Postcard from Ardmore


For the first time all legislative session, there are smiles in the Democratic offices at the state capitol. It had been a gloomy five months. Under Speaker Tom Craddick (R-Midland), the first Republican majority in 130 years had hammered its opposition, stacking committees and ramming through an ambitious wish list—nearly every fantasy proposal from the Radical Right’s social and economic agenda. Then on Sunday, May 11, in a move that surprised even the participants themselves, 51 House Democrats joined together to slip stealthily away to Ardmore, Oklahoma, to break a quorum and prevent consideration of a Tom DeLay-sponsored congressional redistricting plan. The gerrymandered redistricting plan had managed to bring together both white, rural legislators who felt the new congressional lines robbed rural Texas of representation and urban minority legislators who have been angry all session about proposed cuts to social services.

House Democrats in Texas haven’t been this unified since they sent Union troops packing during Reconstruction. On Day Two of the Ardmore walkout, one television news segment featured Gov. Rick Perry saying, “it’s not about redistricting, it’s about 51 people being out of power.” To which, Democratic renegade Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon (D-San Antonio) retorted, “We’ve got the power now.”

It’s not just Democratic staffers who are happy to see their bosses finally present a united front and fight for their beliefs. The ever-hungry maw that is the media is happy too. Television crews from around the nation flocked to Ardmore for the story. As one capitol reporter noted, there is not much that sells better than the antics of wacky Texans, except perhaps a story about wacky Texans confronting a bully like Tom DeLay. Meanwhile, at the Holiday Inn in Ardmore where the renegade Democrats are holed up, the hotel’s computer is inundated with e-mails from grateful Democrats across the nation. An attorney in Michigan wrote: “The rest of the country is watching your act of political courage!” A woman in Ohio’s message was brief: “It’s about time OUR party stood up to this gang of thugs!” One woman in North Carolina, an eighth-generation Texan who said she left the Lone Star State “to get away from extreme right-wing thuggish politicians” was effusive in her praise. “You keep this up, and I may just have to head back to my home state!” And on and on.

As the Observer went to press, it is the subject of speculation where this road will ultimately lead. While the walkout appears to have stopped redistricting this session, it could come back in a special session. But no matter what, a seed of defiant hope has been planted, and even some Republicans can see where the future lies. Rep. Pat Haggerty (R-El Paso) told his city’s daily newspaper, “When this goes down in history will be heroes, and we’ll be a bunch of schmucks.” — J.B.