Fighting for Voting Rights in Texas Will Soon End with the Return of Democrats

HOUSTON – A 38 -day Democrats march to the Texas House of Representatives effectively ended Thursday when three former members who were not at the Capitol arrived, clearing the way for Republicans to form a quorum and pass strict voting rules.

Despite Democrats ’efforts to keep a solid bloc even as the majority returns from Washington this month, three representatives from Houston decided to get back together, an apparent effort to dispel any criticism from to their colleagues or liberal activists.

The House continued until 4 pm Monday without any votes, but hearings are expected to take place over the weekend. Passing broad -based voting restrictions – to undo expanding ballot access last year during the coronavirus pandemic in places like Houston and empower partisan poll retailers – is likely to appear in the coming days.

“We took up the fight for voting rights in Washington, DC,” three Democratic lawmakers, Garnet Coleman, Ana Hernandez and Armando Walle, said in a joint statement, adding, “Today we continue the fight against floor of the Chamber. “

The three came to the Capitol as a group, with Mr. Walle pushing Mr. Coleman, who has severe diabetes and underwent a lower leg amputation this spring, in a wheelchair.

“It is time to pass these partisan legislative calls and to work together to help our state mitigate the effects of the current Covid-19 escalation,” they said in their statement.

When it began on July 12, few believed that the Democratic march would last this long.

More than 50 delegates, cheered on by activists and voting rights groups, flew on chartered planes to Washington, met with the vice president and top Senate officials, and succeeded in closing a special session of Legislature called by Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, to pass new voting laws and other priorities of his party’s base.

The absent Democrats ran the clock of the 30-day special session, and Mr. Abbott immediately called a second. But Democrats stayed away from the Capitol.

Dozens of lawmakers began returning to Texas this month, though none at all recreation that accompanied their departure from Austin.

The political atmosphere has become more charged in the day since a majority of Democrats have remained hunkered in Texas, where they are vulnerable to potential arrests by state law enforcement. Only a small number remain out of state.

Notably running, a Democratic “pugitive” in the eyes of his Republican colleagues, Gene Wu sat prone on the couch in his living room in Houston this week, making out calls from constituents and occasional glanced at his phone to view surveillance video from a camera on his doorstep.

Some of Mr. Wu’s colleagues were bouncing between locations in Texas, fearing that, if they were found, they could be imprisoned and dragged to the capitol. Others are at home and at their jobs, maintained by most legislators in a state where the Legislature regularly meets only once every two years.

“If they believe they have the right to arrest me, they won’t have a hard time finding me because I’m at work,” said Ramon Romero, a Democrat who represents Fort Worth and runs a 40-year business building swimming pools and selling stone.

The walk on voting rights is reminiscent of an organized by Democrats in 2003 to block the redistricting of Republicans. That year, Democrats in the State House collapsed for four days in Ardmore, Okla., Denying the quorum needed to pass bills. Then their colleagues in the State Senate went to New Mexico for nearly 40 days, until one of them broke down and returned to Texas, ending the protest. (The only state senator to return, John Whitmire, received waning criticism from fellow Democrats for the decision.)

At this time, Republicans, increasingly angry, called for the arrest. House sergeant-at-arms distributed warrants for civil arrest- signed by Speaker Dade Phelan – in members’ offices, in their email inboxes and, in some cases, in their homes.

“They came to the door, rang the doorbell,” said Jon Rosenthal, a Houston representative, describing video of the sergeant’s surveillance officer carrying the order to his home on Tuesday. “No one answered so he folded it in half and glued it to the doorjamb.”

The Texas voting bills, part of a national effort by Republican-led state legislatures to tighten ballot access policies, will reverse changes made during the 2020 election to make it easier. voting during the coronavirus pandemic. The proposed changes would also expand the authority of partisan poll watchdogs, voting rights groups and Democrats say can lead to voter intimidation and repression.

Mr. Abbott, in calling the special sessions, also included priorities on the agenda of his Republican base, such as policies on how to teach race in schools and restrictions on transgender athletes. He also added many have broader appeal, such as more money for retired teachers.

The standoff sparked calls for vigilante groups to help them follow the Democrats. External groups offered rewards of up to $ 2,500 for information leading to the arrest of Democrats, which garnered support from several Republican representatives.

“If you know where a missing legislator is, submit a tip,” Briscoe Kain, a Houston-based Republican who chairs the House Elections Committee, said. said in a TikTok video this week, a semiautomatic rifle was attached to the wall behind him.

Democratic representatives said they were more concerned about individuals possibly coming into their homes than about officials from the state Department of Public Safety arresting them. In fact, many members reported offers of “bounties” or other threats to the same state agency. (A state police spokesman declined to discuss “operational details.”)

Donna Howard, a Democratic representative from Austin who has now returned to Texas, said it was the “vigilante types” that brought her the most concern. He connects with his legislative staff online, avoiding all but the most important trips outside of his “undisclosed location.” The only time he rides in his car is to make a quick, curbside pickup at a store.

Democrats and activists are working to make sure the group is held, holding a daily check-in at Zoom. The roll is taken, and if there is none, there is a system for contact.

But the debate was broken up with current morning calls between the majority who wanted to keep the walkout and a small group who wanted to return, according to many people who called. “Every morning we have this exercise, the same four or five people who want to come back,” said one member, who requested anonymity to discuss private meetings.

And so some Democrats were caught on guard Wednesday when Mr. Coleman announced in The Dallas Morning News that he would return to the Capitol. He explained that he felt the return was the “right thing to do” for the institution of the Legislature.

“We need to have someone fighting,” Mr. Coleman said Thursday. “My voice outside doesn’t make a difference.”

Mr. Phelan, the Chamber’s speaker, told the chamber before adjourning on Thursday that “it’s time to get back to the business of the people of Texas.”

Democrats involved in the march who will remain absent from the Capitol gathered online this Thursday to discuss their next steps as Republicans prepare for a swift legislative action next week on long -listed bills.

Mr. Wu, the Houston representative, said he feels “angry” about how Democrats will continue their fight and “where we are being taken in the next few days.”

“We knew this day was coming,” he said. “It’s just an issue of how and when.”

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