AUSTIN, Texas — The Senate Democrats who fled the state to block a vote on a GOP congressional redistricting plan capitulated Monday and showed up for a special session of the Legislature, their boycott broken by one of their own.
Republican Gov. Rick Perry ordered the special session as part of a bitter, monthslong battle.
Ten Democrats who spent six weeks at a hotel in Albuquerque, N.M., to thwart a vote on redrawing Texas' congressional map gave up their protest after an 11th member, Sen. John Whitmire, broke ranks and returned to the Senate floor.
His return gave Republicans the quorum needed to hold a vote.
Since there was no longer any question of blocking a quorum, the other Democrats also came back, and were met with rousing applause from spectators in the packed gallery, several of whom mocked Whitmire by wearing T-shirts with one letter apiece, spelling out "QUITMIRE."
"This fight is long from over. We have just begun the fight," said Democratic Sen. Royce West.
The special session could last up to 30 days.
Currently, the Democrats have a 17-15 majority in the state's congressional delegation. Senate Republicans are pushing a plan they say would give them 19 or 20 seats.
The GOP maintains the Legislature needs to draw the congressional districts to reflect changing voter patterns. Democrats argue that the GOP plan would hurt minority representation in Congress and is a power grab by the Republicans, orchestrated by U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas.
Democratic state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte said the struggle is about more than just redistricting: "It's about the voice of each and every Texan being preserved. This is not about politics, it's principles."
Efforts to draw new districts have failed three times this year, even though Republicans hold a majority in both chambers of the Legislature.
During the regular legislative session, more than 50 Democratic House members fled to Oklahoma to thwart a quorum. They left the state so Texas law officers could not arrest them and force them back to the Capitol.
A special session called by the governor also failed to produce a bill.
During a second special session, 11 Democrats fled to New Mexico, depriving the 31-seat Senate of the two-thirds attendance needed for a quorum.
This time, fighting redistricting may be back in the hands of House Democrats. State Rep. Rick Noriega said they are taking the fight "day by day," and no option has been ruled out.
"We will not stand for this kind of power grab — right is on our side," Noriega said.