It’s unknown whether the dramatic decision by Texas Democrats to walk out of the House chamber last month to scuttle a Republican voting measure will put their own paychecks at risk. Gov. Greg Abbott threatened to veto the portion of the budget that funds the Legislature in response to the walkout. But the members who participated have gotten attention from the White House in the form of a meeting with Vice President Harris; she met with a group of Texas House and Senate Democrats on Wednesday.
Tarrant County state Rep. Chris Turner chairs the Texas House Democratic Caucus. He initiated the walkout, sending the texts that essentially killed Texas’ controversial voting bill. He attended the meeting with Harris. Tuner told Texas Standard it would be “poor form” for Abbott to veto funding for a coequal branch of government for political reasons.
Senate Bill 7, the voting measure Republicans were set to pass on the last day of the session, was opposed by Democrats who said it would make voting more difficult, particularly for people of color and people with disabilities.
“It’s important that everyone understand that Democrats who worked to kill SB 7 – who worked against it all session long in the House and the Senate – did everything we could to stop it, and the [walkout was] the final thing that had to be done in order to derail the bill,” Turner said.
Turner called the meeting with Harris “an honor.”
Turner says the group talked about the need to pass federal voting rights laws. The For the People Act, or House Resolution 1, is a sweeping Democratic proposal that would supersede many state voting restrictions if passed by Congress. It has already passed in the House. Turner says in addition to voting, HR 1 addresses campaign finance reform and partisan gerrymandering.
House Resolution 4, or the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, passed the House during the last session. Turner says it will be reintroduced this year. The bill aims to address discrimination against minority voters. It would require the Department of Justice to pre-approve voting rule changes in states with a documented history of voting discrimination. That includes Texas.
“We have not had that safety net since the Shelby County case in 2013, when the Supreme Court invalidated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act,” Turner said.
Under the Shelby County decision, Congress would need to pass such a law in order to reinstate federal pre-clearance.
Abbott has said he will call a special session of the Legislature to pass the voting bill Democrats stopped during the regular session. Democrats don’t have the votes to kill it, but Turner says his party’s actions in May have added to the desire among national Democrats to push their voting changes.
“I think what Democrats in Texas did has helped crystallize the urgency of the situation for members of the Congress,” Turner said. “Our goal is to buy some time, and I hope Congress will use that time to pass these needed reforms as quickly as possible.”