AUSTIN, Texas – A monthlong standoff by Texas Democrats who left the state to block a GOP voting bill inched closer to ending Monday as several holdouts returned and put Republicans on the brink of having enough lawmakers to push forward once again with an election overhaul.
The Texas House of Representatives is now just five members shy of a quorum that would end what is now a 29-day stalemate — which has started to weaken as more Democrats who fled to Washington last month begin shuffling back into the state Capitol, believing their point has been made as they also feel the strain of a long absence away from home.
Other Texas Democrats remain in Washington, some of whom lashed out at their former fellow holdouts who returned to the Capitol. But the group that is staying behind — which last weekend was less than half the more than 50 Democrats who originally fled to Washington — is not large enough to keep denying the Legislature a quorum.
“Since the beginning of the quorum break, I have been very honest about our options in Texas — we don’t have many. This is by design,” said state Rep. James Talarico, one of the Democrats who returned. “Under one-party rule: democracy suffers.”
The slow return comes as Republicans in the Texas Senate are already advancing a voting bill that is similar to the one Democrats blocked last month. And in another setback for Democrats, the Texas Supreme Court on Monday rejected their lawsuit that sought to overturn Republican Gov. Greg Abbott vetoing the paychecks of more than 2,000 legislative staffers after Democrats walked out on the voting bill the first time in May.
Abbott has said the Legislature can restore the funding in a special session. He had also threatened Democrats with arrest after they had left Texas, but those that returned did so voluntarily.
For a second time this summer, Republicans on Monday authorized locking the doors of the House chamber so that lawmakers could only leave with permission. They will return Tuesday, which would mark four days into a 30-day special session that is now the GOP's third attempt to pass an elections overhaul.
Texas would ban 24-hour polling locations, drive-thru voting and give partisan poll watchers more access under the bill that Democrats have twice foiled. But in the end, the Democrats find themselves in much the same position they were in a month ago: without the votes to permanently block the bill in the Texas Capitol, and without the votes to pass federal legislation in Congress.
“My expectation is that enough members will honor their obligation to show up and do the people’s work,” said state Rep. Jim Murphy, chairman of the House Republican Caucus.