Texas is a mess

The GOP’s peddling of ‘the big lie’ has brought government to a standstill in Texas.



July 15, 2021 - 8:42 AM

The Texas State Capitol in Austin, Texas, on Jan. 7, 2021. (Lynda M. Gonzalez/The Dallas Morning News/TNS)

Armando Walle, a seven-term state representative from Houston, and also a lawyer, boarded a chartered flight to Washington, D.C., with files of his clients’ court cases, and also the voting stories from his 91-year-old grandfather filed away in his mind.

Rep. Armando Walle

It took “extraordinary measures,” Walle said, for his grandfather and other people of color to be able to vote in Texas freely, without poll taxes, harassment or obstruction. And he believed “extraordinary measures” were needed this week when he decided to join dozens of his Democratic House colleagues in fleeing the state to thwart Republicans’ latest attempt to restrict voting rights in Texas.

Walle knows that the provisions in the current bills — including empowering partisan poll workers to intimidate voters — aren’t as severe as the tactics used to suppress voting a half-century ago.

But they’re still unnecessary obstructions. To a fundamental American right. A right, in his estimation, that is still worth defending.

“My constituents voted me in to fight for them,” he told the editorial board Tuesday after leaving a meeting with Vice President Kamala Harris. “They didn’t elect me to sit by and watch their constitutional right to the franchise be steamrolled by folks who are proposing a bill based on a lie, based on Donald Trump losing an election.”

Is Walle’s gallant stand an exercise in futility since Gov. Greg Abbott can just keep calling special sessions until they come back and provide the legislative quorum Republicans need to pass the voting bill? Probably.

Are he and his “fugitive” colleagues engaging in a political stunt, as Republicans claim? Sure.

But no more than the special session itself, which is veritable all-you-can-eat buffet of Republican red meat cooked up to indulge Republican primary voters and appease Trump loyalists — everything from attacks on transgender athletes, censoring classroom discussions on race and yes, a voter bill ostensibly designed to solve a voter fraud problem that doesn’t exist.

Abbott has claimed Democrats’ decision to leave “inflicts harm on the very Texans who elected them to serve.” But he knows this session wasn’t about those Texans — only the Texans who can help him clear the Republican primary hurdle toward re-election.

To hear Abbott tell it, Democrats are skipping out on their duties as elected officials, riding in style on “cushy” airplanes, enjoying a taxpayer funded “junket” to the nation’s capital.

Walle says duty is the only reason he, as a solo-practicing attorney and sole breadwinner, would leave his wife at home with two sons, ages 6 and 10. And the planes and hotels? They were paid for by the House Democratic Caucus, not taxpayers.

“This is a sacrifice in every which way,” Walle said. “This is a strain on my relationship with my children, my relationship with my wife, my relationship with my clients.”

Perhaps nothing will suffer more, though, than Democrats’ relationship with Republicans in the Texas Legislature.

Perhaps nothing will suffer more, though, than Democrats’ relationship with Republicans in the Texas Legislature.

The situation is a mess.

A state that used to brag about its bipartisan lawmaking has descended into Washington-style games of chicken, complete with a threat of a government shutdown. If lawmakers don’t restore funding that Abbott vetoed for the Legislature, essential staff could go unpaid on Sept. 1 and the whole operation, including the once-a-decade process of redistricting, could be in peril.