Texas Redistricting Halted Again

Texas Republicans' hopes of adopting a new congressional map have been pushed back by yet another Democratic walkout.

Although the House passed a compromise bill on the redistricting plan Friday, Senate Republicans refused to vote on it later in the day until the House passed an unrelated measure.

When word of the Senate plan began to spread, most House Democrats bolted before a vote on the other bill was called, banking on enough Republicans leaving town for the Texas-Oklahoma football game to break quorum.

After attempts to round up the fleeing lawmakers failed, the House ultimately adjourned until Sunday afternoon.

According to both Democrats and Republicans the plan could give the GOP a gain of seven or more congressional seats, virtually assuring the party's continued control of the House at least through this decade, the Washington Post reported in its Saturday editions.

The walkout came after lawmakers read aloud an e-mail from an aide to U.S. Rep. Joe Barton that ridiculed Democrats and gloated over the Republicans' expected victory.

Barton's legislative counsel, Joby Fortson, sent the e-mail from his personal computer, Barton's office said Friday. It was forwarded to Democrats in Austin and in Washington and to members of the news media.

"As much as we despise her, she cannot be drawn out ... the Queen lives!!!!" Fortson wrote about Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, whose Houston district remains Democratic. He also made jabs at two other Democrats and a fellow Republican.

Barton spokeswoman Samantha Jordan said the e-mail "certainly in no way is reflective" of the congressman's thinking. She said Barton has not decided whether to take any disciplinary action.

State Rep. Joe Deshotel, one of the boycotting Democrats, said they hoped to block a final vote during the third special session, which ends Tuesday.

"We may have done it for a fourth time, that's our goal," Deshotel said.

However, Deshotel acknowledged that as Republicans trickled back into town for Sunday's session, it was unlikely Democrats would be able to maintain an effective boycott of the chamber.

Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick said he wasn't worried about the fate of the redistricting bill.

"We passed redistricting, we passed the other bills. They can do whatever," Craddick said.

Republicans have been trying for six months to pass a new congressional redistricting plan, an issue that sparked three special legislative sessions, two walkouts by Democrats and infighting among Republicans.

The redistricting is expected to add as many as seven GOP seats to the state's congressional delegation, where Democrats currently have a 17-15 advantage. Democrats wanted existing congressional district lines to stay in place, saying minorities and rural Texans would lose representation under the new map.