Texas Democrats-in-Exile Lash Out at Governor

From their exile in New Mexico, Democratic state senators who fled Texas over GOP redistricting plans lashed out at their governor and blamed his leadership for their walkout.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (search), chairwoman of the Senate Democratic Caucus, said Sunday that Texas Gov. Rick Perry (search) is dividing Texans, unlike his predecessor, George W. Bush.

Democrats outnumber Republicans 17-15 in the Texas congressional delegation but Republicans, led by U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (search), are pushing for a new map that likely would give the GOP the majority.

"The difference was Bush was the great uniter. Perry and DeLay are the great dividers," Van de Putte said on the sixth day of a boycott of the Texas Senate by 11 Democratic state senators.

DeLay spokesman Jonathan Grella said Democrats will say and do anything to avoid their constitutional responsibility, including name calling and fleeing out of state.

"We'll let them call names and run wherever they see fit but the people of Texas disagree with their tactics and want to see them fulfill their responsibilities," Grella said.

Attempts to approve a redistricting (search) bill failed during the regular legislative session and the first special session. Perry last week called lawmakers back for a second special session to try again.

The Democrats, however, fled to Albuquerque before he called the session. Their absence has blocked a quorum in the Senate, preventing the lawmakers who stayed in Austin from taking up business in the chamber.

The Democrats have said they will stay out of Austin until the second 30-day special session ends at the end of the month. Perry has declined to say how long he might continue to call 30-day special legislative sessions if redistricting fails in this one.

Van de Putte said that, as governor, Bush made a great effort to bring minorities into the Republican Party. She said Perry, on the other hand, was threatening to force Hispanic and black senators to vote on a redistricting map by locking them in the Senate.

"What kind of image is that?" Van de Putte said. "I think the real danger here is not to Gov. Perry. I think the real danger here is to the White House and the Republican efforts that would want to be so inclusive."

Perry spokeswoman Kathy Walt said Van de Putte's allegations are ludicrous and that Perry does not have the authority to lock senators in the chamber. Only the lieutenant governor can lock the senators into the Senate.

"Her accusations are intended to obscure the fact that they ran away from their job and their responsibility," Walt said. "They can't begin to represent their constituents while they are in New Mexico."

Walt said Perry drew 35 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2002 and his policies on education, economic development and other issues have brought more Hispanics (search) to the Republican Party.