AUSTIN, Texas – State Senate Democrats in self-imposed exile in New Mexico promised to retaliate with "legal action" against their Republican colleagues if sanctions aren't lifted against them and their staffs.
The two sides have been squabbling since 11 Democratic senators fled to Albuquerque, N.M., on July 28, denying the Texas Senate's Republican majority the quorum it needs to consider a GOP congressional redistricting (search) plan.
The 11 Democrats did not specify what action they would take but said in a letter Monday to Republican leaders that if punitive measures against them were not rescinded by Tuesday afternoon, "we will take appropriate legal action."
Senate Republicans last week preliminarily adopted a resolution that denied absent Democrats and their staffers such things as parking spots at the Capitol, cell phone use, purchasing privileges and floor passes.
Those sanctions come if the Democrats do not pay fines, imposed on them by their Republican colleagues, for missing daily floor sessions. The fines started at $1,000 a day and quickly moved to a maximum $5,000 a day per senator.
The punitive measures "seek to punish us, our staffs, and, most important, our constituents, because we dare to stand firm by our convictions and by our duty in the best interest of our constituents," the Democrats' letter said.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (search) spokesman Dave Beckwith said there were no plans to change the sanctions or penalties. "We welcome a judicial determination of their claims," Beckwith said.
Republican Sen. Todd Staples said if the Democrats returned to the Senate chamber Tuesday, "I will personally move that we dispense with all penalties, restore all privileges, both sides do away with litigation and resume the work we were elected to do."
The absence of the 11 senators has forced a standstill in the Senate and frustrated Republicans eager to pass a redistricting bill. The measure likely would give Republicans a majority in the congressional delegation dominated 17-15 now by Democrats under boundaries drawn by federal judges after lawmakers failed to come up with a map in 2001.
Democrats say more than 1.4 million minority group members in Texas would lose effective congressional representation if the redistricting occurs as Republicans wish.