Get to Work: Texas Democrats are No Heroes

Grown-ups understand that politics involves a lot of disappointment. It sucks to lose elections. It sucks to watch your political adversaries take charge. It sucks to watch legislation you care about fall by the wayside while legislation you loathe becomes law. No one gets to win all the time.

When a political party experiences the disappointment of losing power, it can take comfort in knowing there are two legitimate safeguards in place. And only two. First, the losing power can devise a better message and platform to attract more voters in the next election so they may reclaim the reins of power. And second, if the ruling party goes too far, the courts are there to protect the rights of the minority.

We live in a country though where too many of our leaders refuse to act responsibly and accept electoral outcomes that place them in a legislative minority. This looks like senators using an arcane rule like the filibuster to prevent the majority from accomplishing the things they were elected to accomplish. It looks like legislators stripping their state’s governor of power when the governorship goes to the other party. It looks like leaders unwilling to acknowledge when they lost a fair and free election. And most recently, it looks like legislators fleeing their state to abuse the procedural rule of a quorum to cripple the state’s duly-elected legislature from governing.

This quorum-busting is the perfect example of how most people are willing to create one set of rules for themselves and another for their opponents. Look to these two examples to see the double standard in play:

Oregon: For the last three years, Oregon Democrats have held the governorship and supermajorities in their House and Senate. Oregon Democrats have done so well at the ballot box that Republicans simply have no way to prevent Oregon Democrats from passing the bills Democrats, and their constituents, care the most about—e.g., increase school funding, addressing climate change, and modest gun reforms. Rather than accepting defeat, Republicans have fled the State of Oregon in each of the past three years to prevent the legislature from performing its business. Oregonians and advocates for good government have called this a tantrum, compared it to the taking of hostages, and characterized it as an “extraordinary escalation of anti-democratic behavior.” When Governor Brown discussed the possibility of fining the AWOL legislators or having the state police round them up to attend the legislative session, Republicans accused her of being a tyrant.

Texas: Texas Republicans in 2021 hold the governorship and large majorities in its House and Senate. Democrats have no way to effectively prevent Republicans from passing legislation they wish to pass. Seeing no legislative way to stop Republicans from passing a voter suppression bill they hate, Democrats fled the state and are currently residing in Washington, D.C. Democrats and progressives around the country, including Vice-President Harris, are applauding these Democrats for their bravery and for standing up for what is right. Texas Republicans are apoplectic, with Governor Abbot now threatening to arrest all of the legislators when they return to Texas.

So, who is right? The legislators fleeing their states or the people who oppose walkouts? For most this is a difficult choice because we have grown accustomed to standing by our team rather than standing by a principle. For most tribalistic Americans, they will claim their party is correct in Texas and Oregon despite their respective party adopting the opposite position in each state.

My answer is that any legislator leaving his or her state is wrong. They are wrong in Oregon and they are wrong in Texas.

We have a system of laws and rules that have to be followed if our system is to work. When we allow our systems to become paralyzed by such things as filibusters and walkouts, we end up with a system unable to repair itself or operate. This truth does not cease to exist because a person’s pet issue at stake. We simply have to be able to govern. And if the result of allowing our government to govern is terrible laws, we must rely on the courts to strike down unconstitutional laws and the citizenry to mobilize to elect people to change bad laws. That is how democracy works. I know this is an unpopular position, but no one gets to suspend democracy because they are certain of their own rightness.

Instead of this type of moral consistency, we get people like Rachel Maddow who a few months ago decried the unconscionable actions of Oregon Republicans fleeing their state, but on Monday honored and thanked the brave Texas Democrats who fled theirs.

Prior to publishing this piece, a friend of mine reviewed it and decried it as a “false equivalency.” He explained that I was failing to consider that Texas Democrats walked out for really important reasons, and Oregon Republicans walked out for stupid reasons. While I agree with my friend’s take on the merit of the parties’ actions, this type of moral relativism—i.e., it’s okay if we break the rules, but not okay for you to break the rules—is a cancer to our republic. Societies can only survive when they adopt a set of rules to which everyone agrees to abide. This does not mean civil disobedience is never permissible, but some rules are so essential (e.g., peacefully transferring power every 4 years) that they can never be broken no matter how righteous one believes his cause. In other words, we cannot save our republic by breaking it.

Texas Democrats, this is not how we win. Honor our system of government and go home. You will lose this vote on voter suppression. Use your disappointment and anger to mobilize. Take your fight to Congress, the courts, and the next election. That is how our system works.  If you don’t like it, change it. Don’t break it.

– Dylan


One Response to “Get to Work: Texas Democrats are No Heroes”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Amen! I’m so tired of the tribalism and lack of consistency in position.

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