a parody of legislative process." [May 13, 2003]

The 55 fugitive Democrats returned in triumph to Austin Friday after the redistricting bill died at midnight Thursday.

(Republicans in Colorado were more successful. Under the direction of White House political adviser Karl Rove, Colorado Republicans ramrodded into law new congressional boundaries to better their chances in future elections. However, Colorado has become a haven for New Age gurus and upscale liberal weenies, so such things should be expected in Colorado. But in Texas?)

This is not the end of the Texas Redistricting Debacle. At the same time that al Qaeda is clearly making a comeback in the Middle East (Republicans are in denial about this, but that's another rant) the already overtaxed resources of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security were marshalled to track down and arrest the fugitive Democrats. Every Republican involved, including Tom Delay, is denying he was the one who got the feds involved. There will be investigations.

But back to the death of states' rights in Texas. The Constitution of the State of Texas begins:

Section 1: FREEDOM AND SOVEREIGNTY OF STATE

Texas is a free and independent State, subject only to the Constitution of the United States, and the maintenance of our free institutions and the perpetuity of the Union depend upon the preservation of the right of local self-government, unimpaired to all the States.

Section 1 of the Texas constitution has been in place with little alteration since 1876 - roughly since the end of Reconstruction. I can hear the unreconstructed Rebels who adopted these words - we gonna tell them damnyankees they can't mess with Texas!

Today's Texans, however, are rewriting Section 1 along these lines:

Section 1: Subjugation of the State

Texas is a state subject to the Constitution of the United States and to the caprices of Washington politics. The perpetuity of a Republican majority being our chief aim, we hold it our duty to use our powers to control political processes. Therefore, we dedicate ourselves to a close relationship with the national government in Washington, both obeying its authority and using its resources to our mutual advantage.

Speaker Craddick complained that the Dems had a duty to remain in Austin and face their defeat, and dispatched the Texas Rangers and other agencies to find 'em and bring 'em in. Craddick makes the Texas legislature sound like a political Borg Collective: We are the Texas Republican Party. You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.

Davy Crockett said, "Be sure you are right, then go ahead." Texas Republicans say, "Forget what is right; just do what we tell you. It's your duty"


Visit Barbara O'Brien at The Mahablog.

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