Democrats in the Texas state legislature have fled the state in an effort to prevent their Republican colleagues from passing an omnibus of voting rights restrictions.
With a significant portion of the legislative body now in Washington D.C., Republicans lack the quorum they need to call a vote on the bill, which includes efforts to eliminate drive-through voting, shutter 24-hour polling centers, and further limit absentee voting. As one might expect, most if not all of these measures disproportionately target people of color.
The mass exodus marks the second time Democratic lawmakers in Texas have gone to extremes to block the legislation: At the end of May, Democrats staged a last-minute walkout, forcing their opponents to run out the clock on the legislative session. After Republicans missed their deadline for passing the bill, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called a special summer session for the express purpose of getting the legislation to his desk.
It seems conceivable that Democrats might once again succeed in stalling the anti-voting rights proposal. According to the Texas Tribune, there are still 26 days left of the special session, but Democrats don’t seem to have any imminent plans to return to the statehouse. Their latest show of force also demonstrates how far they’re willing to go to stop the legislation from going into effect. To pull off Monday’s walkout, Texas Democrats chartered a bus and two planes to leave the state. “We are now taking the fight to our nation’s Capitol,” they wrote in a joint statement. “We are living on borrowed time in Texas.”
Of course, Abbott is portraying their protest as elitist and lazy, insisting that the lawmakers have left behind “undone issues” while they fly aboard “cushy private planes.” But Texas legislators have made the wise calculation that these smears are worth their trouble. Since Republicans in the House outnumber Democrats 83 to 67, Democratic lawmakers don’t have much to lose. And by continuing to obstruct Republicans, they may eventually force their colleagues to cede some of their political leverage.
If nothing else, it is an admirable rejection of the civility politics which are so often promoted by their fellow Democrats in Congress. When opportunities to play hardball with Republicans arise, national Democrats often capitulate to “norms” or balk at the prospect of eschewing bipartisanship—even when it means changing the lives of their constituents for the better. Perhaps they could learn something from their more gutsy party members in the Texas statehouse.