As you’ve probably heard, Wisconsin state Democratic senators are playing hooky to create legislative gridlock and block governor Scott Walker’s attempt to roll back public worker rights.
Republican Senate majority leader Scott Fitzgerald countered by dispatching the Sergeant at Arms and the state police to round up Democrats-on-the-lam and herd them back to the Capitol.
Except they’re nowhere to be found — and many of them have reportedly crossed state lines, leaving Fitzgerald powerless.
If you feel like you’ve seen this all before, it’s because you have.
Back in May 2003, Republicans in Texas wanted to redo the 2001 redistricting plan to pick up an easy four seats in the House of Representatives. Problem was, just like Fitzgerald and Walker in Wisconsin, they needed a quorum in the legislature to get anything done.
So Texas House Democrats skipped town.
Republicans called out the state troopers and even the Texas Rangers (the ones in law enforcement, not baseball) to hard them back to Austin. But they’d all holed up in a hotel just across the border in Oklahoma, and didn’t return until they’d secured a promise that the redistricting plan would be shelved.
That summer, Governor Rick Perry called a special legislative session to renew the fight. For round two, 11 of the state’s 12 Democratic senators high-tailed it to Albuquerque for a month, frustrating Texas Republicans once again. The standoff continued until one of them returned to Texas, and the redistricting effort passed.
Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) masterminded the whole plan to pad his majority in Washington. His meddling turned the whole ordeal into a political minefield. In May, he’d contacted the FAA to help him locate the absentee Texas House Dems — an illegal action that got him in trouble with the House Ethics Committee. And in late 2005, Justice Department lawyers concluded that the plan violated the Voting Rights Act. They found that Republicans knew the effort would dilute majority-minority districts, yet proceeded anyway to maximize GOP representation in the U.S. House. Nonetheless, senior Justice officials overruled them.
Ultimately the Supreme Court invalidated one of the districts, which forced the state to redraw the lines in accordance with the ruling.