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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 May, 2003, 10:40 GMT 11:40 UK
Runaway Texans liven up town

By Michael Buchanan
BBC correspondent in Ardmore, Oklahoma

The weekly karaoke night at the Holiday Inn in Ardmore, southern Oklahoma, is a local highlight attracting both bad and truly appalling singers from near and far.

But for sheer entertainment, this week's event simply cannot compete - not when there are more than 50 Democrats from Texas staying here, ducking a vote.

Democrats at the Ardmore Holiday Inn
The lawmakers may be on the run, but they are still working
The Democrats made a midnight dash to Oklahoma on Sunday, leaving the Texas legislature without a quorum.

They felt that was the only way to stop a bitterly contested bill from passing that would have redrawn electoral boundaries in Texas to give more seats to the Republicans.

"It is not running from a fight," says Pete Gallego, one of the Democrats who have made the two-storey, 169-roomed hotel his home since early on Monday morning.

"When you hire someone to represent your interests, you don't want them to fold over just because it's a challenge.

"You want them to do absolutely everything they can to represent your interests. And that's what we're doing."

Ringing off the hook

The trip was arranged in a few hours meaning the state representatives were not sure where they had go.

The Holiday Inn's manager, Glenn Hughes, says the group arrived entirely unannounced.

Deserted Texas House of Representatives
Texas Republicans are faced with a largely empty house

"We didn't know who they were, they checked in anonymously. The names we have aren't their actual names."

After spending most of Monday being sought - during which time some of the group went along to the Therapy Center in Ardmore for some pampering such as facials and manicures - they were eventually tracked down.

Texas Rangers were sent to arrest them, but having no jurisdiction in Oklahoma, they returned home empty handed.

Texan voters have been phoning up in the thousands, according to the hotel, to either support or condemn the Democrats' actions.

Some people, such as Pamela Sund, have driven up to lend their support.

Standing at one of the Holiday Inn's entrances, she says: "We need education and we need jobs in the state of Texas. We don't need another redistricting plan."

Running scared?

But their opponents have taken to calling the Democrats chickens.

In Texas, Republicans have developed an American idea from Iraq and drawn up playing cards with the missing Democrats faces on them.

A Texas Republican cuts out photocopies of playing cards featuring House Democrats
Another pack of cards, another set of fugitives

Outside the Holiday Inn, Jeff Moreno stands with a small group who accuse the lawmakers of ranking lower than only Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein as fugitives from American justice.

"It's very disappointing to see this child-like behaviour," says Mr Moreno, "I'm ashamed of them."

The Democrats says they will not return home until Thursday evening at the earliest - by which time the bill will have died.

In the meantime, they say they are busy holding meetings to discuss a variety of issues they intend to push once they return to Texas.

Carlos Uresti says they have had a relatively uneventful stay - apart from a tornado alert on Tuesday night.

"I grabbed my shoes and my wallet and ran down to the basement. Then I realised my room-mate hadn't come down so I to run back up and he was unfortunately still asleep and I grabbed him and brought him back down."

So Texas's finest Democrats are reduced to cowering in the bottom of a hotel - little wonder that state's most famous Republican - President George W Bush - reckons he can win re-election next year.

Fleeing Democrats thwart Texan vote
13 May 03  |  Americas

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