ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Texas Senate Democrats who stymied Republican redistricting (search) plans by fleeing to New Mexico may not be returning home any time soon, despite running down the clock on the special legislative session.
The 30-day limit on the latest session expired Tuesday and Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry (search) said he was prepared to call yet another special session to get the issue resolved, though he would not say when.
If they re-enter Texas, the 11 Senate Democrats now in Albuquerque said they feared being arrested and hauled back to the capitol should Perry call another session. Senate rules allow for the arrest of members who intentionally thwart a quorum.
Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (search), chairwoman of the Senate Democratic Caucus, said she and the 10 other Democrats are prepared to stay away another 30 days, the maximum length of a special session.
Both sides faced a hearing Wednesday in Laredo, Texas, on the Democrats' federal lawsuit that alleges their constitutional rights as well as the Voting Rights Act (search) have been violated by the GOP.
Some of the senators had planned to attend but decided late Tuesday not to cross the state line amid mounting rumors that Republicans might try to get them arrested, said Harold Cook, a consultant for the Democrats.
"They haven't come this far to be lured into a trap," he said.
Perry didn't discount Democrats' concerns about being arrested in Texas. "I guess that is a legitimate concern, I suppose. If they don't want to be here working then I don't think the lieutenant governor has any other options."
Republicans, who control the Texas House and Senate, have been trying to redraw the state's political lines to increase the number of Republicans in Congress.
Democrats have a 17-15 majority in the Texas delegation and have said the current map should not be changed. They argue that proposals before the GOP-dominated Legislature this year would have hurt minority representation.
Democrats and one Republican thwarted the plan in the first special session, but Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst tried to push it through in the second session by dropping a rule that requires two-thirds of senators to agree to consider a bill.
With no blocking power, Democrats fled the state July 28 to avoid a vote and later sued, claiming Republicans violated their rights by dropping the rule. The 11 Democratic senators said the two-thirds rule is vital in ensuring racial, ethnic, or political minorities bargaining power.
Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate, sent a warning Tuesday to self-exiled Democrats, who along with House Democrats have defeated redistricting three times this year.
"Let me pass on a very clear message to our 11 colleagues out in Albuquerque. The mood in the Senate is changing. We're tired. We're tired of sitting here and waiting," Dewhurst said.
Three of the Democrats watched from Albuquerque on the Internet as the Legislature adjourned. "It really is sad to see the Texas Legislature so divided and at the same time, we felt validated because we accomplished what we set out to do," said Sen. Judith Zaffirini.