Why Did Texas Democrats Flee the State? And What Does It Mean?

“The governor in Texas can call as many special sessions as he wants,” Mr. Jones said.

The Republicans may also have few options to prevent similar tactics in the future. They need significant Democratic buy-in to change quorum rules in the Texas Constitution. But “you might see payback” in the next regular legislative session, Mr. Jones said. “You might see a lot fewer Democrats in committee chairmanships.”

It has been a challenging year for Democrats in state legislatures across the country. More than 14 Republican-controlled states have passed sweeping election laws that restrict voting access in ways that could hurt Democrats.

In Texas, a state that already ranks as one of the most difficult in which to cast a ballot, Republicans held marathon sessions regarding the voting bill in the last few days of the regular session that ended in late May.

The legislation includes provisions that would ban 24-hour voting and drive-through voting; greatly expand the authority and autonomy of partisan poll watchers; limit third-party ballot collection; increase the criminal penalties for election workers who run afoul of regulations; and add new voter identification requirements for voting by mail.

This week was not the first time Texas legislators in the minority party fled in an attempt to block passage of controversial legislation. In May 2003, more than 50 House Democrats escaped to Ardmore, Okla., 30 miles north of the Texas border, to block Republicans from redrawing congressional districts.

The measure failed without a quorum.

Two months later, after the governor at the time, Rick Perry, called a special session, 11 Democratic state senators fled to New Mexico, a 640-mile trip from Austin, to again deny their Republican colleagues a quorum and stave off redistricting efforts that they believed would hurt their party.

Most notably, in 1979, a dozen Democratic senators known as the “Killer Bees” hid for five days from the Republicans and Texas Rangers to prevent the Senate from reaching a quorum.

They had been objecting to a bill that aimed to create two primaries, one for the presidential race and one for a general primary, which they described at the time as a measure that was likely to favor the candidacy of John B. Connally, the former Texas governor who was up for the Republican presidential nomination in 1980. That bill later died in the Senate.

Kitty Bennett contributed research.

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