Texas Democrats pulled off their walkout and getaway, flawlessly... how? They'd done it before

Texas House Chamber
Posted at 2:24 PM, Jul 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-14 15:24:16-04

AUSTIN, TX - Washington — Texas Democrats puled off their walkout and getaway, flawlessly... how? They'd done it before

So how did Democrats pull off their parliamentary maneuver that shut down the government?

"I really have this strong feeling that Texas representatives aren't representing Texans," said Maggie Luna, who watched several Texas lawmakers gather at Bergstrom Airport, board a plane, and get out of dodge. All of this, over a revision of voting laws in which Democrats said they had "little to no" input.

"We left Texas, not because we want to. It breaks our heart that we have to do that. We do it, because we are in a fight to save our democracy," said Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prarie at a hastily-called press conference at Washington's Dulles Airport.

It sounded like "Deja-vu all over again" to Waco attorney John Mabry.

"When it became evident there would be no compromise, myself, Jim Dunham of Waco here locally and others organized this trip to Ardmore, Oklahoma where we stayed at the Holiday inn," he said, recalling a very similar situation that evolved in 2003.

Mabry represented Central Texas in the state legislature back in 2003. The last time lawmakers came to a standoff over what some at the time called a "Rube Goldberg" redistricting plan.

The lawmakers, then, and now, felt they had no choice but to use that one little maneuver that stops the clock, denying the leadership, a quorum.

What's a quorum?

It's the minimum number of people needed to take any legal action, like passing a law. Lots of organizations set the number required for a quorum in their by-laws. In the Texas Senate, which has 31 members, they need at least 20 to get the job done.

That's 2/3.

Over in the House, a body of 150 members, they need, again, 2/3 or 100 people.

Any less than that, does not constitute a legal Texas legislature.

Now, the leadership and administration, can order their arrest and force them back to work, but only if they stay within the friendly confines of Texas. So, running of to "them thar hills", puts a stop to most things, for now.

The Senate has a quorum and has continued to operate, but with a bi-cameral Texas legislature, there's only so much one house can do without the other.

Meantime, democrats say they stand on principle, but if this drags on with nothing done, some experts say, it could backfire on them.

"Representative Goodwin, Representative Tallarico, Representative Wiener," said Republican Governor Greg Abbott, clicking off a list of names who fled. he added, "If they do not return and get back to work they are risking losing their jobs as state representative."

But at least, we taxpayers do get a small benefit, we only pay the lawmakers who show up, to the capitol, in Texas.

"I thought the Governor did exactly right by withholding their pay, because if you're not gonna work, why get paid?" said Col. John Ker, U.S. Army (Ret.) a member of the Texas Republican Executive Committee.

The Governor has other tools as his disposal, too.

"House of representatives, the speaker can issue a call to have these members arrested," explained Abbott. That's why in 2003, and today, Democrats stayed out of the long reach of the Texas Rangers, Something that clearly annoyed the Governor.

"I can and I will continue call special session after special session after special session all the way until election next year," Gov. Abbott said.

Exactly the same tactic used by Rick Perry, who led Texas in 2003. Perry called three special sessions before the redistricting protest ended. By then, the entire world knew what was happening in Texas.

But Abbott doesn't intend to stop with calling new special sessions.

"And so if 'These people' wanna be hanging out wherever they're hanging out on this taxpayer paid junket, they're gonna have to be prepared to do it for more than a year. As soon as they come back to the state of Texas they will be arrested, they will be cabined in the Capitol until they get their job done," said the Governor.

"Let me tell you why I left," said Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, "I left because I am tired of sitting as a hostage and a House of Representatives House of Representatives, while Republicans strip away the rights of my constituents to vote," she told the Dulles press conference.

Mabry, a Democrat, elected in firmly red Republican territory, says the spirit of cooperation that got him elected, seems lost these days, just like it did in 2003.

"When there is no compromise or willingness to cooperate, from the other side, you play the cards that you are dealt and in 2003 the only card we had left was breaking quorum," he said.

Mabry explained that even if the 2003 protest at first seemed to fail, it put the spotlight on what he called outrageous redistricting moves which cost McLennan County its hometown members of Congress and in the Texas Legislature, as he feared it would.

"We lost all our local representation. We don't have a congressman from McLennan County any longer, we don't have a Texas Senator from McLennan County any longer and we only have one state representative from McLennan County," said Mabry.

Now, he says democrats felt the need to follow the path he, and his colleagues forged, to stop, or at least delay, equally outrageous changes in voting laws while they draw worldwide attention to what Texas Republicans have tried to force through the legislature.

While many voters don't like the protest, they say they understand it. "So this is really necessary now. I mean, obviously we're not being heard, so something drastic has to be made," said Luna.

Where will they go next? Who knows?

That's why political strategists say, heading for hills does not make for good long-term strategy.