Texas House Democrats held a town hall on Thursday to discuss the reaction since 67 Democrats killed SB 7 in the Texas legislature after walking out of the legislative floor.
Gov. Greg Abbott hasn’t called a special session on SB 7, but said he’s looking to make a decision soon.
House Democrats Rep. Nicole Collier, Rep. Rafael Anchia, Rep. Chris Turner, Commissioner Devan Allen of Tarrant County and Congressman Marc Veasey (TX-33) said the walkout is just the first step towards protecting voting rights.
“If we were voting that means we have an input on education, jobs, transportation and all the issues that are important,” Veasey said. “When we are restricted and it’s made harder for us to participate in those various forms of government, our voices are lower.”
Veasey said if Congress doesn’t work to pass the voting rights legislation it will get worse.
Collier called out the Texas Republicans’ hypocrisy for not working with Democrats on the bill. Collier, who is also the leader of the Texas Black Caucus, said she and Rep. Eddie Rodriguez of the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus requested to ask questions at the hearing but was denied by Rep. Briscoe Cain, author of SB 7.
“It literally played out where I came to the hearing and sat on the dias and there was no microphone at the seat where I was seating, they physically removed any opportunity for me to ask questions,” Collier said. “He literally exploded and was very upset and shut the meeting down prematurely.”
According to Collier, Democrats did try to work with Republicans on the bill.
“We worked with our attorneys, the NAACP, MALDEV to ensure the measures in this bill would be helpful and increase access to the ballot and yet they didn’t listen to us,” Collier said. “I felt like they were annoyed with us and tolerating us and said they were going to shut it down and continue to pass this measure whether we like it or not.”
“We will fight against cameras in the polling location, we will fight against the reduction of polling locations and without this federal intervention we will be open and left exposed to the continued assault on our rights,” Collier said.
Texas House Democrats Chairman Rep. Chris Turner said changing the early vote times from 11 to 1 was a direct assault on the Souls to the Polls program. The Souls to the Polls and Get Out the Vote programs are used specifically in African-American communities to increase voter turnout.
According to Turner, before the walkout House Republicans were gathering signatures to shut down debate on SB 7 and push for the bill to pass before midnight.
“When we saw that was happening and that it was imminent the rest of the Democrats left, we denied the quorum and the legislature had to shut down,” Turner said. “Republicans are hell bent on passing a voter suppression bill in Texas.”
Rep. Rafael Anchia said Democrats defeating SB 7 was a full court press.
“We had 67 Democrats who were showing up on a regular basis doing the little things, not the splashy things but the little things that made a big difference over voter suppression,” Anchia said.
As a son of immigrants, Anchia said he understands the importance of voting since his parents had a different experience in their origin country of Spain and Mexico.
“My mom is from Mexico and Mexico had a one party rule for 75 years where one party would win every election and my dad is from Spain so post civil war Spain you had an absolute dictator,” Anchia said. “So when you’re talking to the Anchias about the right to vote we take it pretty seriously because we’ve been in other places.”
Then, Anchia said as minority communities the right to vote is instrumental in our growth as a community.
“As a latino community we have a few things: our faith, we have education, and our right to vote. Those are the only things that we really have to get our communities from where we are right now to where we want to be,” Anchia said. “And if you pull one of those legs of the stools out from under us we fall and we’ll be a permanent underclass if we let it happen.”
Anchia and other Democrats said federal legislation is key to protecting voting rights in not only Texas, but across the country.
“Unless we have federal legislation that once again puts Texas back under coverage and pre-clearance of the voting rights act this kind of thing is going to continue to happen,” Anchia said.
Commissioner of Tarrant County Devan Allan called SB 7 shameful and said this bill will criminalize poll workers and have an economic impact on taxpayers.
“The fact that state leaders are trying to make local taxpayers pick up the cost for the state’s responsibility and wanting taxpayers to pay for things that are doing them harm,” Allan said.
At the end of the town hall, all speakers asked viewers to contact their state and local senators and representatives to call and end the filibuster and pass voting rights legislation.
“Remember we work for you, we are there to be your voice and if we ‘re not representing you then you go to boot them out, get involved and vote,” Collier said.
Rep. Anchia also asked for constituents, if vaccinated, to come to the Capitol and call out representatives on protecting voting rights during the special session.
“We need to have the voices of the people if you live in a district represented by a Republican, let them know loud and clear that they’re going to be impacting your voting rights,” Anchia said. “You can come to the Capitol, you can rally, you can walk the halls and let people know how you feel.”
Photo: Edward A. Ornelas/Getty Images