Combat Over Voting Rights in Texas Nears Finish as Democrats Return

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HOUSTON – A 38-day Democratic strike in the Texas House of Representatives effectively ended Thursday when three previously absent members arrived at the Capitol and paved the way for Republicans to establish a quorum and pass restrictive voting rules.

Despite efforts by the Democrats to maintain a solid bloc, although most returned from Washington this month, the three Houston officials decided to return together, in an obvious attempt to divert any criticism from their peers or liberal activists.

The House adjourned without voting until 4 p.m. Monday, but hearings were expected for the weekend. The adoption of sweeping voting restrictions – to reverse the expansion of access to ballot papers during last year’s coronavirus pandemic in places like Houston and to empower partisan election observers – seemed very likely in the coming days.

“We took the fight for the right to vote to Washington, DC,” said three Democratic lawmakers Garnet Coleman, Ana Hernandez and Armando Walle in a joint statement, adding, “Now we are continuing the fight in the House of Representatives.”

The three arrived at the Capitol as a group, with Mr. Walle pushing Mr. Coleman, who has severe diabetes and had a lower leg amputation that spring, in a wheelchair.

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

When it started on July 12, few believed the Democrats’ strike would last that long.

More than 50 MPs flew to Washington in chartered planes to cheers from activists and constituencies, met with the Vice President and senior Senate officials, and managed to end a special session of the Legislature convened by Governor Greg Abbott. a Republican to pass new laws on voting and other priorities of his party base.

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

Dozens of lawmakers returned to Texas this month, albeit without the fanfare that accompanied their departure from Austin.

The political atmosphere became more charged day by day as the majority of the Democrats in Texas remained stooped, where they faced possible arrest by state law enforcement. Only a small part remains outside the state.

Allegedly on the run, a Democratic “refugee” in the eyes of his Republican colleagues, Gene Wu sat cross-legged on the couch in his living room in Houston this week, taking calls from voters and occasionally glancing at his phone for surveillance videos from looking at a camera at his front door.

Some of Mr. Wu’s colleagues have jumped between locations in Texas because they feared that if found they could be arrested and dragged to the Capitol. Others were back at home and at their workplaces, which maintain most lawmakers in a state where the legislature only meets regularly every two years.

“If you think you have the right to arrest me, you won’t have a hard time finding me because I’m at work,” said Ramon Romero, a Fort Worth Democrat and 40 people -Manages companies that build swimming pools and sell stone.

The strike over the right to vote was reminiscent of a strike organized by the Democrats in 2003 to prevent a new Republican election. That year, the State House Democrats moved to Ardmore, Oklahoma for four days and withheld the quorum required to pass laws. Then their colleagues in the state Senate went to New Mexico for about 40 days until one of them collapsed and returned to Texas to end the protest. (The lone senator who returned, John Whitmire, received scathing criticism from fellow Democrats for the decision.)

This time angry Republicans called for arrests. The House Sergeant-at-Arms issued civil arrest warrants – signed by Spokesman Dade Phelan – to members’ offices, to their email inboxes and, in some cases, to their homes.

“They came to the door and rang the doorbell,” said Jon Rosenthal, a Houston representative, describing the surveillance video of the constable who delivered the warrant to his home on Tuesday. “Nobody answered, so he folded it in half and stuck it in the door jamb.”

Texas voting laws, part of a nationwide effort by Republican-led state lawmakers to tighten rules on access to ballot papers, would reverse changes made during the 2020 election to facilitate voting during the coronavirus pandemic. The proposed changes would also increase the authority of partisan election observers, which, according to constituencies and Democrats, could lead to intimidation and electoral repression.

In calling the special sessions, Mr. Abbott also put his Republican base’s priorities on the agenda, such as rules about how races might be taught in schools and restrictions on transgender athletes. He also added several that have broader appeal, such as more money for retired teachers.

The stalemate led to calls for vigilante groups to track down the Democrats. Outside groups offered rewards of up to $ 2,500 for information leading to the Democrats’ arrest and received support from some Republican officials.

“If you know the whereabouts of a missing legislature, give me a tip,” said Briscoe Cain, a Houston area Republican who chairs the House of Representatives election committee, this week in a TikTok video, a semi-automatic rifle hanging on the wall is mounted behind him.

Democratic officials said they were more concerned about people who might come into their homes than they were about arrest by State Department Public Security officials. In fact, several members have reported offers of “bounties” or other threats to the same government agency. (A spokeswoman for the state police refused to talk about “operational peculiarities”.)

Donna Howard, a Democratic representative from Austin who is now back in Texas, said it was the “vigilantes” who were her greatest concern. She has contacted her legislative staff online and avoided all but the most necessary trips outside of her “unknown location”. The only time she gets into her car is for a quick roadside pick up at a store.

Democrats and activists had worked to make sure the group stuck together and held a daily check-in at Zoom. The role was taken and when someone was absent there was a system of contacting them.

However, on the recent morning calls, a debate had broken out between a majority who wanted to keep the strike and a smaller group who wanted to return, according to several people who answered the calls. “Every morning we have this exercise, those four or five people who want to go back,” said one member, who requested anonymity to discuss the private meetings.

And so some Democrats were surprised on Wednesday when Coleman announced on the Dallas Morning News that he would be returning to the Capitol. He stated that the return was “the right thing” for the legislature as an institution.

“We need to have someone in there to fight,” Coleman said on Thursday. “My voice to the outside world makes no difference.”

House Speaker Mr Phelan told the Chamber before adjourning Thursday that it was “time to get back to business for the Texas people.”

Strike-out Democrats who stay away from the Capitol huddled online late Thursday to discuss their next steps as Republicans prepared next week for a spate of legislative action on long-stalled laws.

Mr. Wu, the Houston representative, said he was “afraid” about how the Democrats would continue their struggle and “where this will take us in the coming days”.

“We knew that day was coming,” he said. “It was just a question of how and when.”