Page 7


The representatives watch the response from Austin in the war room. And indeed, their stand captured the ” imagination of the Democratic base everywhere. “The overwhehning reaction from Democrats all over the coun try is not in response to the principle of the thing,” believes Dean Rindy, an Austin-based political consultant who advises Dunnam, “but joy that someone had the courage to stand up to Tom DeLay.” Toward the end of their stay, the war room looked like a battle zone. Scattered everywhere could be found gifts from grateful Democrats across the nation. A toy superhero action figure, Ardmore, continued from page 9 At the time, Rep. Miguel Wise \(Deverybody felt. “Nobody will break,” he said. “Who wants to be remembered that way?” When they had arrived, the group had hoped to spend a few days filing cryptic media dispatches “from somewhere in Oklahoma” before revealing their whereabouts to the world. Instead, a Dallas Morning News reporter found them on Monday, followed shortly by the DPS, who had no jurisdiction to force their return. On Tuesday, the media battle over the event commenced in earnest.While the Democrats had expected some interest, they were overwhelmed as 23 cameras lined up for their first press conference. “We were penned up yesterday and now we get to hit back,” said Rep. “It’s an atmospheric change and it’s kind of fun to watch.” They spread out, working their cell phones, talking to every media outlet that would listen. While some had help back in Austin, most simply winged it by themselves. Hispanic legislators held press conferences and interviews in Spanish so their communities would be informed. “[By mid-week] we saw the Republicans rev up their media machine,” remembers Aaron Pena. “They have a Rolls Royce and we have a Volkswagen.” The Republican message, synchronized and disseminated with its usual efficiency, was a simple sell: Why won’t they work? It appeared everywhere from CNN’s Crossfire to the carefully crafted talking points Republicans in Texas parroted for the local news. Democrats had a much harder message to convey, involving as it did complicated issues of representation and process. From the beginning the Democrats made their target Torn DeLay, not the colleagues they left behind. Some worked the sound bite better than others. “We will not be accomplice to a partisan, gerrymandered, Washington, told the assembled press corps. one of 51 sent to each member, lay on a table. In a corner floated a cluster of yellow balloons. On the far wall someone had draped an American flag. A box filled with stacks of a book entitled Profiles in Courage for Our Time, a gift from North Texas Congressman Martin Frost, covered a chair. And everywhere, messages of thanks. “Destall6 la bomba \(a bomb went offi,” said Rep. Paul Moreno \(D-El ing spot in Las Cruces, New Mexico, to be with the group so they would have 51 present. “This is going to have an impact nationally.” Iwill always remember being [part of] 51 who had a common cause and who shared conviction,” says “The experience was the richest I’ve ever had in terms of my political life.” Inside the war room, Anglo Democrats \(who called themselves WD-40s for White Democrats Over 40 until the owner of the trademark sent a urban blacks, and South Texas Hispanics found common cause with each other for the first time. Some discussed the future. In coming elections, they pledged mutual aid. “We talked about ways to support each other and how to see ourselves as a team instead of different tribes,” says Pena. Dunnam says throughout the week he watched as those who had been ready to oppose the reelection of certain caucus members decided to put aside their differences. “It was a unique opportunity to heal wounds created during the session,” says Wise. The result is an infinitely stronger Democratic legislative caucus. It created trust and goodwill where precious little had existed. “Obviously you will never have complete consensus on 6/6/03 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 19