Enough members were present in Austin on Thursday evening for Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan to declare a quorum present.
The return of quorum comes after a string of defections in recent days by Democrats who fled to Washington to prevent voter suppression legislation.
Houston area Reps. Garnet Coleman, Armando Walle, and Ana Hernandez returned to Austin on Thursday. A week before, El Paso Reps. Art Fierro, Mary González, and Joe Moody came back along with Rep. James Talarico of Round Rock.
In a joint statement, the three returning Houston area lawmakers said they were proud of their caucus and were coming back to Austin to address COVID-19.
“It is time to move past these partisan legislative calls,” the lawmakers wrote, “and to come together to help our state mitigate the effects of the current COVID-19 surge by allowing public health officials to do their jobs, provide critical resources for school districts to conduct virtual learning when necessary, while also ensuring schools are a safe place for in-person instruction, and will not become a series of daily super-spreader events.”
Their return to Austin came as a complete surprise to other members, many of whom had no problem voicing their dismay and frustration on social media.
“This is how Texas Democrats lose elections,” wrote Dallas area Rep. Michelle Beckley in response to the joint statement.
In an interview with the Signal, Dallas area Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos compared the returning members to Judas, arguing that they had betrayed the cause Democrats went to Washington to fight for.
On Friday, Rep. Ina Minjarez of San Antonio released a sharp statement recommitting her resolve to “hold the line” and condemning those who had “given in to pressure.”
“I will not be intimidated; I will not be so foolish as to believe false promises, or capitulate to those who would discriminate or disenfranchise any Texan,” Minjarez said.
Some Democrats, like Rep. Jasmine Crockett of Dallas, are planning to continue their stay in Washington to further press for federal voting rights legislation.
In press releases reacting to the news, Democratic caucus leadership barely acknowledged what had happened; Texas House Democrats Chairman Rep. Chris Turner put out a statement that was more or less a victory lap, touting the fact that the caucus had broken quorum for 38 days in a row.
Turner added that a “true quorum” had not been reached — 99 members, not 100, were enough to achieve quorum.
That distinction seems to matter little to Republican-led committees who are already scheduling work for this weekend, including on Senate Bill 1, the GOP’s election integrity bill that would make it more difficult to access the ballot box by restricting polling hours and voting options, as well as empowering partisan party-picked poll watchers.
Even as the first special session came to an end earlier this month, caucus leadership and many members were clear about making no joint commitment to continue breaking quorum perpetually — so it’s hard to believe anybody expected Democrats to stay in Washington forever. But the sudden and confusing way it all came to an end, especially for a moment the party seems certain will make the history books, feels more like a balloon fizzling out than a victory parade.