(The Center Square) – Sixty-seven Texas House Democrats fled Austin Monday for Washington, D.C. on private planes in a political maneuver that Gov. Greg Abbott said only hurts Texans.
Shortly after 2 p.m., House Democrats confirmed in a statement they were not returning to the state Capitol to complete an ongoing special session in which legislation meant to prevent voter fraud is being considered. The session began July 8 and lasts for 30 days.
By leaving Texas, House Democrats avoided being arrested by a “Call of the House,” which Speaker of the House Dade Phelan could have initiated had the members left Tuesday, when the chamber is scheduled to be back in session. Because the legislature was out of session on Monday, Democrats had time to leave after having met over the weekend.
In 2003, Texas Democrats left Texas for Oklahoma and New Mexico on two separate occasions to delay legislative business.
The state Constitution requires two-thirds of 150 members in the Legislature to be present in order to conduct business. With 67 Democrats leaving and breaking quorum, they ensure that the House can’t conduct business when it is slated to reconvene Tuesday.
“Today, Texas House Democrats stand united in our decision to break quorum and refuse to let the Republican-led legislature force through dangerous legislation that would trample on Texans’ freedom to vote,” Democratic Reps. Chris Turner of Grand Prairie, Rafael Anchía of Dallas, Nicole Collier of Fort Worth, Garnet Coleman and Senfronia Thompson of Houston, said in a statement, referring to election reform bills that previously passed the Senate and did not pass the House, resulting in Gov. Greg Abbott calling the special legislative session.
“We are now taking the fight to our nation’s Capitol,” they added. “We are living on borrowed time in Texas. We need Congress to act now to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act to protect Texans – and all Americans – from the Trump Republicans’ nationwide war on democracy.”
The 67 House Democrats flew on two chartered flights from Austin, taking selfies on a bus to the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport with a case of Miller Lite beer in a seat next to them. In widely circulated photos on social media, none of the Democrats on board were wearing masks, despite federal guidelines requiring masks on flights.
Rep. Philip Cortez, D-San Antonio, said the plan to leave Texas occurred in the last 48 hours, after a weekend hearing on election reform bills ran into the “wee hours of the morning.”
In response to Democrats fleeing Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted, “Texas Democrats’ decision to break a quorum of the Texas Legislature and abandon the Texas State Capitol inflicts harm on the very Texans who elected them to serve. As they fly across the country on cushy private planes, they leave undone issues that can help their districts and our state.”
He also issued a statement saying that "Texas Democrats’ decision to break a quorum of the Texas Legislature and abandon the Texas State Capitol inflicts harm on the very Texans who elected them to serve. As they fly across the country on cushy private planes, they leave undone issues that can help their districts and our state.”
By leaving Texas, they halted legislative business on other issues such as property tax relief, funding to support sheriffs and law enforcement in high crime areas, funding for children in foster care, and funding for retired teachers, Abbott said.
“The Democrats must put aside partisan political games and get back to the job they were elected to do,” he added. “Their constituents must not be denied these important resources simply because their elected representative refused to show up to work."
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick also tweeted a picture of Democratic lawmakers, saying, “Smiling House Dems fly off to DC on a private jet with a case of Miller Lite, breaking House quorum, abandoning their constituents, while the Senate still works.”
But Rep. Jessica González, D-Dallas, told The Dallas Morning News that fleeing Austin didn’t mean they weren’t doing their jobs.
“We are doing our jobs,” she said. “We’re going to be talking to Congress. We’re advocating for the rights of Texans for their right to vote.”
The Senate’s election reform bill is expected to be on the floor Tuesday, whereas the House’s bill needs to go through the Calendars Committee first.
Vice President Kamala Harris praised their flight, saying they were “standing for the rights of all Americans and Texans to express their voice through their vote, unencumbered.” Former El Paso Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke and presidential candidate asked for donations on Twitter to support Texas Democrats.
U.S. Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw replied, tweeting, “Texas Democrats: ‘let’s keep lying about ‘voter suppression’ even though it has been debunked countless times, AND then we can skip work and take a charter jet to hang out with Pelosi in DC for a few days!’ Nice try. But no one believes your charade.”