Musings: Good Trouble

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Before we begin, I would be remiss if I didn’t say that the views below are mine alone, and do not reflect the views of Texas Signal. 

Now that we got that out of the way…

The late and great progressive Paul Wellstone once said “If we don’t fight hard enough for the things we stand for, at some point we have to recognize that we don’t really stand for them.” 

I’ve thought about that quote often during this legislative session, which has seen feckless Republicans introduce and pass extreme rollbacks on reproductive rights, allow the permitless carry of deadly weapons, and launch a full-throated assault on voting rights.

Last night, Democrats in the Texas House, including several wearing Good Trouble face masks in honor of former congressman and voting rights icon John Lewis, put up a valiant fight to stop SB 7, the voter suppression legislation widely considered to be Jim Crow 2.0. After introducing over 130 amendments and cutting a series of deals with Republican legislators, the bill will now bounce to the Texas Senate and a conference committee, making it unlikely that any of the changes Democrats were able to enact will make it to the final version of the bill.

Why? Because a conference committee, comprised of members of both chambers, will hash out the differences between the bill passed early this morning and the voter suppression bill the Texas Senate passed last month. Those legislators will pick and choose which provisions from each bill will make it into the final bill, which will receive a fresh vote in both chambers.

Democrats in the legislature will argue that they’re making progress and taking a lot of harmful provisions out of the bill, but the conference committee is all but certain to water down any changes that would protect and preserve Texans’ ability to vote.

With time running out in the regular session, and with parliamentary options dwindling, Democrats in the Texas legislature have a decision to make, pronto.

It’s time for them to hit the road.

Passing legislation in the Texas House generally requires a quorum of two-thirds in each chamber, requiring 100 members of the Texas House to be present to pass legislation. If the Democratic Caucus in the House stays united and hits the road to break quorum, Republicans won’t have the numbers they need to wrap up the legislation.

I’ve been in touch with several lege staffers this morning, all of whom have told me leaving town doesn’t seem to be on anybody’s mind yet. Which begs the question: if we aren’t willing to deploy the most drastic option to protect voting rights in Texas, what are we willing to go all out to defend?

To be fair, there is not wide agreement that what I’m suggesting is an option. Chiefly, the budget process has yet to conclude, and that is the only legislation the lege is legally required to pass each biennium. 

But what I would respectfully suggest, in my capacity as an opinion columnist and concerned Texan, is that this legislation (along with the horrific abortion bans the legislature has advanced) should be a clear line in the sand for the Democratic caucus and that Democrats in the legislature should do everything they can to stop this legislation.

Even if it means risking arrest to leave the state.

There is, of course, precedent for such a drastic decision. Texas Democrats did exactly that during the 2003 battle over mid-decade redistricting being pushed by Tom Delay. With the bad bills in Texas clearly being part of a vast national right-wing conspiracy to disenfranchise voters of color, it is more important now than ever to use any tactic that might stop these bills.

It is not enough for Democrats to fight politely, knowing that the efforts will come to naught. We can deploy as many parliamentary moves as we want. We can try to slow passage down by introducing hundreds of amendments. But if the end result is a deal being cut on the side of the room that won’t amount to anything tangible for Texans, it may not be worth the effort.

Democrats in the legislature shouldn’t be cutting deals for the sake of cutting deals, knowing that their counterparts in the Texas Senate and the members of the conference committee will simply undo as much of it as they can. 

They should be fighting like hell to make it clear that attacks on voting rights, reproductive rights, and any attempt to gerrymander the state, will be met the strongest possible resistance. 

If we aren’t able to stop these bills by staying to fight, it is time to run like hell, at any cost. Budget be damned, session be damned. We can not let these bills become law. 

All that’s at stake is everything we believe in.

Run like hell, Texas Democrats. It might be the only way we can cause the good trouble our state needs.

Photo: Edward Jackson / Wikimedia Commons

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