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.