Lines in the Sand: Congressional Redistricting in Texas and the Downfall of Tom Delay

By Steve Bickerstaff | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8
No Better Option:
The Democrats Break the Quorum
in the House of Representatives

The Chicken Ds that did this ought to be ashamed of themselves. There is disgrace
in running and hiding… I've been in the House for 35 years and I've lost some,
but I've never walked off the floor like these Chicken Ds.

— SPEAKER TOM CRADDICK, DALLAS MORNING NEWS, MAY 13, 2003

As he sat in his legislative office in the state Capitol, State Rep. Jim Dunnam was in a terrible quandary.1 The date was Wednesday, May 7, 2003. At 12:30 a.m., the House Committee on Redistricting had adopted a plan for redrawing the boundaries of all thirty-two congressional districts in Texas. The bill's Republican sponsor claimed that the plan would elect at least five additional Republican congressmen from Texas. As the head of the Democratic Caucus in the House, Dunnam's task now was to determine what additional action, if any, the Democratic members could take to stop the Republican juggernaut.

Dunnam had been the chairman of the Democratic Caucus only since the beginning of the 2003 session, when it became clear that Democrat Pete Laney had ended his bid for reelection as Speaker. Historically, the Speaker of the House also served as the de facto leader of the Democratic majority in that chamber. After the Republicans elected a majority of the House members in the 2002 election, it became probable that for the first time in 130 years the Speaker of the Texas House would be a Republican. When Laney finally withdrew his candidacy, it became imperative that the Democrats find new leadership in their unfamiliar role as a minority in the House. Dunnam, an Anglo state representative from Waco, was their choice.

Early in the session, it had appeared to Dunnam and others that redistricting was not going to be one of the session's major headaches. At the beginning of the year, none of the elected Republican state leaders publicly supported

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