By now it’s obvious for all but the most self-deluded that the Republican Party is in the vise-like grip of those who would sacrifice democracy, liberty and rule of law to maintain power and perks: While Republican state legislators spent Memorial Day weekend in Austin trying to pass “election integrity” legislation impacting the old and the sick as well as people of color, disgraced Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn headlined a QAnon-affiliated “For God & Country Patriot Roundup” in Dallas, at one point encouraging a Myanmar-styled coup of the U.S. government. Yet some Republicans still believe to their hearts’ content that the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol was the work of antifa.
As the weekend concluded, questions arose as to how capable Texas Democrats are as defenders of democracy. Some Democratic House legislators were a bit too smug about their tactics in derailing passage of Senate Bill 7 and all of its voter restrictions by simply abandoning the House chamber (a la Democratic efforts to stymie a questionable GOP redistricting do-over in 2003) and running out the clock on a constitutionally timed legislative session. This means Republican Gov. Greg Abbott will add the issue to a 30-day special session. Presumably aggravated by Democrats, Republicans may add more restrictions to whatever replaces Senate Bill 7. Democrats get an A in tactics, an F in strategy.
Granted, Republicans have little right to scream foul. When conflicting versions of Senate Bill 7 went to conference committee, provisions never discussed in committee hearings or floor debate and never subjected to public testimony were slipped into the bill, some making it more restrictive. What’s more, Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick saw nothing inappropriate in waiving a Senate rule that ordinarily would have allowed senators 24 hours to review the revamped legislation — and given that the size of the bill went from 23 to 67 pages while on the dark side of the moon, review was surely warranted.
Yet Democrats erred in walking out. They ignored certain realities to their advantage: Republicans have spent as much time sniping at one another this past session as battling Democrats. While Lt. Gov. Patrick began demanding a special session even before last weekend, Gov. Abbott — possibly satisfied with big conservative wins on “constitutional carry” gun rights and anti-abortion legislation plus likelihood of “election integrity” legislation passing — appeared content to declare victory, go home and prepare for redistricting and then the 2022 elections. GOP squabbling had become so bad this session that the Texas Senate at one point forbade House Speaker Dade Phelan’s entry into the upper chamber.
Now Democrats risk uniting Abbott, Patrick and Phelan, not to mention Republican Party of Texas chairman Allen West, ordinarily a bur under the saddles of all three and, resignation notwithstanding, in office till July 11. Democrats make it possible that Republican authors of SB 7 will come back with a worse election bill in special session than the bill under consideration last weekend, already ripe for legal challenges. (Just for the record, Republicans actually removed some alarming provisions originally empowering partisan poll watchers.) And Democrats have now unwittingly reignited the possibility of reviving a bill targeting transgender Texas children seeking to join school sports teams. If both political parties are prepared to break legislative rules and norms with such abandon, then state leaders demonstrate they’re every bit as dysfunctional as the federal government they so often ridicule.