In an effort to prevent state Republicans from passing new voting laws, Texas Democrats on July 12 fled the state to avoid participating in a special legislative session. The fugitive lawmakers claim that the bill restricts the right to vote in Texas, though they have pointed to no specific proof in the proposed legislation that this is the case. The Democrats fled to Washington, D.C., where one of them, state Representative Chris Turner, said: “We are determined to kill this bill.”
Last month, the Democrats employed a similar tactic, staging a walkout to deny Republicans the opportunity to advance the election bill. Vice President Kamala Harris weighed in on the fight over the Lone Star State’s proposed new election laws, saying of those elected officials who have chosen not to participate in the legislative process: “They are leaders who are marching in the path that so many others before did, when they fought, and many died, for our right to vote.”
Lawmakers to Be Arrested?
Texas Governor Greg Abbott, however, put the absent Democrats on notice, telling Fox News’ Laura Ingraham: “Once they step back into the state, they will be arrested and brought back to the Capitol and we will be conducting business.”
Though Turner made it clear that Democrats, who flew maskless to the nation’s capital, plan to avoid participating until the current special legislative session ends early next month, the governor insisted that Republican efforts to get the bill passed would not be abandoned. “We have special sessions that last 30 days,” Abbott told Ingraham, “and the governor calls them – and I will continue calling special session after special session because, over time, it is going to continue until they step up to vote.”
On July 13, the Texas House voted 76-4 to send the sergeant-at-arms to detain or arrest the fleeing lawmakers.
The practice of legislators traveling out of state to deny their opponents a quorum to advance bills – which has become known in some circles as “fleebagging” – has occurred several times in recent years. The practice dates back to 1924, first used by Democrats in Rhode Island. In 2001, Oregon Democrats hit the road to hold up Republican redistricting legislation. Texas Democrats left the state in 2003, first going to Oklahoma and then to New Mexico, in an ultimately doomed attempt to prevent a Republican redistricting plan. In 2011, Democrats employed the tactic in several states, including Wisconsin and Indiana. Oregon Republicans fled to Idaho and Montana in 2019, trying to prevent the passage of a cap-and-trade bill. They did the same in 2020, over a climate bill, and then as recently as 2021 in objection to new COVID-19-related policies.
Read more from Graham J. Noble.