The business of the state is having a rough time as the second special legislative session is still missing a quorum in the House.
The first legislative session ended in a stalemate when more than fifty Democrats left Texas to block a massive restriction of voter rights and access from being passed. Since then, most of them have remained in Washington D.C. to petition the federal government for help in protecting voter rights in Texas. An attempt to call the lower chamber to order last week ended on a dull note when Speaker of the Texas Hose Dade Phelan acknowledged the lack of a quorum and adjourned.
The future of this special session is very much in doubt. On the Democratic side, the absent members have not committed to sitting it entirely out. Though the agenda is full of Republican priorities like the voter restriction bill and anti-trans legislation, there are other items that could hurt them politically if not passed, such as a one-time check for Texas teachers. There’s also the fact that the members do have professional and personal obligations in Texas that are not being attended to as they stay in Washington.
Pressure may be getting to the Democrats. At least two members have already returned to Texas, though not enough to move the legislature along. A recent joint statement from the group stated that at least 26 members would remain to make the case in Washington, but rumors and reports show that some of the members are no longer in the nation’s capital. Now that a judge has blocked the arrest of Democrats when they return, it’s possible that the special session will eventually commence and do some business.
On the Republican side, though, little has changed. Even as Governor Greg Abbott’s political position weakens, he has stubbornly committed to the passage of the voting restriction bill. Unfortunately for him, the appearance of it as a naked grab for power becomes more and more clear.
Abbott has still not vowed to restore funding to the legislative branch, which he vetoed from the state budget after the Democrats walked out of the regular session to prevent the passage of the voter restriction bill. The move is widely seen as extortion, costing around 2,000 aides and legislative workers their paychecks come September. On top of that, his vow to keep calling special sessions and to arrest Democrats for leaving has had a distinctly authoritarian flavor.
More than anything, Abbott’s commitment to the voter bill is clearly more about maintaining Republican control in Texas than fighting voter fraud. Despite constant assertions from former President Donald Trump and allies like State Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Kingwood) that the 2020 election was rife with fraudulent election practices, no evidence has ever appeared in the court of state audits to back up the claim. Voter fraud in Texas and nationwide is statistically insignificant, especially when put up against the possible disenfranchisement of poor, disabled, and marginalized Texans that will almost certainly occur if the voter restriction bill is passed.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has already publicly stated if mail-in voting in Texas was widened, that Trump would not have won the state. As the electorate grows more purple than red, restricting voters from casting ballots becomes Republicans’ best option for holding total power in Texas. It’s no surprise that the current special session is dedicated to that goal with the midterm elections looming, but so far nothing of consequence has happened.