Anything is possible, but don’t count on it.
Voting rights advocates are celebrating Whitley’s forced departure, but said they have no illusions that his successor will be any more committed to upholding voting rights for all Texans.
“There is certainly every reason to believe that these types of voter suppression tactics will continue with the next nominee,” Anthony Gutierrez, executive director of the government watchdog group Common Cause Texas, told ThinkProgress.
Glen Maxey, legislative affairs director for the Texas Democratic Party, told ThinkProgress that Whitley had promised Democratic and Republican officials shortly after assuming office in January that he would run a fair election system.
Within weeks, however, Whitley drew up a list of nearly 100,000 people he wrongfully identified as non-citizens, saying they had to be deleted from voter rolls. Most, as it turns out, actually were U.S. citizens, and a federal judge blocked his plan to expunge the names.
Abbott — who himself has a long history of pushing voter suppression efforts — will now get to pick someone to replace Whitley as the state’s chief election official, a critically important position looking ahead to 2020.
Gutierrez said he was not overly optimistic that a change in personnel will lead to the end of Republican voter suppression efforts.
“Texas has a long history of using systemic obstacles to limit participation,” Gutierrez said. “I have no question that we’ll keep seeing a variety of voter suppression tactics until we have a greater number of legislators and statewide elected officials who want to see more Texans voting and participating in our democracy.”
Maxey said he believes the massive voter purge attempted by Whitley was probably the brainchild of Gov. Abbott or Attorney General Ken Paxton, and suspects that Whitley simply was carrying out orders.
“He did not come up with this plan on his own. He wasn’t even in office long enough to come up with it,” he said. “Either he was boldface lying to us or it was something that happened that was cast with his signature or his name attached.”
I think that’s probably right. At the very least, I think if Whitley had done all this on his own, and screwed it up in such spectacular fashion, he wouldn’t have Abbott and all the rest of the DPS-blaming enablers backing him. Ken Paxton surely had a hand in it as well. The best case scenario here is Abbott appoints someone competent and conscientious who actually does care about the integrity of the data, which leads them to stay away from hair-brained schemes to “cleanse” the voter rolls via noisy data and weak matches. The worst case scenario is that Abbott appoints someone who is competent at carrying out such a scheme. Either way, we can’t afford to ease up on vigilance.
On a related note, the Trib has a deep dive into how things went down in the Senate in the latter days as Abbott tried to get Whitley confirmed.
The pressure on the Democrats intensified as the legislative session pressed on. Some senators had received calls from business associates, clients and donors, who had apparently been nudged by the governor’s office to encourage them to back Whitley, and they were facing veto threats, said Sen. Borris Miles, a Houston Democrat who did not receive such overtures but said he heard from his colleagues about them.
But with the i’s dotted and the t’s soon to be crossed on Abbott’s top legislative priorities, his office made a final, last-minute push to sway Senate Democrats in the final days of the legislative session, multiple sources said.
And some Democrats whom Abbott hoped to turn were brought in individually. State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, was called to Abbott’s office on Saturday, where the governor asked her, in a one-on-one meeting, to support his nominee.
“He said he would like for me to vote for David, and I said that I couldn’t — I wished I could, but I couldn’t,” Zaffirini said in an interview this week. “I like David … and he’s a good person. But he made a terrible mistake.”
On Monday, two of her bills were vetoed — one to increase transparency at the State Commission on Judicial Conduct and one to allow for specialized courts for guardianship cases. Both had passed both chambers with near-unanimous support and were championed by Republican sponsors in the House.
“I was surprised to see them vetoed, and I was surprised to see the veto so early,” Zaffirini said, and she “disagreed” with the reasoning Abbott gave.
Miles, who said he wasn’t facing threats of vetoes, said tit-for-tat menacing would seem out of character for Abbott — a governor the Democrats say is generally professional. But he confirmed that some of his colleagues had clearly been targeted with pressure.
“Yes, there were runs at individual members, and we had to secure them and let them know this was not something we could go on without,” Miles said. “There were some threats of vetoing bills.”
On Sunday evening, the day before the Legislature had to gavel out, [Sen. Jose] Rodríguez said the Senate GOP Caucus Chair, Paul Bettencourt, came by to test the waters.
“At one point, he came over and said, ‘Would y’all be okay with the lieutenant governor calling up Whitley to take an up and down vote? He doesn’t want any questions or speeches. We know you have him blocked, but the governor wants a vote on it,’” Rodríguez recalled.
Rodríguez told Bettencourt that if a vote were called, he and other Democrats were prepared with “pages and pages” of questions, enough to delay for hours — effectively killing the bills still sitting vulnerable on the calendar on the last day the Senate could approve legislation.
Ultimately, no vote was called.
It’s worth reading. I know Abbott really likes Whitley and all, but I continue to be amazed that no one ever thought to advise him to take responsibility, admit his errors, apologize, and promise to do better. Did they not think it was necessary, did they think that some combination of sweet talk and veto threats would be enough, did they have some other strategy in mind? I wish I knew.