Texas Democrats plan walkout to block election overhaul bill

Texas Democratic lawmakers plan to leave the state to deny Republicans the quorum they need to convene a special legislative session, a dramatic move that is likely to set up weeks of political brinkmanship. 

A majority of state House members plan to fly to Washington, D.C., on chartered flights, according to two sources with knowledge of their plans who asked for anonymity to discuss the exodus.

The sources confirmed representatives would head to DC, first reported by NBC News.

The high-stakes gambit will grind legislative action to a halt, just as Republicans had planned to bring up a sweeping measure to overhaul elections procedures, among other controversial measures high on the list of priorities backed by Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R).

“They’re flying out,” said one top Texas Democratic strategist.

Texas rules require two-thirds of lawmakers to answer a quorum call. Those who are absent can be detained by the state Department of Public Safety and returned to the capitol in Austin.

Legislative committees in the House and Senate both heard testimony on the elections overhaul measure over the weekend. Committee reports have yet to be filed, meaning the bill is not yet scheduled for consideration before the full House and Senate.

The walk-out is a repeat of a tactic state Democrats have used several times before, most recently earlier this year, when legislators absconded before a critical deadline. That walk-out came just hours before the legislature adjourned its regular session, effectively killing the elections package.

Monday’s walk-out is more akin to a 2003 effort by state Democrats to fight back against a mid-decade redistricting proposal that ultimately helped Texas Republicans pick up several seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Back then, Texas House Democrats fled to Ardmore, Okla., where they holed up in a Holiday Inn. They stayed for four days, forcing Republican lawmakers to delay passage of the bill. When the measure passed the state House, Democratic state senators fled to New Mexico.

This time, Texas lawmakers will likely have to stay away for weeks to run out the clock on the roster of conservative priorities Abbott set out when he called a special session earlier this month. Special sessions last up to 30 days under Texas law.

Along with the elections measure, Abbott asked legislators to pass bills to ban transgender women from competing in girl’s sports leagues, ban delivery of abortion-inducing drugs and bar teaching of critical race theory in state classrooms.

Democrats may hope to force Republicans to compromise on the election overhaul bill and the other priorities on the docket, but they have little leverage other than staying away. Even in 2003, the redistricting bill eventually passed a new special session.

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