Texas Gov. Greg Abbott spoke with Texas Standard host David Brown about Texas House Democrats leaving the state for Washington, during a special legislative session, to prevent a vote on a Republican-backed election bill.
DAVID BROWN, HOST:
No matter where you are, it’s Texas Standard time on this 15th day of July 2021. I’m David Brown. Great to have you with us. And for many Texans and folks who just follow the news nationwide, it remains one of the biggest stories of the week: the quorum-busting exodus to D.C. of more than 50 Texas House Democrats – a last-ditch attempt to derail Republican proposals to tighten Texas voting laws. The governor called the special session after lawmakers failed to pass GOP-led changes during the regular session, which itself ended with a walkout of House Democrats. This time, the move was much more high profile – not without precedent, as we’ve reported here, since something similar happened at the Lege almost 20 years back during a redistricting battle. But with House Democrats now pledging that they won’t return before the end of the 30-day special session underway, the Legislature has effectively been brought to a halt. And Gov. Greg Abbott has pledged to have the missing lawmakers arrested upon their return to Texas. And we’ve been asking listeners across the Lone Star State to pass along their questions for the governor so we can put some of them to him as he joins us today. Gov. Greg Abbott, welcome to the Texas Standard.
GOV. GREG ABBOTT: Great to be with you. I will start out with an answer before the question comes up, because in what you just said, you said this is a “last-ditch attempt” by the Democrats. And the facts are, that’s not the case. It’s a current-ditch attempt. And the reason for that is because I think, as you know, and as I will tell your listeners, what happens is, in Texas, we have a Legislative session that lasted only 140 days every other year. And the session was over at the end of May and had a special session not been called the last time that we would get together, I mean, the next time we would get together for another Legislative session would be in 2023. So what the [Texas] Constitution does, it gives to the governor the ability to call special sessions for 30 days in length, as often as the governor wants. Here’s my point, and that is: we’re in special session number one right now, and the reason why the Democrats were out of state is because they know that if they were in state, they could be apprehended by Texas Department of Public Safety officers and brought to the Capitol to do their job. But if they come back to Texas, I will call a special session. If they stay out of Texas, I will call another special session. Bottom line, we are going to continue to call a special session after special session after a special session until we get the business of Texas done.
BROWN: Well, Governor, you anticipated my very next question. Is it your intention to call special session after special session? It sounds like that’s exactly what you plan to do. But, eventually, the Legislature is going to have to focus on other things, right? Like redistricting. And that’s coming up on the calendar real soon.
ABBOTT: Yes. So we will be having a special session on redistricting, but there is no limit to the number of items that I can put on a special session. Let me give you an example of why we will continue to call special session after special session because of the urgency of some of the matters on this special session, because a lot of people are unaware that there are a lot of items on the current special session to deal with, far more than just election integrity. One involves bail reform. And as Sen. Joan Huffman put it yesterday, the the refusal of the Democrats to show up at the Capitol and address things like bail reform is deadly because since our regular session ended, all the way through yesterday, Sen. Huffman said that five people have been released from jail under the current bail policies and killed somebody. There are dead people today because the Democrats have refused to step up and reform our broken bail system that lets very dangerous criminals back out on the streets. So the Democrats have blood on their hands for failing to step up and do their job. We don’t know how many Texans may lose their lives until the Democrats finally return to the Capitol and step up and pass bail reform policies in the state of Texas that do not let dangerous criminals back out onto the street.
BROWN: So what we’re talking about here at this point is an impasse. You want to put, you want to make sure that this these voting changes are implemented. But Democrats are equally committed to the idea of not allowing those changes to pass. And for this special session, Republicans made some tweaks to the voting bill to remove some of the elements the Democrats found especially offensive, including provisions that would block the so-called “souls to the polls” Sunday voting, and a proposal that would allow judges to nullify questionable outcomes. Are there no other compromises to be made with Democrats over this voting legislation?
ABBOTT: There are not and let me tell you why: it’s because the narrative that is being pushed by the Democrats is completely false. They claim that this denies the ability to vote. However, they cannot come up with a single name of anybody who would be denied the ability to vote for one simple reason: the law, as proposed, does not deny people to vote. In fact, it expands the opportunity to vote. The proposed law increases the number of hours to vote, as opposed to decreasing the number of hours to vote. Texas has far more early voting days than almost every state in the country, and we are increasing the hours of those early voting days to make sure that everybody who has different types of schedules will have the ability to cast a vote, including requirements that employers give time off for people to go vote. The only thing that we are really cracking down on is something that both Democrats and Republicans agree needs to be cracked down upon, and that are flaws in the mail-in ballot process, where everybody knows that cheating does take place, including a federal district judge in Corpus Christi appointed by Barack Obama. And that judge wrote that in the mail-in ballot process voting fraud occurs, quote, “in abundance.” Not occasionally, but in abundance. And the Obama administration knows, factually, one of those cases because the voter fraud was so bad with regards to ballot harvesting in South Texas that the Obama administration sent in a team of FBI agents and prosecutors to arrest and prosecute people who were using cocaine for ballot harvesting purposes for cheating in elections in the Rio Grande Valley. And some of those cheatings that have taken place in the Rio Grande Valley, they did cause the wrong person to win, and it required overturning elections and having new elections take place.
BROWN: Well, let me ask about a specific provision, which you talk, you talk about these bills, why, there’s a provision that would eliminate 24-hour voting – why is that needed? Why is 24-hour voting a bad thing?
ABBOTT: I’ll give you all the reasons. First, remember this in the state of Texas, before the pandemic, voting there had never been 24-hour voting before. Our research has failed to show any state anywhere that has 24-hour voting. And, fundamentally, there is absolutely no constitutional right to have 24-hour voting. There are, however, reasons not to have 24-hour voting. And that’s because there is a requirement in Texas state law to allow poll workers to be present to watch all the voting process, to make sure that we do have security and integrity in the voting process. And, let’s be honest, who’s going to be up and around at 2:00 a.m. or 3:00 a.m. or 4:00 a.m., whatever the case may be, during the early voting time period, for 24 hours? Being able to watch it, make sure that there is no cheating taking place? We don’t, why do we have – before the 24-hour voting went into process in Harris County, and it was only in Harris County that we had continued increase in voter participation. Remember this last election? We had continued increase in voter participation in the counties that did not have 24-hour voting. Last thing I will tell you about this and that is, this is a constitutional principle: Article 1, Section 4 of the United States Constitution provides states, not counties, the authority to set the time, place and manner of elections. It does not give that authority to counties. And so what Harris County did was a complete violation of the Constitution by creating their own time, place and manner for elections. And all Texas is doing is reinstating the constitutional principle about who sets the voting times and making sure that it is set that way for everyone across the entire state of Texas in ways that does add more hours to voting compared to preexisting state law.
BROWN: There was a UT-Texas Tribune poll that was released back in June asking about perceptions of voter fraud in Texas. And a clear majority of Texans said that they did not perceive there being a voting problem in Texas, a question about the integrity of the vote in Texas. And a lot of listeners see what’s happening right now is political. A phrase more than one listeners used was “a solution in search of a problem.” Now, let me ask you, governor: do you think Texas has a problem with the integrity of its voting system right now?
ABBOTT: Remember that before I was governor, I was the attorney general. And during my time as attorney general, I would investigate, prosecute and jail people for voter fraud. The current attorney general is doing the same thing, including the most recent arrest for voter fraud, which was just last Friday. And let’s go back to what I told you earlier and that is, it’s not my opinion; it’s the opinion of a judge appointed by Barack Obama who says that voter fraud takes place, quote, “in abundance” with regard to the mail-in ballot process. Everyone who would tell anything to you and who knows anything about the election process will tell you that especially in the mail-in ballot process, yes, there is voter fraud. And I can tell you that members of the Texas House of Representatives, some of whom are abandoning their duty by being in Washington, D.C., right now, they have stated from the House floor itself that there needs to be greater integrity in the election process by reining in some of the election fraud abuses that we see occurring, occurring through mail-in ballots. So this is this is a principle that almost every person who knows anything about the elections knows that we need improvements in mail-in balloting, because cheating does occur in mail-in balloting so much so, let’s go back again to what I said earlier, and that is elections have been overturned in the state of Texas because of voter fraud. It must be stopped.
BROWN: Governor, I mentioned the political backdrop to all this. As we both know, Donald Trump won the popular vote in Texas. But again, a big part of the political backdrop is the fact that many of Donald Trump’s supporters believe that the November election was stolen by Democrats, at the national level. That does not appear to have been substantiated by any independent studies. But I have to ask, do you believe that on the national level, the election was stolen?
ABBOTT: So, listen, that’s a complete false narrative, and that’s what sometimes people in politics try to do to try to, to get people off of what the real discussion point is. What we are doing is, in the state of Texas, has absolutely nothing to do with what did or did not occur in the presidential election. What we’re doing in the state of Texas is what we’ve done since my time as attorney general and during my time as governor in every election cycle, and that is to ensure integrity in the election process we have in Texas. So what we’re doing has nothing to do with the presidential election; it has everything to do with the election process in the state of Texas, where we work to achieve two goals: we do work to achieve to make it easier for people to go vote, but also harder for people to cheat. Listen, the the cheating in voting in the state of Texas, as everyone knows who knows Texas history, it goes back to the days of LBJ when everybody knows that LBJ won the Senate seat by cheating in the election process. And ever since that time, we’ve been fighting to make our election process more valid by preventing the ways in which people have cheated in the elections.
BROWN: Hypothetical here, governor: if Democrats were in control in Texas and they were to pass laws you and your colleagues believe would essentially alter voting laws to keep them in power, and what they were doing is they saw it was illegitimate, and you had no way to stop Democratic majorities from doing so, would you not take similar steps to deny quorum? In other words, what would you do if you were in their position?
ABBOTT: It is always wrong for a Texan to cut and run, to abandon post, to abandon the responsibility. You stay and fight. That’s what Texans do. And that’s exactly what we expect the Democrats to do. Candidly, it’s embarrassing for their personal character to run from a fight. They were elected to go to the Capitol, to debate issues to see if they can extract some level of compromise. You’re not going to get any compromise by going to Washington, D.C., and by abandoning your job. But also, listen, everybody has a job. All of your listeners right now, they have a job. And if they didn’t like the way that things were going at the job and they decided to protest and leave and say, “I’m not coming back to work until we change this policy or that policy,” whatever the case may be, they would lose their pay, they would lose their job. Why should legislators be any different? They have to show up and do the job, and they’re not going to convince anybody to do anything by abandoning post and running off to Washington, D.C., on a taxpayer-paid junket.
BROWN: But, of course, a component of this, governor, is leadership as well. And since you have so many other things that were supposed to be taken up during this special session, as you mentioned, bail reform, for example. But there are a lot of folks, you know, concerned about getting that electric grid up and running and solidified, for example. I mean, is there not room for you as the leader here to find a way to compromise and bring them back to the table, even if they are unwilling at present to do so?
ABBOTT: You know, interestingly, before they left, there were compromises that were being made with regard to the election laws. And after those compromises were made is when the Democrats abandoned post and left the state. And it shows their character that they were, they were able to sit down at the table and work on compromise. And then after they got the compromises, they decided to flee the state. And that shows the character of the people that we’re trying to negotiate with. And that’s bad character. And so that means that we being the Republicans, we’re in no mood for additional compromise. It’s time to get, for people to get back to work and vote on the issues that are on the agenda.
BROWN: You’ve been generous with your time, Governor, since I have you on the line, I want to ask one more question not related to what’s happening with the House Democrats, but we’re starting to see numbers of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations in Texas, on the rise once more after hitting record lows. What’s your take on what’s happening out there? And are you concerned about what you’re seeing?
ABBOTT: Well, listen, any time anybody gets COVID, we’re concerned. But, listen, the reality is we knew that the vaccines that are available in the state of Texas, the, you know, whether it be the Johnson & Johnson, the Pfizer, the Moderna, they’re all effective against these variants — and some of these variants could be the delta variant or it could just be non-delta variant COVID. But but we knew that anybody who gets vaccinated, the chances of them getting COVID or facing serious consequences of COVID are extremely minimal. And from all the information that I’ve been provided, the people who are getting COVID are people who are not vaccinated. And so it is again, very important for people to try to go get vaccinated. Again, the rule in Texas is that no one can be required to get a vaccine, but is always highly recommended. And the best way for people to avoid getting COVID is to get vaccinated. And I do know that both at the county level, but also with the state department, state health services, they’re working to ensure they can do all they possibly can to get vaccinated. The last thing I’ll add about this is unlike at the very beginning of the vaccination process, where there were only a few vaccines here and there and it was difficult to get a vaccine – one of the easiest things in life to do right now is to get a vaccine. And so the best way we can reduce the spread of COVID, reduce people contracting COVID, is for people to go out and get a vaccine shot and make sure that we slow the spread of COVID in Texas.
BROWN: We’ve been talking with Republican Gov. Greg Abbott. Gov. Abbott, thanks so much for taking time to speak with us on the Texas Standard.
ABBOTT: My pleasure. Y’all take care.
This transcript has been updated to fix typographical and style errors.