Gathered outside the nation’s Capitol on Tuesday, Texas House Democrats held their first press conference since leaving the state and breaking quorum.
More than 50 Democrats made their way to Washington on Monday to disrupt the ongoing special session and prevent Republican legislation that would make it more difficult to vote.
“Minutes ago, at least 57 letters were delivered to the House Journal Clerk directing the House to lock our voting machines and not unlock them until we provide express permission to do so upon our return,” said Texas House Democrats Chair Rep. Chris Turner.
The 30-day special session that began last week was called by Gov. Greg Abbott after multiple bills failed to pass during the regular session. Chief among them, a conspiracy-driven election integrity bill killed by Democrats during a last-minute walkout. In frustration, the governor vetoed funding for the legislature and brought lawmakers back to Austin.
Mexican American Legislative Caucus Chairman Rafael Anchia said Abbott’s actions violated both the state and nation’s constitution.
“When you start the process in such a coercive way, when you say, ‘I am going to be the absolute ruler of the state of Texas and defund the legislative branch,’ you’ve poisoned the entire process,” Anchia said, adding that Texans would not buckle to the “big lie.”
Chair of the Texas House Democratic Campaign Committee Rep. Toni Rose said Texas Republicans didn’t want free and fair elections and were trying to rig the system. She said even with two ruthless provisions removed from House Bill 3, the bill as written made it harder for Texans to vote and easier for partisan poll watchers to harass and intimidate voters
“It’s the price they’re willing to pay for Trump’s prayer alter,” Rose said.
Senfronia Thompson, a longtime veteran of the legislature, said she was not in Washington to take a vacation. “I’m not gonna be a hostage,” she said.
Thompson said it was a Texan, President Lyndon B. Johnson, that passed the Civil Rights Act.
“The Republicans in this legislature may have changed the Messiah — Jesus to Trump — but I haven’t!” Thompson said to cheers.
Congressman Lloyd Doggett, who joined the Texas lawmakers along with Rep. Marc Veasey, said Texas House Democrats chose not to be accomplices to voter suppression legislation by sitting at their desk and being steamrolled in Austin.
“It took courage to do what they’re doing,” Doggett said. “I served also with Senfronia Thompson. At a time I was a ‘Killer D,’ when 12 of us chose to depart and won a victory on an issue involving election integrity.”
“They have a much bigger challenge because unlike the position we were in decades ago, no matter what they do, Greg Abbott and his group of extremists will never change.”
In addition to thwarting Republican legislation, Democrats are using their time in Washington to push for the passage of two major voting rights and campaign finance bills.
The lawmakers are pushing for the passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the For the People Act. The John Lewis Voting Rights Act would restore provisions to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that were struck down in 2013, and force states with a history of racist voter suppression to be subject to federal oversight called “preclearance.” The For the People Act would overhaul campaign finance laws, go after dark money, and attempt to reduce congressional gerrymandering via independent redistricting commissions.
Both bills have been passed in the U.S. House but are stalled in the Senate by a defiant Republican minority as well as several moderate Democrats who do not want to end the Senate’s 60-vote threshold for filibuster-proof votes.
The 30-day special session ends on Aug. 6.
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 email@example.com