On Tuesday, the Signal spoke with state Rep. John Bucy III, a Williamson County Democrat who left Texas for Washington to break quorum and prevent Republican legislation that would make it more difficult to vote.
Bucy, a member of the special session committee that heard hours of testimony against House Bill 3, drove 23 hours to Washington with his wife and one-year-old daughter. He has since been busy with fellow Texas Democrats meeting with members of the U.S. Senate to pressure lawmakers into passing federal voting rights legislation within the next month.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How have the first 24 hours in Washington been?
Our action has been received with a lot of energy and attention. That’s part of the goal, to keep pressure and energy on Congress to act. I just had a meeting with Sen. Schumer this afternoon and then we just had a whole group meeting with Vice President Harris who came to give us an update from her perspective.
Anything you’re open to sharing about what you said or heard during those private meetings?
I think the main thing was that [Schumer] has a commitment to getting some legislation passed in the fight for voting rights at the federal level, and I think he’s committed to that, and he’s not giving up. He’s also very optimistic that although this takes time they will get something done.
We really talked to them to make sure they understood what was at stake in Texas, making sure we get the best strategies from him about how to keep meeting with Senators and telling our story and why we’re here, and what we’re fighting for.
And so it was a very receptive meeting, very positive, and I think hopeful maybe — I mean, you know, realistically, I understand we’re up against major fight but, hopeful.
Can you talk a little bit about how the plan to leave the state and break quorum developed?
We showed during the general session that we would do anything it took to stop voter suppression. I think the governor challenged us, and we responded by breaking quorum. We proved we were willing to do that. Again, he calls a special session to suppress the voters of Texas, and so we responded in kind.
He keeps trying to challenge us and we’re not playing when we tell him we’ll use any tool in the toolbox to stop voter suppression.
When it became clear, that we showed up on the first day [of session], the call came late the day before, we wanted to see, but when the governor and lieutenant governor are trying to suppress the voters of Texas and not willing to do things that benefit the people of Texas, like fighting for healthcare coverage for everyone, we’ve got to do what we can do.
We under the rules have the authority to break. We won that right through the ballot box and we’re going to keep fighting for it.
Why walk out now? Why not later in the process, like last time?
Well, I just think it became clear, after a 24-hour hearing in the House and then a long hearing in the Senate, the governor is not backing down. We just heard him say he will keep calling us back special session after special session until he gets his way to suppress the vote of Texas.
And so I think he’s raised the stakes to the level that we can’t trust him or Dan Patrick to do anything reasonable for Texas, and so the time was now. And partly it’s now because we need Congress to act before they break August 6. The Senate’s in until August 6 and we need them to act because people like Governor Abbott are never going to stop trying to suppress the vote.
The backdrop to all of this is that Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed funding for the legislature before the special session. What was your reaction to that going into the session, and how did that affect the legislative process during this session? Rep. Senfronia Thompson compared it to being held hostage.
That’s exactly what it was. The House and the Senate sent the governor a budget to fund our employees, to fund the legislative branch. The governor chose to take away the funding and healthcare of the people that make the Capitol run.
There are single mothers working there that he is now stripping them of their healthcare. That’s just unacceptable, he shouldn’t have done that action, and it’s his mistake alone and now he has to deal with it.
During the regular session, Senate Bill 7 left conference committee with all these last-minute provisions, like new ID requirements for voting by mail and overturning elections, was there any indication that Republicans might do the same again? How confident were you and your colleagues, that this session would be a serious attempt at bipartisanship?
I mean what Dan Patrick and the Senate did by throwing all that out at the last minute showed us we cannot trust them and we cannot have an honest conversation, because as things get worked on if they’re going to do stuff behind closed doors at the last minute, it shows there is no trust there.
And so we don’t have confidence in what Dan Patrick will do. And that’s always now gonna have to be a part of the equation, when they try to sneak things in and then blame other people and not own their actions.
Besides preventing HB 3, part of the plan for Texas Democrats in Washington is to pressure the Senate into passing the For the People Act and John Lewis Voting Right Act. What would these bills do for Texas?
Getting preclearance back through the John Lewis Voting Rights Act is vital.
The changes that happened in red states and southern states that are anti-voting, we need preclearance back. So that’s super important.
When you look at HR 1 [For the People Act], doing things to make sure voters get to pick their elected officials through redistricting reform, through modernization, online voter registration — these things are essential to having elections that are accessible to all and that are safe and secure, which is the stated goal, so the opposition is hard to understand.
It’s vital for modernization, for access, security, and for ensuring that Texans get to have their access to the ballot box.
Where is the pressure to pass these bills being directed to? Republicans? The President? Democrats who don’t want to pass the bill with a simple majority?
It’s all of the above. Up here, we’re willing to meet with everybody. We’re calling and requesting meetings across the board. As I said, we meet with multiple Senators today, I was in the Schumer meeting, we met with the vice president today.
So we’re just trying to tell everyone our story and tell the importance of why this has to happen and why this has to happen now, the urgency of getting this done before they break in August.
Do you think that the legislation should be passed with the majority Democrats have? As in, end the Senate filibuster rule to pass the bills?
Absolutely, I think anything to fight for voting rights needs to be done. And they have that option, and if that’s what it takes, that’s what they should do.
Anything else you’d like to say?
Well, just that I’ve been encouraged by my constituents that have reached out that want us to keep this fight going. I would say the vast majority have said that.
We are here working hard, we’re working for the people of Texas, we’re working for the constituents in our districts, but we’re also working for the constituents in Republican districts.
We are committed to making sure everyone in Texas has ballot access. And so that’s what we’re doing up here, working hard for the people of Texas every single day that we’re here.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org