Yesterday marked the 37th day the Texas House Democrats left the special session in Austin, Texas to protest election integrity bills proposed in both chambers of the Texas legislature. Originally, the Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, called for a special session to begin on July 8th to complete unfinished priorities for the 87th Legislative Session. As a reminder, the Texas legislature meets every other year as prescribed in the Texas Constitution to pass appropriations bills for government spending over the next two years.
This isn’t the first time the Texas House Democrats have a history of running from legislative sessions. In 2003, under Texas Governor, Rick Perry, the Texas House Democrats, led by the House Democratic Caucus Chair, Jim Dunnam, fled to Ardmore, Oklahoma with the purpose of breaking quorum in protest of redistricting in Texas. Yesterday, Representative Chris Turner (D), Chair of the House Democratic Caucus Chair, led the Texas House Democrats to Washington, D.C. to protest vital election integrity legislation for Texans across the state. The switch to Washington from Oklahoma is because, after the 2003 legislative boycott, Governor Rick Perry brokered a deal with Oklahoma to allow the Texas Rangers to collect truant legislators in the state, who promptly entered Oklahoma and escorted the Democrats back to their chamber seats in Austin.
On July 12, 2021, the Texas House Democrats boarded two private jets, even breaking the Federal Aviation Administration law requiring face coverings on airplanes. In the Twitter post by a Texas Democrat House Representative, large cases of alcohol have a place in a few seats on the aircraft.
To show solidarity behind their Democrat colleagues, House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and Vice-President, Kamala Harris, posted several times on social media about the “valiant” efforts of Texas House Democrats. The primary purpose of the Texas Democrat exodus to Washington served to protest “harsh” elections integrity bills in the Senate. In response, Texas State Senator Bryan Hughes of Senate District 1, claimed the Democrat exodus will harm the efforts to reduce voter fraud and logistical errors across Texas and leave several Democrat priority bills without support.
Texas State Representative, James Talarico D-Round Rock, posted on Twitter indicating the hope of the Texas Democrats rests in garnering support for the For the People Act (H.R. 1) in the House of Representatives, a law that would supersede the Texas voting reforms. Unfortunately for them, the For the People Act has stalled after it passed in the House with a vote of 220-210 — a party-line vote.
The other aim of the Texas House Democrats revolves around fundraising for their campaigns and Democratic interests in Texas. The largest amount of protesting and demonstrations from the Texas House Democrats occurred at the front steps of the United States Capitol. As an unintended consequence, Texas House Democrats have tested positive for COVID-19 despite receiving both vaccine doses for the virus. Due to their contact with major Democratic figures like Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, Senate Majority Leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, and other Democrat Representatives, staff members of the House Speaker’s office and other Democratic offices have tested positive for COVID-19.
While the Texas House Democrats visited the White House with Vice-President Kamala Harris, a few White House staffers contracted COVID-19 and received immediate medical treatment. The Public Relations stunt for the Texas House Democrats has created confusion around their primary intentions. Did they achieve their goal?
Texas Governor, Greg Abbott, ended the first special legislative session with Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, and called a second special legislative session which commenced on August 8th. Currently, only a handful of Texas House Democrats have returned to Texas, but not enough for quorum in the Texas House. With possible reports of Texas House Democrats leaving the country for Spain and Portugal, Texas constituents have begun to question the legitimacy of their Democrat representatives.
So far, the Texas House Democrats have made no progress in their Public Relations maneuvers, except raising questions about their intentions to stand up to Texas House Republicans.
During the Texas Democrat exodus, Texas House Republicans have continued to hold caucus meetings and convene, then immediately adjourn from the lack of quorum. Governor Abbott has released several press releases regarding the situation in the Texas legislature but primarily condemning the efforts of the Democrat protest. Meanwhile, several Democrat legislative priorities remain on the table including bail reform and state-sponsored foster care spending, and the bi-partisan Texas Teacher Retirement system check supplement.
About a week ago, Speaker Phelan signed a Republican-backed order to issue an arrest warrant for all the Texas House Democrats who left Texas for Washington, D.C., with Governor Abbott approving the warrant. Three days ago, the Texas Supreme Court upheld the Speaker and Governor’s decision to arrest the House Democrats who still reside under the protection of federal Democrats. On August 18th, Texas Democrat, Garnet Coleman will return to Texas, which may give Republicans the amount of present legislators to initiate votes on bills and legislative priorities in committees.
During the time Texas Democrats were outside Texas, most of their constituent services have been conducted virtually, which slows the effectiveness of those representative offices in addressing constituent concerns. Even before the exodus, Texas Democrats in the Senate and House locked their doors and did not accept visitors, even their own constituents, without an appointment or prior authorization from the representative. Lobbyists and special interest groups were not able to visit those offices and perform their job, which relies on face-to-face interaction. At the present time, no information is available to the public for when Texans should expect their Democrat representatives will return.
After the Texas Supreme Court ruled to uphold the arrest warrant for the Texas Democrats who fled the state, law enforcement now has the power to seek out and arrest the Texas House Democrats remaining in Washington, D.C. On August 6th, the Texas Democrats who fled the state sued Governor Abbott and other Republican officials, including Representative James White (R-Hillister), an African-American, on the last day of the first special legislative session in federal court without specific allegations. The lawsuit claims the Texas House Democrats filed suit because of “race targeting,” but no specifics appear on the official documents.
The lawsuit also claims three Republican representatives engaged the plaintiffs operating under the “color of law” and made retaliatory attacks along with threats or coercion relating to the Texas House Democrats First Amendment rights, according to The Texas Tribune. No substantial evidence of any of the allegations has arisen in the court proceedings.
The plaintiffs listed in the case are state Reps. Senfronia Thompson, Trey Martinez Fischer, Gene Wu, Vikki Goodwin, Ron Reynolds, Eddie Rodriguez, Jon Rosenthal, Jasmine Crockett, Mary Ann Perez, Alma Allen, Christina Morales, Nicole Collier, Celia Israel, Ana-Maria Ramos, Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, Terry Meza, Donna Howard, Jarvis Johnson, Ray Lopez, Shawn Thierry, Elizabeth Campos, and Gina Hinojosa.
Representatives Thierry and Nicole Collier gave a statement to the press claiming they had no part in the lawsuit and never gave approval to file a lawsuit.
For some time, the Texas House Democrats have sent letters home to their districts for material support from Texans because they have a strain of homesickness.
In an Instagram post, former Republican Party Chairman, Allen West, a new candidate for Texas Governor, claimed the right move for Governor Abbott will involve ending the first special legislative session immediately and declaring special elections for the districts where the Texas House Democrats who left the state represent. Then, the Republican Party of Texas will prepare Republican challengers for the Democratic incumbents in the special election session. The plan of action will force the Texas House Democrats who left the state to return for a campaign mission with a terrible Public Relations standpoint.
The Texas Legislature efforts for redistricting after the 2020 U.S. Census have come to a halt because of the Texas House Democrats creating a lack of quorum. The legislative priorities of both parties and redistricting could take the rest of the second special session and additional special action by Texas Governor Abbott. The Governor’s office has remained silent on the issue and now faces the problem of Governor Abbott testing positive for COVID-19 without symptoms at the present time. The Texas State Legislature only convenes every other year with the next legislative session set for 2023 after the 2022 election season.
A few Texas Republican Representatives claim they currently have staffers looking into amending the Texas State Constitution regarding quorum rules in legislative sessions. The State of Texas has a history of seven past constitutions from the days of Mexican rule to the most current version from 1876 with 690 amendments proposed and 507 adopted into law since 1876.
On August 19th, enough Texas House Democrats returned to Austin for legislative hearings and bill passage is now underway.
Carter Moxley is a third-year student double majoring in Government and Corporate Communications with a minor in Business at The University of Texas at Austin. Off campus, Moxley has completed ten internships ranging from public policy, to government relations, and political communications training. During the 87th Texas Legislative Regular Session, Moxley served as a Clements Scholar at the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute and Undergraduate Fellow at the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture. For the summer of 2022, Moxley worked in Washington, D.C., with The Fund for American Studies as a Liberty + Learning Fellow and a committee member for the Braver Angels Debate summit. Formerly, Moxley worked as the Energy Policy Intern for the Life:Powered intiative at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. In January 2023, Moxley will report to Texas State Senator Kevin Sparks’ office to take on the role of Legislative Intern and focus on state energy policy. Moxley is also a proud Texas Boys State Counselor during the summer, which functions as a non-partisan camp for high school statemen to learn about the importance of civic participation. In his downtime, you can find Moxley spending time with family and friends, or relaxing with his dog, Link.