When I showed up to Orientation for Texas freshmen as the only black freshman this session, my senior colleagues across the aisle told me that “we are not. not DC “. as divided, polarized or hyperpartisan as our federal counterpart. As a naive first year, I believed them.
When I showed up to Texas freshman orientation as the only black freshman this session, my senior colleagues across the aisle told me “we’re not DC “
Ironically, of course, I’m writing this editorial from Washington – where my fellow Democrats and I fled in a desperate attempt to stop my fellow Republicans from passing one of the most draconian ballot bills in the land. Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, has just called a new special session to pass the law upon our return to the state.
It wasn’t until the unlicensed transportation bill hit House floors in April that it became clear Democrats were absolutely overwhelmed. Every single one of our amendments has failed along party lines, including my amendment to ban guns in courthouses. (I’m the survivor of a courthouse shooting.) The defining moment for me, the moment that let me know we really weren’t in Washington, but in a worse place, was when an amendment prohibiting known white supremacists from carrying arms was voted against. Notice that the bill that was passed prevented gang members from carrying guns – so my colleagues agreed with a rule prohibiting Bloods and Crips from carrying guns, but refused to do the same. for the Ku Klux Klan. It wasn’t a wake-up call, it was a punch.
It was not the first, and it certainly will not be the last time, that my colleagues have chosen to put in place a set of rules for one population while exempting another. It foreshadowed the many times we House Democrats have been crushed this session.
Texas’ original voter suppression bill created nearly two dozen new crimes for common mistakes, made it more difficult to register new voters, and included provisions to allow an election to be canceled with evidence thin. My sorors from Delta Sigma Theta Sorority showed up in droves to testify against this bill and spent all day on Capitol Hill trying to make their voices heard. Social justice, protection of the right to vote and political commitment have been the hallmarks of my sorority since its founding in 1913; her first official act of public service was the March for Women’s Suffrage that same year.
After hearing testimony from so many Texans from all parts of the state, the bill was passed outside the committee, according to party lines. We were determined to delay, amend and vote on the bill. As a civil rights lawyer and the daughter of a preacher, I understand that I have a debt to pay. By any means necessary, it was my duty to kill this bill.
As a minority party, our options were somewhat limited. But the nuclear option – breaking the quorum – was on the table. It’s known as the nuclear option for a reason. For some, this was a difficult decision as they weighed the political ramifications of breaking the quorum against the potential for the bill to be disenfranchised. But for me breaking the quorum was the only option. My decision was simple. Part of it was because I knew this was what my district expected of me: to fight for their rights. That’s why I ran for this seat.
Meanwhile, my colleagues across the aisle continued to come up with problem-seeking solutions and introduced bill after bill that didn’t help any Texan but instead flattered them. right-wing primary voters. And so, on the last day of the regular session, we broke the quorum. It was a blow to the governor’s destructive agenda.
But the fight was not over. The governor vetoed the salaries of our staff and called us back for a special session, with voters removed at the top of the list. Many Democrats waited to see if a newly formed and seemingly more moderate select committee would be able to improve the bill. But instead, the president made it clear he would vote for the bill regardless of how many Texans showed up to testify against it. The hearing ended with the rejection of every Democratic amendment. Hundreds of Texans have testified against this bill, while only a few dozen have testified in favor of it.
Last weekend, Willie Nelson and over a thousand people sang “vote them” on Saturday from the steps of the Texas Capitol in support of what my colleague and I are trying to do.
But it doesn’t matter.
It is the fight for the right to vote of our life. Regardless of the consequences, this is a fight we cannot ignore.
The new bill incorporates many aspects of the original bill and, if passed, will embolden untrained pro-ballot observers and allow them to intimidate voters, while diminishing the power of election judges to control polling stations. This, combined with the new unlicensed transportation bill, is a recipe for intimidation. Other provisions would allow an elected official to be potentially imprisoned for having sent a request for a postal vote to a person qualified to vote.
We knew there was a strong possibility that the bill would get more extreme in conference committee or that the final version would be identical to what we killed in May. But it was still terribly depressing to see the will of the people being ignored.
The day after the hearing, we knew, once again, that there was only one option left. Again, some members struggled with this decision. But this time, the engagement would take weeks, not hours, out of state. And yet, it is the fight for the right to vote of our life. Regardless of the consequences, this is a fight we cannot ignore.
I cannot accept being silent in the face of injustice. I cannot accept that the right to vote, a sacred foundation of our nation, is so easily stripped of our most vulnerable. What I can accept is losing a fair election at the ballot box – if that is the will of the people. This is what our democracy is asking for. What is happening in my condition is neither fair nor fair. And so I guess my colleagues were right about Texas – it’s not Washington. It is so much worse.