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Fugitive Lawmakers Bring Texas-Size Voting Rights Pressure to National Stage

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What happens in Texas doesn’t necessarily stay in Texas, and that’s especially true Tuesday with more than 50 of the state’s Democrat representatives seeking safe harbor in Washington D.C. 

Akin to the reputation California has for influencing progressive policy, the Lone Star State is often the patriarchal pusher of conservative agenda. It should come as no surprise that Texas emerged as the literal and symbolic voting rights battleground. 

Sweeping “election integrity” legislation proposed by the GOP is not unique to the state — several hundred similar laws have been introduced or passed in the months since President Joe Biden was elected. What separates Texas from the rest of the nation is the lengths Democrats are willing to go to push back and extreme countermeasures Republicans are willing to employ against them.

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At least 51 of the 67 House Democrats hopped a plane from Texas to DC Monday night as a last ditch effort to stall the vote, for a second time, on House Bill 3 during a special legislative session called by Gov. Greg Abbott. Dems there basically pulled the same move in May, denying the assembly a quorum by ensuring less than 100 members were present to cast a vote. Each side accuses the other either of exaggerating or downplaying the impact of the bill, but there are some major points of contention.

The bill would do away with 24-hour and drive-through voting (both were key to increasing turnout during the pandemic), prohibits elections officials from sending mail-in ballots unless requested, criminalizes people who assist voters either at the polls or in processing mail-in ballots, shaves hours off early voting days, bans ballot drop boxes and gives partisan poll watchers power to violate election laws and intimidate voters without much officials can do about it.

Leonard Aguilar of the Texas AFLCIO leads a rally in support of Democrat state representatives’ walkout in opposition to the GOP-backed election bill House Bill 3. (Photo courtesy of Texas Democrats)

They’ll have to stay out of the state this time around for another 25 days to wait out the session, though House Republicans overwhelmingly voted Tuesday to have their fleeing peers hunted down, arrested and hauled back to the chamber. However, neither the sergeant at arms or local law enforcement have jurisdiction to pull off that off a maneuver of that scale outside the state.

Still, growing tension is playing out on a national stage, which is exactly what Democrats want. The purpose behind landing in DC is to apply pressure on Congress and the White House to protect voting rights at a federal level — the For the People and John Lewis Voting Rights acts would provide that cover especially needed in red states.

Biden responded Tuesday with a solid and stirring speech about the need to uphold democracy by way of the ballot, but speech does little to compel moderate Dems (looking at you, Sen. Joe Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell loyalists. McConnell infamously filibustered the House-passed For the People Act from even moving to floor debate. Interestingly, many of the legislation’s policies have bipartisan support when voters are polled without without party line verbiage. 

Dems have complained about Biden not driving the voting rights discussion from the presidential bully pulpit, until today. Not to say, at all, that criticism of the administration isn’t valid — but there’s only so much a president can do with a hair-split Congress and abused filibuster process. If Texas representatives want to make an impact with this spectacle, they need to be knocking down doors to convince Manchin and Sinema to get behind abolishing, or at least reforming the filibuster, so that voting rights and other key pieces of legislation have at least a shot at passing.  

While the Texas showdown may seem like more show than substance, there is something to be said for the impact of optics, especially if the story ends with lawmakers in cuffs.    

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Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Journalist, editor, student, single mom to a pack of wolves, foodie, music lover, resident smart ass, and champion of vulgarity and human kindness.

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