Texas Democrats who fled the state earlier this month to block a GOP-backed election overhaul bill, defended their decision for doing so at a hearing before the House Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties on Thursday.
House Democratic Caucus Dean Rep. Senfronia Thompson, Texas Legislative Black Caucus Chair Rep. Nicole Collier, and Rep. Diego Bernal—all of whom left the Lone Star State as part of an effort to prevent the passage of a Republican-backed voting measure—testified at the hearing called Democracy in Danger: The Assault On Voting Rights In Texas, which lasted over three hours.
The lawmakers were three of about 60 state lawmakers who traveled to Washington from Texas this month over the voting bill, which Republicans argue is necessary to safeguard future elections and restore the public’s confidence in them. Democrats say the measure would place unfair restrictions on minority groups when they cast their ballots.
The walkout followed a Texas state House committee vote on July 11 to push forward the legislation that would bring back a number of voting integrity-related proposals that failed to pass during the previous session. Senate lawmakers advanced their version of the voting bill later that day in a committee vote.
Thompson, Collier, and Bernal were questioned during the hearing on their decision to leave Texas. Previously Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, threatened that Democrats who broke quorum to prevent the start of the special legislative session would be arrested.
“Now, are each of the three of you aware that you are, in fact, violating Texas law by being here right now and instead of being in Texas during the legislative session? And that it would be in order to arrest you in the state of Texas?” asked Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas).
“I’m ready to be arrested,” Thompson pushed back. “I’m not violating the law, and I’m representing my constituents.”
“I’m not sure if those laws are constitutional,” Bernal added.
Collier also defended the lawmakers’ decision to leave the Lone Star State and break quorum.
“There was no interest, even no attempt to work and compromise and collaborate with our colleagues on this. Our backs were up against the wall. There was no more discussion,” Collier said.
Thompson argued that they were left with no other choice.
“You’re damn right I left Texas and I’m glad I did,” she said. “And you know why…I left Texas to give my people a right to be able to vote without them being infringed upon.”
“I’m the voice of my constituents, and if I had to walk to Washington, D.C. to get you to hear what I had to say to fight for my constituents, I’d use any means necessary to get my point over,” Thompson added.
The Houston Democrat testified that she experienced voter intimidation on two separate occasions in 2010 and 2012, claiming that there were “people that looked like they was from the Proud Boys looking at you like you were in the wrong place” at polling stations.
“In a minority area, that has a chilling effect. The word gets out that these people are at your polls looking at you like they want to arrest you, keep you from voting.”
Republicans, meanwhile, argued that the Democrats should be debating the matter in the Legislature.
“There is no assault on voting rights in Texas,” said Republican state Rep. Travis Clardy.
“The right to vote by secure private ballot is a fundamental right in this country that should be protected and the laws protecting our vote should be debated honestly and vigorously—and that is exactly what we’ve endeavored to do in Texas for the last eight months.”
The Democrats have vowed to stay in Washington for the duration of the special session, which is set to end on Aug. 7.
The Epoch Times has contacted Abbott’s office for comment.