On Tuesday, the Texas Senate passed its version of a Republican voter suppression bill to limit voting rights in Texas. The Senate passed the contentious elections bill one day after more than 51 House Democrats and nine state senators decamped to Washington, D.C. in an attempt to prevent floor consideration in either chamber.
Democrats were successful in the House, but despite the best efforts of Democratic Senate leaders, the Senate was able to meet a quorum of 22 state senators, because four Senate Democrats refused to leave the state and were instead present in the chamber.
One of those senators is John Whitmire, a Democrat from Houston, and the longest-serving member of the Democratic caucus. It isn’t Whitmire’s first time preventing Democrats from breaking quorum, as he’s previously undermined his colleagues’ legislative strategies.
The last time quorum calls were used to prevent the passage of controversial legislation was 2003, when Democrats mobilized to block the passage of an extremely partisan redistricting plan. After initially leading Democrats to decamp for New Mexico, with the support of then-Governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson, Whitmire shocked his colleagues by reappearing in Texas, allowing Republicans to pass the redistricting plan which was later overturned by the federal courts.
There were several rumors associated with Whitmire’s 2003 defection, ranging from the political to the salacious, and this time several capitol observers believe politics is driving his decision. Regardless, his defection led many Democrats to refer to him as a backstabber and in a play off his surname, referred to him as “Quitmire.”
As the Texas Monthly reported at the end of this session, when ranking Senate Democrats as the “Worst”, Senate Democrats had complained to Lt. Governor Dan Patrick about being excluded from budget talks, and he responded by implying he would strip their members of their committee assignments, so the Democrats immediately backed down.
Perhaps Mr. Whitmire is focused on maintaining his leadership position in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, but if the committee moves whatever the Republicans want, there is no measurable effect of him holding the gavel.
Now, because of Mr. Whitmire and other Senate defections, the voting suppression bill has moved through the Senate. The only tactic Democrats have left to protect Texas voting rights is holding the House Democrats together to prevent the passage of similar legislation in the House.