Texas Governor Greg Abbott responded to the stunt pulled Monday by over 50 state level lawmakers, all Democrats, by stating that he intends to have them arrested when they return to the state.
A group of Democrats from the Texas legislature fled the State of Texas on Monday in an effort to block passage of a Republican-sponsored voting reform bill. The group was photographed inside a private jet, mask-less, on their way to Washington DC were they held a press conference this morning.
The Reform bill at the center of this controversy, captioned Senate Bill 7, makes several changes to the State’s current voting law, namely:
- it grants greater access to partisan poll watchers, of both parties, to inspect election operations
- it imposes criminal penalties against election officials if they restrict the access of those poll watchers and also officials who send unsolicited, mail-in ballots out to individuals who did not request them
- it pushes early voting on Sundays from 11am to 1pm
- it mandates voter ID to accompany mail-in ballots
- it requires those who assist voters at the polls to disclose their relationship to the voter – no paid “assistants” will be allowed
- finally, the bill eliminates drive-thru voting and 24-hour polling places, both of which were new measures introduced last year, only in Harris County (Houston), a traditionally democratic strong-hold
Democrats have fought the bill tooth and nail, claiming that the bill is “too restrictive,” and that it will disproportionately disenfranchise people of color. Rep. Jessica Gonzalez (D) said on the Texas House floor, “It is old Jim Crow dressed up in what our colleagues are calling election integrity.” As the bill’s passage became imminent this week, a group of at least 50 democratic state lawmakers packed their bags and fled Texas for Washington DC, depriving the legislature of the requisite quorum it needs to conduct business – effectively asserting a defacto filibuster. Ironically, one of the issues this group is lobbying the federal congress for during it’s trip to Washington, is an end to the filibuster at the federal level. It is unclear how long the group intends to stay in Washington.
Governor Abbot claims that he can get the legislation passed without them by calling a series of “special legislative sessions” under Texas law and, perhaps more importantly, he has vowed to have the Democrats that fled arrested upon their return to the State. He stated, “As soon as they come back in the state of Texas, they will be arrested, they will be cabined inside the Texas capitol until they get their job done.” His authority to effectuate the arrests is a bit unclear at this point, but the Speaker of House, also a Republican, may in fact have that authority.
Texas State Representative Jasmine Crockett (D) told CNN‘s New Day on Tuesday “I’ve not committed a crime, so I can’t get arrested. The most that could happen is I could be detained… and it’s not the governor who gets to make that decision. It’s the speaker of the house.” Crockett’s colleague, Texas State Representative Trey Martinez Fischer (D) added, “This threat and this finger-pointing by the governor is not going to intimidate all of us. We are strong and united. We want to bring voting rights reform to this country.”
The group of rouge lawmakers held a press conference this morning where Chris Turner, the Chair of the Texas House Democrat Caucus claimed that the group left Texas to “stop Republicans from passing their latest iteration of voter suppression legislation.” The histrionics went on for about 25 minutes.
This political stunt has already taken criticism from commentators on both the right and left. CNN published an editorial piece shortly after the conclusion of the above-mentioned press conference, entitled, “Why the Texas Democrats’ flight (and fight) on election reform is doomed to fail.” The article recognizes that there is no way to stop this legislation; asserting that the “best case” scenario is to negotiate a few small concessions with Republicans, while also acknowledging that some nominal concessions in the bill will not be worth the political price they will likely pay for the optics of a stunt like this.
Governor Abbot’s vow to have the lawmakers arrested upon return to the State certainly adds a new dimension to this story and sets up what can only be described as a ‘Texas standoff.’