Texas Democratic Senators Remain in New Mexico

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With a band of Democratic lawmakers refusing to end their self-imposed exile, Republicans are considering a new piece of arm-twisting: Yanking the rebels' parking spaces, cell phones and other privileges.

Eleven Democratic senators have stayed at an Albuquerque, N.M., hotel since July 29, denying the Texas Senate's Republican majority the quorum (search) it needs to consider a GOP congressional redistricting plan.

Republicans responded earlier this week by imposing fines on the traveling Democrats, starting at $1,000 for Thursday and doubling for each day missed, to a maximum of $5,000 a day.

The GOP senators held a teleconference Thursday to discuss how to collect the fines, and planned to announce their action Friday.

They also considered other sanctions, including limiting postage to $200 a month, taking away floor passes for senators' staffers and prohibiting the printing of letterhead and newsletters, according to a memo circulated to Senate staffers and obtained by The Associated Press.

No decision on penalties was made during the two-hour conference call, said Dave Beckwith, a spokesman for Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (search), who presides over the Senate. Beckwith declined further comment.

Democrats have said they will ignore the fines, and they dismissed the threat of further action.

"It sounds to me like it's another attempt by the Republicans to change the rules in the middle of the game to win, which is what they've been doing from day one," said Harold Cook, a consultant for the Democrats in Albuquerque.

In the hotel conference room where they work, new signs have been posted. One says it was Day One of the "Republican poll tax" and that each Texas senator owed $1,000, and the second reads, "The Texas Senate proudly accepts:" followed by imprints of major credit cards.

Democratic Sen. Judith Zaffirini of Laredo warned that the dispute will reflect on President Bush. She argued that the redistricting (search) plan would disenfranchise minority voters to whom Bush has sought to appeal.

"He can put a stop to this political madness. He can put a stop to this Republican meltdown," she said. "He can do it with one phone call."

The Texas senators a week ago sent a letter to the president calling on him to immediately announce his "opposition to this unfair and shameful power grab." The White House has said Bush has no plans to interfere.