Texas Legislature Democrats fled to Washington on July 12 in protest of Republican-led election reforms.
Multiple private jets took off from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, carrying a large group of Democrats. The GOP accuses them of deliberately abandoning their legislative responsibilities just days before the Texas House of Representatives was due to vote on new voting reforms during a special session.
When Republican Gov. Greg Abbott realized what his political opponents had done, he fronted local television and vowed to keep convening special sessions until the end of 2021 if necessary. He also suggested multiple Democrats could be arrested on returning to the Lone Star State.
After arriving in Sterling, Virginia on July 12, more than 50 Texas lawmakers boarded two large charter buses. The heavy vehicles transported them from a private airport terminal to a parking lot, near the main terminal of Dulles International Airport. Most of the Democrats arrived in street clothes instead of formal attire, before speaking with reporters.
The walkout came less than a month after Democrats successfully blocked the GOP’s first bid to impose sweeping new voting restrictions in Texas. Proposed changes include granting partisan poll watchers more power, and banning 24-hour polling places plus ballot drop boxes. BL understands their departure is intended to prevent the Republican majority from passing the contentious legislation.
“This is a now-or-never for our democracy [and] we are holding the line in Texas,” Democratic state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer said according to the Associated Press. “We have left our jobs, we have left our families, [and] we have left our homes. Because there is nothing more important than voting rights in America.”
It is unclear exactly how many of the 67 Democrats stepped down from the Texas House of Representatives. However, party officials predict it should be enough to shut down the legislative session.
Their decision to live in Washington appears to be a political stunt to pressure President Joe Biden and U.S. Congress to intervene at the federal level. Biden was scheduled to deliver a speech on July 13 in Philadelphia on the subject, after coming under increasing fire for hesitating to act on the matter. Before boarding the plane, Vice President Kamala Harris praised Texas Democrats for their “courage and commitment.”
Representatives from both parties are slated to meet with Democrats from across the national capitol. However, the White House had no plans for the group to make an official visit at the time of publication.
This standoff clearly shows the Democratic Party is the final line of defense against the GOP’s drive to reform voting systems. Former President Donald Trump has not conceded defeat and maintains the 2020 election was stolen. More than 12 states have already approved tighter election rules so far in 2021.
The Democrats have only resorted to walking out in Texas. This is the first time Texas Democrats crossed state borders to break quorum since 2003, according to state records. At the time state police were dispatched to bring Democrats home after they unsuccessfully stopped new Republican-drawn voting boundaries from being implemented.
Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan (R) vowed to utilize “every available resource” to ensure a quorum in the chamber. Some House Republicans suggest they will also take action when the House reconvenes on July 13.
Abbott is prepared to continue convening special sessions until the end of the next election cycle.
“If these people want to be hanging out, wherever they are hanging out on this taxpayer-paid junket, they are going to have to be prepared to do it for well over a year,” he said according to KVUE. “As soon as they come back in the state of Texas, they will be arrested, they will be cabined inside the Texas Capitol until they get their job done.”
On July 10, Republican legislators in Texas progressed new legislation to impose new voter identification requirements for absentee ballots. It also prohibits drive-thru voting and local election officials from sending mail-in ballot applications to voters. The governor also sent lawmakers with a large summer to-do list, which heavily focuses on limiting how race is taught in schools, prohibiting transgender athletes from participating in girls’s sports, and other ‘hot-button’ subjects.
Abbott, who is up for re-election in 2022, previously penalized Democratic lawmakers for protesting in May. He could withhold pay for about 2,000 Capitol staff unless the state Legislature convenes to restore funds.
BL understands long-term absences from the state might have serious ramifications in the upcoming midterm elections. However, many Texas Democrats already anticipate a rough cycle in 2022, particularly with Republicans preparing to create new voting boundaries that could solidify their dominance.
Martinez Fischer promised to pay for hotels for House members with his own campaign finances. However, he refused to confirm who would paid for the chartered aircraft.
A Houston man previously made headlines after waiting more than six hours to vote in 2020. Hervis Rogers was jailed for unlawful voting just one day before the special session began on July 8. Lawyers claim the 62-year-old did not realize he was prohibited from voting since he was already on parole for a felony burglary conviction.