Ana-Maria Ramos was speechless. It was last Monday, August 9, and the Texas State Representative (D-102) was in a meeting with several House Democrats in Washington, D.C., when the news broke: Four of their peers had, without warning, abandoned their posts and returned to the State Capitol. The move, which Ramos said came as a surprise to the dozens of lawmakers staked out in the nation’s capital in defense of voting rights, didn’t deliver Republicans the quorum they needed to advance their long-sought election legislation. But it brought them dangerously close.
This wasn’t just a shady move or a miscommunication, Ramos told the Signal. It was the ultimate betrayal. “The whole thing just smelled wrong. The way it was handled, the fact that they told us nothing about it… It just felt like it was done entirely for personal gain. I was livid. I still am,” she said. “I’m a Catholic, and in the Christian faith, breaking bread is a sacred thing. Those people broke bread with us in D.C. and, the next thing you know, they’re sneaking back to Austin. We had our Judas giving us a kiss goodbye before returning back to the House floor. They betrayed our cause.”
The objects of Ramos’ ire? State Reps. Art Fierro, Mary González, Joe Moody, and James Talarico, all of whom spun their return to Austin as an effort to renegotiate with the Republicans while addressing pressing needs like COVID-19 emergency funding. But Ramos and Rep. Jasmine Crockett (D-100), among others, weren’t having it. There’s no compromising with lawmakers who are seeking to ram through legislation that will hamstring mail-in voting, empower poll watchings to intimidate voters, and severely restrict access to the ballot box, they argued. Within hours, both issued sharp rebukes of their colleagues on Twitter, laying bare mounting frustrations within a House Democratic Caucus that had, until then, remained largely unified in the face of mounting Republican pressure.
“You all threw us under the bus today!” Ramos tweeted alongside a photo of three of the representatives in the State Capitol that day. “Why?”
“I’ve said this before… it’s a Team Sport… now we see who plays what positions on the Team…” Rep. Jasmine Crockett (D-100) added. “The fact that some of us secured a Temporary Restraining Order to protect ALL of us, yet some are trying to please the Governor and His OPPRESSIVE Agenda?! JUST WOW!”
It was a stunning turn of events, Ramos said. Up until then, House Democrats had maintained a near-unified front since their quorum-breaking efforts had captivated the country last month. Yes, there had been a few members who broke ranks and showed up to the Capitol from the outset, but there hadn’t been any mass desertions from the original crew of 50-plus that traveled to D.C. And there certainly hadn’t been any public spats.
With that in mind, there are only two explanations for what the four defectors did, Ramos said. Either they believed Republicans’ promises to play nice (a prospect that’s difficult to comprehend, given Gov. Greg Abbott and his lieutenants’ ever-combative stance), or they were looking to cut a deal and save their political skin — an especially obvious possibility for Moody, who was stripped of his title as speaker pro tem by House Speaker Dade Phelan in retaliation for the quorum break. There’s also the fact that redistricting is fast approaching, which has many Democrats fearful of being gerrymandered out of their districts entirely.
Regardless of Fierro, González, Moody, and Talarico’s motives, they didn’t just abandon their peers, Ramos said: They abandoned the cause and, in effect, they abandoned Texas voters. When the fate of our state’s democracy is at stake — and it very much is — everything else pales in comparison, the District 147 representative argued. Now isn’t the time to give in; now is the time to dig in, double down, and band together.
“We’ve all sacrificed so much over the past month, including Joe, James, Mary, and Art. That’s what makes this whole situation so sad and disappointing. We’ve got to lean on one another, embrace the ride-or-die mentality that’s delivered us to this point. And we’re going to do just that,” Ramos said. “This isn’t a signal that our caucus is giving in. Instead, it’s a good lesson for the rest of the Democrats that, if you believe anything that the Republicans say right now, this is what’s going to happen. You’re essentially walking into the lion’s den and alienating yourself from your own tribe.”
Whether these events are a sign of weakening resolve among Democrats or a test that’ll ultimately strengthen the quorum breakers remains to be seen. Just yesterday, Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-147) announced that he, too, is returning to Austin to patch things up with the Republicans “because it’s the right thing to do.” But with the U.S. House expected to pass a beefed-up version of the John Lewis Act next week in a renewed push to address voting rights, Ramos believes her caucus is closer than ever to achieving its goals.
For now, however, Texas Democrats find themselves in the same position they’ve been in for months: Awaiting federal action while dodging warrants and working desperately to ensure the national spotlight remains fixated on their fight. And though there has been minimal communication between Ramos and the four defectors since they returned to Austin nearly two weeks ago, she maintains that she and her companions are ready to welcome them back into the fold. Because these are the moments where legacies are defined, for better or for worse.
“The Republicans don’t want to negotiate. They want blood. They want to punish us. And they’ll stop at nothing. We’re standing between them and their attempts to consolidate their power for the next two or three generations,” Ramos said. “So, to return? That’s not a negotiation — that’s a surrender.”