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Successful project swag

If you’re inclined that way, you may want to buy one of these Killer D’s T-shirts, which commemorate the current Texas Democrat House of Representatives walkout. (See, the last time anyone did this in Texas, they were called the Killer Bees. Get it?)

Did what, right. 50-odd Democrats just walked out of the Texas House of Representatives in order to block a redistricting bill proposed by Tom Delay, which would have gerrymandered Texas federal districts in such a way as to increase the number of Republican Congressmen from that state. By leaving, they deprive the Texas House of quorum and since Thursday is the last day to introduce new bills (edit: not the last day of the session), the redistricting bill will not get passed. (Thanks to Ginger for the correction there; she has a good piece on this too.)

This is, make no mistake, an abrogation of responsibility. Or, to put it somewhat more kindly, it’s an act of civil disobedience. It is not strictly speaking illegal — nobody’s risking jail time — although they could be returned to the House by force if they hadn’t gone to another state.

However, I believe that if we claim that every lawbreaker is in the moral wrong, we become unable to morally work against totalitarian states or tendencies. (Not that the US is one of those; it’s a statement of principle.) Civil disobedience is a valid tool of political action. So what they are doing is not clearly wrong.

They need to be willing to face the consequences, which in this case are probably failure to be re-elected. That’s how the voters can express their opinion on the matter, and in a democratic system, the voters ought to be the ultimate arbiters.

None of that speaks to the moral consistency of the Representatives in question. I don’t think they’d be doing this to protest a Democratic gerrymander, frankly. So I can’t claim they’re moral in motive, but I can claim that the effects of their actions are a net good and I can say that the voters will have the ultimate say as to whether or not they did the desired thing. In the long term, if the voters disapprove, they can elect candidates who will accept the redistricting. Or, for that matter, elect candidates who won’t redistrict like that.

(This all presumes that one buys into the democratic method. Since our winner-takes-all voting system produces unavoidable distortions of preference, best summarized by asking a devoted Democrat about Nader in 2000, the truth is that the voters can’t effectively express a preference on this issue. A pity that the Founding Fathers weren’t much on game theory, huh?)

T-shirt discovery and general information about the walkout from Burnt Orange Report, which is your source for in depth if somewhat partisan reporting about the matter.

33 Comments

  1. The legislative session does not end until June 2. Thursday is the last day for the House to introduce new bills.

    With one exception, which will require the calling of a special session (not that uncommon) all of the bills pending in the House can be reintroduced in the Senate. This includes the gerrymandering bill, which someone in the Senate has already introduced.

    The walkout is not solely over the redistricting plan, by the way; that was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. The entire session has been very ugly and partisan in the House and the Speaker is at best incompetent.

    My state rep is in Oklahoma right now. I’m proud of her for what she’s doing, and I expect to vote for her again in 2004.

  2. Oh, yeah, and we saw the T shirts this afternoon and are planning to buy them too. 😉

  3. Thanks for the correction! I’ve updated.

    I think the D’s are pretty ballsy — I gotta admire this kind of conviction, even if I don’t think it’s utterly pure. Good for them.

  4. Not “utterly pure” is an understatement. It’s rule by minority, and it’s wrong and undemocratic no matter which party does it. I’m sure the dems feel the proposed bill is unfair to them, and that’s a debatable point, but fleeing the state to deny a quorum violates the TX house rules. In the end, I think this will only hurt the dems more, Ginger’s vote notwithstanding.

    I live in Chicago where districts are redrawn almost as a matter of routine to achieve and maintain minority super-majorities. There’s no real opposition to it here, of course, and if there were I don’t doubt that similar tactics would be employed to block it. But that still doesn’t make it right, does it?

  5. In the final analysis, the voters of Texas are going to decide whether or not they approve of it.

    I think it’s fairly clear that Texas accepts the possibility of this kind of thing as a matter of policy. This tactic has been used successfully before; the voters have had quite a while to enact change in the quorum rules. For that matter, the House and Senate could have brought the issue up as well.

    The fact that nobody’s pushed for a change leads me to believe that the general opinion of Texans post-Killer Bee incident was that this loophole was an acceptable way to preserve the interests of the minority in extremis. It is clearly not undemocratic to require supermajorities in certain situations; this is an effective requirement of that nature that requires somewhat more personal risk on the part of the minority.

    It’ll be interesting to see if the Texas House rules change after this.

  6. If the house rules were in fact designed to allow a minority to deny quorum, then why did those dems have to flee across the border like criminals on the lamb? Obviously, that’s NOT the intent of the rules. There’s no need to change them, just obey them.

    I’m not familiar with the Killer Bee incident and, frankly, I don’t care to be. It has absolutely no relevance because, as I’ve said, skipping the state to deny a quorum is wrong and undemocratic no matter which party does it.

    You appear to be arguing that because the dems are a minority and unable to vote down the bill fairly, that it constitutes an extreme situation. Even if you argue that the proposed legislation is unconstitutional that’s for the judicial, not the legislative branch to decide.

    It’s strange that you would find this sort of democracy-thwarting behavior admirable in any way. But you’re right, the voters will have the final word.

  7. I don’t think the house rules were designed to allow a minority to deny quorum. I think that this possibility is a predictable effect of the house rules, because it is an effect that has been used before. I believe that if the state of Texas wanted that effect to be unavailable, it would have closed the loophole after the first time.

    You seem to be assuming that I’m arguing that the Killer D’s are in the right because the Killer Bees were Republicans who did the same thing. Wrong. The Killer Bees were also liberals. My point has nothing to do with the idiotic “it’s OK because they did it too” arguments so prevalent in today’s political discourse.

    My point is that the state of Texas has chosen not to close the loophole despite the fact that it’s been used in the past. The rules have not changed one iota between then and now. If you’d like to offer another explanation for that, I’d be interested in hearing it.

    I am not arguing that the current situation is extreme. I am arguing that the Killer D’s have taken the stance that it is extreme, and thus worthy of civil disobedience. I am also arguing that in the final analysis, it’s the voters who will decide if they’re right or not.

  8. Jeremiah Genest Jeremiah Genest

    the Rule of Quorums exists exactly for this sort of contigency. When a signficaint, but still minority, groupf of people feels that they’re views are rammelled over they have the right to put a stop to deliberations. I just find it regrettable in the current climate that this will probably lead to loosening of procedural and parlimentary protections, and thus a weakening of democracy.

    But then we live in a society where it is all right for a police officer to entice an innocent man across state lines into their jurisdiction under false pretenses and than arrest them.

    Its good to see someone fight the good fight. No matter what you believe they might do if the role was reversed.

  9. I am curious to know if the “rule by minority is undemocratic” truism holds when applied to the electoral college system.

    I would, incidentally, propose that halting a legislative session is not what I would call “rule” by any means. Stopping the government is inherently different from controlling it. Yes, many of Haws’s arguments are still valid without that prejudicial language, but that doesn’t validate the language.

  10. OK, once more (Jeremiah, have someone read this to you slowly) there is no “loophole” in the rules and the quorum rules MOST CERTAINLY ARE NOT DESIGNED FOR THIS PURPOSE. If they were, the AWOL dems wouldn’t have had to flee the state like Baath party officials to Syria.

    When a groupf of people feels that they’re views are rammelled over they have the right to put a stop to deliberations.

    That’s just about the dumbest thing I’ve ever read. Actually, nothing Jeremiah said makes much sense. Sorry, I know I should be nicer. And do I really have to now defend the electoral college?

  11. I would only suggest defending the electoral college if you believe both that any instance of “rule by minority” is undemocratic, and you believe the electoral college is a fundamentall democratic institution. You’re more than welcome to concede either point independently. Or you can dismiss my question out of hand with a flippant remark implying that it’s not worthy of an answer, of course.

  12. In case there was any confusion – there’s certainly no need in any case for you to defend the electoral college in a general sense. I’m not questioning its justification, its morality, its effectiveness, its courage, or its valor. I’m merely considering whether it meets your stated standard for being not undemocratic.

  13. Y’know, once you start comparing these guys to Ba’ath Party officials, you’ve pretty much left the arena of rational discussion. Sorry, but I gotta invoke Godwin’s Law.

  14. Kodi, it’s not, of course, democratic in the pure sense, but it doesn’t really bear on this matter does it?

    Bryant, you’re right. And I was about to bring the French into it next! I better take a nap.

  15. Jeremiah Genest Jeremiah Genest

    Actually you should go back and read your Roberts Rules ‘Haws’. Quorum rules exist exactly for this purpose, and the legacy of their development in common law stem from exactly these practices. People are just used to systems that assume that quorum exists even when it doesn’t (both the US House of Representatives and the Senate assume there is uorum unless the question of quorum is called).

    Parlimentary law is an interesting amalgmation. On one side its a body of practics to rpvent the tramelling of discourse by a clear majority. On the other hand its a set of practices designed to keep a few people in positions of great power. And every institution has its own history of rpecedent and practice. But still, at its ehart, it does have ways to protect the minority. Which I believe is the case with what is going on in Texas. Civil disobdience being practcied in a refreshing way. Its good to see, though I regret that we won’t see any legacy of this by the Deomcrats in Texas or nation wide.

  16. The Texas House rules allow for the arrest of members who intentionally bust a quorum. Rule 5, section 8 states: When a call of the House is moved for one of the above purposes and seconded by 15 members (of whom the speaker may be one) and ordered by a majority vote, the main entrance to the hall and all other doors leading out of the hall shall be locked and no member permitted to leave the House without the written permission of the speaker. The names of members present shall be recorded. All absentees for whom no sufficient excuse is made may, by order of a majority of those present, be sent for and arrested, wherever they may be found, by the sergeant-at-arms or an officer appointed by the sergeant-at-arms for that purpose, and their attendance shall be secured and retained.

    Roberts Rules may work fine for the Abilene city council, but it doesn’t supplant Texas law.

  17. Wow, Bryant, I should check your comments more often. You got a live one under your bridge.

    If we wanted to change the Constitution, we would have done it in 1975 after the Dirty Thirty (a group that included Speaker Craddick) walked out. We didn’t do it.

    Anyone who does not think that the quorum-busting manuever is a planned part of the state constitution is kidding themselves. It’s a Reconstruction constitution and it’s designed to give backbenchers an out against carpetbaggers. The fact that the carpetbagger it worked against this time was Tom DeLay is just his bad luck.

  18. Heh. Sometimes Lawrence comes over, and sometimes he has interesting stuff to say. Sometimes he compares the Democratic Party to mass murderers, though, at which point I bow out of the discussion.

    Did the Dirty Thirty actually walk out at any point? I couldn’t find a clear story that said they did (as opposed to just being in opposition).

  19. Hell, yes. I could send you the reference from my Texas history book. That’s one of the reasons this is so damned funny.

    As for Mr. Haws, he can think what he likes about it hurting the Democrats (“Dems”) more. The truth of the matter is that most of the Filthy 50 are in safe (60%+ majority in 2002) Democratic seats and the rest are in seats represented by Democratic congressmen who would be gerrymandered out by DeLay’s plan. And my $DEITY, if the Republicans can’t elect a congressman in Waco or the dry parts of East Texas, it is hardly a reflection of Democratic weakness in this state.

  20. Bryant!

    I wasn’t seriously comparing them with mass murderers. You had to know the Baath Party reference was just a joke. Maybe a bad one, but a joke nonetheless.

    Also, a lot of the dem voters are conservative democrats that might not be as receptive to the extreme tactics used here to shut down business at the House. But it worked for them. The only question is how much it will cost them.

    And Ginger, who’s kidding themselves?

  21. I’m still waiting for a republican, any republican, who thinks quorum busting is inherently wrong to comment on Abe Lincoln, Quorum Buster. Perhaps they’ll just start calling themselves “The Party of Grant”.

    Mr. Haws, it’s a house rule, and violating it is roughly equivalent to cutting in line at Six Flags Over Texas.

    Tom Craddick, who has a dog in this hunt, said it wasn’t illegal, and that’s important, because he has done it himself.

    I also like this quote from Glenn Reynolds: “[I]f there were a valid federal statute proscribing interstate flight to avoid a quorum call, then it would be [a federal matter].”

    Who’s kidding themselves? Anyone who doesn’t think that next year’s elections will be decided on the basis of the economy. A pickup of less than 13 seats in the TX house isn’t going to do a damn thing to change the balance and that isn’t likely.

  22. Michael, I don’t consider myself a republican, though I usually vote that way out of necessity, and I’ve already said that quorum busting is wrong no matter which party does it, and I’ve also never claimed it to be a federal matter.

    You say violating the Texas House rules are the equivalent of que-jumping at Six Flags? Somehow, a democrat (?) saying that doesn’t surprise me much at all.

  23. let me clarify. From a legal perspective, it is no different than violating the rules at an amusement park or grocery store. It has more severe consequences than doing so at Six Flags or Piggly-Wiggly, but those consequences are not of a legal nature. It was a very serious card to play and it may yet have ramifications.

    You may decide that it was wrong, but it’s clearly not illegal. It was a poltical act of a parliamentary nature. The only person who may have violated any laws is the TxDPS officer who duped the Department of Homeland Security into looking for a “missing” airplane. And anyone who put him up to it, of course.

    My current guess is that Tom Craddick will scramble like hell to get lots of bills passed, so that his first term as speaker isn’t labeled ” a failure” and he doesn’t get replaced in 2005. I think he can do it by ignoring this for the next three weeks. Beyond that, we’ll see.

  24. You make good points, but I think your dismissal of House rules for their lack of legal consequences as being somehow unimportant (or at least less important than the minority party getting its way in this instance) shows a poor respect for our democratic system.

    After all, the Texas House rules DO provide for the arrest and return of legislators who are absent without cause in order to bust quorum. Does Piggly-Wiggly do the same?

  25. I’d have to ask. I’m not sure what consitutes a quorum at a Piggly-Wiggly. 🙂

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but Texas’ House rules are as old or older than Robert’s Rules of Order (both from the 1870s), but quorum and breaking quorum are legal terms in English law from the Stewart period. They were designed to protect the King from gathering an unrepresentative subset of Parliament to do his bidding. Breaking quorum has a fine tradition in common law.

    As does compelling attendance. I am quoting from English Election Law in the Middle Ages (I love my wife’s bookshelves, btw…)

    “We intend by no means to excuse or to grant pardon to anyone summoned to the said parliament who is not personally present…
    –Edward III, 1307, instructions to Sherriffs to summon Parliament

  26. oops. The law book is by Ludwig Reiss, (c) 1973, for anyone searching for their own copy at home.

  27. I suspect most of the Democrats in East Texas aren’t much on carpetbaggers from DC like Tom DeLay, even if they claim to hail from Sugar Land. Redistricting is Texas business. Do Republicans really want to admit they take their marching orders from DC?

    Michael, DNFTT. You know better.

  28. You got me, Michael. I should have asked if the enforcement of Piggly-Wiggly’s “rules” provide for any similar measures to ensure compliance. (Since you likened them to the Texas house rules.)

    And I agree completely that quorums are designed to prevent an “unrepresentative subset” from doing the bidding of anyone other than the people of Texas. Are you comparing house republicans (elected by the people, mind you) with kingship rule? It’s not as bad as my Baath Party analogy, I admit, but equally unfair, I think.

    Quorums are meant to prevent a minority representation from slipping bills through the legislature when many of its duly elected members are absent for whatever (legitimate) reasons.

    All I’m saying is that this tactic doesn’t serve democratic principles. And I agree with Ginger that this a state matter, but what does DNFTT mean?

  29. Ah, it suddenly dawned on me: Do not feed the trolls!

    I don’t think I’m not trolling. I read Bryant regularly and occasionally engage in the comments section when I have an opinion, but not just for the sake of picking a fight. If Bryant had a post on how great the Red Sox were (or could/should be), I would be in enthusiastic agreement. (I grew up in Georgetown, MA. and the BoSox winning the WS is one of my sports dreams.)

  30. Haws Haws

    Uh, in the previous comment I meant to say that I don’t think I’m trolling. DNFTT hit me so out of blue while watching the Philly game that I was sloppy.

  31. Haws: I don’t think your recent comments in response to mine are trollsome, but I admit I was put off bit (and perhaps came on strong) because of your apparent unrelenting hard-line approach in early posts.

    Texas has decided that less than two thirds of the House is an unrepresentative subset. This is different than Colorado, where the figure is less than half. There are reasons for this in Texas history, mostly having to do with efforts by powerful Texans to avoid having to be reconstructed in 1873. Regardless of the intent of a quorum (and this kind of action is implicit in the rule), this is not an unexpected result of setting the required value as high as Texas has.

    There really is no modern precedent for a redistricting that is not mandated by a census. This is not a case of the Republicans not getting something ‘fair’ that they ‘deserved’, it’s a case of them throwing out a lot of precedent to push an unprecedented partisan redistricting on us less than 2 years after we settled this. The Republicans in Texas got everything they could have reasonably expected, then they broke the long-standing traditions of the country to try to get an advantage that Tom DeLay wanted in the US House. They’ve got a mote to deal with before they bitch about the Democratic spec.

    However, I would be perfectly happy to let the House redistrict on the grounds that the people of Texas voted 62% republican and are not represented by republicans in that degree if the same principle can be applied to the 50+% of Americans who voted democrat in 2000 and are not guided by a democratic president. Isn’t this rather thin ice for the republicans?

  32. I regret if I’ve appeared too hard-lined or ‘irrational’ in earlier posts, thus driving off Bryant from this debate that I’ve found interesting enough to keep checking in on regularly.

    Texas, like most states, require a super-majority for quorum, which you appear almost willing to concede is not intended for the precise purpose for which it has been used, but arguing instead that it is not an “unexpected result” of a +50% attendance threshold. I disagree, and point once again to the exact language of the rules. In fact, setting quorum as high as Texas has demonstrates an even greater concern about minority representation passing bills that the majority the people’s representation may not approve.

    The districts that were put in place two years ago were drawn by a judge, not the representation of the electorate as it should’ve been. But I needn’t argue the merits of the bill to support my point that quorum busting is undemocratic.

    You touch on Kodi’s point made earlier by bringing the electoral college into it, but I fail to see how that has any bearing here. I do wish everyone would get over the 2000 election.

    It was very close and many FL voters made mistakes at a very important moment that shouldn’t have happened, but there are no do-overs. Just ask Bill Buckner.

  33. I wish you would get over the 2000 election.

    I’m in favor of the electoral college. I think there are good reasons for it. I also think it is not a purely democratic device. My point is that “democratic” does not equal “benevolent” and “undemocratic” does not equal “immoral.”

    But I can’t say “electoral college” without you putting “Gore for Pres in 00!” in my mouth.

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