This post has been updated.
State Rep. Philip Cortez, a San Antonio Democrat, has returned to Texas after breaking quorum last week in order to stall the special session of the Texas legislature.
He returned to the state more than a week after dozens of House Democrats flew to Washington, D.C., to oppose legislation they say would limit voting rights in Texas.
Cortez said he returned to the state to help lead negotiations on the bill, House Bill 3.
“I do believe we need to fight this battle on parallel tracts and the strategy in D.C. is one of the tracts and communications line and possible compromises on the bill language is another tract,” he told TPR.
Cortez said he is part of a small working group who will confer with Republicans on potential changes to the bill, however, he says the Texas Democratic Caucus did not give formal approval to these negotiations.
I respect and stood with my Democratic colleagues in Washington DC. I stand by my convictions about full and open access to voting for all Texans. I’m here to work on that immediately. #TXLege pic.twitter.com/DsNsFS2GC7
— Rep. Philip Cortez, Ph.D. (@CortezPhilip) July 21, 2021
Cortez’s return does not bring the House to quorum. He said 18 or 19 more Democrats would have to return for the special session to continue.
Gov. Greg Abbott has said that Democrats who left the state would be arrested on their return. Cortez, who has formally “checked back in” to the discussions, said there is no threat of arrest for him anymore.
Some of Cortez’s colleagues expressed disappointment about his decision to return, even expressing disbelief at his reasoning. Rep. Diego Bernal, who represents San Antonio’s District 123, said he and a few others were concerned about Cortez even before he made the move to fly back to Texas.
“He was worried about his reelection. He was worried about losing his chairmanship. The political pressure was mounting. He was wearing it on his face in a way that everybody could see. So I think him going back to Austin has more to do with that than anything else. I have no doubt that in his heart of hearts, he wants to help. But this wasn’t helpful,” Bernal said.
Bernal said Cortez left without adequate communication. He added that Cortez’s characterization of his departure — that he was sent as an envoy from the D.C. group — is inaccurate.
Ina Minjarez, representative for District 124, said the decision to go to D.C. was not an easy one but that the “consequences of HB 3 far outweigh the personal and political consequences” they faced by breaking quorum.
“I am disappointed to see Representative Cortez turning his back on these convictions. Though I cannot speak to what led to his decision, it is disheartening to think that some representatives might value a gavel over protecting the voting rights of all Texans. Despite his defection, I continue to stand firm in my resolve to continue the fight for every Texan and every citizen to vote freely and accessibly. There is nothing I wouldn’t do to protect our democracy and the people’s right to vote,” she said in a statement.
Representatives Minjarez and Bernal agreed that Cortez’s move was one of defection.
“You’re getting a variety of different stories that he was selected, that he was asked, that he’s there to lead the reform. I really think that the considerations were political and not sort of they were political. They weren’t designed to bring us back from the brink of one of the worst voting rights disasters that the state has ever seen,” Bernal said.
At least six of the representatives who fled to D.C. have received positive coronavirus tests while there.