WEATHERFORD — State Rep. Phil King’s frustration was evident during a phone call Thursday morning.
The Republican lawmaker, who represents the Wise and Parker County area, is one of roughly 80 state legislators who remained in Texas after at least 51 of the 67 Democratic members of the Texas House broke quorum and fled to Washington, D.C., landing around 7 p.m. Monday.
“It’s sad that the Democrats have decided they work for Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden instead of working for the people of Texas, and that’s all this is about,” King said. “There’s no excuse for this and there’s no way this works out positively for the Democrats, period.”
Monday’s action was viewed as an attempt to bring a halt to deliberations on an elections bill Democrats say would restrict voting rights.
“While we still do not have a reliable electric grid and no plan in place to fix it, Gov. [Greg] Abbott and the Republican party are focused on staying in power by attempting to pass legislation restricting voting rights,” Parker County Democratic Party Chair Kay Parr said. “Republicans are motivated to prevent Texans from voting because they know their ability to win is greatly diminished by the changing demographics in our state and nation.
“They are trying to stay in office by restricting the right to vote.”
The special legislative session is expected to take up, among priorities, voting restrictions, including House Bill 3 and Senate Bill 1, which would make a number of changes to Texas’ voting system. Both bills were advanced by House and Senate committees last weekend.
“I would encourage everyone to go to the Texas House website and [look up] House Bill 3, which is the one that deals with voting reform and integrity,” King said. “Read that bill and tell me if they see anything in it at all that does not make it easier to vote and harder to cheat.
“The only reason someone would oppose that bill is because they want to cheat.”
Portions of the Texas voting bills include a ban on drive-thru voting; new regulations for early voting hours, including a ban on 24-hour voting; a ban on the distribution of mail-in ballot applications; new ID requirements for voting by mail; a correction process for mail-in ballots; monthly citizenship checks; the Crystal Mason provision; and enhancing poll watcher protections.
Democratic leaders Monday issued a joint statement that “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.”
Parr called their actions appropriate and said she could not be prouder of their stance.
“These legislators understand that our democracy is at stake and took the desperate measures they had to take to prevent thousands of Texans from having limited ability to vote,” she said. “The way to resolve the issue is to educate voters about their voting rights, encourage them to fight hard to protect those rights and to vote out elected officials who serve themselves rather than the people they are sworn to protect.
“Most importantly, we must double down on our resolve to get registered to vote and cast our ballot in every election, no matter how many stumbling blocks may be thrown in our path.”
On Tuesday, Republicans responded by voting to send state law enforcement after Democrats who fled, and bring them back to the House floor. However, Texas law enforcement does not have jurisdiction outside of the state.
The House also issued a “call of the House,” and approved a motion to make the missing Democrats legislative fugitives.
“Everything is completely locked until the Democrats return because the state constitution says we have to have a quorum — 100 House members out of the 150,” King said.
Meeting shortly after 10 a.m. Tuesday, the House quickly established that it lacked the two-thirds quorum required to do business, with only 80 of 150 members participating in a test vote.
On Thursday, Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan announced he would be chartering a plane to be on standby in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, demanding those in D.C. contact his staff to secure a seat on the plane to return to Austin.
House Republicans this week continued filing bills aimed at stripping lawmakers of their pay for breaking quorum. Such bills are not on the special session agenda and could only be taken up by the chambers if Abbott added them to the agenda and a quorum returned.
“Literally, all we can do is wait them out,” King said. “All the other items on the agenda — a 13th check for retired teachers, which they desperately need ... the property tax cut legislation, the excess funds we were going to use for property tax relief — it’s all at a dead stop.”
The current 30-day special session expires Aug. 7, though Abbott has said he will call another special session if Democratic lawmakers successfully run out the clock.
“We need to return statesmanship to our government and work together for the good of our people, our state and our nation,” Parr said. “Legitimate debate between parties over issues that have an impact in our lives is important. When we are so polarized by party politics that we fail to take care of the real needs of our citizens, everyone loses.”
While the waiting game continues, King said it affects not only the state but each lawmaker on a personal level.
“We all need to get back to our businesses. We all want to get back to our families,” he said. “We need to get back to seeing our constituents and doing the work we’re supposed to be doing.”
Others, however, remain dissatisfied with either side’s actions.
“Texans would be better served if the Republicans were to run away somewhere as well,” Parker County Libertarian Party Secretary Ron Cook said. “Then we wouldn’t have anybody left to pass laws curtailing freedom and spending more of its citizens’ money.”
The Weatherford Democrat reached out to Parker County Republican Party Chair J Scott Utley and the office of State Rep. Glenn Rogers, R-Graford, for comment, but did not receive a response by press time.