Democrats leave Texas, break quorum to fight voter suppression

by | Jul 12, 2021 | Breaking, Politics

On Monday, multiple news reporters confirmed Texas state House Democrats were preparing to disrupt Republican election legislation by breaking quorum and leaving the state. 

At least 58 Democratic members are expected to leave the state, with the majority flying to Washington, D.C., NBC News reported.  

The last-ditch strategy has not been seen since 2003, when Democrats left Texas to prevent an unconventional mid-decade redistricting plan that came with the newly elected Republican statehouse majority. 

This time, Democrats are leaving the state to prevent House Bill 3, legislation that Republicans claim would increase election security, but includes provisions that would make it more difficult to vote, including banning drive-thru and 24-hour voting, as well as dangerously empowering poll watchers.  

That legislation (a revival of the mistake-riddled Senate Bill 7 during the regular session) was advanced in House and Senate committees over the weekend. 

The walkout comes more than a month after the walkout by Democrats in May, which killed Senate Bill 7 and caused Gov. Greg Abbott to defund the legislature and call a special 30-day session. 

A recent poll by the University of Texas finds 40 percent of voters in the state disapprove of the legislature’s handling of election law, compared with 38 percent of voters who approve. 

Technically speaking, as pointed out by veteran lege reporter Scott Braddock on Twitter, quorum can’t be broken until a quorum is needed to conduct business. The earliest that means Democrats can break quorum would be tomorrow, though if Democratic Senators were to no-show committee meetings, that would deny the committees quorum as well.

This all harkens back to the great quorum break of 2003, when legislative Democrats went on the run for weeks to try to stop an unconstitutional gerrymander of the state’s election maps, and a slew of complications exists for Democrats as they try to run out the clock on this special session.

The first, and most harrowing, challenge is that the moment quorum is broken, Republican Speaker Dade Phelan can compel the Texas Department of Public Safety to detain the members and force them to return. That means any member who got pulled over for failing to signal before changing lanes could be subject to arrest inside the state of Texas.

Democrats were successful during the 2003 quorum break largely because they were able to stick together. With most of the members camped out in either New Mexico or Oklahoma, a unified front was the only thing that could keep the Republicans from gerrymandering the state for a generation. 

That quorum break ultimately failed when one Senator, John Whitmire of Houston, threw in the towel and decided to return to the floor after a prolonged absence, demonstrating how hard it can be to keep a group of legislators this large on the same page with a unified strategy.

Whitmire still serves in the Texas Senate today.

Time will tell what’s next for Texas Democrats, but it will likely come quickly, as the Texas House is expected to resume work tomorrow.

Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Senior Advisor | + posts

Joe brings over a decade of experience as a political operative and creative strategist to Texas Signal, where he serves as our Senior Advisor and does everything from writing a regular column, Musings, to mentoring our staff and freelancers. Joe was campaign manager for Lina Hidalgo's historic 2018 victory for Harris County Judge and is a passionate sneakerhead.

fernando@texassignal.com | + posts

Fernando covers Texas politics and government at the Texas Signal. Before joining the Signal, Fernando spent two years at the Houston Chronicle and previously interned at Houston’s NPR station News 88.7. He is a graduate of the University of Houston, Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, and enjoys reading, highlighting things, and arguing on social media. You can follow him on Twitter at @fernramirez93 or email at fernando@texassignal.com

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