Texas State House Democrats at a press conference
Texas State House Democrats at a press conference

The major­i­ty of the House Demo­c­ra­t­ic cau­cus in Texas decamped from the state capi­tol in Austin today to the fed­er­al Dis­trict of Colum­bia in an effort to block Gov­er­nor Greg Abbot­t’s allies in the Texas Leg­is­la­ture from pass­ing a sweep­ing vot­er sup­pres­sion bill that would dis­en­fran­chise mil­lions of Texans.

By walk­ing out, Demo­c­ra­t­ic state rep­re­sen­ta­tives are leav­ing the Texas State House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives with­out a con­sti­tu­tion­al­ly required quo­rum, which means that the House can­not con­duct any floor busi­ness, includ­ing pass­ing the vot­er sup­pres­sion bill that Abbott has demand­ed the Leg­is­la­ture send him.

Democ­rats used char­tered air­craft to trans­port them­selves out of state, pre­sum­ably to ensure a smooth and easy trip to the Dis­trict of Columbia.

There, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic rep­re­sen­ta­tives intend to wait out Abbott and the Repub­li­cans. It could be a long wait, as Abbott might sim­ply call anoth­er spe­cial ses­sion to extend the clock that Democ­rats are try­ing to run out.

“We will not stand by and watch Repub­li­cans slash our right to vote, silence the voic­es of Tex­ans of col­or, and destroy our democ­ra­cy — all to pre­serve their own pow­er,” said Gilber­to Hino­josa, chair­man of the Texas Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty, explain­ing why the par­ty’s state rep­re­sen­ta­tives took the action that they did.

Vot­ing rights aren’t all that is at stake. Democ­rats actu­al­ly have the abil­i­ty to block Texas from regress­ing on mul­ti­ple fronts by leav­ing the state.

“Mon­day’s walk­out will endan­ger a host of oth­er con­ser­v­a­tive pri­or­i­ties that Abbott added to the agen­da of the spe­cial ses­sion that began Thurs­day: bor­der secu­ri­ty, trans­gen­der stu­dent-ath­letes, crit­i­cal race the­o­ry, abor­tion reg­u­la­tions and com­plaints that social media com­pa­nies are cen­sor­ing con­ser­v­a­tives,” Nicole Cobler Chuck Lin­dell and John C. Moritz wrote for the Austin Amer­i­can-States­man.

Abbott and top Repub­li­cans react­ed angri­ly to the walk­out, pep­per­ing their com­ments with insults and threats and demand­ing capitulation.

In the com­ing days, we can expect to hear a lot about how awful these Demo­c­ra­t­ic state rep­re­sen­ta­tives are from right wing media fig­ures, with absolute­ly no admis­sion or men­tion of the fact that in Ore­gon, Repub­li­cans have used the exact same tac­tic to block leg­is­la­tion that they do not like. 

You won’t find any nation­al Repub­li­cans con­demn­ing their Ore­gon brethren, of course, because it’s okay if you’re a Repub­li­can (this is known as the IOKIYAR prin­ci­ple for short.) As far as Repub­li­cans are con­cerned, walk­outs are only bad and only con­demnable when done by leg­isla­tive Democrats.

In most states, a minor­i­ty walk­out would actu­al­ly have no real effect on a leg­isla­tive body’s abil­i­ty to func­tion because a quo­rum is a major­i­ty. The par­ty that has the major­i­ty can thus always ful­fill its state con­sti­tu­tion­al quo­rum require­ments. This is the case in Wash­ing­ton, but not in Ore­gon or Texas.

Since Texas has super­ma­jor­i­ty quo­rum require­ments, out­num­bered leg­isla­tive Democ­rats have lever­age. But they can only use their lever­age if they’re not in Texas. If they are in Texas, they risk being arrest­ed and trans­port­ed back to the Capi­tol by the Sergeant-At-Arms or Texas law enforce­ment dep­u­tized by the Sergeant-At-Arms. Out­side of Texas, Abbott, his ally Dade Phe­lan (R‑Beaumont) and Texas law enforce­ment offi­cers lack jurisdiction.

In D.C., Texas House Democ­rats hope to raise aware­ness of what Abbott and Phe­lan are try­ing to do to vot­ing rights in Texas, and lob­by in sup­port of the For The Peo­ple Act, which Sen­ate Repub­li­cans recent­ly filibustered.

Vice Pres­i­dent Kamala Har­ris con­grat­u­lat­ed the law­mak­ers on their move.

“I applaud them stand­ing for the rights of all Amer­i­cans and all Tex­ans to express their voice through their vote, unen­cum­bered,” she said in com­ments made from Detroit. “They are lead­ers who are march­ing in the path that so many oth­ers before did, when they fought and many died for our right to vote.”

Lever­ag­ing unde­mo­c­ra­t­ic quo­rum require­ments to pro­tect vot­ing rights seems about the best pos­si­ble use of what is essen­tial­ly a fil­i­bus­ter­ing type of tac­tic. Democ­ra­cy in Texas will all but dis­ap­pear if Repub­li­cans suc­ceed in their aim of pre­vent­ing peo­ple who don’t sup­port their agen­da in the Lone Star State from vot­ing in 2022 and future elec­tion cycles.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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