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Does the Walkout Preserve or Endanger Democracy? For the Press, It Depends Which Party Is Walking

Democrat Senator Carol Alvarado speaks to the media alongside other members of the Texas State Senate and Texas House of Representatives following a meeting with Vice President Kamala Harris at the White House in Washington D.C., June 16, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Beginning in 2019 and continuing on into the plague year, Oregon Republicans — a minority in the state legislature — started staging walkouts so as to deny the Democratic majority the quorum they’d need to pass their legislative priorities. The state’s constitution requires two-thirds of legislators to be present.

Among the outraged was Vox’s David Roberts, who accused Oregon Republicans — or, as he put it, “a handful of white people from the far right” — of “holding the state government hostage.” According to Roberts, the walkout represented nothing less than “an extraordinary escalation of anti-democratic behavior from the right, gone almost completely unnoticed by the national political media.”

By the time Roberts’s piece was up, stories about the walkout had been up at the Washington Post, CNN, and Associated Press for the better part of a week. The first of these asserted that “the scene this week flouted the state’s maxim, which celebrates collaborative political parley” and accused Republicans of not following the “Oregon Way.” The last ended solemnly by noting that “NASA says that in the absence of major action to reduce emissions, global temperature is on track to rise by an average of 10.8 degrees Fahrenheit.”

Fast forward to 2021 and the script seems to have flipped. In Texas, where it is Republicans in the majority, Democrats are fleeing — and being celebrated for doing so. So comfortable are Democrats in their position with the media, they are posting pictures of themselves maskless on a chartered aircraft — anyone who has traveled recently knows that if your mask slips a centimeter below your nose on a commercial flight, an attendant is liable to sentence you to death — and buses armed with Miller Lite. Roberts has yet to weigh in on the matter, much less condemn it as an attack on self-government.

The national political media, meanwhile, is covering Texas Democrats like they’re some kind of righteous traveling circus.

Max Burns, a contributor to the Daily Beast, Independent, and NBC News, tweeted that “the Texas Democrats are even cooler now that they’re fugitives fighting to protect voting rights from [Texas governor Greg Abbott] Ol’ Boss Abbott.” Lincoln Project co-founder Rick Wilson, who decried the tactic when it was used by Wisconsin Democrats in 2011, mocked Abbott for stating that the legislators could be arrested. He had no such complaints when Oregon’s Kate Brown sent state police after truant Republicans.

Karen Attiah of the Post asked desperately, “Can we stop saying ‘fleeing the state,’ as if they are cowards or victims? I don’t understand why we can’t just say they left the state. This was a power move. Not a weak one.”

And finally, there’s the coup de grace, Vox’s “The GOP voting bill that literally caused Texas Democrats to flee the state, explained” by Ian Millhiser.

He writes:

Texas Democrats are relying on a provision of the state constitution which says that ‘two-thirds of each House shall constitute a quorum to do business’ in order to prevent the GOP’s election bill from passing. (Such provisions are fairly common in legislative procedure. The United States Constitution, for example, states that a majority of each house’s members ‘shall constitute a quorum to do business.’)

This stands in stark contrast to Roberts’s claim a little over a year ago that there is no “governing rationale” for a two-thirds quorum requirement.

Millhiser further argues that while “it should go without saying that a party that controls a minority of the seats in a state legislature should not ordinarily be allowed to shut down all business by fleeing the state . . . it should also go without saying that the party that controls a majority should not be allowed to pass election laws seeking to entrench that majority.” Essentially, it’s all right if it’s done for reasons that he deems important enough.

The hypocrisy in the media is matched only by that of national figures in the Democratic Party, such as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. In Congress, Schumer is leading the charge to get rid of the filibuster, insisting — only a few months after having employed it frequently over six years in the minority — that it must be done away with lest the American experiment itself collapse. While arguing for unconstrained majoritarianism on the federal level, however, he is also set to meet with the on-the-lam Texas legislators.

The Senate filibuster, with its 60-vote threshold to override it, is a less powerful minority tool than denying quorum — and one with a long, bipartisan history.

With their embrace of Texas Democrats’ escapade, left-wing politicos have abandoned even the pretense of using principles rather than short-term political considerations to evaluate the merit of minority rights in government.

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