On Wednesday morning, Texas Democrats held a virtual press conference to reaffirm their commitment to combating voter suppression. The legislators’ defiance could even be felt, a surprising development considering the significant challenges they’ve faced since arriving in the nation’s capital last week.
To call the lawmakers’ time in D.C. up-and-down would be an understatement. Following their headline-grabbing thrust into the media spotlight, they have been forced to weather a myriad of political headwinds. Most notably, key U.S. Senators like Krysten Sinema and Joe Manchin, both of whom would be needed to pass critical voting rights legislation, have remained committed in their defense of the filibuster. (The latter’s highly publicized trip to Texas for a big-money GOP fundraiser last week wasn’t encouraging, either.) A handful of the Democrats have also tested positive for COVID-19, further muddying the waters as the delegation seeks to keep its fight at the top of Americans’ minds.
And yet, Texas Democrats have already proven that their quorum-breaking efforts were not in vain. Because while the House has been unable to pursue Gov. Greg Abott’s red meat–loaded special session priorities, Republicans have already made it clear that no civil liberty is safe this summer. In addition to vowing to arrest Democrats upon their return to Texas, the governor has made sure to reaffirm his commitment to pushing through dangerous legislation pertaining to voting suppression, the border, and “critical race theory.” He’s also appeared on extreme right-wing networks like Newsmax to espouse falsehoods about public safety in Texas and double down on his fear-based legislative agenda.
On their face, none of these developments are surprising. After all, online trolling and public posturing are the defining aspects of Abbott’s politics. But when you consider them in the current context, they reveal just how great a threat the governor and his cronies are to this state and its democracy. Think about it: With dozens of Texas Democrats out of the picture, GOP leadership should be incentivized to at least pretend to want to patch things up in a civil manner. Instead, they’ve lashed out and revealed just how deep their political bloodlust runs.
Beyond proving Democrats’ point that staying in Austin would have been an untenable situation, conservatives have shown, yet again, how out of step they are with everyday Texans. At a time when COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are surging to their highest rates in months, Abbott would rather restrict women’s health care and slash abortion rights than strengthen the state’s capacity to combat the coronavirus. And if Texans needed another reminder of how greatly the governor has failed to address the ongoing power grid issues, reports surfaced yesterday that Texans could face ongoing energy restrictions in the coming months. Abbott isn’t worried, though: On Tuesday, news broke that Abbott received a $1 million donation from Kelcy Warren, the biggest energy benefactor from the blackouts during Winter Storm Uri.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the Texas State Senate have gotten in on the action, too. Most notably, the upper chamber passed SB 3 earlier this week, which removes educational requirements to tell students the Klu Klux Klan is “morally wrong.” The legislation, which is part of the GOP’s ongoing culture war against America’s racial past, also seeks to further whitewash the state’s history books by striking down curriculum that teaches Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Native American history, and the accomplishments of labor organizer Cesar Chavez. While teachers, administrators and parents decried its passage, Patrick lauded the bill for pushing back against “philosophies that espouse that one race or sex is better than another.”
When asked about the GOP’s latest efforts, including SB 3, Rep. Jasmine Crockett said this: “As far as I’m concerned, these efforts are part of a greater white supremacy agenda. Period. There is no other way to couch this, because [the governor’s] precious bail that he wants, we have all the data that shows that Black, Brown, and poor people will be the ones most detrimentally affected by it. Same thing with the voting bill,” she said. “That obviously goes for their critical race theory bills. This idea that we can’t teach that the KKK was morally wrong, once again, goes to this white supremacy agenda. And so, as a Black woman, I am not only offended, but I’m not going to sit there and smile as they trample on and try to whitewash the real history behind this country and this state.”
Crockett’s statement speaks to a larger sentiment — one that her peers would be wise to take hold of. Given Republicans’ increasingly brash tactics and blatant disregard for the well-being of their constituents, why would the quorum-breakers return home? What motivation is there to come to the negotiating table when the opposition has no interest in masking, let alone slowing down, its descent towards outright authoritarianism? Democrats may be nearly two weeks into their D.C. stay, but it’s clear their work has just begun.