Killeen area residents are reacting to the nationwide news of Texas Democrats flying to Washington, D.C., this week, breaking quorum in the Texas House of Representatives during the special session aimed to address state elections laws and other issues.
Rep. Brad Buckley, R-Salado, referred to the Democrats flight to D.C. as “political theatrics.”
“They flew away on private jets, loaded down with beer and snacks, and they’re having a grand old time in Washington, D.C.,” said Buckley, a Killeen veterinarian. “You know, the people’s business for Texas is done in Texas, and they need to be here.”
Nancy Boston, chair of the Republican Party of Bell County, said she was disappointed by the Democrats’ decision to break quorum.
“I think it’s a shame the people who were elected skipped the state; they’re not doing their duty. I think it’s below the dignity of the Texas Legislature to do that — to break quorum,” Boston said in a phone interview Tuesday. “If they don’t want to do the job, they shouldn’t run for it.”
Boston said she is hopeful that the members will return and things will be sorted out and solved before the special session ends.
The first called session began at 10 a.m. Thursday with an agenda of 11 items from Gov. Greg Abbott. Among the focus items were the proposed voting laws.
Texas Democrats have stated that they broke quorum to protest the proposed voting laws.
Harker Heights resident Rick Beaulé, the outgoing president of the Killeen Educators Association, said the decision of the Democrats to break quorum may have been their only recourse.
“Because of the fact that there is not filibuster in the Texas Senate, due to their changing the rules, this is in essence the only way to enact any sort of filibuster,” said Beaulé, who testified against the proposed voting laws in Austin on Saturday.
Chris Rosenberg, the chair of the Bell County Democratic Party, agreed.
“Since it was clear that Texas House Republicans intended to force bad legislation through, the only way for Texas Democrats to stop it was to deny a quorum in the Texas House,” she said via email Tuesday.
The action to deny quorum is in response to the Republicans attempting to push the legislation through “under the spurious rubric of ‘election integrity’, ” Rosenberg said.
“The Texas Secretary of State commented that the 2020 election was secure and well-run,” she said. “Nonetheless, Texas Republican legislators are attempting to craft bills, in secret, behind closed doors, that align with the National Republican message that, somehow, the 2020 election was rife with widespread fraud that must be countered, and the Big Lie that the 2020 election was rigged and ‘stolen.’”
Rep. Hugh Shine, R-Temple, said the lack of a quorum prevents all work from being done.
When there is not a quorum, it prevents lawmakers from meeting in committee or voting on proposed legislation, the House District 55 legislator explained in a phone interview Tuesday.
“Committees cannot meet, bills cannot be referred, nothing can be discussed of any consequence,” Shine said.
Fifty representatives left the state to go to Washington, D.C. on Monday.
Shine said that 80 members of the House “clocked in” on the House floor Tuesday morning, 20 short of the 100 needed for a quorum.
“We have a duty and a responsibility as elected members of the Legislature to fulfill the obligation that we have to debate public policy issues, and this has basically stalled that from occurring by not having the quorum,” Shine said.
Buckley has said in previous speaking engagements that proposed legislation would increase early voting hours and return voting practices to the way they were before the coronavirus pandemic.
“They are engaged in, I think, mischaracterizing what’s in the election bill,” Buckley said of the Democrats opposed to it.
In the special session, the voting law legislation has been designated at Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 3.
On Saturday, Beaulé testified against both bills when legislators held public hearings for them.
“To my mind, you cannot restrict access to voting in the name of trying to protect it,” Beaulé said Tuesday. “You find a way to protect it without restricting it; they don’t go together.”
He said he asked committee members on the dais if they believed that the chance of fraud increases depending on the hour or day at which someone votes. He said he asked them if they can’t answer or the answer is “no,” “why do those bills take that away?”
This is the second time Texas House Democrats denied quorum over the voting laws. They did so on the second to last day of the regular session on May 30. They returned the next day for the final day of the session.
Shine said this time is different than the first, however.
“By doing that and being gone during the special session — early in the special session — we don’t have a quorum, and the Legislation is unable to conduct any business whatsoever without a quorum,” he said.
Shine described it as being a “deadlock.”
In response to the breaking of quorum, Shine said that Speaker of the House Rep. Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, issued two directives: that all representatives who were present on Tuesday morning remain in the House chamber until released and that the members who left be “arrested” and brought back to the House upon their return to the state.
Shine said members were released shortly after 2:30 p.m. Tuesday on condition that they return at the next appointed time.
Speaking to the order of “arrest,” Beaulé said it is important to know that while their leaving violates the agreed upon rules of the Texas House, it is not a criminal charge.
“The action that they did, while it does violate House standing rules, it does not constitute a criminal violation of law,” Beaulé said.
Rosenberg said Texas Democrats stand ready to return and work with their Republican colleagues to craft legislation to benefit all Texans.