AUSTIN (CBSDFW.COM/AP) — Democrats in the Texas Legislature have left the state in a second revolt against a GOP overhaul of election laws, according to the Texas Democratic Caucus.
Dozens of Democratic lawmakers were set to leave Austin before the GOP could take a first vote on a voting bill in the current special legislative session ordered by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.
The Texas Democratic Caucus released a statement on the decision to leave the state.
“Today, Texas House Democrats stand united in our decision to break quorum and refuse to let the Republican-led legislature force through dangerous legislation that would trample on Texans’ freedom to vote.
“We are now taking the fight to our nation’s Capitol. We are living on borrowed time in Texas. We need Congress to act now to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act to protect Texans — and all Americans — from the Trump Republicans’ nationwide war on democracy.”
More than 50 Texas lawmakers landed in the Washington suburb of Sterling, Virginia, Monday evening and were taken on two large charter buses from a private terminal to a parking lot near the main terminal of Dulles Airport. Most wore street clothes rather than formal dress.
“We are determined to kill this bill,” said state Rep. Chris Turner, who said he and his colleagues will remain away from their state until the special session ends early next month.
By leaving just days after Abbott convened a special legislative session, Democrats would again deny the GOP majority a quorum to pass bills, barely a month after their walkout in the state House of Representatives thwarted the first push for sweeping new voting restrictions in Texas — including outlawing 24-hour polling places, banning ballot drop boxes and empowering partisan poll watchers.
“This is a now-or-never for our democracy. We are holding the line in Texas,” said Democratic state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer. “We’ve left our jobs, we’ve left our families, we’ve left our homes. Because there is nothing more important than voting rights in America.”
In response to the Democrats’ decision, Abbott said:
“Texas Democrats’ decision to break a quorum of the Texas Legislature and abandon the Texas State Capitol inflicts harm on the very Texans who elected them to serve. As they fly across the country on cushy private planes, they leave undone issues that can help their districts and our state.”
The issues Abbott cited included property tax relief and funding law enforcement in high crime areas. He said Democrats “must put aside partisan political games and get back to the job they were elected to do.”
Abbott tweeted later Monday evening that he is willing to keep calling special sessions to get bills passed.
“No one else gets paid to walk off their job. Quitters never win. We will continue successive Special Sessions until elected representatives do what they were elected to do—debate issues & cast votes,” Abbott tweeted.
Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan also responded, saying he expects all members of the legislature to be present as the special session continues.
“A number of House Democrats stated their caucus intends to break quorum in an attempt to stall election integrity legislation. These actions put at risk state funding that will deny thousands of hard-working staff members and their families a paycheck, health benefits, and retirement investment so that legislators who broke quorum can flee to Washington D.C. in private jets. The Texas House will use every available resource under the Texas Constitution and the unanimously-passed House Rules to secure a quorum to meaningfully debate and consider election integrity, bail reform, benefits for retired teachers, Child Protective Services reform, Article X funding, and the other important measures Gov. Abbott placed on the special session agenda. The special session clock is ticking — I expect all Members to be present in our Capitol in order to immediately get to work on these issues.”
Monday marked the first time since 2003 that Texas Democrats, shut out of power in the state Capitol for decades, have crossed state lines to break quorum.
The drastic move lays bare how Democrats are making America’s biggest red state their last stand against the GOP’s rush to enact new voting restrictions in response to former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him. More than a dozen states this year have already passed tougher election laws — but only in Texas have Democrats put up this kind of fight.
Over the weekend, Texas Republicans began advancing new election bills in the Legislature that also bring back provisions to ban drive-thru voting, add new voter ID requirements to absentee ballots and prohibit local elections officials from proactively sending mail-in ballot applications to voters.
(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
INTERVIEW: TCU Political Science Professor Jim Riddlesperger Talks Texas Democrats Leaving The State