The Texas GOP may be having the last laugh as Gov. Greg Abbott announces his intent to arrest Texas Democrats who left the state this week in a bid to prevent Republican legislation.
As the Texas Legislature met in special session and prepared to pass measures to increase election security, including ID requirements for mail-in ballots and an end to 24-hour polling locations and drive-through voting, state Democrats resorted to a last-ditch effort. On Monday, members of the party left the state in private planes bound for Washington, D.C., denying the GOP the two-thirds quorum necessary to take up a vote on the proposed legislation. The last time Democrats used this strategy was in 2003, when lawmakers successfully stopped a redistricting plan by fleeing to Oklahoma.
As the planes prepared to take off from Austin, Democratic state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer explained the lawmakers’ decision to leave: “This is a now-or-never for our democracy…. there is nothing more important than voting rights in America.”
But this breach of protocol has not amused Abbott. In an interview with KVUE News, Abbott made his next move clear: “As soon as they [Democratic lawmakers] 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.” Abbott’s move is not without legal backing: according to Texas law, absent lawmakers can be arrested and be required to attend the legislature.
The Texas House voted 76-4 Tuesday to bring Democrats back to the legislature, using arrest warrants if necessary. With 63 of the 67 Texas Democrats absent, the four remaining lawmakers voted against the measure authorizing the sergeant-at-arms to return Democrats to the Texas House.
Abbott made it clear that the behavior from Texas Democrats was not acceptable: “Everybody who has a job must show up to do that job…. State representatives have that same responsibility.”
Critics of the proposed Texas legislation, which includes Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 3, have called the mandates restrictive and claimed that they would make it harder for Texan minorities to vote. In May, Democrats staged a walkout to prevent an earlier version of the bill from passing.
Abbott rebutted these criticisms, claiming that the Democrats’ attempts to subvert the legislative process would not succeed and in fact would likely hurt their chances at reelection: “There still remains plenty of time to pass not just the bills that you mentioned [SB 1 and HB 3] but … a lot of other bills…. if they [Democrats] do not return to work, they are risking losing their jobs as state representatives for not showing up.”
The governor emphasized his resolve to get Texas Democrats back in the state and doing their job: “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 … they’re going to have to be prepared to do it for well over a year.”
According to Texas law, “the Texas Constitution does not limit the number of special sessions a governor may call,” meaning that Texas Democrats have left themselves in a war of attrition with Abbott until the next regular legislative session in 2023.
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