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While the Democratic representatives took incremental steps toward their goal, the Republican leadership knew that a walkout was being planned. House Calendar Chair posefully scheduled bills by Democratic representatives for Monday as a way to entice them to stay. But the leadership clearly did not believe the Democrats could be successful at such a bold step. The story of representatives anxiously awaiting the arrival of their peers for the late departure by bus from the Embassy Suites the Sunday night they left Austin has already entered Texas political lore. Some pessimistic members kept luggage in their cars while they waited for the others. Dunnam dispatched someone to the parking lot to watch for the DPS. Several diehard Craddick Democrats had declined the invitation. Luna would tell reporters on that Monday that she had not been invited, but Gallego insisted he called her cell phone and left messages on Sunday. They received a psychological boost when an ailing Rene Oliveira before heading for the Mexican border. Then 47 Democratic representatives took a leap of faith and boarded two buses, armed with the promise that four more reps would join them in Oklahoma to reach the magic 51 they needed to break the quorum. Few but Dunnam knew they were bound for Ardmore, Oklahoma, just over the Texas borderthe least likely place to be portrayed as a vacation spot by the media. Beyond their destination, the extent of Dunnam’s plans were the rough drafts of two press releases; one if they made it successfully, and the other if the DPS stopped them at the border. “I had confidence that if we got on the bus and crossed the line we had plenty of smart people who could figure out what to do next,” he says. The spot where the 51 Democrats spent the bulk of their time while in Ardmore was a conference room at the Holiday Inn they dubbed the war room. Since every army needs sustenance, conveniently, it was attached to a Denny’s restaurant by a swinging door. The room couldn’t be locked, so Democrats took turns guarding it through the night. \(They were not being overly paranoid, as two men with cameras not affiliated with any media organization took a room at the hotel, apparently to catch Democrats in ready to eject nosy reporters. Photographers and cameramen were only allowed entrance for brief spells to take footage. Dunnam set the tone for what would occur in the war room the very first day, recalls Noriega. “Jim said, ‘I’m not negotiating unless we all agree. There will be no cutting of deals. It’s all of us or nothing.’ The caucus leader resisted any attempt to portray the situation as a standoff between him and Craddick. Dunnam says there were some that felt that he should be the one to call Craddick to see if the Speaker would negotiate. Dunnam argued successfully that the call should come instead from someone close to Craddick. And indeed, Robert Puente \(D-San man and the first Democrat to sign on with the Speaker, ended up making the call. When the group held press conferences, those picked to speak would rotate by region or area of expertise. “Throughout this the attitude [was] to spread the wealth, be as inclusive as possible, and get everyone involved,” said Pete Gallego. Remarkably for 51 headstrong politicians, every decision was made by consensus. Sometimes it took hours in the war room to decide the proper wording of a letter or the exact response to a Craddick press conference held in Austin. But everyone needed to claim authorship of whatever response they made. “Everybody was important,” recalls Dunnam. “If everybody had not gotten on the bus, nobody would have gotten on the bus.” If the group hadn’t bonded sufficiently simply by boarding the buses, once again the Republicans inadver tently aided their cause. Back in Austin, they were vilified, called names like “chicken” and “coward.” Long after the DPS and reporters found them on Monday, their families were followed and questioned by police ostensibly searching for them. These tactics simply drew them closer together. “When they started calling us names, it showed a lack of character and a lack of leadership,” said a visibly angry Senfronia Thompson, sitting on a couch outside the war room. Dunnam couldn’t quite believe that his group was so united, even after a tornado scare forced them all into a shelter in the middle of the night on Tuesday. “When we had the tornado, I expected the next morning to walk in and have everybody mad at Jim Dunnam,” he recalls. “But everybody was in a great mood.” Gov. Perry and Craddick knew all they had to do was peel one Democrat away from the group. But this time, no amount of coaxing swayed any of the 51. The governor called at least one freshman, Rep. Timoteo Garza \(Da hero!’ Garza acknowledges that he received a phone call from the governor’s office but won’t discuss the content of the conversation. continued on page 19 Rep. Jim Dunnam waits to go live on Fox News. 616/03 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9