87th LegislatureEducationGunsHealthcareIssuesState HouseState SenateDemocrats May Once Again Break Quorum to Block Republican Election Reform Bill

Some Democrats sided with Republicans on a limited number of issues, but election reform is a matter where they are standing their ground.
July 5, 2021
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Texas lawmakers are preparing to convene in Austin on July 8 for a special session and it is a real possibility Democrats will once again opt to break quorum by leaving the chamber to scuttle Republican election reform legislation.

In a call with The Texan in June, Rep. Richard Peña Raymond (D-Laredo) shed light on what was occurring in the moments before Texas House Democrats orchestrated the destruction of Senate Bill (SB) 7, the Republicans’ signature elections proposal, by leaving the chamber without a quorum.

Reps. Ryan Guillen (D-Rio Grande City), Harold Dutton Jr. (D-Houston), Bobby Guerra (D-Mission), Tracy O. King (D-Batesville), Eddie Morales Jr. (D-Eagle Pass), and Raymond were still present after most other Democrats had left the House as it was considering SB 7.

When asked why he did not participate in the “walkout,” Raymond clarified that he was still in the chamber in part because he was near the front preparing to speak against SB 7 when Rep. Cody Vasut (R-Angleton) objected to a motion to excuse Speaker Pro Tem Joe Moody (D-El Paso).

“Well, it’s not that I didn’t participate, it’s that you have to understand where we were in the process,” Raymond told The Texan.

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“Obviously, every single Democrat, including myself, felt that we needed to kill that bill. We thought it was bad,” he added, saying he wanted to give a “meaningful speech” rather than “just make it political.”

Raymond explained that there had been a “back and forth” discussion among Democrats over whether to employ the method of breaking a quorum to kill SB 7. Some Democrats were never there that day while others had been departing throughout the evening.

When the House voted on a resolution opposed by Democrats to allow the consideration of new provisions that the conference committee for SB 7 had added, it failed by a vote of 79 to 35. This indicated many Democrats had left the room well before Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) formally ruled the House had lost a quorum.

“It wasn’t like all of a sudden everybody just got up and left,” Raymond said.

Part of the strategy to end SB 7 was to raise points of order against the bill. In fact, shortly before the motion to excuse Moody, Phelan had overruled a point of order raised by Rep. Michelle Beckley (D-Carrollton).

Raymond said the final go-ahead to break quorum came only moments before it happened via a text message from Rep. Chris Turner (D-Grand Prairie), the Democratic caucus chairman.

In terms of opposing legislation like SB 7, Raymond said his “record is about as clear as you could be.”

“In 2009, when no one else would, I was the last one that spoke against voter ID. I said, look, if no one else is gonna do it, I’ll do it alone,” Raymond added.

Raymond has confirmed that he would potentially break quorum again and that he would even consider leaving the state to make it happen, an idea that Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) also entertained in a television appearance in June.

In a statement to The Texan on June 18, Rep. Christina Morales (D-Houston) said, “Voting is the foundation of our democracy and is our voice in government. If it means breaking quorum again and leaving the state, I will do whatever it takes to protect the voting rights of Texans. No eligible voter should face restrictions or barriers to participating in our democracy. We must take a stand to protect voting rights and need Congress’ support to expand the rights of voters across our country.”

In a rally near the south steps of the Texas capitol building, Rep. Jasmine Crockett (D-Dallas) recalled the walkout and referred to supporters of SB 7 as “terrorists.”

Bipartisanship

Some Democrats, though committed to holding the line against whatever election reform bill is brought by Republicans during the special session, were more flexible on other issues.

During the 87th Texas legislature’s regular session, some Democrats in the Texas House were willing to break from their party and take what would typically be considered a right-of-center position on issues such as constitutional carry and COVID-19 protocols.

The legalization of the carrying of firearms without a license is arguably one of the most prominent Republican legislative accomplishments of 2021.

The Democratic Party of Texas platform states that the party “supports the right of every American to own and bear arms as preserved in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.” However, the platform provides a laundry list of exceptions.

For example, the party wants to “prohibit the open carry of all firearms and repeal ‘campus carry’ policies.”

The executive committee of the Bexar County Democratic Party censured Rep. Leo Pacheco (D-San Antonio) in May because Pacheco voted in favor of the constitutional carry bill, House Bill (HB) 1927, when it was initially laid before the House. He ultimately voted against the final version of the bill.

Rep. Terry Canales (D-Edinburg) not only voted in favor of constitutional carry, he coauthored the bill and strongly supported it in remarks he made from the House floor, characterizing HB 1927 as a “criminal justice reform bill.”

Canales said the status quo as it relates to gun permits as “a bunch of ‘I gotcha’ hodgepodge of laws.”

“If you have a drink, you have now committed a crime. If you forgot your little ticket at home, you’ve committed a crime. If you didn’t register or didn’t renew your permit, you’ve committed a crime,” Canales said in remarks that the House recorded in its journal.

“In fact, I know people, because I’m a criminal defense lawyer, that have come to me and said, I took the class and when I realized I was in more legal jeopardy, I decided I’d rather not even have a permit.”

Also crossing party lines, Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas) was the only Republican who voted against constitutional carry. Meyer narrowly won reelection in 2020, defeating Joanna Cattanach by about 1,600 votes in a district where more than 101,000 individuals voted.

Rep. Angie Chen Button (R-Richardson), another Dallas County Republican who won last year by an even narrower margin than Meyer, was present and abstained from the vote on constitutional carry.

Another example of a Democrat bucking his party was when House Education Committee Chairman Harold Dutton Jr. (D-Houston) decided to take up the bill that would require public school athletes to participate in sports programs designed for their biological gender.

The bill, Senate Bill (SB) 29, had previously failed to garner enough support in House Education, but Dutton said he decided to ultimately pass the bill out of committee as an act of “consequence” against his own party for stymying one of his education proposals.

Democrats in the House were also amenable to loosening some of the coronavirus protocols the chamber implemented early in the session. 19 Democrats voted in favor of a resolution authored in April by Dr. Tom Oliverson (R-Cypress) to repeal the Texas House’s mask requirement. Masks had been required in the chamber, gallery, and committee rooms prior to the decision.

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Hayden Sparks

Hayden Sparks is a reporter for The Texan. He has coached high school competitive speech and debate and has also been involved in community theater and politics. A native Texan, Hayden served as a delegate at the Republican Party of Texas Convention in 2016. He is on track to receive a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Liberty University. In his free time, Hayden is known to take walks around the neighborhood while listening to random music on Spotify.