The Democrats in the Texas House of Representatives are planning to flee the state to deny a quorum so the Republicans who control the chamber can’t hold a vote on pending legislation about elections. There are 67 Democratic representatives, and if 51 flee, that will be sufficient to deny a quorum in the 150-seat House.
State legislators fleeing the state is one of the most tiresome and unseemly charades in American politics. It’s for losers, in both the actual and pejorative meaning of the word, and it should offend you whether you agree or disagree with the party that does it.
Legislators only ever flee the state when they know they’re going to lose because they’re in the minority. In other words, they know that the people have rejected them at the ballot box. With 83 Republicans and 67 Democrats in the Texas House, the Democrats know they are going to lose the vote on the pending election bill.
And no, the Republicans’ majority is not from gerrymandering. Eighty-three out of 150 is 55.33 percent of the seats. Republicans won 54.92 percent of the votes in Texas House races in 2020. Almost perfectly proportional.
All this is a bit rich coming from a party that at the national level seems to believe that legislative majorities, no matter how thin, should be able to do whatever they want. The 60-vote threshold for legislation in the U.S. Senate must be abolished, they say, but at the state level, it’s apparently fine to flee the state to prevent an elected majority from passing legislation.
Texas Democrats aren’t the first state legislative caucus to pull these shenanigans. In 2011, the 14 Democratic members of the 33-seat Wisconsin Senate fled to Illinois to prevent Republicans from passing the collective-bargaining reforms championed by Governor Scott Walker. After nearly a month of negotiation with the Democrats, they made clear they weren’t coming back, and Republican Senate leadership changed the bill to get around the parliamentary rules requiring a quorum. They passed the reforms without any Democrats in attendance. If the will of the people was ever in doubt, Wisconsin voters had a chance to recall Walker and some Republican senators. Republicans maintained control of the Senate, and Walker won his recall election by a larger margin than he won his first term. “1 Walker Beats 14 Runners,” the bumper stickers said.
Republicans, too, have fled their state before when they knew they were going to lose. Oregon Republicans have stopped legislative proceedings four times in the past two years by refusing to show up. They’ve done it to oppose cap-and-trade and COVID restrictions.
These tactics don’t come off well with voters, even ones who might be sympathetic to the policy positions. Conservatives are not fans of cap-and-trade, but coming off as crazy by not showing up doesn’t help the cause. As Nate Hochman wrote for National Review in February, “There is a reason that Oregonians — unlike voters in deep-blue states such as Massachusetts and Maryland — have been consistently reluctant to try any Republican alternative to our one-party government: The Oregon GOP is insane.”
Aside from the strategic considerations, there’s the more fundamental point: Legislators are representatives of the people. The people elect them to serve terms of a fixed length. They elect them knowing full well they won’t always be in the majority. That’s life. You win some, you lose some. You still have to show up to work.
Legislators who flee their states are failing to fulfill the duty the voters entrusted to them. Whether you agree with the policy position or not, it’s not an acceptable tactic for legislators to use. If you don’t want to show up for work, that’s fine: Resign. Step aside and allow a special election for voters to choose someone else to represent them.
The Texas Democrats are joining the Wisconsin Democrats, Oregon Republicans, and Washington Generals in the pantheon of losers. At least the Generals can be entertaining.