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Hiding out is an old political ploy

The Democratic members of the Texas Legislature are on the lam in Washington D.C. this week, to prevent Republicans in the state from passing more restrictive voting regulations by denying them a quorum. It’s not the first time a legislative caucus has abandoned their session to stymie legislation they can’t defeat.

Going AWOL to prevent a legislative quorum is an old concept that has been used from time to time by both Democrats and Republicans. There are even some instances dating back to the George Washington administration.

But for sheer nerve, perhaps no legislative quorum hijacker can compare with Minnesota’s Joe Rolette, a pioneering fur trader and politician who was elected to the Minnesota Territorial Legislature in 1851. His great claim to fame was in keeping St. Peter from becoming the state capital instead of St. Paul.

In February 1857, a bill was passed by both houses of the territorial legislature to make St. Peter the capital of the new state. The bill had to go through the Enrollment committee, which Rolette chaired, on its way to the governor. Rolette grabbed the bill itself and disappeared for a week until the session ended and it was too late for the territorial governor to sign. The story is Rolette and some buddies hid out in a nearby rooming house, drinking and playing cards while authorities searched for him.

Thus St. Paul became the state capital. Even Texas Democrats have to admire this bit of legislative skullduggery.

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