Texas House Democrats’ decision to again break quorum and shut down another legislative session and, along with it, an admittedly odious election reform bill do-over reminds us of Yogi Berra’s witticism: “It’s like déjà vu all over again.” Yet for those who view politics through objective lenses, blame for this huge failure in state governance falls equally on Democrats, Republicans and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
Blame Democrats: Texas Democrats are understandably disappointed in the House and Senate bills authored by Republicans tightening public access to elections and threatening rank-and-file poll workers with punitive consequences if they trip over increasingly complicated election laws. But this is the price of failing to get your voters to the polls. For all of the pandemic-inspired election irregularities of 2020, Texas Republicans still did a better job than Democrats at turning out their voters.
Granted, Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 3 are undeniable evidence of a republic in decline. Yet Republicans have made key concessions to Democrats, including scuttling a toxic measure that would have allowed courts to more easily overturn election results; adding a Democratic measure requiring judges to inform individuals if convictions will forbid their voting; and bowing to a Democratic priority to allow voters a chance to correct or “cure” mail-in ballot discrepancies.
Blame Republicans: With time short in a special session, Democrats are well justified in not trusting Republican colleagues. When, near the end of the spring session, dueling versions of Senate Bill 7 went to the House-Senate conference committee, Democrats appointed to the committee were cut out of negotiations. That’s not how the system is to work. What’s more, Republican lawmakers waived a Senate rule allowing sufficient time for senators to review a significantly revised and expanded final bill.
Colossally embarrassing example of the fallout: While defending the final version of Senate Bill 7, Republican Sen. Bryan Hughes, author of SB7, feebly guessed at rationale for proposed curtailing of voting hours on the final Sunday of early voting, even though he acknowledged he wasn’t sure why those voting hours were being curtailed and that the change came from Republican House members. Later it turned out the measure was a mistake. Oops.
Blame Abbott: True leaders must recognize when to put partisan politics aside and step forward to knock heads together and forge consensus between warring parties – even when one of those warring parties is your political party. Abbott failed the test.
At the first sign that Texas Democrats contemplated another exodus, he should have summoned leadership of both parties to the governor’s mansion to muscle, cajole and sweet-talk a way forward. LBJ, anyone?
Given Abbott’s cruelly punishing legislative staffers by vetoing their pay when Democrats broke quorum over election legislation in May, one might imagine him ready to order up a firing squad this time. Only problem: The broader firing line here is all too circular.