May 26, 2003, 1:50 P.M.
For most of the past week Josh Marshall has been screaming and beating the drums about the Texas redistricting fight. The rest of the media hasn’t shown much interest.
The story relates to a redistricting plan, authored and supported by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. DeLay favors the plan because it would result in more Republicans being sent to Congress than Democrats. There are currently 17 Democrats and 15 Republicans representing Texas in the House. DeLay favors a plan that would alter that balance by sending four to seven additional Republicans to Congress. In early May he personally went to Texas to lobby for the bill.
Through the efforts of Karl Rove and Co., Texas has seen a definite political shift, resulting in a Republican majority in the Texas legislature. The redistricting committee in the Texas House of Representatives is chaired by Republican Rep. Joe Crabb. At one point during the process, Rep. Richard Raymond, a Democrat, charged that by rushing the redistricting plan through the legislative process, the Republicans had violated bilingual notice requirements of the federal Voting Rights Act. Raymond made a complaint to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division on May 7.
Raymond subsequently withdrew his complaint, alleging that DeLay had told supporters that he had intervened with DOJ and that the complaint was quickly dismissed. Of course, DeLay denies that he would intervene in such a way and DOJ denies any intervention. Raymond has now taken his complaint to federal court in Texas.
With the redistricting plan headed for a vote in the Texas House, state Democrats fled to Oklahoma to avoid a quorum call and thus defeat the measure. The first response in the media was to ridicule the “missing” Democrats. The Republicans printed the faces of the missing Democrats on playing cards and called them “fugitives.” The Speaker of the House issued warrants for the arrest of the Democrats.
The media started to get quiet on this story when state troopers attempting to enforce the warrants had been harassing the families of the Democrats in order to determine their whereabouts. One particularly odious example involved troopers visiting a neonatal intensive care unit where one legislator’s premature infants were being treated. A command center was set up, right next to Speaker Craddick’s office to direct the search.
As Speaker Craddick’s search became more desperate, the Texas state police attempted to involve none other than the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in the search. The problem is that they did so by claiming that they were searching for a group of legislators who might have been in a plane crash. In other words, the Texas state police lied. Craddick denied knowledge of the state police contact with DHS and DeLay denied attempts to get the Feds involved in the manhunt.
The problem is that DeLay did contact the FAA and obtain flight information and relayed that information to Craddick. DeLay also advocated for the use of federal resources such as FBI agents and U.S. marshals in the search and for “federalizing” the Texas arrest warrants so that the lawmakers could be brought back across state lines. DeLay offered, and more than just advocating, he asked on Craddick’s behalf if federal enforcement could be used to support the manhunt.
DeLay’s exact involvement will of course be hard to sort out because the state police ordered immediate destruction of the records gathered during the quorum incident. Washington Democrats allege that this destruction could obstruct a federal investigation into how DHS got involved in the hunt. DeLay has admitted to a role in hunting the Democrats, but has also reverted to a time-worn defense: a good offense. DeLay has now accused Rep. Martin Frost (D-Arlington) of using his staff to organize rallies in support of the Democrats who fled.
So with all the elements of this story, why doesn’t it have legs in the mainstream media? The answer lies in the relationship between the American media and the government. While the government in this country does not own or directly control the media, it can use policy decisions to reward or punish media outlets as it wishes. The most recent example is FCC Chair Michael Powell’s proposal to relax media ownership requirements allowing big media companies to have a larger share of the national market. These companies have little incentive to cross the powers that be, especially since favorable regulatory treatment may be their reward for being cooperative.
There is truly something rotten in Texas, but as long as the media fear the likes of Tom DeLay, the stench will fade, but the cause will remain.