Austin, Texas Fifty-five fugitive Democrats returned to the Texas Capitol in triumph Friday after thwarting a Republican redistricting bill by running off to Oklahoma for nearly a week.
"Welcome home, Texas heroes," one sign read as the lawmakers, all from the Texas House, arrived, smiling and waving to a cheering crowd.
During the political drama, the runaway lawmakers stayed at a Holiday Inn in Oklahoma, ate at a Denny's and took cell phone calls around the pool.
"We've weathered some troopers, we've weathered a tornado and we weathered Denny's," said Rep. Jim Dunnum, the group's ringleader. "No matter what happens, democracy won."
The lawmakers slipped away Sunday night in a revolt that brought the Texas House to a standstill because there were not enough lawmakers for a quorum to do business.
Democrats said it was the only way to stop a congressional redistricting plan that was being ramrodded through the GOP-controlled House at the behest of U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas. The redistricting was aimed at grabbing five House seats from the Democrats in 2004.
GOP officials ridiculed the rebellion, pasting the missing lawmakers' pictures on milk cartons and creating playing cards likening the Democrats to most-wanted Iraqis.
Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick angrily asked the Texas Rangers to track down and bring in the Democrats, but authorities said they could do nothing once the lawmakers crossed the Red River into Oklahoma. Even the Homeland Security Department was drawn into the fray after a Texas law officer called them, hinting that a plane full of Democrats might have crashed.
In the end, the redistricting bill died at midnight Thursday under the legislative rules as the Democrats returned.