Hamil R. HarrisPolitics

Texas Lawmakers Dodging Voting-Reform Bill Welcomed in D.C.

A group of Texas African American lawmakers has shut down the state legislature by fleeing the state capitol in Austin for D.C. and despite being threatened with arrest, they plan to remain here in the District until their session is over next month.

Standing outside the Unity Baptist Church in northeast D.C. on Monday, the members of the Texas State House were welcomed by D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5), pastor Charles McNeil and other members of the Missionary Baptist Ministers Conference of Washington D.C. and Vicinity.

“Texas has some of the most restrictive voter laws in the nation,” said Texas state Rep. Nicole Collier, chair of the Texas State Legislative Black Caucus. “In the history, since the 1965 Voting Rights Bill Act was passed, Texas has been in violation, every single decade and what is happening today is no different.

“When we saw what was going on in Texas, we tried to work with our colleagues to reduce the harmful impact of this legislation, but we hit a wall,” Collier said. “There were no more discussions to be had so we came to find the answer and that is in Washington, D.C. with our federal counterparts.”

Texas House Democrats left the state on July 11 and headed to D.C. The move shut down all business in Austin because they didn’t have a quorum of lawmakers present. The lawmakers plan to stay in D.C. until Aug. 7, which is the end of the Texas legislative section.

Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott (R) has threatened to arrest the Democrats but is powerless until they return to the state. As a result, the Republicans can’t pass controversial bills that include banning drive-thru and 24-hour voting and legislation that would make mail-in voting more difficult and give partisan poll watchers more authority at voting sites.

McDuffie welcomed the members of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus to the District, pointing out that his own constituents are still denied full representation in Congress.

“More than 700,000 residents in the District of Columbia continue to live as second-class citizens in the nation’s capital,” McDuffie said. “It is the only capital city in democracies across the world where residents don’t get full representation in their government.”

Rep. Senfronia Thompson said she recalls as a child her grandmother saving up pennies and nickels for the “poll tax” so that she could vote. She lamented that after spending more than 27 years in the Texas legislature, many of the restrictive measures that held back her grandmother are still alive today.

“She was only making $200 a week and when she went to vote she had to pay for her transportation to go to the polls some 15 miles away and then come back,” Thompson said. “It is those types of struggles that make you look back and say that the fight is still on. What are we fighting about? All we are fighting about is to say that we are still Americans and the constitution speaks for us just like it speaks for everybody else.”

McNeil said that he gladly welcomed the lawmakers to his church.

“We are here standing because when you not only denying African Americans but all Americans the right to vote you are moving from a democracy to dictatorship and we are to fight, we are standing because God didn’t bring us this far to leave us,” he said.

Hamil R. Harris

Hamil Harris is an award-winning journalist who worked at the Washington Post from 1992 to 2016. During his tenure he wrote hundreds of stories about the people, government and faith communities in the Greater Washington Area. Hamil has chronicled the Million Man March, the Clinton White House, the September 11 attack, the sniper attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the campaign of President Barack Obama and many other people and events. Hamil is currently a multi-platform reporter on the Local Desk of the Washington Post where he writes a range of stories, shoots photos and produces videos for the print and online editions of the Post. In addition, he is often called upon to report on crime, natural disasters and other breaking issues. In 2006 Harris was part of a team of reporters that published the series “Being a Black Man.” He was also the reporter on the video project that accompanied the series that won two Emmy Awards, the Casey Medal and the Peabody Award. Hamil has lectured at Georgetown University, George Washington University, Howard University, the American University, the University of Maryland and the University of the District of Columbia. He also lectures several times a year to interns during their semester in the District as part of their matriculation at the Consortium of Christian Colleges and Universities.

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One Comment

  1. Let’s pray the Governor of Texas locks them up when they get back to Texas…D.C. did not vote them into office – the people of Texas did.
    Go home and serve the people that put you into office. Only legal votes should count, and they should protect the “Legal Voters” and the laws they swore to uphold.

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