Texas House Democrats breaking quorum in Washington held a press conference on Friday to mark the halfway point of the special session ending Aug. 6.
Democrats said they were committed to staying another 15 days until the end of the special session in order to keep disrupting Republican legislation that would make it more difficult to access the ballot box.
Texas House Democrats Chair Chris Turner said Gov. Greg Abbott made a profound mistake by defunding the legislature before the special session began.
“By vetoing the legislature and then calling a special session, what Greg Abbott is trying to do is essentially blackmail lawmakers into doing his bidding,” Turner said.
Turner said the governor could change course and restore funding to the legislature — the first step to any negotiations with Democrats — and work with Democrats on real issues, such as fixing the power grid, expanding access to affordable health care, or vaccinating more Texans.
“The governor could use his platform, his leadership, to a lead a charge to overcome vaccine hesitancy that we’re seeing in populations around the state of Texas,” Turner said.
Less than half of Texans have been vaccinated, a figure that continues to almost exclusively contribute to the state’s ongoing death toll relating to the virus.
Chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus Rafael Anchía said it’s not the first time voting rights have been under attack in Texas. He said federal courts found the Texas Legislature in violation of voting rights 10 different times in the past decade on issues like gerrymandering and strict voter ID laws.
“We had to take bold, necessary action to stop these bills,” Anchía said.
Anchía said he and his fellow lawmakers would be love to back in Texas and urged Republicans to put politics aside and work on a bill that strengthens voting in Texas.
“Greg Abbot stop worrying about your reelection, stop running for president of the United States — it’s the worst kept secret in Austin,” Anchía said. “Let’s not pretend that the special agenda is anything but a paid political commercial for you.”
Chair of Texas Legislative Black Caucus Rep. Nicole Collier spoke about the human toll of restrictive voting laws. She said Democrats were fighting for voters like Crystal Mason, a Fort Worth woman who was sentenced to five years in prison for casting a provisional ballot that did not count in the election due to her ineligibility to vote, and Hervis Rogers, a Houston man who faces 40 years in prison on similar charges for allegedly illegally voting in the 2020 primary.
“While the country watches the attack on our right to vote, Hervis Rogers is made an example of by Republicans to support their big lie,” Collier said, adding that it was shameful that Texans were subject to criminal prosecution that could end in a prison sentence for making honest mistakes while voting.
Republicans in Texas are attempting to join 18 other state legislatures that have enacted voter suppression legislation this year, according to a roundup by the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan law and policy institute.