ABOVE: Congressmen Rep. Marc Veasey (D-TX) and Lloyd Dogget (D-TX) speak alongside Texas state House Democrats during a news conference on voting rights outside the U.S. Capitol on July 13, 2021 in Washington, DC. More than sixty Texas House Democrats have left the state overnight to Washington, DC, in order to block a voting restrictions bill by denying a Republican quorum. Texas Governor Greg Abbott has threatened to arrest the legislators when they returns to the state. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
Texas Democratic lawmakers are facing arrest and jail time after leaving State Capitol during Special Session to derail plans to enact controversial voter legislation pushed by Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas Republican legislators
It takes courage to stand up for a cause you believe in, regardless of your race, or whether people agree with your position or not.
Bold and unadulterated courage is what people of African descent have displayed since the foundation of this country, whereby they have sacrificed their lives and reputations and used their own resources to fight against unjust and inhumane laws that have negatively impacted Black people at the local and federal levels.
We all have heard about many of those type of courageous individuals.
Rosa Parks chose to sit down in the front section of a bus to revolt against segregationist policies that were unacceptable when it came to public services like transportation. She was arrested.
The Freedom Riders rode interstate buses and sat in restaurant across the segregated South, as they protested the Southern states’ refusal to honor Supreme Court decisions making it unconstitutional to discriminate against Blacks relative to public transportation and amenities. They were spat on, disrespected, physically assaulted, and even arrested.
Most recently, we saw the courage of former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick choosing to take a knee to protest police brutality and racism in America. He was blackballed from the NFL and vilified by many in this country.
When you are facing backlash or repercussions for standing up for your convictions and doing what you believe is right, it often comes with a high level of praise or a high level of criticism. Oftentimes, it may cost you more than just a negative critique though; it may lead to
In the case of the over 50 Texas Democrats who broke quorum and bolted from the Lone Star State on June 12, they clearly counted the cost by making a courageous move to risk arrest so they can stop a controversial piece of legislation regarding voting rights from moving forward.
For the second time this year, Texas House Democrats broke quorum—once during the regular legislative session and now during the Special Session called by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott—by leaving the state and traveling to Washington D.C. to lobby the U.S. Congress to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which are Democratic-authored bills that seek to strengthen the freedom to vote for Americans across this country.
This time, however, Texas House Democrats have been joined by their fellow Democratic colleagues in the Texas Senate, to fight against the legislation and urge Congress to act.
Gov. Greg Abbott who called for a Special Session that began on July 8, identified Senate Bill 7 a.k.a. the “Election Integrity” legislation, as one of his priority items and has wanted to steamroll the legislation forward regardless of Democratic opposition.
Of course, the potential passage of Senate Bill 7 towards the end of the legislative back in May was the primary catalyst for Texas House Democrats breaking quorum and sabotaging the legislation that was surely going to pass and get signed into law without their actions.
The actions by the Texas Democrats in May led to Gov. Abbott retaliating and vetoing a section of the state budget that funds the Texas Legislature, its staffers, and legislative agencies.
Now, Gov. Abbott has seemingly taken the gloves off even more, as he has threatened to have every single Democratic lawmaker who left arrested.
“Texas Democrats’ decision 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,” said Gov. Abbott. “As they fly across the country on cushy private planes, they leave undone issues that can help their districts and our state…The Democrats must put aside partisan political games and get back to the job they were elected to do. Their constituents must not be denied these important resources simply because their elected representative refused to show up to work.”
During an interview on Fox News on July 12, Gov. Abbott delivered a stern message to the quorum-breaking lawmakers, stating:
“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. I can and I will continue to call a special session after special session after special session all the way up until election next year. And so, if these people want to be hanging out wherever they’re hanging out on this taxpayer-paid junket, they’re going to have to be prepared to do it for well over a year. The state house of representatives who are here in the Capitol…do have the ability to issue a call to have their fellow members who are not showing up to be arrested but only so long as that arrest is made in the state of Texas. That’s why they have fled the state. Once they step back into the state of Texas, they will be arrested and brought to the Texas Capitol, and we will be conducting business.”
The Texas House Republicans decided to move forward on Gov. Abbott’s call to action, voting on Tuesday (76-4) to have the Sergeant at Arms send for at least 51 of the Democratic legislators who left, demanding that they be ordered back to Texas unless they have an excused absence. Keep in mind that the Democratic lawmakers who ditched Texas for Washington D.C. can only be arrested by the Sergeant at Arms or any other law enforcement official if they willingly return to the state of Texas; otherwise, they cannot be legally touched until they return.
How long that will be is anybody’s guess.
State Representative Ron Reynolds, who was a part of the quorum-breaking group in May, is currently in Washington D.C. lobbying Congress for enhanced voter protection legislation along with his fellow Democratic colleagues. He is committed to continuing the fight.
“My colleagues and I will not stand by as the Republicans launch these egregious attacks on the rights and freedoms of Texas voters,” said Rep. Reynolds. “I will continue to make sacrifices and fight to protect our democracy and our precious right to vote. We should be focused on expanding access to the polls, providing for online voter registration, and making it easier to vote. Instead, Republicans have proposed bills to restrict hours of voting, ban drive-through voting, and restrict information about mail ballots.”
State Senator Borris Miles joined his Texas Democratic House colleagues in Washington D.C., as a strong sign of solidarity and commitment to fight alongside them.
“I have joined my Democratic colleagues in the Senate and the House to protect the freedom and rights of our voters,” said Sen. Miles. “SB 1 and HB 3 would strip the freedom to vote from our communities by creating deliberate barriers to voting. They are bills written in the spirit of old Jim Crow laws and would dismantle the progress towards making us a more perfect union. The Republicans have been willing to break Senate rules and traditions to get these bills passed so we had to act.”
Another ally of the Texas Democratic legislators is current Harris County Commissioner and former State Senator Rodney Ellis, who also joined them in Washington D.C. and who is supportive of them breaking quorum again.
“It takes courage to walk off the floor and break quorum, but with Governor Abbott vetoing the Legislature’s funding, and placing voting restrictions as one of the top agenda items, there is no other choice,” said Commissioner Ellis. “Our democracy is at stake, and there is no room for compromise when it comes to the right to vote. Texans need resources to recover from this pandemic, they need a functioning electric grid, and they need Medicaid expansion for affordable health care. This session will provide none of that. Democrats are right to refuse to take part in this sham session, and I hope that lawmakers in D.C. will listen to what they have to say. I am so proud of the Texas Democrats’ dedication to protecting the right to vote, and I wish them the best of luck. We are all behind you.”
Gov. Abbott and Texas Republican legislators have aggressively moved the voter bills through in lightning speed, with hundreds of people signed up to speak at the long and drawn-out hearings that went nearly 24 hours over the weekend, leaving many people who came down to Austin to testify in opposition of the legislation unable to speak. The legislation was passed on party lines without much debate at all and was slated to come to the floor for a vote within the week, which is one of the primary reasons the Texas Democrats decided to leave the state.
Brianna Brown, Deputy Director of the Texas Organizing Project (TOP), applauded the Texas House Democrats who chose to break quorum to block the legislation, stating that they are making it clear they will fight tooth and nail in defense of access to the ballot box and Texans’ civil rights.
“Knowing this was not a decision made lightly, TOP applauds these representatives for boldly stepping up to protect the voices and livelihoods of Black and Latino Texans,” said Brown. “Their courageous action brings us one step closer to derailing the right-wing dog and pony show that Gov. Abbott and his allies are trying to run in this Special Session.”
Prior to the Texas Democratic lawmakers breaking quorum, members of the Texas Senate Democratic Caucus filed the Barbara Jordan Fair Elections Act (S.B. 61), which would protect Texans’ freedom to vote; expand voter registration to meet the needs of Texas’ growing and diverse populations through automatic and online voter registration; reform vote by mail eligibility to allow more Texans to safely and conveniently cast their ballots; increase access to the polls for hard-working Texans and single-parent families by incentivizing countywide voting locations and promoting weekend voting; and expand access to the ballot box through the expansion of early voting, classifying Election Day as a state holiday and other common-sense reforms. The lead bill author is State Sen. Royce West, but as expected, it has received no significant support or traction from the Texas Republicans.
The Houston Forward Times will continue to monitor the legislation and the courageous decision by the Texas Democratic legislators to break quorum once again. Stay tuned!