Analysis: Texas Democrats' flight over voting bill is a stunt, but the GOP is staging plenty of its own

click to enlarge State Democratic lawmakers hold a press conference with U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, after their departure to Washington, D.C. - Twitter / @RepLloydDoggett
Twitter / @RepLloydDoggett
State Democratic lawmakers hold a press conference with U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, after their departure to Washington, D.C.
After Democrats in the Texas Legislature broke quorum and flew to Washington, D.C. to sandbag the state GOP's controversial voting bill, the Republican response has been to label the move a "political stunt."

Well, no shit, Sherlock.

Of course it's a stunt. One intended to turn national attention to ugly, undemocratic provisions in the legislation, which is rooted in former President Donald Trump's false claims that the 2020 election was riddled with fraud.

Although Republicans have defended the Texas measure — and proposals like it in other statehouses — as efforts to ensure "voting integrity," civil rights groups argue the bill's real goal is to make it harder for people of color and other likely Democratic voters to cast ballots.

What's more, the Texas Dems' flight turns up pressure on Congress to pass national voting-rights protections, now stalled in gridlock. Their maneuver also seeks to make their constituents aware that the state bill would ban 24-hour voting and expanded mail-in balloting — stuff that would actually make their political participation easier.

Not to be outdone as the quorum-busting move grabbed headlines, Texas Republican have engaged in plenty of stunting of their own — much of the "Look, Ma, no hands!" variety.

For one, GOP lawmakers made the hollow threat to arrest the 66 Democrats who left the state. On Tuesday, House Republicans voted to send state law enforcement after the missing legislators — a joke since Texas authorities lack jurisdiction in the nation's capital.

"We want them to come back — that’s our message," State Rep. Jim Murphy, R-Houston, the House GOP Caucus leader, said during a presser where he pretty much admitted the state's inability to deliver on that threat.

Republicans, including Gov. Greg Abbott and both of the state's U.S. senators, have also called out the Democrats for dereliction of duty, claiming their absence sounds the death knell for bills that protect their constituents.

In reality, the special session they fled — one called by Abbott — is loaded with bills that exist primarily to hurl red meat to the GOP base ahead of the 2022 election. Among 11 issues on the governor's agenda are bans on transgender student athletes playing on teams that match their gender identity and further restrictions on how teachers can discuss race in the classroom.

In other words, not the kind of proposals that Democrats' constituents are clamoring for.

Abbott has also accused the Dems of screwing their own staffers by refusing to stick around for a vote on a new budget that would authorize salaries for the Texas Lege.

Um, yeah. Let's rewind the tape on that one.

The reason that budget is being voted on now is because Abbott himself vetoed it at the end of the regular session to punish Democratic lawmakers for a last-minute walkout that killed an earlier version of the voting bill. Meanwhile, a fight over the legality of that veto will soon be hashed out in court.

Even the debate over the Republicans' proposed voting bills has played out more like a three-ring circus than a serious deliberation.

During the regular session, GOP lawmakers attempted to ramrod their proposal through at the last minute, facing angry charges that many legislators weren't even given the chance to read what it contained.

The versions introduced during the special session eliminated two of the most toxic provisions in the earlier bill — one that would stymie Black churches' voter mobilization efforts by limiting Sunday poll hours and another that would make it easier for state judges to pitch out election results.

Even so, there's little evidence GOP lawmakers are looking for earnest debate this go-round. After forcing people who wanted to testify against the legislation to wait in line for up to 17 hours, a committee rejected their input and moved the measure to the full House.

The Democrats must put aside partisan political games and get back to the job they were elected to do," Abbott said in a news release shortly after the lawmakers departed for Washington on chartered planes.

If the Dems are playing partisan games, blame Abbott and the state's other Republican leaders for turning Austin into a fucking romper room.

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Sanford Nowlin

Sanford Nowlin is editor-in-chief of the San Antonio Current.

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