Absent Texas Senators Remain Steadfast

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They have missed important family birthdays, time with new babies and the hospitalization of parents, but Democratic state senators who fled to New Mexico to boycott congressional redistricting say they are resolved in their protest.

Away from home, her children and husband, Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (search) missed an announcement by her 21-year-old son that he plans to join the lay ministry, the first step in becoming a priest.

"It was pretty emotional for me ... I'm not there for this incredibly momentous occasion in my son's life," said Van de Putte, a mother of six. "The mommy in me, you know, is guilty because I wasn't there at the time."

The Senate Democratic Caucus (search) chairwoman and 10 other Democrats have been staying at a Marriott hotel in Albuquerque since fleeing the Texas Capitol on July 28.

Their absence 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.

The Democrats' self-imposed exile has not drawn sympathies from Republicans, who last week sent them a care package containing diapers, baby rattles and pacifiers.

"We hope that these behavior-appropriate items make the Democrats a little more comfortable while they are AWOL from their elected duties," Texas GOP chairwoman Susan Weddington said.

Republicans Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (search), who presides over the Senate, has accused the Democrats, outnumbered in the Texas Senate 19-12, of breaking the Texas Constitution by blocking a quorum. He warned Tuesday that he may turn to legal action to force them to return to Texas.

Republican Sens. Robert Duncan and Todd Staples met for about an hour with some of the Democrats on Wednesday. Duncan is the chairman of the committee that handles redistricting, and Staples is the Senate Republican Caucus chairman.

The Democrats say they will stay in New Mexico for the duration of the second session, through the end of the month, to kill any redistricting bill.

Asked if the boycott is worth it, even though she missed her son's announcement, Van de Putte said yes.

"They understand why I am doing this, what I'm doing and they're incredibly supportive," Van de Putte said.

Sen. Rodney Ellis has a newborn daughter at his Houston home. Sen. Eddie Lucio of Brownsville said his mother was hospitalized for pneumonia and his father was diagnosed as having stones in his gallbladder.

Sen. Mario Gallegos of Houston has a new grandson and several senators have missed family birthdays. Sen. Royce West's son turned 19 while West was in Albuquerque, and Ellis' grandfather celebrated his 82nd birthday on Tuesday.