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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 May, 2003, 22:56 GMT 23:56 UK
Fleeing Democrats thwart Texan vote
Republican senator stands in deserted Texas House of Representatives
Texas may have backlogged legislation for weeks to come

More than 50 Democratic politicians in the US state of Texas have brought the state's political system into disarray by fleeing the state before a crucial vote was to take place.

The lawmakers left the city of Austin just before a scheduled debate on a controversial rezoning plan for voting districts, which Democrats say will unfairly tip the balance in the state in the Republicans favour.

They arrived in Oklahoma, but when Texas sent state troopers to ask them to return, they refused to come back.

The Democratic boycott means that the Texas House of Representatives does not have the minimum of 100 members needed for a vote to be held.

'Unfair process'

Republicans had gained control of the Texas House in November for the first time since just after the US Civil War in the 1860s.

Get back to Austin and get back to work
Republican Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick

The House Democrats said they were making a stand for fair treatment of the minority party, saying in a statement that they refused "to participate in an inherently unfair process that slams the door of opportunity in the face of Texas voters".

They are also reportedly angered by proposed Republican bills to limit lawsuits and a budget plan that would make deep spending cuts without raising taxes.

If the Democrats remain missing not only will the rezoning plan be delayed but dozens of other bills the Republicans are hoping to pass will also be backlogged.

'Shirking responsibility'

Politicians in Washington DC have also expressed their dismay at the Texas Democrats' decision.

"Representatives are elected and paid for by the people with the expectation that they show up to work do the people's business and have the courage to cast tough votes," majority Republican leader in the US House of Representatives Tom DeLay said at a news conference.

"I have never turned tail and run and shirked my responsibility."

Republican Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick was even more blunt.

"Get back to Austin and get back to work," he was quoted by the Los Angeles Times as saying.

Now legislators may have to call a special session to debate proposed bills if and when the Democrats return, as the current term ends in three weeks.

The BBC's Michael Buchanan
"Texas' finest Democrats are reduced to cowering in the basement of a hotel"

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