By Mark Wegner
June 6, 2003House Democrats from Texas Thursday demanded the Homeland Security Department turn over any documents that could substantiate their allegations that Republicans called for federal resources to be used to track down absentee Texas state legislators involved in a congressional redistricting dispute.
Invoking the so-called "seven-member rule," Rep. Chris Bell, D-Texas, said Democrats have the statutory authority to ask for any records related to the efforts to locate Texas Democrats who fled the state last month.
"If there is nothing to hide, then why hasn't the Department of Homeland Security provided the information?" Bell asked. "The American people deserve to have these questions answered, and we intend to get those answers."
In a Wednesday letter to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, Bell and Government Reform ranking member Henry Waxman, D-Calif., joined five other panel Democrats asking for the information. Democrats claim the department is required under federal law to respond to any requests made by seven members of the Government Reform Committee.
Democrats have attempted to link Texas Republicans and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, with an effort to locate the Texas state House Democrats who fled Austin last month in a successful attempt to deny Republicans the quorum needed to consider a controversial redistricting plan.
The Texas constitution authorizes state law enforcement to force absentee legislators to return to Austin. But that authority did not allow Texas officials to cross state lines to retrieve the Democratic lawmakers, who had retreated to Ardmore, Okla.
A spokesman said DeLay has publicly rejected any suggestion he tried to involve the Homeland Security Department in the dispute.
"In their desperation, Democrats invented and pedaled a story that was debunked by the congressman, and we welcome efforts to set the record straight," the DeLay spokesman said.
DeLay has strongly urged Texas Republicans to throw out a court-drawn redistricting plan and replace it with a map that could net between five and seven new Republican House seats.
The Houston Chronicle reported Thursday that GOP Gov. Rick Perry has already decided to call a special 30-day session by July to take of a government reorganization bill and congressional redistricting. A Perry spokeswoman declined to confirm that report.
One Texas Democratic aide said Republican state legislators face the same obstacles they did in the regular session.
While the state House would be expected to pass the redistricting plan backed by DeLay, the aide said the Republican state Senate would have to change its rules to overcome the standing two-thirds requirement to bring any bill to the floor.
Republicans control 19 of the Senate's 31 seats, but are two votes short of the two-thirds requirement.
The aide said Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who presides over the state Senate, is not as closely tied to DeLay as is Texas state House Speaker Tom Craddick.
"One thing about the Texas state Senate is that it is not really as partisan as the state House," the aide said. "If they add redistricting, it's just a totally different and partisan thing."
By Mark Wegner
June 6, 2003