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Day 9 quorum busting post: See you in August

Here’s your endgame, more or less.

Texas House Democrats will not return to the state until after the special session of the Legislature is over, one of the leaders of their walkout confirmed Tuesday.

State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, said they expect to return to Texas on Aug. 7 — when the 30-day special session aimed at passing new voting restrictions is required to end.

“It will be our plan on that day — on or about — to return back to Texas,” Martinez Fischer told advocates of a group Center for American Progress Action Fund, that is led by former White House Chief of Staff John Podesta, a Democrat. “Then we will evaluate our next option.”

[…]

He said Democrats want to soften some of the “sharp edges” of the voting restrictions Republicans are proposing — specifically, how the GOP bill enables felony charges against election officials who violate its provisions, as well as for people who help voters fill out their ballots without the proper documentation, even for inadvertent offenses.

“There really has been no attempt to negotiate in good faith,” he said. “We are all putting our hopes in a federal standard.”

Other Texas Democrats have said their plan right now is to keep their caucus unified and focused on spurring national action. State Rep. Ann Johnson, D-Houston, said Abbott’s threats to have them arrested or to call more special sessions don’t mean much to her.

“Our presence here together ensures that those Texans who are not being heard by Gov. Greg Abbott continue to be stood up for,” Johnson said.

Democrats on Tuesday said while in Washington, they are pushing for a meeting with President Joe Biden and were continuing to meet with key leaders. That included a strategy session with U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, a top leader in the House from South Carolina.

But if the Texans are counting on Congress acting, they don’t have much time. The U.S. House goes on its annual August recess starting July 30 and the U.S. Senate leaves a week later. Neither returns to Washington until after Labor Day.

When Texas Democrats do finally return, Abbott has made clear he’ll call them back into special session again to pass an elections bill and other key priorities of Republicans who control the agenda in state politics. The Texas Constitution allows the governor to call as many special sessions as he wants, but each cannot last for more than 30 days.

It’s the Senate that matters, and their recess (assuming Majority Leader Chuck Schumer allows it in full) corresponds to the end of Special Session #1. The House is not the problem for the Dems. Same story, different day.

Timing may be a problem for Greg Abbott, as Harvey Kronberg suggests.

HK: Article X Veto may have compromised full Republican control of redistricting

In theory at least, Democrats may have leverage they should not otherwise have; Article X cannot be revived without a special and with a hard August 20 deadline looming, the Legislature is on the edge of mutually assured destruction

“The Democrats’ claims about the governor’s veto ‘cancelling’ the legislative branch are misleading and misguided. The Constitution protects the legislative branch, and as the Democrats well know, their positions, their powers and their salaries are protected by the Constitution. They can continue to legislate despite the veto” – Gov. Greg Abbott, responding to the Democrats’ Texas Supreme Court request to overturn his Article X veto.

Let’s be clear up front.

The conventional wisdom is that although there is a threat of arrest upon arrival, the House Democrats will come back at some point and watch Republicans pass some version of their election bill. A substantive question is whether the bill becomes more punitive due to Republican anger over the quorum break.

Let’s not bury the lede here. The House is boiling and Governor Abbott’s veto of legislative funding could conceivably lead to Republican loss of control in redistricting. While there is much chest beating and both feigned and real anger over the quorum bust, it camouflages a much bigger issue.

The rest is paywalled, but I was able to get a look at it. The basic idea is that per Comptroller Glenn Hegar, the state has until August 20 to reinstate legislative funding for the software to be updated in time to write checks for the next fiscal year beginning September 1. If that hasn’t happened by then, the Texas Legislative Council, which does all of the data crunching for redistricting, goes offline. No TLC, no ability to draw new maps. Pretty simple, as far as that goes.

What happens next is unclear. If the Lege can’t draw maps, that task falls to a federal court for the Congressional map. They wouldn’t have the needed data, and they wouldn’t have a default map to use as a basis, since the existing map is two Congressional districts short. The Legislative Redistricting Board draws the House, Senate, and SBOE maps if the Lege doesn’t, but they wouldn’t have data either, and per Kronberg “the LRB cannot constitutionally convene until after the first regular session in which census numbers have been received. (Article 3, Section 28).” Which is to say, not until 2023. You begin to see the problem.

Now maybe funding could be restored quickly, if Abbott were to call everyone back on August 8 or so. But maybe some TLC staffers decide they don’t need this kind of uncertainty and they move on to other gigs. Maybe Abbott declares another emergency and funds the TLC himself, though that may open several cans of worms when the litigation begins. Maybe the Supreme Court gets off its ass and rules on the line item veto mandamus, which could settle this now. Indeed, as Kronberg points out, the amicus brief filed by the League of Women Voters is expressly about the failure of the Lege to do its constitutional duty in the absence of funding for the TLC.

There are a lot of things that could happen here, and Kronberg is just positing one scenario. His topline point is that any outcome that includes a court drawing maps is a big loss for Republicans, for obvious reasons. Does that provide some incentive for “good faith negotiation”, if only as a risk mitigation for the Republicans? I have no idea.

One more thing:

When Texas Democrats staged a walkout at the end of the regular legislative session in late May, they successfully killed Republicans’ prized bill: a slew of restrictions on voting statewide. Or that’s how it seemed at the time, at least.

Less than three weeks later, Gov. Greg Abbott announced a special legislative session specifically aimed at passing an equivalent version of the so-called election integrity bill alongside other conservative legislative priorities.

The same day Abbott announced his plan for the special session, AT&T, whose CEO has said the company supports expanding voting rights nationwide, gave Abbott $100,000 to fund his reelection campaign.

[…]

In April, AT&T CEO John Stankey told The Hill that the company believes “the right to vote is sacred and we support voting laws that make it easier for more Americans to vote in free, fair and secure elections.”

In an email, an AT&T spokesperson said, “Our employee PACs contribute to policymakers in both major parties, and it will not agree with every PAC dollar recipient on every issue. It is likely our employee PACs have contributed to policymakers in support of and opposed to any given issue.”

How could the left hand possibly know what the right hand is doing? It’s a mystery, I tell you.

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10 Comments

  1. SocraticGadfly says:

    I’ve already thought this WAS the endgame, sending redistricting to the courts; I just didn’t know that fiscal matters from Abbott’s veto of Lege funding could force that.

  2. Mainstream says:

    It is not evident to me that redistricting would end up in federal courts rather than state courts.

  3. BillK says:

    51 Democratic House reps need to be out to prevent a quorum, but it doesn’t need to be always the same 51. They should rotate the member in and out to ease the burden on them and keep up the pressure on the Republics.

  4. BillK says:

    51 Democratic House reps need to be out to prevent a quorum, but it doesn’t need to be always the same 51. They should rotate the member in and out to ease the burden on them and keep up the pressure on the Republics.

  5. Kibitzer says:

    BillK (Bill King?) makes a good point. They can take turns boycotting the Lege.

    Hadn’t thought of it. Which would also weaken the argument that they are playing hooky, which is not a compelling charge to begin with, given that their absense from the Texas Lege serves a political purpose, and given that they are advocating (albeit in a different forum) for their constitutents — thus working — in lieu of sitting in the Texas House to be steamrolled by the Republican majority.

    WHAT ABOUT BEING TUFF ON CRIME IN TIME FOR THE NEXT ELECTION?

    Dallas Morning News yesterday also added something relevant regarding the Tex-Dems remaining leverage apart from the quorum-denial gambit and the bid to get a federal bill passed to preempt state “election integrity” legislation:

    A substantial bail reform — one of the Republican priorities — would require a constitutional amendment, and constitutional amendment require a 2/3 vote in House and Senate, which they don’t have. So, some bi-partisan support would be needed to pass such a resolution. That would only matter if there is enough in the bail bill that makes it worth supporting for at least a few Democrats, of course. But it might be in the Dems’ interest to do so, for otherwise they are going to be even more vulnerable on the matter of rising crime going into the 2022 election season.

    Basic info on amendment processs here: https://ballotpedia.org/Texas_Constitution

    NOTA BENE: The current Texas Constitution was adopted in 1876 and has been amended 507 times. Just for perspective when your hear certain politicians invoking the constitution as an argument why things must not change, or why we should regress, rather than progress.

  6. Bill Daniels says:

    WHAT ABOUT BEING TUFF ON CRIME IN TIME FOR THE NEXT ELECTION?

    “A substantial bail reform — one of the Republican priorities — would require a constitutional amendment, and constitutional amendment require a 2/3 vote in House and Senate, which they don’t have.”

    For purposes of making political hay, it doesn’t matter if they solve the problem, it just matters that they are on the popular side of the issue.

    Just like with the red light cameras, the more average citizens that are negatively impacted by crime, the more people are going to be upset about it and vote accordingly.

    The Dems have staked out their position of no cash bail, and a revolving door at the jail where even defendants who keep on being rearrested for new crimes walk. They are open and public about that position, they really can’t walk it back now, even if they want to. They’re stuck with that.

    Their R counterparts then benefit every time some poor schmuck gets his car burglarized, house robbed, is raped, assaulted, or otherwise victimized. Obviously, black on black crime is excepted from this. Black victims will keep voting for Dems, of course, but Houston is very diverse, and crime victims who are NOT black are going to start become discontented with the leadership that made it easy for them to be victimized in the first place.

    In politics, we talk about “dinner table issues,” things that impact normal, regular people. Crime is a dinner table issue.

  7. Kibitzer says:

    Red meat and blue: Murder meat now on the menu in a polling place near you.

    CRIME VICTIMS AND CRIME WATCHERS AS VOTERS

    Bill, I don’t know about you, and if you even have someone to talk to at the dinner table. As for the perspective of this Kibitzer & Co., there are some things we can do ourselves, like installing a video security/door bell system, keeping guns in the house (just in case), and exercising ordinary prudence when out and about.

    Violent crime, however, is not on the menu or on the dinner table. It’s mostly on the flat screen. Local news and popular police procedurals. Not to mention war movie reruns at night. WWI, WWII, Vietnam, Desert Storm, not to mention Scotch, Irish, Romans, sundry emperors, warlords and conan destroyers, and whatnot. Take your pick. As much violence readily available as suits anyone’s fancy or appetite for gore. Not just violent crime of the quotidian type. Slasher flicks and epic Lone Star chain-saw massacres too.

    Schlitterbahn with chick-slicing blades anyone? Piranha IV, Lake Travis?

    We have seen it all. Or at least enough of it. So why should we all get worked up so much about a some more of the bloody red salsa stuff?

    And isn’t this a red state?

    THE RISE IN CRIME (-THEMED CAMPAIGN MESSAGING)

    Speaking more statistically and dispassionately, deceased crime victims don’t vote, and the survivors don’t necessarily blame the mayor or the local judge for their loss (though some do). Many will instead blame the person that did the shooting or the robbing, or the raping, and that’s quite reasonable, not to mention that it comports with traditional notions of criminal responsibility.

    It’s a troubling sign of the zeitgeist that political opponents are now held responsible for violent crime, rather than criminals. (With respect to the bail issue, of course, the reference population would be *accused* criminals, not convicts).

    INCIDENCE OF VICTIMIZATION AND ELECTION MATH  

    In any event, in terms of numbers of violent crime, they are small relative to the entire electorate. The standard measure would be the crime victimization rates, though they may not be fully up-to-date. So, Bill’s proposition is not off the wall. It can be tested with reference to data. But even if you just go by the raw numbers, if you have 500 homicides, that’s awful – no argument — but it’s a minute percentage when the entire population is – say – 5,000,000, or half that as far as the active voter component.

    To make political hay, you can’t just limit yourself to the survivors of the deceased as a target constituency. Much rather, it’s all about hyping the crime issue to create a perception of insecurity, if not doom, and about influencing voting behavior by fomenting fear among the population at large.

    There just aren’t enough fresh crime victims to sway an election, especially not dead ones that can no longer cast a ballot.

    And to convince family members of crime victims that the Democrats or Republicans are at fault – and get them to successfully push that narrative — will require some serious and sustained propaganda efforts and cooperation of the mass media.

    Not to mention convicing rape victims that they really got screwed by Mayor Turner or County Judge Higalgo, or by one or the other of the disproportionately black/female criminal court judges in Harris County.

    This Kibitzer would say: Preposterous!  
     
    Though that may by now merit the status of a minority viewpoint. Alas.

  8. Bill Daniels says:

    Wolf,

    Why are you ignoring property crimes in your assessment? Yes, murder is probably the most serious crime we can talk about, and yes, even with the marked increase in murders, the number of families impacted by murder is small.

    So yes, very few will know the anguish of losing a loved on to murder. But lots of us know the anguish of being burglarized, having their cars stolen or broken into. Lots of small businesses know the heartache of working their asses off, only to have their merchandise disappear to shoplifting. The number of crime victims is a lot more than just murder victims and their families.

    Again, this is a simple binary choice…..vote for party that supports and lionizes criminals (and fights hard to release them with no bail over and over and over again), or for the party of law and order. How do you think Aracely Henriquez feels, seeing murals and statues commemorating her attacker all over the country?

    Harris County was sold the no bail Kool-Aid, that it was going to be used for first time criminals with low level charges.

    How it started:

    No point in keeping somebody in jail for littering or shoplifting a Twinkee, if they can’t afford the bail, and they’ve never been in trouble before.

    How it’s going:

    https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/Bail-for-murder-suspect-who-had-7-prior-bonds-set-16319423.php

    And for every case of no bond people being released and committing a murder, there are thousands more cases of no bond people committing lesser offenses. If you walk out in the morning to find your catalytic converter on your car missing because the guy who did it was released with no bail, you must admit it’s within the realm of possibility that that theft will be the topic of discussion at your kitchen table.

  9. Kibitzer says:

    Anecdotally, totally: Burglar-Besting

    Bill, we keep the car in the garage, and there is insurance for property damage if the property is worth insuring. Had multiple bikes stolen over the years, and didn’t necessarily bother to report it. Okay, so you are pissed for a moment, then you go buy a new one and roll on. It wasn’t that fancy. Get a better lock and put the chain through the frame and at least one of the bi-cycle.

    Been burglarized too. That was an apartment in SW Houston and the property was home alone. Could’a have seen it coming. Easy to kick in the door, but easily fixed also. Just call the rental office and press maintenance. It didn’t occur to me to blame the mayor for the break-in. Don’t even remember who it was at the time, or the colorization: White perhaps, or Brown? Bill or Lee? Perhaps it was Bob. It’s been a while.

    One of my favorite urban-life anecdotes actually stems from that brazen invasion of my private space. The evil-doer in that episode could carry off only so much of the sundry household items, and one of the prized items was a VCR that had previously been stolen and recovered. It still had the police evidence tag on it, nicely tied to the cable in the back. And it wasn’t in working order any more, either. I had just kept is as a trophy of sorts. Burglar bait, if you will. – Ha!

    Can’t speak for others, of course, but none of these criminal incidents changed my political outlook or views, as far as reminiscence serves right; — views that are a tad eclectic by contemporary standards, if not altogether idiosyncratic, as you may have noticed. 

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