Texas Democrats have left the building, and they have my full support. Breaking quorum is an extreme but legitimate action that lawmakers can take in order to stop egregious legislation. Republicans have tried to spin this many different ways, but let’s be clear – Texas Democrats are taking a righteous stand for our democracy.
This week’s action by the Democrats in the Texas Legislature follows a long history of lawmakers across both sides of the aisle breaking quorum to stop items from moving through the legislature. As far back as 1840, then State Representative Abraham Lincoln went as far as jumping out of a second-story window in order to break quorum and stop the Illinois Legislature from taking a vote. Back in 2003, I was part of the “The Killer D’s” who fled to Oklahoma to stop a gerrymandered redistricting plan that went all the way to the Supreme Court. Breaking quorum isn’t an easy choice. I left my family, including my newborn daughter, for weeks. Many Democrats today have also left behind their homes and family to stand up for what is right. Breaking quorum is not an easy choice, but it is one that lawmakers can and have used for over 180 years.
Voting is not a partisan issue. By doing this, Democrats are fighting for all of us. Access to the ballot is a sacred cornerstone of our democracy, and we must protect it at all costs.
Last week marked one year since we lost a great fighter for voting rights, Congressman John Lewis. In his final words, he reminded us that, “the vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent [we] have in a democratic society.” We may no longer have John Lewis with us, but in his absence, the Texas Democrats are following his example, and stirring up good trouble, necessary trouble, for our right to vote.
This special session could have been used to address what our residents actually need: a functioning and reliable electric grid, expanded health care access as we face the contagious Delta variant, or economic recovery for those who fell behind during this pandemic. Instead, Governor Abbott’s agenda prioritized mass incarceration, attacks on LGBTQ+ children, and restrictions on voting. Republicans were so determined to restrict voting rights that, despite hours of testimony against the bill, they passed the bill out of Committee. House Bill 3 would have gone to a vote if the Democrats had not listened to their constituents and did the only thing they could to stop it.
With their actions, Texas Democrats have stopped a voter suppression bill that hurts everyone’s ability to vote, but especially voters with disabilities and voters of color. If passed, these bills would have imposed the most restrictive measures on voting we have seen in our state since Jim Crow. They would ban 24-hour voting, impose restrictions on voting by mail, and impose new criminal penalties for mistakes in the voting process, laws which are already being used to target Black voters who only care about participating in our democracy. They are a shameless attempt on behalf of Republicans to keep people away from the voting booth.
My hope is that Congress will listen to our Texas representatives and take action. The best way to honor John Lewis’ legacy and protect our democracy is to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. The reality is that in Texas, and across the country in Georgia, Arizona, and other states, Republican-controlled legislatures will stop at nothing to restrict our freedom to vote, and we need the federal government to step in and protect this right.
We should all support our brave legislators for taking a stand and doing this difficult work day in and day out. They are spending time away from their families, washing their laundry in bathrooms, and risking arrest, for our right to vote. Not only that, but they are going out every day to advocate for Texans’ voting rights. They are speaking to Members of Congress, the Vice President, and making their case for federal voting rights protections. If they had not broken quorum, these bills would have likely already made it to the Governor’s desk. We need them to hold the line, and we must continue to support them in this fight until Congress can act.
Rodney Ellis is the County Commissioner for Harris County’s Precinct 1
Rodney Ellis is the County Commissioner for Harris County’s Precinct 1, and has been one of the leading national voices on racial justice and criminal justice reform.