Quorum Be Damned: Why Some Texas Democrats Stayed in Washington D.C.

Texas Democrats have flown the coop.
Texas Democrats have flown the coop. Photo by Dale Honeycutt on Unsplash
Dallas state Rep. Jasmine Crockett is more than 1,500 miles away from work, but that doesn’t mean she’s playing hooky.

In July, Crockett and dozens of her Democratic colleagues left the state for Washington D.C. to block the passage of a GOP-backed elections bill. Yet while some have begun trickling back to report at the state Capitol, she’s one of the few who refuses to return.

The way Crockett sees it, Texas Republicans are dead set on passing legislation that would restrict access to the ballot box, especially for voters of color. Some have argued that Democrats who don’t like the legislation should do something to change it, but Crockett believes that the Republican majority wouldn’t have listened anyway.

“What am I going to do at the Texas Capitol except for provide my body for the purpose of being rolled over?” she said. “They only needed our bodies; they didn’t want our brains. They didn’t want to engage in what I would consider to be actual statesmanship.”

Republicans insist the controversial bill will make it easier to vote and harder to cheat, arguing it’s necessary to prevent voter fraud. Democrats, on the other hand, say it’s a transparent effort to retain the decades-long GOP foothold in an increasingly diverse state.

With the bill now on track to reach Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk, some Democratic state lawmakers are counting on Congress to intervene.

But it’s not just Democrats who are concerned about the bill.

After the Texas House advanced the legislation last week, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas sounded the alarm that democracy is in jeopardy. In a statement, the group wrote that the “voter suppression bill” will disproportionately target the elderly, voters of color, Texans with disabilities and those who don't speak English as their first language.

Crockett said she’s heard from lawmakers who have credited Texas Democrats with playing an integral role in the push for federal voting rights legislation. Last week, several of them met with U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who worked to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
Over the past few months, Republicans refused to be flexible on problematic legislation, Crockett argued, adding that many of her previous efforts to challenge legislation and file amendments were shut down. Without that willingness to compromise, she believes it’s better for her to be somewhere that could actually make a difference.

“I didn’t run for this office because I cared about a title; I ran for this office because I really wanted to effectuate some sort of good and change,” she said. “And going on that floor is not going to do it.”

Crockett isn’t the only North Texas lawmaker still in D.C. On Thursday, DeSoto state Rep. Carl O. Sherman Sr. counted his 46th day in Washington. He fears that democracy is at stake because some people want to remain in power.

Republicans are worried that shifting demographics could swing the dial in Democrats’ favor, Sherman said. The bill, which he said will empower poll watchers to look over voters’ shoulders, is part of a "political insurrection" happening nationwide with similar legislation.

Sherman noted that while the GOP majority says they back the blue, they also passed the “permitless carry” bill despite widespread opposition from law enforcement agencies statewide. In April, Dallas Police Department Chief Eddie Garcia spoke out against the legislation at the state Capitol. (It ultimately passed and will take effect on Wednesday.)

“If they don’t listen to law enforcement,” Sherman said, “they’re certainly not going to listen to me.”

Despite some Democrats’ Hail Mary effort, bad press has trailed the party since they broke quorum in July. Republicans have accused them of abandoning constituents to go on holiday — an accusation that was bolstered after two Democrats left D.C. to vacation in Portugal.

Later, some liberal lawmakers added to the drama themselves after they publicly criticized their colleagues who returned to Austin — a move that ultimately helped to restore a quorum. Crockett also doesn’t understand why they went back when Republicans “made it clear that they weren’t interested in negotiating.”

For her part, Crockett won’t be returning to the House floor for the remainder of the special session. She said she’s made a commitment to do all she can to usher in real change, not "putting on a dog and pony show."

And, “unlike the Republicans,” she’s not afraid of an election.

“I’m not concerned if somebody runs against me, I’m not concerned if I get beat,” she said. “Because if I get beat, that means that I didn’t do the job that the people wanted me to do, and therefore, I deserve to go home.”
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Simone Carter, a staff news reporter at the Dallas Observer, graduated from the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism. Her favorite color is red, but she digs Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.
Contact: Simone Carter