Well, here we go again. Or maybe, there they go again.
“They” are most Democrats in the Texas House of Representatives. They continue to break quorum to keep the Legislature from doing business. It’s the only tool the Democrats have left to block Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s efforts to ram through voting law changes Democrats say make it harder to vote for people of color, the poor, disabled, young, old, or lacking transportation.
Abbott and the Republicans call the voting change effort “Election Security.”
Democrats call it “Voter Suppression.”
The Democrats first broke quorum as the regular legislative session ended May 31. The Texas Constitution says both the House and Senate “shall” have two-thirds of their members present in order to do business. The House’s 150 members are divided into 83 Republicans and 67 Democrats. That’s enough for the Republicans to have a majority, but short of the 100 needed to constitute a quorum.
But, the two-thirds requirement for a quorum, that means 100 of the 150 members must be present to do business.
So, the Democrats can shut the place down by getting 51 of their 67 members to leave the Capitol. The legislative leaders can dispatch the state police to bring in the absent legislators — if they can find them. And, the state police don’t have the jurisdiction to apprehend them unless they’re in Texas.
After Gov. Abbott saw his voting bill and a handful of other bills killed by the Democrats breaking quorum, he promised to call a special session. Only the governor can call the Legislature into special session, and only the governor can designate what subjects legislators may consider. Abbott waited through the 20-day period following the regular session allowed for the governor to consider bills passed in the final-days flurry, to decide which to sign, veto, or let become law without his signature.
On June 22, Abbott called for a 30-day special session to begin July 8. He had already said it would be to consider the voting rights bill and a bill about the bail system, and would designate others before the session began. The special session was gaveled in on July 8. It didn’t take long for the House Democrats to conclude their only negotiating tool was to break quorum again. On Tuesday, July 12, more than the necessary 51 to break the quorum boarded two chartered jets to Washington, D.C. Upon arrival at Washington’s Dulles Airport, they indicated they planned to stay until the session ran out on Aug. 6.
Gov. Abbott, in a statement, said “to break a quorum of the Texas Legislature and abandon the Texas State Capitol inflicts harm on the very Texans who elected them to serve. ... (T) they leave undone issues that can help their districts and our state.”
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” said House Democratic Caucus Chair Chris Turner of Grand Prairie. “We are doing our job. We were elected to represent our constituents and fight for our constituents’ interests. We aren’t going to sit in Austin in the House chamber and watch the Republican majority steamroll the voting rights of our constituents.”
The Democrats’ flight to the nation’s Capitol allowed them to:
Escape the jurisdiction of the Texas state police.
Talk on national news programs about the Texas Republican voting-change effort, as an example of similar efforts in dozens of states.
Lobby members of Congress, formally and informally, to pass pending bills to enable the federal government to override problematic state laws.
Lobby to restore the pre-clearance process to the federal Voting Rights Act President Lyndon B. Johnson signed in 1965. It required voting law changes be cleared by the Justice Department, or a three-judge court in Washington, as non- discriminatory, before they can take effect. The requirement was out by a 5-4 Supreme Court decision in 2013.
As the July special session was about to end, with several of Abbott’s pet bills flying through the Senate only to be halted in the quorum less House, the governor called another special session to meet Aug. 7, the day after the previous one ended. When the new session began Saturday, the House quickly adjourned for lack of a quorum, while the Senate began readying to pass bills.
So here we — and they — go again. Where all this goes now, and when, and how, remains to be seen. Stay tuned. If you can.