Enough! No arrests, no more special sessions. Texas lawmakers, grow up and move on

·3 min read

While you’ve been occupied with the COVID-19 surge, back-to-school preparations and girding yourself for another disappointing Cowboys season, your Texas legislators have been hard at work.

Don’t take that to mean they’ve actually done anything, and certainly not anything good.

A quick recap: About a week into the second special session ordered by Gov. Greg Abbott, the House has yet to meet with enough lawmakers present to do business. Many Democrats, determined to stop Republican election legislation, remain in Washington. A few have trickled back, and House Speaker Dade Phelan has authorized state troopers to arrest them and bring them to the House chamber, setting off court battles. Meanwhile, the Senate is cranking out legislation from Abbott’s hard-right wish list.

All sides in this fight need to grow up. We’re long past the point at which we expect anyone to be magnanimous enough to put the state’s biggest needs first, but both sides need to give a little so we can all move on.

Democrats should come back to Austin and respect the legislative process. Their flight to Washington to break quorum during the first special session has been plagued by one embarrassment after the other, from positive COVID cases to did they/didn’t they speculation about whether two lawmakers moved the fight to Portugal for vacation.

No one likes to lose, but the answer is to win a majority or win the argument, not shut down the entire process.

The more urgent onus is on Republicans. They’re going to win this fight eventually, and they should be gracious about it. The move to arrest their fellow lawmakers is overkill; House Democrats are legitimately elected representatives of their districts, not criminals.

GOP lawmakers should listen to complaints about the legislation they’re driving, too. There’s still time to avoid the worst mistakes of the voting bill and find a way to address legitimate concerns about its effects.

The election bill, as we’ve said each time Republicans have brought it up, is unnecessary, borne of falsely whipped-up concern about extensive fraud and a refusal among the party’s rabid base to accept that President Donald Trump lost a fairly conducted election.

In Texas, those forces are left to pathetically argue that Trump’s failure to win as many votes as other Republicans must mean there was an alarming amount of cheating, extensive and sophisticated and yet unable to deliver the state to Joe Biden. Evidence, of course, is an afterthought.

But most of the bill’s provisions are not onerous, and the longer Democrats fight it, the more their rhetoric about its effect gets away from reality. Not every battle is a repeat of the 1960s civil-rights era.

One real problem identified recently in a Texas Monthly/Votebeat report is uncertainty about ID verification for those voting early. Under the bill, absentee voters will need to supply their driver’s license or Social Security numbers. Most voters have both in the state’s database, but nearly 2 million are registered under only one, so their request for a mail ballot could be rejected if they list the wrong one.

The Senate, which approved the latest version of the bill Thursday, added a provision to allow voters to correct a mistake, but the whole process adds pressure and difficulty for local election officials.

Meanwhile, the governor added even more divisive issues to this session’s agenda, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is plowing ahead on issues such as transgender students in sports and restrictions on local governments. Lawmakers are curtailing public input on bills, too, noting that the measures have been debated over and over again. It’s a bad precedent that forebodes reduced tolerance for public participation.

At this point, only the most fervent partisans on both sides are fully engaged in this fight. The politicians better compromise and wrap it up before the rest of the public starts paying attention.

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