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Suppression Session: Texas Democrats Flee to D.C. to Block State Republican Voting Restriction Bill

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Image Credit: Twitter: @MsLaToshaBrown

We speak with one of the Texas Democrats who has fled the state to block the Republican-dominated Legislature from passing new voter restrictions in the battleground state, which already has some of the toughest voting rules in the country. Without the Democratic lawmakers, the Texas House won’t have enough members present to reach a quorum. “Republicans have simply turned a deaf ear and a blind eye to the needs of the citizens of Texas,” says Texas state Representative Jarvis Johnson. “We realized at that point there was no more negotiation that could be done, and we took the last tool in our toolbox.” We also speak with Gilberto Hinojosa, chair of the Texas Democratic Party, who says the Texas legislation’s aim is to “suppress the Hispanic, Mexican American and the African American vote.”

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StoryJul 14, 2021“We’re Staying Out”: Texas State Democrats Who Fled to D.C. Tell Congress to Pass Voting Laws Now
Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Texas House Democrats have fled the state and now landed in Washington, D.C., after fleeing Texas to stop a Republican-backed bill that makes it harder to vote in the battleground, that already has some of the toughest restrictions in the country. This comes after hundreds of Texans waited in line for hours over the weekend to speak out against the changes, which would include a ban on 24-hour polling places and drop boxes, and stop drive-thru voting. The Texas House is set to reconvene in a special session today — what critics call the “suppression session” — but without the Democrats, it won’t have enough members present to reach quorum.

Meanwhile, President Biden is set to deliver his first major speech on voting rights since Republicans deployed the filibuster to stall the sweeping voting rights bill, the For the People Act. Speaking in Philadelphia, he’ll lay out the “moral case” for voting rights and denounce Donald Trump’s “big lie” about a stolen election.

For more, we go to Washington, D.C., to speak with Jarvis Johnson, Texas state representative for District 139 in Houston, Texas. In Brownsville, Texas, we’re joined by Gilberto Hinojosa, chair of the Texas Democratic Party.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! So, state Representative Jarvis Johnson, can you talk about why you fled the state of Texas?

REP. JARVIS JOHNSON: Well, obviously, you’ve heard everything that we’ve already said. This is a suppressive session, where the governor and the Republicans have done everything they can to regulate and to put in place more restriction for voting. They created voting that takes us back to pre-the voting rights bill. And so, that’s why we’re here today to lobby with all of our federal legislators to ensure that we can pass the John Lewis Act, so that we can make sure that voting and voting integrity, true voter integrity, is available for all Americans, in particular, Texas.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain how it went down yesterday, the chartering the flights, getting on the planes. How many of you left? Fifty-one Texas state representatives?

REP. JARVIS JOHNSON: Well, more than 51 of us have already left. While we may not have converged on Washington, D.C., all together, but we all, in solidarity, have left and have made our way to D.C. to make sure that we can make sure that we stop this suppressive, oppressive bill that the Republicans are putting forth. This is not something that happened overnight. This is something that we have all had to talk about. We understood that, from the very beginning, while we’ve tried to negotiate, while we’ve tried to communicate, and certainly while we’ve tried to legislate, the Republicans have simply turned a deaf ear and a blind eye to those needs of the citizens of Texas. And so, we realized at that point there was no more negotiation that could be done, and so, therefore, we took our last tool in our toolbox, and we broke quorum, to make sure that the Republicans understand that we’re here to communicate and we’re here to negotiate, not simply to be bullied and pushed around by the Republicans and using bully tactics like stopping thousands of Americans’ salaries and insurance that the Republican governor has put in place to say that if we don’t vote the way he wants us to vote, that this is what he’s going to do to try to punish not Democrat legislators, but hard-working Texans on both sides of the aisle. And so, but we’re not here to be bullied, and we’re making sure that we’re standing tall and we’re going to stand strong. And we’re going to stand together.

AMY GOODMAN: So, explain the bill.

REP. JARVIS JOHNSON: It’s time to start negotiating real.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain the bill that has been put forward, that Republicans say they revised since the last time you all left, at the end of the session, to stop the passage of these voter suppression bills. Explain this new one.

REP. JARVIS JOHNSON: Well, number one, the only revisions that they have made is the lies that they first put forth. They said that it was a typo: It wasn’t 11:00; it was supposed to be 1:00, or vice versa. They said that they didn’t know that judges had the right to overturn elections without any type of evidence that there was fraud in place. And so, those are mistakes that they said that had been made.

But one of the things that people are overlooking is the fact that the Republicans have given power to poll watchers to simply go into polls and be disruptive, to simply intimidate not only poll election judges, but simply voters. And so, that is one of the biggest ones for me that I will stand strong against, because these remind me of days of yesteryear when there were intimidating factors, intimidating individuals standing at the polls, intimidating Black people as they were going to vote, standing with dogs or standing with police officers. And so, these are the type of efforts that we are going to stop, because those poll workers have the ability to be very disruptive inside these polling sites.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what can the federal government do? You have Biden going to Philadelphia. It was a lot of progressive Democrats who demanded he take — make this more high-profile, the whole issue of voting rights and the For the People Act. He didn’t give a major speech on voting rights the week that it was up for a vote; he gave a speech on crime. But now he’s going to Philadelphia to speak for the first time in a very focused way on this. What do you think the Democrats need to do in Congress that hasn’t been done yet, and President Biden himself?

REP. JARVIS JOHNSON: Become more unapologetic. Become what we need and what the Republicans have, quite frankly, always done. They have been unapologetic in their positions to get forth their legislation. And so we must do the same. We have to make sure that we’re protecting all American citizens and not simply our base. And that’s what Democrats certainly have always done, but we have to make sure that we push back on some of the hateful, harmful legislation that the Republicans have put forth. And we certainly need to get rid of the filibuster, to ensure that we can have a straight up-and-down vote, that we can get these things passed. But we must become more unapologetic and be straightforward with what we need to get done in order to protect all of our citizens in America.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring Gilberto Hinojosa into this conversation. You’re the head of the Democratic Party of Texas. Three-quarters of the Democratic legislators in Texas are either Latinx or African American. Can you explain the significance of this in light of what the Republicans are pushing through?

GILBERTO HINOJOSA: Yes. Well, that’s precisely the issue here. This legislation that the Republicans call legislation for voter integrity is not legislation for voter integrity; it’s voting legislation to suppress the Hispanic, Mexican American and the African American vote. And so, what the Republicans were asking our legislators to do is to sit in a session, give them a quorum, so that they could pass this voter suppression legislation designed to prevent Mexican American and African American voters from voting, which are the constituents of these Democratic state representatives that have gone to Washington to seek justice. In other words, they were asking them to be part of this process to take away the right to vote of their very own constituents. And that’s why they couldn’t have any part of that. That’s why they left. That’s why they came to Washington, D.C., to fight to ensure that Congress stops this legislation, not just in Texas, but all across the country, because what you’re seeing in Texas is the same thing you’re seeing in Georgia, in Florida, in Arizona and across the country, where these voting suppression bills are being advocated by the Republican Party.

This is something that is critical to our community. Our community is in a situation where we need economic help. We need help to ensure that we have access to healthcare. We need help to ensure that we have better schools in our community. And that can only happen when we are able to pass the legislation to do those things. And that can only happen when we elect Democrats that are going to be in that position. So, all of this is tied together. The Republicans do not want to let go of power, because they understand that once they do that, the Democrats are going to start passing legislation that is going to help the people of the state of Texas — African Americans, Hispanics, white Americans, Asian Americans, working families all across the state of Texas — on the critical needs of their families, on the issues that are important to the quality of life. And so, that’s why our legislators had no choice but to leave.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Chairman Hinojosa, Governor Abbott says he’s going to just keep calling these sessions, that they’re going to get this law passed. Can you stop it?

GILBERTO HINOJOSA: I believe we can, for a couple of reasons. I believe what Representative Johnson is doing, along with the other legislators, is critical. You know, the filibuster is a product of the — a creature of the Jim Crow era. It was a way that Southern white Republicans stopped civil rights legislation, voting rights legislation. So they need to get rid of this filibuster when it comes to voting rights legislation and allow these bills pending in Congress to pass to prevent this from happening. So we need this time.

But, secondly, I think people in the state of Texas are tired of Greg Abbott’s games. You know, he only responds to the right wing of his base. This is red meat that he’s feeding the right wing of his base. He’s got two right-wing Republicans running against him today, the former chair of the Republican Party in the state of Texas. They’re pushing him to do these kinds of things because he’s genuinely worried about being reelected or winning his own primary. And so, what I think is happening is people in the state of Texas are seeing this, and instead of repairing the grid, that you saw in the news a few months ago where people were freezing to death — we lost between 400 and 500 people in the state of Texas that literally froze to death because we didn’t have power because the electric grid in the state failed. Instead of trying to fix this, he’s dealing with these issues like voter suppression, like preventing transgender children from being able to engage in sports, in order to satisfy his base, instead of taking care of the needs of the people of the state of Texas. I believe the people in this state are going to get tired of this, and they’re going to tell Greg Abbott, “Why don’t you get down to our business instead of your right-wing business?” And —

AMY GOODMAN: Let me just end with —

GILBERTO HINOJOSA: Go ahead.

AMY GOODMAN: — Representative Johnson, who fled the state with the other scores of Texas representatives to stop what they’re calling the “suppression session.” And it’s the story of Hervis Rogers. The video of him went viral in social media for being the last person in line at Texas Southern University to cast a vote at 1 a.m. on Super Tuesday in March 2020. He was applauded as a tenacious, civic-minded man who worked hard to exercise his right to vote. Now he’s being prosecuted by the Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton, for allegedly voting illegally. He had once served time in prison years and years ago. The significance of this?

REP. JARVIS JOHNSON: The significance of this is it, again, reminds us of yesteryear. These are intimidating factors that they’re using to make sure that Black and Brown people will not vote. And if you do, this is what potentially can happen to you. The fact that Hervis Rogers was given a voter registration card straight out of prison by the prison system, and the fact that Hervis Rogers was never told that he could not vote, but then simply because Ken Paxton wants to use Hervis Rogers and many others as an example to intimidate, is what they are doing here, walking Hervis Rogers to the middle of the courtyard and showing everyone, “If you do this, this is what will happen,” and, on top of that, going to Montgomery County to place a $100,000 bond on his head, when in actuality today somebody shot a police officer and had a $75,000 bond placed on his head. So you understand what Ken Paxton, who, by the way, is under indictment himself, has the audacity to attack people like Hervis Rogers who are simply trying to exercise their civil right to vote.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us. We’ll continue to follow the Texas delegation who has left Texas to stop what they call the “suppression session.” Texas state Representative Jarvis Johnson and Gilberto Hinojosa, chair of the Texas Democratic Party.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, if Roe v. Wade doesn’t survive, can reproductive rights be preserved without it? We’ll speak with the authors of a new book called Controlling Women. Stay with us.

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