Democratic lawmakers in Texas staged a dramatic walkout to prevent the Republican-controlled Legislature from passing a sweeping bill to rewrite election laws in the state. Critics say the bill will lead to mass voter suppression, especially of Black and Latinx voters, by eliminating drive-thru and 24-hour voting, as well as ballot drop boxes. The Republican bill would also make it easier for elections to be overturned even if there is no evidence of fraud. Trey Martinez Fischer, a Democrat representing House District 116 in the state Legislature, says the legislation would have “a tremendous impact” on ballot access in the state. “Just like every bad policy, Hispanics, Latinos and Asian Americans will be disproportionately impacted,” Fischer says. “The time is now for a national response.”
AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Texas, where Democratic lawmakers staged a dramatic walkout Sunday night to prevent the Republican-controlled Legislature from passing a sweeping bill to rewrite election laws in Texas. Critics say the bill would lead to mass voter suppression, especially of Black and Latinx voters, by eliminating drive-thru and 24-hour voting, as well as ballot drop boxes and voting on Sunday. The Republican bill would also make it easier for elections to be overturned even if there’s no evidence of fraud.
Just before the state’s legislative session ended, Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan announced the bill had failed because there were not enough lawmakers present to reach a quorum.
SPEAKER DADE PHELAN: There are 86 ayes, zero nays. The motion to excuse fails for lack of quorum.
REP. TONY TINDERHOLT: Mr. Speaker?
SPEAKER DADE PHELAN: Mr. Tinderholt, for purpose?
REP. TONY TINDERHOLT: Parliamentary inquiry.
SPEAKER DADE PHELAN: Please state your inquiry.
REP. TONY TINDERHOLT: We take an oath at beginning of session, and we collect per diem, per day, to be here on the House floor to do our job on behalf of almost 30 million Texans. Am I seeing that we don’t have a quorum, and, essentially, it looks to me like the Democrats left the House floor, and they’re neglecting their duty that they swore an oath to make — to do?
SPEAKER DADE PHELAN: Mr. Tinderholt, that’s not a proper parliamentary inquiry. Not every person left the floor as part of a party or not. And —
REP. TONY TINDERHOLT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
AMY GOODMAN: The election bill could still be revived if Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott convenes a special session. Abbott has already threatened to veto a portion of the state budget used to pay lawmakers, following the walkout.
Many of the Democratic lawmakers who walked out gathered at the Mt. Zion Baptist Church, a Black church about two miles away. This is state Representative Nicole Collier, the chair of the Legislative Black Caucus.
REP. NICOLE COLLIER: We may have won the war tonight, but the battle is not over. We will continue to fight and speak out against those measures that attempt to silence our voices. They don’t want you to know the truth on that bill. They don’t want you to know how they don’t want — they don’t want to see you at the polls. They don’t want you to know that you have rights.
AMY GOODMAN: On Saturday, President Biden condemned the Texas legislation as “un-American,” saying, quote, “It’s part of an assault on democracy that we’ve seen far too often this year — and often disproportionately targeting Black and Brown Americans.” Speaking after the walkout, Texas state Representative Trey Martinez Fischer called on the president to do more.
REP. TREY MARTINEZ FISCHER: Mr. President, we need a national response, federal voting rights. Make no mistake: Voting is fundamental. It does not know your color. It does not know who you love. It does not know your ZIP code. But it’s our constitutional right, it is our god-given right, to exercise our right to vote. S.B. 7 would deny that right to many law-abiding Texans, simply because there are those who only wish to play gotcha politics with legislation. And you only have to look at the way they have tried to pass this bill. They tried to just ram it down our throats.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Texas state Representative Trey Martinez Fischer, speaking with other Democrats after the walkout. He joins us now from San Antonio.
Welcome to Democracy Now! Can you lay out the scene on Sunday night, why you all walked out, and what this bill represents, what it includes?
REP. TREY MARTINEZ FISCHER: Good morning, Amy.
Yes, Sunday night was a very emotional day, as the president of the United States put the eyes of the nation on Texas, calling S.B. 7 “un-American.” And really, when you get down to it, this is going to have a tremendous impact on voters, all voters in the state of Texas. But just like every bad policy, Hispanics, Latinos and Asian Americans will be disproportionately impacted. And so, as we sort of came to a head at that Sunday evening, members of the African American Caucus, Black Caucus, our Hispanic Caucus, we came together behind a closed door, and we met as a family, and we really just had a very emotional conversation. And we understood the consequence of this bill, and we also recognized the duty that we had to defend our constituents.
And we made the decision, right then and there, that we would use the nuclear option. We had all tools in our tool box. But if they intended to stop this debate, if Republicans intended to silence our voices, we knew that we can use the power of the quorum to walk out and not only speak to these Republicans for the way they are handling this bill in the Texas Legislature, but we want to wake up the nation to understand that if you’re going to go to Georgia and silence voters, and then move to Florida and silence their voices, once you steamroll us here in Texas, Republicans will march all across this country and take away people’s right to vote. And this is time — the time is now for a national response, and that’s why we have humbly asked the president of the United States, we’ve asked our United States Congress, we need a For the People Act. We need a John Lewis Voting Rights Act. We need a national response, and we need it now.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Representative Martinez, I wanted to ask you, in terms of the demographic changes, for people across the country to understand the importance of Texas and expansion of voting rights there. The state currently is about 58% people of color — 40% Hispanic, 13% Black, 5% Asian? What would it mean for Texas to have full participation of all of its residents in voting? What would it mean at the national level in terms of politics?
REP. TREY MARTINEZ FISCHER: Well, Juan, it’s a game changer. I mean, you just hit the nail on the head. I mean, we have the largest African American population in the country, one of the largest Latino populations in the country. That’s significant. You know, we always said that S.B. 7, this voter suppression bill, is a solution looking for a problem. There is a problem out there, Juan. And the problem is Texans are voting. The problem is we are voting, but we’re not voting for Republicans. And so, you know, knowing what they know, they have made a decision to put a target on our backs, silence our voices, so that they can maintain that grip on power.
I mean, it’s just — it’s ironic that we celebrated Memorial Day yesterday to honor soldiers who go defend freedom and democracy around the world, but yet when those soldiers come home to Texas, they cannot go to their church, participate in their faith, and then leave to go vote, because Senate Bill 7 would eliminate the Souls to the Polls program by limiting the time you could vote on a Sunday. And that’s a shame.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And isn’t Texas also the state that gave birth to the Southwest Voter Registration Project — Willie Velásquez, who was the prime voting rights advocate of the Mexican American community? And could you talk about that legacy, that Texas has more Hispanic officials, elected officials, than any other state in the country?
REP. TREY MARTINEZ FISCHER: You know, listen, you’re warming my heart this morning. I mean, Willie Velásquez, I live in the same neighborhood that he lived in, you know, Matt Garcia, Congressman Henry B. González. I mean, San Antonio has always had a birthplace for civil rights and social justice, and we work in partnership with African Americans to have a strong and proud minority voice.
And really, you know, it’s really those teachings that brought us in a room with senior Democrats. And so, I convened what we called the Black and Brown Summit along with state Representative Senfronia Thompson, who is the longest-serving member Democrat in the House — we call her the “mother of the House” — as well as Representative Yvonne Davis, an African American from Dallas. And we came together as senior members to say, “You know what? This is the Rubicon that we need to cross, and we need to have a family discussion to live up to the legacy of the people who were there before us, to stand up and do what’s right for our constituents.”
AMY GOODMAN: Representative Trey Martinez Fischer, can you talk about Greg Abbott saying he’s calling for a special session? He didn’t even do that during the massive storm, with the total electricity, you know, failure. But he’s going to do that for this? And what does this have to do with the election for governor in 2022?
REP. TREY MARTINEZ FISCHER: Well, you know, the campaign season is already — it’s already began here in Texas. And I think this is part of the script, part of the narrative. You know, the governor threatening a special session — you know, you’re right, did not call a single special session for COVID, in the response to COVID. Of the 10 largest mass shootings in the country, four of them were in Texas. The governor didn’t bring us back to deal with that. And then you’re talking about Hurricane Harvey. You’re talking about Winter Storm Uri, that gave four-and-a-half million people no electricity in their homes, 15 million people without water. And yet he wants to bring us back to play politics? That’s his prerogative. That tells me that he sees something in the polls that makes him a little nervous with his Republican base. But you’re not going to play politics on the backs of Hispanics and African Americans. We will do everything in our power to stand up for our right to vote and to stand up for our constituents.
AMY GOODMAN: At the same time that you had your walkout on Sunday, this weekend was the QAnon conference in Dallas, where former General Michael Flynn spoke and said there should be a military coup — though he denies that now, but it’s on tape — and also said Trump won the election and the Electoral College vote. This is the atmosphere in Texas right now? And what are you going to do if there is a special session? What are Democrats going to do?
REP. TREY MARTINEZ FISCHER: Well, you know, the same rules we have in the regular session apply in the special session, a quorum being one of them. We have been behind a closed door for 140 days. We are a citizen legislature, so people have jobs, people have families. And so, when you time that session, you better hope that you’re going to have full attendance, because if you don’t have a quorum, you can’t meet.
And then, number two, there are lots of items on the table when it comes to how we engage in debate, how we use the use of parliamentary procedure. S.B. 7 is an ugly voting rights bill. It had a counterpart in the House in House Bill 6. Texas Democrats were able to take the sharp edges off of House Bill 6 and to push forward a policy that wouldn’t put people in jail, and it wouldn’t suppress the vote as severely as Senate Bill 7. You know, I hope cooler heads prevail and that we can get in a room and talk. But if people don’t want to talk, we’re prepared to fight. And I hope you’ll maintain a close eye on the deliberations once we go back to special session.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Representative, I wanted to ask you about another issue. In recent news from Texas, Governor Greg Abbott is expected to sign a recently passed bill which would allow Texans to carry handguns openly in public without a permit? Can you talk about that?
REP. TREY MARTINEZ FISCHER: Yeah, I mean, I guess it’s going back to the days of the Wild West. There is just this notion that it’s impossible to get a license to carry a concealed weapon. You know, so, I mean, this is just part of the same culture politics, that Republicans want to come to session, they don’t want to deal with the winter storm, they don’t want to deal with the fact that we have the highest uninsured population in the country, they don’t want to govern responsibly, but they want to come up and talk about how to suppress the vote, how to promote anti-abortion legislation, and they also want to talk about how you can just carry your gun just about anywhere.
And so, you know, listen, this is what we call part of the silly season of politics. Nobody is against responsible gun ownership. But the fact that the law enforcement community in the state of Texas was unanimous about we cannot have people walking around the streets with weapons and limiting our right to ask questions, you know, is just another sign of what Republicans want to concentrate on, which is nothing that average Texans care about.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, you’re calling on Biden to do more. You’ve got this issue of eliminating the filibuster, Manchin and Sinema — next door to you, in Arizona, Senator Sinema — saying they don’t want it eliminated. This would also mean a protection of voting all over the country. Your final comment?
REP. TREY MARTINEZ FISCHER: You know, what we have seen in the past, whenever we have a unified Congress and the administration, time is limited. And so we need to put our priorities and put them at the forefront. I have seen a number of discussions about how you can eliminate or limit the filibuster. And I certainly hope — I mean, Senator Sinema would know. In her state of Arizona, a state law put a citizenship requirement on Arizona voters, and they saw a tremendous drop in voter turnout with Latinos.
This is what’s happening across the country, and we need a national response. This is the time to not think about our local politics or what bothers us as an individual. We need to think about what brings us together as a country. And bringing us together as a country is to make sure that every American, regardless of their color, regardless of who they love, regardless of where they live, they ought to have a right to vote, without being bothered or pestered or having suppression tactics thrown in their face. And so, with all due respect to Senator Manchin and Senator Sinema, it is time to have a national response to federal voting rights.
AMY GOODMAN: Texas state Representative Trey Martinez Fischer, Democrat representing San Antonio, joined other Democrats in walking out of the Texas state Legislature Sunday night and stopping a voter suppression bill from being passed, at least for now. We’ll continue to cover what happens.
Coming up next, we look at the severe undercounting of deaths of people of color by Law enforcement. Stay with us.