Is Texas House Democrats’ ‘Sharp Elbows’ Approach Working?

Texas Democrats are “putting up a fight” for a change, says one reporter. But it’s unclear whether their walkout will energize voters long term, or prevent changes to voting laws.

By Michael Marks & Caroline CovingtonJuly 21, 2021 11:14 am

Texas House Democrats who left the state to block a vote on Republican-backed voting legislation are still in Washington, D.C., more than a week later. They are expected to stay there at least until Aug. 6, when the Texas Legislature’s first special session of 2021 ends.

But Austin-based Associated Press reporter Paul Weber told Texas Standard it’s still unclear whether their walkout will help them achieve the political goals they had in mind at the start. He says it’s also not yet clear whether the unconventional move has energized Texas Democratic voters disappointed by losses in local races in 2020.

Weber says the primary goal of the walkout was to prevent a vote on Republican-backed election measures, known as House Bill 3 and Senate Bill 1. Texas, he says, is the last, big Republican-led state not to have “cracked down” on voting laws in recent years.

So far, Texas House Democrats have prevented votes during this special legislative session and during the regular legislative session that ended in May. But Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has said he will continue to call special sessions to pass those bills.

What Weber says Democrats may be doing successfully, or at least differently from years passed, though, is putting up a fight.

“Typically, their route has been to soften legislation through amendments, work things out behind the scenes, eventually take new laws to court. But this newer crop of lawmakers, the ones that I spoke with … they really want to sort of see, you know, their party throw some sharp elbows, you know, take a little bit of a harder edge,” Weber said.

Democrats are counting on that change of approach to energize voters for upcoming elections in 2022. But Weber says any energy gained by the walkout might not last up until the time voters head to the polls more than a year from now.

Meanwhile, Texas Republicans aren’t giving up. Weber says they plan to keep pushing for changes to voting rules during additional expected special legislative sessions.

“They obviously, you know, hold all the cards at the moment,” Weber said. “So they are not going to give up on this because it’s important to them.”

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