Republicans in Washington and Austin, Texas apparently used a Homeland Security Department agency to track Texas Democratic legislators who left the state to block passage of a GOP-backed Congressional redistricting bill.
This is the same Homeland Security Department that is supposed to be making America safe from foreign terrorists. It's the agency we were told would never be used for domestic political purposes.
But today's edition of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that the Air and Marine Interdiction and Coordination Center, in Riverside, California, became involved in the Republican search for 51 Democratic state representatives who went to Ardmore, Oklahoma to break a quorum of the House and block action on the redistricting bill.
Here's what the Star-Telegram reported: "The agency received a call to locate a specific Piper turboprop aircraft. It was determined that the plane belonged to former House Speaker Pete Laney." Laney is one of the Democrats who is fighting against the redistricting bill.
The newspaper said, "Laney's plane proved to be a key piece of information because, (Republican House Speaker) Craddick said, it's how he determined that the Democrats were in Ardmore. 'We called someone, and they said they were going to track it. I have no idea how they tracked it down,' Craddick said. 'That's how we found them.'"
The Interdiction and Coordination center "falls under the auspices of the Homeland Security Department," the Star- Telegram reported.
Republican Craddick, at the request of U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, is pushing a redistricting plan that would eliminate five Democrats from the U.S. Congress. Currently, the Texas delegation contains 17 Democrats and 15 Republicans.
While saying they "called someone," Craddick denied making calls to any federal agency, but DeLay confirmed that Republicans sought the assistance of federal law enforcement.
The action by the House Democrats, dubbed the "Heroes of the House" and the "Killer D's" (a reference to a similar quorum-busting action by Texas Senate Democrats in the late 1970s), has gained national attention. Their action has also received a surprising amount of support from Texas newspapers, which have criticized the deeply partisan actions of Texas Republicans.
Republican leaders in Texas and Washington are furious. They have called the Democrats, holed up in a Holiday Inn in Ardmore, "cowards" and "terrorists."
State troopers have followed the Democrats wives, parents and children. Troopers even staked out a hospital where one lawmaker's premature twins are being cared for. Staffers have been harassed. All this has happened after the location of the Democrats was know.
Now, in a chilling revelation, we discover the Homeland Security Department was apparently used to try and track the Democrats' whereabouts.
It was no doubt a ham-fisted, incautious and bungled attempt (like the Watergate burglary) by Republicans to use all the law enforcement they could find to overcome the Democrats' temporary advantage.
But the use of the Homeland Security Department for partisan political purposes should alarm all Americans. It deserves a full, complete and independent investigation.
The warnings of civil libertarians appear to have been justified. Even if it turns out that some half-crazed Republican staffer or independent investigator called the Air and Marine Interdiction and Coordination Center, it raises disturbing questions about the operations of Homeland Security and the lengths Republicans will go enforce their will.
Americans deserve to know the details of this scandal. And they deserve to know them now.
Glenn W. Smith is managing director/consultant to the progressive Rockridge Institute of Oakland, California. Smith lives in Austin, Texas.
His email is email@example.com.