Want to stop governing in order to stop a bill? In Texas, that’ll stop you from getting paid.
On Friday, Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed funding for the Texas Legislature after the state House Democratic caucus walked out to avoid a vote on an election integrity bill late last month. The move, first reported by the Texas Tribune, would pause all funding for the legislature, its staffers and its agencies.
Abbott said in a statement that “funding should not be provided for those who quit their job early, leaving their state with unfinished business and exposing taxpayers to higher costs for an additional legislative session.”
“I therefore object to and disapprove of these appropriations.”
And that’s the thing — while the Democrats’ walkout may have temporarily stalled the bill, which would have ended 24-hour drive-in voting and temporary outdoor polling places, inter alia, it’ll be added to a special legislative session later this year, along with bail reform legislation championed by Abbott and the GOP.
Statement on election integrity and bail reform legislation: pic.twitter.com/rcK1Q3AnsH
— Gov. Greg Abbott (@GovAbbott) May 31, 2021
House Democratic Caucus Chair Chris Turner said the move was an “abuse of power” and that the caucus “is exploring every option, including immediate legal options, to fight back.”
“Texas has a governor, not a dictator,” Turner said in a statement, according to the Tribune. “The tyrannical veto of the legislative branch is the latest indication that [Abbott] is simply out of control.”
This is an interesting tack to take when you consider the tactics that brought it about.
The legislation, Senate Bill 7, was passed in the state’s upper house and needed to be voted on by law by the lower house before the legislative session would close. Instead of a vote, which they were certain to lose, Turner had a different idea: According to The Washington Post, he sent his caucus a text message at 10:35 p.m. instructing them to leave.
“Members, take your key and leave the chamber discreetly,” Turner wrote, referencing a key which locks the representatives’ voting mechanism on their desks. “Do not go to the gallery. Leave the building.”
An hour and a half away from a midnight deadline to sign off on legislation, a number of House Democrats’ desks appear to be cleared off and locked up, missing their desk keys needed to vote #txlege pic.twitter.com/8HYYZwV1Qs
— Alexa Ura (@alexazura) May 31, 2021
The walkout deprived Republicans of a quorum and thus, they were unable to pass the legislation.
“We decided to come together and say we weren’t going to take it,” Democratic state Rep. Jessica González said in an interview after the walkout. “We needed to be part of the process. Cutting us out completely — I mean, this law will affect every single voter in Texas.”
Yet again, we have some absolutely fascinating ideological acrobatics from a member of the Democratic Party.
Bills oughtn’t to be crafted without input from the other side? This certainly isn’t the case in Washington, D.C., where Republicans have been shut out of negotiations on multi-trillion-dollar spending bills because they control neither house of Congress.
When you consider the fact Republicans have a wider numerical majority in the much-smaller 150-seat Texas House of Representatives (16 seats, 83-67) than the Democrats do in the national House of Representatives (nine seats, 220-211), you start realizing Rep. González’s team can’t quite make that argument — particularly when they’re ideologically opposed to anything that makes voting harder than signing up for a Facebook account.
Also, they used an extra-legal strategy to avoid a vote on a bill they didn’t like to exercise a minority party check. Conveniently, her party is now busy attacking the filibuster at the federal level, even though it’s a traditional senatorial check on pure majority rule.
Rest assured that if the national GOP pulled the same stunt, Rep. González would stomp and snort about it in an email to her donor list.
There’s no shock about the fact politicians will inveigh against whatever doesn’t benefit them, though. What is a shock is when they decide to walk out instead of fulfilling their duty as legislators and then expect to get paid.
This has been expected since the walkout — although there is, of course, collateral damage by vetoing funding that includes staffers and agencies.
“I’m just concerned how it impacts them because they weren’t the ones who decided that we were going to break quorum, it wasn’t their decision, right?” Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan said in an interview.
But of course, Democrats and Republicans can return to Austin for a special session to restore the funding — as well as to pass election integrity legislation.
Texas legislators are paid $600 a month, plus $221 per diem when the Legislature is in session, so it’d be pretty hard to rely on this for your sole source of income. (And, if you were doing that, bad news — Gov. Abbott announced last month that Texas was withdrawing from the federal plan which offers an additional $300 a week in unemployment benefits as of June 26, according to the Tribune.)
However, it’s a matter of principle. Don’t want to legislate? Don’t get paid. It’s that simple.