Legislators decry suppressive voter bills, head to D.C.
North Texas civic and community leaders applauded Democratic state legislators yesterday after at least 50 members of the House of Representatives left Texas in protest of two Republican-backed bills they said suppress minorities’ voting rights.
“I stand in solidarity with the Texas House legislators who are fighting to empower the voices of Americans, so we continue to have basic constitutional rights,” said Glenn Heights City Councilwoman Shaunte L. Allen. “This bill disenfranchises a very specific demographic and is steeped in the hatred of the Jim Crow era.”
Allen made the statement Tuesday afternoon, shortly after news reports that more than 50 Democratic representatives left the state ahead of an expected vote on the Republican-supported bills making their way through this week’s special Legislative session. The lawmakers’ absence ensured the House of Representatives could not reach a quorum to vote on the proposed bills.
The representatives boarded a pair of planes bound for Washington, D.C. where they later held a press conference at the Capitol building detailing their opposition to Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 3.
Allen said the boycott was necessary to protect her constituents’ and others’ rights to vote.
“For Governor (Greg) Abbott to call this extra Legislative session to push through personal agendas is deplorable,” Allen said. “We know that not voting means not having a voice in the communities in which we live.”
She was not alone in her support.
Allen was among a bevy of North Texas African American and Latino leaders who favored Democratic legislators’ tactics – specifically their use of a boycott – to stymie efforts to pass Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 3.
The two pieces of legislation prohibit the opening of drive-through and 24-hour voter locations and add new requirements to mail-in voting, among other mandates.
“Unfortunately, now we are forced to fight against these measures in a court of law,” said Jane Hope Hamilton, co-founder of the Barbara Jordan Leadership Institute. “Our most sacred right to vote is under attack and legislators must employ drastic means to fend off such efforts.
“We must use any measure we have, including abolishing the filibuster, to protect our right to vote,” Hamilton said. “The time to act is now.”
Earlier Tuesday, the Texas Senate passed its version of the voting legislation; but the House of Representatives could not reach a quorum due to the exit of the Democratic legislators.
Although a vote had been taken by the 31 member Senate, Texas State Sen. Royce West traveled to Washington to support his colleagues, in “our effort to stop the passage of these laws in Texas.”
“We’re resolved to do what we were elected to do,” he said, adding that it was important to be in Washington to share their message with not only the President and Vice President, but the entire country.
Gov. Abbott moved to have the lawmakers arrested when they return to Texas. This move, said critics, was nothing more than a publicity stunt because Texas has no jurisdiction in the nation’s capital.
It was also pointed out that efforts to “track” the legislators down and bring them back to Texas brought back memories of ads and bulletins that called for the return of runaway enslaved Africans to their “Massas.”
Sen. West shrugged off threats of jail saying the governor’s remarks were just for media consumption.
For both West and Rep. Carl O. Sherman Sr., they said they recognized the correlation between the Fugitive Slave Act signed by President George Washington in 1793 and Abbott’s efforts today. Sherman said he and his colleagues saw no alternative to their decision.
“We had no choice but to bring this to Washington,” he told Texas Metro News. “The only way we have a chance is if we fight. We demand that President Biden be the Lincoln (President Abe) of our time!”
Decrying the partisan efforts to disenfranchise voters, he invoked the name of Fannie Lou Hamer and others who fought for voter and civil rights.
“We’ve really got it easy,” he continued. “We can’t be delusional about the spirit of these laws. I believe in the resurrection and we have demons of our past trying to run things today.”
Democratic lawmakers released a statement through the Texas House Democratic Caucus.
“Today, Texas House Democrats stand united in our decision to break quorum and refuse to let the Republican-led Legislature force through dangerous legislation that would trample on Texans’ freedom to vote,” the statement read.
“We are now taking the fight to our nation’s Capitol. We are living on borrowed time in Texas. We need Congress to act now to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act to protect Texans — and all Americans — from the Trump Republicans’ nationwide war on democracy.”
Across the nation, national civil rights organizations and others praised the Texas lawmakers’ stand and pledged support.
National NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson immediately sent an email to media and the civil rights organization’s members saying the NAACP would “bail these lawmakers out of jail, if necessary.”
“The Texas Legislature’s efforts to silence the voices of its own constituents is an assault on our most fundamental values,” Johnson wrote in the email. “We will not stand idly by as partisan politicians dismantle our system, oppress our voices and suppress our votes.
People have fought and died for the sacred right to vote. This is a time of crisis. Our constitution is being tested and we need all hands on deck.”
President of the National Council of Negro Women, Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole said that “enough is enough.”
“American Democracy is under attack,” she said, as she criticized what she called a vicious set of practices and encouraged Black women to move to action; including calling their legislators at 202-224-3121.
Texas State Rep. Victoria Neave, D-Mesquite, who represents District 107, posted Monday to her Instagram account, @victoria4texas, that she was aboard one of the reported two planes that carried Democratic lawmakers to Washington.
“I was appointed last week to serve on the Texas House Select Committee on Constitutional Rights and Remedies which this weekend had a nearly 24-hour-long hearing to, in part, ban 24-hour voting, refer potentially hundreds of thousands of people for criminal prosecution, make it harder to vote, among other terrible things,” she wrote in her post. “Witness after witness helped prove the points I and my colleagues tried to raise all day— that Latinos, African Americans, people with disabilities would be detrimentally and disproportionately impacted.
“As a Latina, I can’t let that happen,” she said. “That’s why we have to do everything we can to use the Rules of the House and urge Congress to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.”
Dallas attorney Vicki Blanton, who chairs the Connection Committee, a non-partisan arm of the Omicron Mu Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and who brings educational issues to Black voters, said the voting bills go “against the principles that democracy stands for.”
“Your voice is your vote; your vote is your voice. You take that away and that is essentially taking your voice away,” she said. Certainly, the efforts that are being made to make it harder to vote to show the importance of it.
“People shouldn’t take it lightly. When they have the opportunity to vote, no matter what the election is, they should exercise that right because it’s a fundamental right to being a U.S. citizen.”
Texas Metro News Staff writers Eva D. Coleman, Dorothy Gentry, Marva Sneed, Kenedi Houston, and Ania Jackson all contributed to this report.