Texas is the latest state to have a big fight over reforming its election laws. Remember that in Georgia, some Democrats — such as President Joe Biden — said a Republican-passed law that made several commonsense changes to election practices was “Jim Crow on steroids.” You won’t be surprised that some Democrats are saying similar things about a bill that would make changes — Republicans call them commonsense changes — in Texas.
But this time, state Democrats have dramatically raised the stakes. On May 31, Democratic lawmakers walked out of the Texas House of Representatives. Realizing they were headed to defeat at the hands of majority Republicans, Democrats fled the House, which they knew would mean there would not be a quorum of lawmakers present in the House, which would mean proceedings could not continue. House action stopped. The election-reform bill, known as SB7, was dead.
But only for now. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott immediately said he would add the bill to a special session to finish the work. It will eventually pass. But some Democrats celebrated their party’s move to throw a roadblock in the way of the legislature. Julian Castro, the former HUD secretary from Texas, saw it as part of a larger Democratic move to kill the filibuster in the Senate and pass the Democrats’ national voting bill.
“Texas Democrats have officially blocked the Republican voter suppression bill and spared us time to act,” Castro tweeted in the wee hours of Monday morning. “NOW is the time for the U.S. Senate to end the filibuster and safeguard our democracy before it’s too late.”
What are Democrats doing in Texas? As the minority unable to outvote majority Republicans, they have walked out of the House to frustrate the will of the majority. They have exercised what is sometimes called a “walking filibuster.” And some of them are doing it even as they encourage Washington Democrats to get rid of the filibuster.
By the way, the Texas Democrats’ tactics are nothing new. Back in 2003, when Republicans had just won a majority in the Texas House and set about work on redistricting, Democrats actually fled the state to deny the GOP a quorum to continue the work. They didn’t just leave the building, they left the state. Then-Gov. Rick Perry called a special session, and Democrats left the state again, gathering in New Mexico. A standoff ensued. But the majority finally won.
Now there is a new standoff in Texas. And one last thing: What is it all about? The Republican bill would, among other things, outlaw 24-hour voting and drive-thru voting in Texas. Are those long-lived election traditions in Texas that Republicans are suddenly trying to kill? Not at all. They were enacted by one county — Harris County, home of Houston — last year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Republicans reasonably believe that 1.) the policies would be impractical statewide, and 2.) election procedures, set by the legislature, should be consistent throughout the state.
And now, with Democrats protesting and fleeing the House, Republicans ask: Is anyone really saying this is somehow the new Jim Crow? Seriously? It will take a while, but just as in Georgia, Republicans will pass the new law.
And just as in Georgia, many people in Texas and around the country will wonder what the screaming was about.