AUSTIN, Texas - A small plane towing a banner with a message about the voting rights fight below flew over the Texas State Capitol Tuesday.
Inside the House Chamber there were large sections of empty desks and the state representatives who should be sitting there were 1300 miles away in Washington D.C.
"I just want to offer at the outset of this legislative session, the process was poisoned, it was poisoned by a governor who defunded the legislative branch," said state Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas).
The group of just under 60 defiant state house Democrats stood on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. Tuesday morning and defend breaking quorum. They claimed they left Austin because they were left out of the legislative process involving a controversial election law reform bill.
"I'm up here, because I don’t plan on being a sitting person in that legislature, I'm not going to be ... I'm not going to be a hostage," said state Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston).
A fellow Democrat at the gathering suggested they didn’t want to be a sitting duck. Others agreed that Texas House Republicans had shut them out.
"Respectfully, I just completely disagree with that statement," said House Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont).
In a one-on-one interview, Speaker Phelan claimed efforts at compromise did happen. He indicated they began after the Democrat walk out that the ended the regular session earlier this year.
"Our version of the House Bill, we filed in the special session, includes some of their changes as well, including changes Republicans wanted who were not on the House floor. And they were shown that Bill before it was filed, and they were given opportunities to weigh in on that Bill. To say they were being steamrolled is not correct," said Speaker Phelan.
In Washington D.C., House Democratic Caucus Chairman Chris Turner (D-Grand Prairie) admitted their long-distance filibuster is also being done to break another filibuster. Republicans in the U.S. Senate are blocking a Democrat election law bill drafted to strike down things like voter ID.
"So what our message is very simple; our intent to stay out and kill the bill this Session and use this intervening time, 24, I think 25 days now, before the end of the Session to implore the folks in this building behind us to pass federal voting rights legislation to protect voters in Texas and across the country," said Turner.
Speaker Phelan called the Democrats strategy ironic
"It seems counterintuitive to their argument, and let me add this, a federal judge ruled in favor of the state of Arizona election bill that the fight occurs at the state House, so there is no judicial backstop on this. HR 1 and HR 4 have stalled out in Congress, there is no congressional backstop here, if you want to fight for election law, if you want to fight for integrity, you want to fight for constituents, it happens at the state House, it does not happen in Washington D.C. where you do not have a vote," said Speaker Phelan.
House members still in Austin were locked in the Chamber and waited after voting to place the Democrats who left under civil arrest when they return. The Speaker made it clear - the Governor's Call will eventually be debated on the floor.
"We can do it in July, we can do it in August, we can do it in September, we can do it in October. We can keep coming back," said Speaker Phelan.
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