Erin Zwiener: Mother, quorum-breaker, democracy defender

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Four days ago, more than fifty Texas House Democrats made national headlines when they broke quorum and traveled to Washington, D.C., to put Republicans’ voter suppression tactics in the national spotlight. One of the most outspoken members of the group has been Rep. Erin Zwiener, who, alongside her three-year-old daughter, made the trek up to the nation’s capital. The Signal caught up with the District 45 representative to discuss what this week has been like for her.

David Leffler: First things first: How are you holding up?

Erin Zwiener: We all have a lot of different feelings right now. I think, for me, the first and foremost one is anger. I’m angry that I have to be here. I’m angry that this is the step we had to take to protect the freedom to vote — because it shouldn’t take this. It shouldn’t take over fifty of us picking up and getting out of the state to protect the core underpinnings of our democracy. The right to vote is sacred. And so I think that’s my strongest feeling. I want folks to know there’s nothing easy about this. Every single member gave something up to leave. We have members that care for elderly relatives or who need to be back in Texas earning an income or who are split up from family members. Everyone gave something up here and none of us did that lightly. We did it because we believe we have a duty to defend the freedom to vote. 

DL: And you didn’t travel alone, either.

EZ: Correct. I brought my toddler with me. She’s three. It was the thing that seemed like it would work for the best for our family, which, I think, says something because keeping a toddler in a hotel room is not the easiest dynamic in the world. Twelve hours of travel, lots of moving parts. Right now I’m just sitting here hoping she will nap. She didn’t sleep super well last night. And then this morning she got up and immediately started telling me, “Night night! Night night!” I actually just took her back to the hotel room so she can take a nap — and she’s like “How about I explore?” 

DL: What’s it like being a mother in this situation? How did you explain this to your daughter at such a young age? 

EZ: Well, my daughter’s three — and she just turned three — so we don’t have deep conversations about the “why” of this situation. But I’m lucky to have a child who is very curious and very eager for new experiences. So, in general, she’s been fantastic and curious and engaged about what’s going on. I think the challenging thing as we’re gone longer is going to be missing her dad. And I’m hopeful that he will be able to make the trip to come visit us while we’re gone. 

DL: What’s your reaction to that news that Gov. Abbott has said he’ll arrest any representatives and bring them straight to the Capitol as soon as they return to Texas?

EZ: We expected the Republicans to issue a call on the House — that’s the name for name for that procedural move. And what that means is that we’re in violation of the rules of the House. And what it means for us is that our position that we cannot return to Texas until August 7th is confirmed. 

DL: Does that force y’all to be in a bit of a holding pattern? 

EZ: I wouldn’t say we’re in a holding pattern. What we are doing is actively talking to members of Congress about these reprehensible attacks on the freedom to vote in Texas. And we are asking them to step up. We are showing them how much we have put on the line to fight for the freedom to vote. And now we’re asking them to take their turn. 

DL: Senate Bill 7 is, unfortunately, only one of many voter suppression bills that have been pushed by Republicans across the country this year. What are the broader implications the fight for voting rights that you and your peers are waging?

EZ: This isn’t just a Texas issue. There are dynamics of this happening in Arizona right now, in Georgia, in Florida. All across the country, see people pushing this big, big lie that Trump really won the election. Well, he did not. Joe Biden won the election. And we need our Republican colleagues to accept that and move on and quit trying to retroactively redeem Trump by making it harder for people to vote. That’s really what this is about. It is about them not being able to handle that Trump lost. And it is about the Trump wing of the Republican Party gaining more and more control over previously reasonable Republicans and pushing them to support things they know are bad policy. If these attacks on democracy go unchecked in Texas and Arizona, in Georgia and across the country, we could lose this democracy. This is a republic if we can keep it. This is one of the times we have to fight to keep it. 

DL: Have you had a moment to reflect on the historic nature of these past few days?

EZ: It’s hard to think about it being history while you’re living through it. But I do think all of us are wondering what the resonances of this fight will be. And we feel an immense duty to make the consequences of this fight a good one. 

DL: What’s the biggest thing that you want Texas Signal readers to take away from these efforts? 

EZ: It shouldn’t be this hard to protect the right to vote. That could be something we as a nation take for granted. That said, we’ve never fully lived up to that promise, but we’ve made amazing progress in recent decades. Now, we are in real danger of sliding backwards, of returning to incredibly dark times in our country’s history. I and my colleagues are not willing to stand idly by while that happens. So we are willing to leave it all on the table. 

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