The biggest story in voting rights in the country right now is the absent Democratic members of the Texas House of Representatives. After having all their amendments shot down by Republicans eager to pass a massive voting restriction of voting rights and access, the Democrats fled the state to deny the House a quorum.
The move has angered Republican leadership. Governor Greg Abbott has already vetoed the legislature payout of the Texas budget in punishment for the Democrats walking off the floor during the regular session on this same issue. Now, Speaker of the House Dade Phelan is also retaliating. He has stripped speaker pro tem Joe Moody (D-El Paso) of his rank. Moody is widely seen as Phelan’s closest ally in the opposition party, and the move has likely damaged that relationship.
Moody, who is with the Texas Democrats in Washington D.C. lobbying congress to pass voter protections to circumvent state laws like the one being debated in Texas, took the action in stride.
“The most important titles in my life will never change: Dad, Husband, El Pasoan,” he said in response on Twitter. “Nothing political has ever even cracked the top three, so nothing has changed about who I am or what my values are.”
Abbott and Agriculture Secretary Syd Miller has called for stronger actions, such as stripping all absent Democrats from their committee assignments. Phelan seems unwilling to go that far as it breaks House rules.
Nonetheless, the heat is still being turned up on the Democrats. There have been threats to send the Texas Rangers to compel them to return, though the Rangers have no jurisdiction outside of the state. Some House Democrats are keeping a sense of humor about the whole thing. State Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston) in particular has enjoyed baiting law enforcement on Twitter, saying that he is definitely in the Texas Capitol and that officers should keep looking because they are getting warmer.
As of right now, the issue appears to be at a stalemate. Neither side is apparently willing to negotiate with each other, and the Democratic hope appears to be on pressuring the federal government to pass voter protections. That issue is stalled in the Senate with not enough votes to overcome a Republican filibuster. Conservative Democrats Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) currently stand in the way of eliminating the filibuster.
Abbott has threatened to continue calling special sessions if necessary to get his voter restriction plan passed, but he may not be in as strong a position as he appears. By Texas law, he can only call special sessions for specific issues, and the next one will almost certainly be about drawing new district lines following the release of the Census. Following that, Texas lawmakers will begin the scramble to compete in the primaries ahead of the 2022 midterms. Abbott also wants to pass a law punishing walkouts, but that as well will have to wait until the next session. In the meantime, the work of the state has ceased.