Can Texas Democrats Save Democracy In Their State?
When Ted Cruz fled down to the Yucatan's beautiful, balmy Mayan Riveria with his family, it was to get away from the Climate Change/utilites profiteering catastrophe in Texas. Most of the state House Democrats are getting out of town for an entirely different reason-- to save their state from the GOP's undisguised authoritarianism and a naked attempt to disenfranchise more Democratic voters. Texas is already the most difficult state to vote in anywhere in America.
The Texas Tribune reported this afternoon that at least 59 Dems in the state House flew to to Washington, D.C. today on two chartered planes, "in a bid to again deny Republicans the quorum needed to pass new voting restrictions with 27 days left in a special legislative session called largely for that purpose. Only 51 of the 67 Democratic members were needed for the plan to work. When the House reconvenes tomorrow morning, there won't be a quorum for the Republicans to do anything. "With the national political spotlight on Texas’ efforts to further restrict voting," wrote Alexa Ura and Cassandra Pollock, "the Democratic exodus offers them a platform to continue pleading with Congress to act on restoring federal protections for voters of color. In Texas, the decamping will mark a more aggressive stance by Democrats to block Republican legislation further tightening the state’s voting rules as the GOP works against thinning statewide margins of victory."
Ultimately, Democrats lack the votes to keep the Republican-controlled Legislature from passing new voting restrictions, along with the other conservative priorities on Gov. Greg Abbott’s 11-item agenda for the special session.
Some Democrats hope their absence will give them leverage to force good-faith negotiations with Republicans, who they say have largely shut them out of negotiations over the voting bill. Both chambers advanced their legislation out of committees on party-line votes after overnight hearings, passing out the bills early Sunday morning after hearing hours of testimony mostly against the proposals and just a few days after making their revived proposals public. They are expected to bring the bills to the House and Senate floors for votes this week.
Even if Democratic lawmakers stay out of state for the next few weeks, the governor could continue to call 30-day sessions or add voting restrictions to the agenda when the Legislature takes on the redrawing of the state’s political maps later this summer.
Monday’s mass departure follows a Democratic walkout in May that kept Republicans from passing their priority voting bill at the end of the regular legislative session. For weeks, Democrats had indicated that skipping town during the special session remained an option as Republicans prepared for a second attempt at tightening the state’s voting laws.
...According to House rules adopted at the beginning of the regular session, two-thirds of the 150-member chamber must be present to conduct business. When the House is in session, legislators can vote to lock chamber doors to prevent colleagues from leaving and can order law enforcement to track down lawmakers who have already fled.
If a quorum is not present when the House convenes Tuesday, any House member can move to make what's known as a call of the House to "secure and maintain a quorum to consider a certain piece of legislation, resolution or motion, under chamber rules. That motion must be seconded by 15 members and ordered by a majority vote. If that happens, the missing Democrats will become legislative fugitives.
“All absentees for whom no sufficient excuse is made may, by order of a majority of those present, be sent for and arrested, wherever they may be found, by the sergeant-at-arms or an officer appointed by the sergeant-at-arms for that purpose, and their attendance shall be secured and retained,” the House rules state. “The house shall determine on what conditions they shall be discharged.”
State Senator Chris Larson, the progressive candidate for Ron Johnson's U.S. Senate seat, led a walkout in 2011 of the Wisconsin state Senate for similar reasons. This afternoon he told me that "Long before losing the White House in last year's election, Trump and his Republican party have been on a crusade against voting rights. But now that the partisan justices of the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the last standing framework of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the effort to protect democracy has reached a new urgency. This year alone, we've seen 404 voter suppression bills introduced across the country and twenty-six of them have already passed. We must recognize this effort for what it is: the largest assault on voting rights since the civil war. Luckily, Texas Democrats are meeting this moment with the urgency it deserves by doing whatever it takes to stop these bills. Ten years ago, my 13 Democratic colleagues and I left the state to prevent a quorum on a bill that was meant to destroy collective bargaining for public employees. To be sure, we faced criticism for our actions but we needed to do whatever it took to expose what was really happening behind the scenes. We ended up being gone for 20 days and in that time, the world had the chance to see what was really going on: a full-assault on teachers and other public employees. We stood back and in our place, Wisconsin witnessed the largest protests in our state's history. Now that Texas Democrats are leaving the state, it is on the rest of us to educate the public about what's at stake: the future of our American democracy. All 50 senate Democrats must heed our call to pass the For the People Act so that there is universal access to the ballot, partisan gerrymandering is ended, and elections are no longer decided by who is the richest or coziest with the special interests. This is the vote to protect all future votes. We must do whatever it takes to get it passed."