Battling for Democracy in the Lone Star State

A Polaroid featuring the left half of the Texas State Capitol with the caption, "Gone to D.C" paired with a full-color photo of the right half of the U.S. Capitol, which has been stamped with text that says "Washington D.C. July 12 2021 Arrival"

Our country was founded out of the intense desire for self-governance, the right to elect our leaders and the right of each person to cast their ballot. The electorate is changing in Texas. It is getting younger, more diverse and more democratic. The GOP in Texas can feel a diminishing grip on power, and in its thirst for control, has sold its soul to discrimination replacing  constitutional protectionism with a rollback of voting rights for the disenfranchised.

The initial election bill filed during the regular session of the Texas Legislature, designed to protect the purity of the ballot box, actually criminalized election workers, empowered extreme partisan poll watchers, restricted voting hours and mail-in ballots. During the House debate, Democrats offered numerous amendments that narrowed the scope and effect of this suppressive bill. However, during the last hours of the session, these amendments were stripped and replaced with outlawing the Black tradition of “Souls to the Polls” and a new provision regarding the overturning of elections. These were unacceptable additions to a piece of legislation that was a policy failure from the start. To make matters worse, the Republicans subverted all of the normal procedural rules for debate and public comment and prepared a rarely utilized maneuver to end all debate. As a result, the Democrats used the only tool left — we broke quorum.

In preparation for the special session, the Republicans made assurances that the next iteration of the legislation would be more collaborative in nature. By Monday, July 12, the writing was already on the wall. The House Committee’s hearing on their version of the bill had lasted for nearly 24 hours. Texas Republicans voted down every amendment in committee that would lessen the damage. Then they moved to ram the bill through to the House floor. All the signs of the last flashpoint in May were aligning once more: an extensive hearing, hours of testimony against the bill, moving things as fast as possible with as little public input as possible.

It was like the movie “Groundhog Day” — except instead of learning to become better, the Republicans were just doubling down on their bad faith and sneaky behavior. So we walked out for democracy.

Depending on the day of the week, Republicans in Texas say this bill is about making voting easier or that it’s about voter ID. In truth, Texas has had some of the strictest voter ID laws in the nation since 2011. It’s been clear for some time that the Texas GOP is not interested in expanding voter turnout or encouraging more folks to participate in our democracy. That much is obvious. House Bill 3 puts up deliberate barriers to make it harder for Texans to cast our ballots safely and equitably. It legalizes partisan poll watchers and makes it harder to turn in mail-in ballots which disproportionately affect the elderly and disabled, and severely limits assistance to voters.

Now, House Republicans in Texas are pushing a bill to audit the 2020 election results. This whole “debate” — if you can call it that — has been sparked by President Trump’s Big Lie. The 2020 election was the safest, most secure and successful election in U.S. history. Millions of Americans turned out and made their voices heard, especially here in Texas. The expansion of vote by mail benefitted Republican candidates more broadly, and yet they want to punish their own voters in an effort to appease their ringleader, former President Trump. This failure to recognize reality sets a dangerous precedent for governments around the world. Ever since Trump came down that golden escalator years ago, he’s been a threat to democracy and a harbinger of fascism, tyranny and authoritarianism.

We should be focused on taking a more measured approach to secure our elections from foreign interference as we saw in 2016, and again attempted in 2020. Beyond this, there are a plethora of critical issues affecting Texans that Democrats and Republicans need to fix. Medicaid expansion. Modernizing the Texas power grid. Restitution for those harmed by Winter Storm Uri. Marijuana legalization. Criminal justice reform. These are just some of the real issues that we attempted to make headway on in the 87th Texas Legislature. Like so many other good policy ideas with broad support across the Lone Star State, they perished in the wake of a Republican Party that has completely lost sight of the values that make us all proud to be Texans.

Representative Julie Johnson was elected to the Texas House of Representative in November of 2018. She represents House District 115 in Dallas County, which includes the cities of Coppell, Farmers Branch, Irving, Carrollton, Dallas and Addison.