It’s been nearly two weeks since Gov. Greg Abbott called a second special session and, thus far, Texas House Democrats have managed to stay away from the State Capitol. But unlike the first month of their quorum break, during which more than 50 members of the minority party left the state in a near-unanimous stand, the past week and half has been decidedly more precarious.
It all began last Monday, when Reps. Art Fierro, Mary González, James Talarico, and Joe Moody all returned to the House floor, an unexpected move that even caught a number of their peers off guard. The lawmakers’ arrival in Austin didn’t just ruffle feathers in their caucus, though: It also brought Republicans dangerously close to achieving the quorum Democrats have denied them all summer. Since then, things had been quiet around the Capitol — until last night, when State Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-147) announced that he also plans to come back.
Coleman was clear about why he’s making his forthcoming return. In an interview with the Dallas Morning News, he expressed hope that, as one of the most senior Democrats at the Capitol, his attendance will compel his peers to end their quorum break once and for all. Specifically, he argued that it’s time to come together and bridge the Legislature’s divide over an elections bill that would hamstring mail-in voting, empower poll watchers to intimidate voters, and generally limit access to the ballot box.
“I feel like it’s the right thing to do,” Coleman, who had previously shared his support for the quorum break while recovering from a leg amputation in Houston, said. “I think sometimes we don’t look at what something does to an institution. If we don’t start working to make the world work again, it will never happen.”
This revelation comes as a significant blow to the dozens of House Democrats who are still holding out to deny Republicans the numbers needed to push their desired voting bill through. Although Coleman’s presence won’t deliver a quorum, it puts House Speaker Dade Phelan just a handful of legislators away from resuming business. Just as importantly, it furthers the narrative that Democrats are living on borrowed time.
Even on its face, this decision — especially the reasoning behind it — is a puzzling one. Given the aggressive tenor Republicans have struck (they’re trying to force their peers back to the Capitol in handcuffs) while pursuing legislation that will compromise the freeness and fairness of Texas’ elections, it’s strange to argue that the onus is on Democrats to repair relationships in Austin. More importantly, it’s strange to even care about relationships considering what’s at stake.
But at least for now, that’s the tune Coleman is singing. We’ll know soon enough if his peers plan to follow along.
“I do feel that I contributed to this idea that you’ve got to burn something down in order to improve it,” Coleman said. “I regret that.”