GOP Gov. Greg Abbott prepared to call lawmakers back for a special session to revive the voting measure that died when Democrats staged a dramatic walkout from the state Capitol just before the end of the legislative session Sunday night. Bolstered by GOP majorities in both the House and Senate, Abbott also was weighing whether to use the extra session to take up other top conservative priorities that had failed during the session.
That left Texas Democrats facing the aftermath of their last-minute maneuver and confronting how — or even whether — they can turn it into more than just a temporary roadblock in the GOP’s nationwide pursuit to impose ballot protection laws across the U.S.
“There are consequences,” said state Sen. John Whitmire, one of Texas’ longest-serving Democrats.
Democrats who pulled off the revolt in the state House of Representatives just before a midnight deadline Sunday did not leave indefinitely. Most were back on the House floor just 12 hours later for ceremonial business, and none are calling to boycott a special session.
They are instead betting their dramatic flight out of the Texas Capitol and to a black church will make Republicans think twice about some provisions in the legislation and give them more say on the next elections bill.
Abbott said Monday he would veto the part of the budget that funds legislators’ salaries, a move that could impact not just Democrats but also other Capitol staff. He then tweeted a reminder of the last time Texas Democrats dramatically blocked a bill: when then-state Sen. Wendy Davis talked for more than 11 consecutive hours in 2013 to filibuster a sweeping anti-abortion measure, which Republicans immediately revived and passed in a special session.
“We all know how that story ended,” Abbott tweeted.
Texas Republicans may also enter a 30-day special session with not just commanding majorities, but new leverage. Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the conservative leader of the Senate, also wants Abbott to demand that lawmakers try again to pass a ban on transgender athletes in girls’ and women’s sports.
The Texas GOP’s torpedoed bill, known as Senate Bill 7, included a ban on drive-thru voting centers and 24-hour polling places, both of which were used last year around Houston, reflecting how Republicans went after Texas’s largest Democrat stronghold.
If the new bill is not acceptable to Democrats — and they were to walk out again — Republicans don’t have to stand pat. State troopers could be mobilized to try to forcibly bring lawmakers back to the House, as was the case in 2003, when Texas Democrats fled to Oklahoma and New Mexico to try and block new voting maps.
Whitmire, who was first elected to the Texas Legislature in 1973, spent 36 days holed up in a hotel before breaking ranks with his fellow Democrats and returning home. The decision gave Senate Republicans at the time the quorum needed to get back to work on a redistricting plan that would give the GOP more seats in Congress.
“Of upmost important is, what are you going to do when you get back?” Whitmire said of denying a quorum. “Are things going to be different? Probably not. But it educates the public and lets your core group know how committed you are to principles.”
Texas Democrats’ move has reverberated across the country. President Joe Biden on Tuesday urged Democrats and their allies to step up the fight over voting law, which is expected to heat up on Washington later this month when Democrats debate a massive federal rewrite of elections law.
“I urge voting rights groups in this country to begin to redouble their efforts now to register and educate voters. June should be a month of action on Capitol Hill,” he said.
Adapted from reporting by Associated Press.