This Week in Statehouse Action: Don’t Mess with Session edition

This Week in Statehouse Action: Don’t Mess with Session edition

As an erudite consumer of this missive, you’ve likely heard about the Big Sexy state legislative news for the week, which is that Texas state House Democrats decided to derail that bogus special session I wrote about in this space last week.

Texas House Dems were able to bring that session—during which GOP Gov. Greg Abbott wants to pass that sweeping voter suppression bill, fight alleged social media “censorship” of Texans, combat the newly hatched right-wing bogeyman of teaching of critical race theory in schools, and prohibit transgender kids from competing on school sports teams that correspond with their gender identity—to an abrupt halt by leaving because, without at least 16 of those Democrats (the chamber is 84 R/66 D), the House doesn’t have a quorum.

(By the by, for those of you living normal lives and not obsessed with legislative machinations, a quorum is the minimum number of members required for a governing body to conduct official business.

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In the Texas legislature, two-thirds of the elected members constitute a quorum in each chamber.

So, for Texas lawmakers to do lawmaking, 100 members of the 150-seat House must be present, and 21 members of the 31-seat Senate must be present.)

So! On Monday, instead of convening in the state capitol, 57 of those Democrats just … left.

And most of them came to D.C., which is both politically smart and prevented them from being arrested and/or forcibly returned to the House floor by a very surly Abbott.

Texas Democrats are using their resistance to new voter suppression legislation in their state to 

Raise their profiles via media and event appearances

Raise money

Raise awareness of federal Democrats’ push to pass anti-voter suppression legislation at the national level.

The Texas Senate (18 R/13 D) met on Tuesday to pass Republicans’ elections-undermining bill, but just barely! The measure passed on a party-line vote of 18 to four, since nine Democratic senators had left Austin to join the House Democrats in D.C.

If two more had beat feet, the Senate wouldn’t have a quorum, either.

But as long as enough House Democrats stay away, it doesn’t matter; with the state House totally unable to take up bills from the Senate, anything passed in the upper chamber is symbolic.

Which … well, symbolism is important, actually!

Take those Texas House Democrats.

Stepping away from your job as an elected official is a big deal, no matter what the circumstance.

Sometimes it results in real concessions from the other side!

Take, for instance, the Oregon Senate GOP’s walkouts in 2019 and 2020.

Both of those quorum-denying stunts resulted in Republicans getting what they wanted: two separate environmental bills designed to slow climate change died, one in each session.

The GOP didn’t exactly get its way, though.

After the 2020 session concluded with no meaningful action to curb greenhouse gas emissions, Democratic Gov. Kate Brown signed an executive order that accomplished most of what the failed legislation would have.

So, ultimately, Oregon Republicans stunt was merely symbolic.

But really, what did they have to lose?

… we have an answer, actually: Nothing.

Because not only did not a single one of the Oregon Senate Republicans who walked out lose reelection, but the GOP actually picked up a seat in the chamber the subsequent November.

(They still can’t really block anything without a full-scale walkout, though—the Oregon Senate is 18 D/12 R.)

But!

My point is that hand-wringing about Texas Dems’ “endgame” is a waste of time and energy.

Maybe they wait out the rest of the 30-day special session and go home.

Maybe then Abbott calls another special session, and they do it all over again.

(Prediction: Abbott calls a special session in December so Democrats have to be away from their families during the holidays if they bounce again + normal Americans aren’t paying as much attention to politics because of those holidays, the House ends up with the quorum needed to do stuff, and an awful voter suppression bill ultimately passes in plenty of time for midterms.)

But … it doesn’t matter.

Texas Democrats should pull as many of these stunts as they have time, energy, and resources to.

Because next year, it won’t matter.

Why?

Redistricting.

Before the next round of congressional and (most) state legislative elections, new district maps are going to be drawn and implemented across the country.

And in the majority of states where lawmakers hold those map-drawing pens (including Texas), Republicans are in control of the process.

Which means, no matter what Texas Democrats do, their GOP colleagues are going to gerrymander the shit out of them.

No Democrat is safe.

No Democrat was safe before the Texas walkouts, and even if they walk out a dozen more times between now and the 2022 elections, it won’t matter.

Texas Republicans were always going to draw themselves as many safe legislative districts as possible, and they were always going to cram Democrats into as few legislative districts as possible.

In fact, the real question here is: Why aren’t more Democrats in GOP-controlled legislatures taking drastic measures to thwart Republicans?

If you’ve been reading me for, say, at least eight months or so, you’re likely aware that the 2020 elections were shit for down-ballot Democrats.

Instead of flipping a handful of legislatures—as many elections observers (including myself) expected—Democrats actually LOST two chambers (New Hampshire’s House and Senate, giving Republicans trifecta control of state government there).

Which sucked plenty on its own but spelled DOOM for legislative and congressional Democrats for the coming decade.

Right now, Democrats have majorities in just 37 legislative chambers, while Republicans control 62.

And after Republicans get to re-gerrymander their own states, those numbers are likely to become even more lopsided.

Because even if GOP gerrymandering doesn’t alter which party controls a chamber, it’s damn sure going to put it even further out of reach for Democrats to flip through 2030.

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