“This is how Texas Democrats lose elections,” Rep. Michelle Beckley (D-Carrollton) tweeted when the Texas House fulfilled the quorum.
The long fight in the Texas House of Representatives to block a Republican bill looking to restrict voter rights and access came to an end Friday when enough Democrats returned to the chamber to form a quorum. The bill passed 88-41 on party lines. Immediately, rumors began circulating that the Democrats who broke ranks and returned to Austin may have been looking to cut deals to protect themselves from the imminent redistricting.
During the regular session of the legislature, Democrats in the House staged a mass walkout in order to kill a vote on the election bill, which would have restricted poll hours, mail-in voting initiatives, and drive-thru voting. The Texas law is considered the most draconian of the “election integrity” bills that were penned by Republicans in state legislatures following the defeat of former President Donald Trump amid still-unproven allegations of mass voter fraud.
When Governor Greg Abbott launched a special session to try to pass the bill again, the Democrats fled the state entirely to deny the House a quorum. They successfully waited out the first special session, but members began trickling back into Austin during the second.
The quorum was finally achieved by the return of three Houston representatives: Garnet Coleman, Ana Hernandez, and Armando Walle. Coleman was actually not in exile in Washington D.C. like his colleagues but recuperating from leg surgery at home.
The timing of the return was somewhat suspicious. The three representatives came back almost immediately after the results of the 2020 Census were made public and showed that their districts were possibly to be more contested in 2022 than in previous years thanks to redistricting.
Coleman’s District 147 has been one of the most reliably Black districts in Houston for more than a decade. However, the latest data shows that the Black voting age population dropped from 39 percent in 2010 to 33 percent, with Hispanics of voting age making up the difference as the population did not grow or shrink significantly. That means that Coleman could possibly be in danger of a primary challenger, though probably not a Republican one in the general.
Coleman denies that his return to the chamber was part of a deal to have his district beneficially drawn.
“No deals were made,” he says. “My district will continue to elect a Black Democrat after redistricting. I don’t log roll. It’s illegal in Texas. You cannot exchange things for something of value. I would never do that. That is not the case. I could be reelected in that district. If I win the primary, I win the general election.”
As for Hernandez and Walle, they may have a different set of troubles. Their districts (Hernandez 143 and Walle 140) are two of the ones that have been declared underpopulated. Their boundaries will likely be changed to add people from other districts to bring them up to proper levels. This means that some significant new lines will be drawn. For Hernandez in particular, that could include some of District 128, a Republican stronghold currently represented by Briscoe Cain.
Both Hernandez and Walle did not respond to email inquiries for comment on the matter. Whatever their motivations, their return has brought some fairly vicious condemnation from their Democratic colleagues.