T Nation

For Partisan Gain

Republicans Decide Rules Were Meant to Be Broken

May 27, 2003
By ADAM COHEN
NY Times Editorialist

There was a lot not to like about the new Congressional
district lines Republicans tried to push through in Texas
this month, the ones that made Democratic legislators flee
to Oklahoma to prevent a vote. Democratic Austin was sliced
into four parts and parceled out to nearby Republican
districts. A community on the Mexican border and one 300
miles away were painstakingly joined together and declared
to be a single Congressional district. But the real problem
was that Republicans were redrawing lines that had just
been adopted in 2001, defying the rule that redistricting
occurs only once a decade, after the census.

The Texas power grab is part of a trend. Republicans, who
now control all three branches of the federal government,
are not just pushing through their political agenda. They
are increasingly ignoring the rules of government to do it.
While the Texas redistricting effort failed, Republicans
succeeded in enacting an equally partisan redistricting
plan in Colorado. And Republicans in the Senate - notably
those involved in the highly charged issue of judicial
confirmations - have been just as quick to throw out the
rulebook.

These partisan attacks on the rules of government may be
more harmful, and more destabilizing, than bad policies,
like the $320 billion tax cut. Modern states, the German
sociologist Max Weber wrote, derive their legitimacy from
“rational authority,” a system in which rules apply in
equal and predictable ways, and even those who lead are
reined in by limits on their power. When the rules of
government are stripped away, people can begin to regard
their government as illegitimate.

The Texas redistricting effort was part of a national
Republican effort to shore up the party’s 229-to-205 House
majority going into the 2004 elections. The House majority
leader, Tom DeLay, who traveled to Austin to supervise the
effort personally, was blunt about his motives: “I’m the
majority leader, and I want more seats.” Texas Republicans
seized control of the Legislature last year, and they
thought they could add five or more Republican
Congressional seats. When the Democrats took off for
Oklahoma, the Department of Homeland Security helped hunt
down a plane filled with escaping legislators. Sixteen
members of Congress from Texas wrote to Attorney General
John Ashcroft asking him whether there had been “attempts
to divert federal law enforcement resources for private
political gain.”

In Colorado, Republicans succeeded this month in redrawing
the state’s Congressional lines, which had been duly
redrawn after the 2000 census. Republican state
legislators, under the guidance of the presidential adviser
Karl Rove, added thousands of Republicans to a district
that Bob Beauprez, a Republican, won last year by just 121
votes, and excluded the Democrat who nearly beat him from
the district. Democrats have gone to court, charging that
Republicans violated Colorado’s Open Meetings Law and
legislative rules when they sneaked the plan through.

In the judicial battles in the Senate, Republican leaders,
frustrated that Democrats have rejected a handful of Bush
nominees, have declared war on longstanding Senate rules.
Orrin Hatch, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has
dispensed with procedures that allow senators to exercise
their constitutional “advice and consent” function, in one
case holding a single hearing for three controversial
nominees, and he has stifled legitimate inquiry. When
Senator Charles Schumer tried to ask one nominee about his
legal beliefs, Senator Hatch snapped that he was asking
“stupid questions.”

The Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, has declared that
filibusters, which allow senators to block action with just
41 votes, should not be used to reject judicial
nominations, despite a history of using them to do just
that. Abe Fortas was prevented from becoming chief justice
in 1968 by a Republican-backed filibuster. While Senator
Frist pushes “filibuster reform,” Senate Republicans are
also talking about a “nuclear option,” in which Vice
President Dick Cheney would preside over the Senate and
hand down a ruling that Rule 22, which permits filibusters,
does not apply to judicial nominations.

The Republicans’ attack on the rules come at a time when
they could easily afford to take a higher road. They have,
by virtue of their control of the White House and Congress,
extraordinary power to enact laws and shape the national
agenda. And this administration is already getting far more
of its judges confirmed, and more quickly, than the Clinton
administration did.

Weber, in writing about rules, was concerned about what
factors kept governments in power. That is not a concern in
the United States - there is no uprising in the offing. But
when Americans see their government flouting the rules, as
they did during Watergate, they respond with cynicism.

In these hard times - with threats from abroad and a sour
economy at home - our leaders should be bringing the nation
together not by demonizing foreign countries, but by
instilling greater faith in our own. They should be showing
greater reverence for the rules of government, and looking
for other ways - like tougher campaign finance laws - to
assure Americans that their government operates
evenhandedly.

How likely is that? The word in Texas is that Republicans
may try their redistricting plan again. Senate Democrats
are bracing for Senator Frist’s “filibuster reform,” or the
“nuclear option.”

And Mr. DeLay recently revealed how he felt about rules of
general applicability. When he tried smoking a cigar in a
restaurant on federal property, the manager told him it
violated federal law. His response, according to The
Washington Post, was, “I am the federal government.”

The Democrats could easily stop this kind of thing. They just have to get elected. They are going to have to get their act together if they wish to woo independent voters like myself, though.

If you know what is going on in Texas, you know that the Democrats were in charge and had the districts adjusted to best suit them. Now the Republicans are in charge and the Democrats fled to avoid voting. Why another state? Because the Governor could order rangers to bring them in to work.

These people don’t realize how this is going to affect their bid to get reelected. All of this is just a political game. I just think it is funny how the blame is being placed on the Republicans in this article. These people were elected to work, not to skip town just because they can’t get their way. Another sign of the disintegration of the party.

Red, I actually agree with you. They have a lot of work to do. When I feel like I get anally raped by the IRS every year I am not exactly looking forward to making that any worse, but when I read stories like this it really burns me just how sleazy these guys are right now. Its a power grab and it not only SHOULD it be illegal, it IS illegal.

Thanks Roy Batty. There’s nothing Texans like more than political advice from the NYTimes.

Have you even looked at the way Texas districts were drawn in the past? Do you think the Republicans were doing anything different than Democrats have always done? Do you not find it odd that
it was only very recently that Texas has acheived a Republican majority in both the House and Senate even though the vast majority of voters are Republican? Is it not odd that there are so many Democrat representatives from Texas in the U.S. House?

Texas has a long and cherished history of political shenanigans. Lyndon Johnson and the stuffed ballot box. Many, many dead people voting. Polling stations set up within yards of the Mexico border to make it easier for illegal aliens to vote.

The fact is that Texans now have a Republican majority in both the Senate and the House, even though DEMOCRATS drew the up the districts. Now that Republicans have overcome that hurdle to take control, Democrats don’t want to play by the rules any more and ran away to Oklahoma like little spoiled kids. A Texan running to Oklahoma for anything is political suicide, anyway. Forcing the Democrats to turn tail and run, in the end, will be a way bigger victory for Republicans than redistricting would have been.

roy batty,
I agree with RedmanV. Your party is going the way of the Whigs. Do you know why? Your message of playing one group against another is getting old. People are tired of class warfare. They see the democratic message for what it really is. It is socialism. You do not make a society better by excessive taxes on the innovative and successful. These people should pay their fair share, aka…flat tax. But, not one damn cent more. The top 1% of our wage earners pay the great majority of our taxes. We should not punish people for success. It should be something we encourage and respect.
Now to the topic at hand. By no means is this a new issue. It has been used by whichever party is in control. I applaud the Republicans for openly stating their aims. It’s too bad the democrats were not resourceful, or diplomatic enough successfully forge some sort of compromise. Mark my words, the Texas democrats will pay for this at the next elections. Texans respect people who stand and fight. Can you imagine what the Texans would have said had Travis, Crockett, and Bowie fled to Oklahoma instead of standing and fighting? I think the analogy of the democrats running and hiding in a sleazy motel is appropriate. Further, the fact that they were huddling in dark corners and hiding from justice is also very symbolic.
roy, I want you to watch what happens in the 2004 election cycle. It should verify everything that I have stated. I am enjoying the spectacle of the democratic party imploding.

Texas could be a major force in politics if…

It’s the only state that’s allowed to split into I think it’s nine separate states if Texans decide to do so. That’s one of the carrots the Union held out to Texas to become a state when it was an independant republic. If it did split the same citizens with 2 senators now would end up with 18.

I don’t think they’ll ever do it. Only one of the potential new states could be called Texas and Texans don’t want to be called by another name.

Doogie,
I was not aware of some of the things that you posted. Does it make what they republicans are doing right? I want to know since I don’t live in Texas and don’t have a full handle on your local politics.

Roy Batty,

I’m not saying it’s right or wrong. I’m saying that’s how things are done in Texas. I don’t believe it was by any means illegal to redistrict this year, but if it was the Democrats should have taken it to the courts. Instead they pitched a hissy fit a stopped everything. We really need a new school finance scheme in Texas, but it won’t be addressed for two more years now.

BostonBarrister is having technical difficulties, but wants to express his views on this topic. He PMed me and I have offered to post his reply to the original post. So, without further adieu:

[quote]BostonBarrister wrote:
This is ridiculous – I’ve tried to post on your thread from home and work, and it keeps telling me to log in while simultaneously acknowedging at the top of the screen that I am logged in. Anyway, here is my response:

Gerrymandering districts is one of the single biggest problems in terms of
getting a “representative” government. The fact it can and is done by both
sides is no justification. The worst examples are the districts that idiot
judges have allowed to be racially gerrymandered.

However, the complaints of this writer are misguided. Unless it is a matter
of Texas constitutional law, which I have not heard claimed, there is
nothing illegal about changing the tradition of redistricting every 10 years
– and actually, if I’m not mistaken (I’m not a Texan after all) I believe
that the Democrats have blocked the redistricting attempts of the
Republicans there in each year since the census data has been published (it
didn’t come out in 2000).

Additionally, this story is wrong in that the complaint in the Senate is not
that filibusters were not used in the past against judicial nominees,
because that is demonstrably false and ridiculous. The claim is that they
have never before been used against non-Supreme Court federal judicial
nominees, but that they are now being used on a widespread basis against
nominees to the Federal Courts of Appeals.

In addition, there is nothing constitutional or even anything with the force
of law that states the filibuster must be allowed. You’ll note I’m sure
that the House of Representatives allows no such procedure. The U.S.
Constitution does specify that the Senate can vote on its own rules of
debate, and it is within those rules that you find the backing for the
filibuster.

This article was poorly written and poorly reasoned.

[quote]

How can we trust anything printed in the NY Times?

Goldberg, Too true… NY Times has lost a lot of credibility lately.

Boston Barrister has another post that he cannot get through due to techical difficulties with this forum, but he did get a PM to me, and I will post what he said here so others can read his point of view.

[quote]http://www.defenselink.mil/transcripts/2003/tr20030509-depsecdef0223.html

This is the link to the actual interview transcript. Once again I cannot post, but everyone with an opinion on the subject based on just the article should read the actual interview. You’ll find the magazine’s published piece bends it for the author’s purposes.
[/quote]