Damnedest Thing Happened Last Night in Texas

Nefarious plan works!  State Sen. Wendy Davis, a Harvard-trained lawyer who could pass for a young Sissy Spacek, showed that she was made of some seriously stern stuff, leading a filibuster against a Texas anti-abortion bill that would have left the state with five or six abortion providers by standing and delivering for over ten hours.  She was helped out at the end by some brilliant parliamentary maneuvering by Senators Kirk Watson, Royce West, and Cecilia van der Putte (belatedly arriving after attending her father’s funeral) and a boost from the crowd — and, most of all, by the stupidity of her opponents.

This is too complicated to explain in a photo caption, but it was epic.

I wasn’t able to flesh this article out earlier, but for a whole lot of us (now mostly moved on to celebrating today’s SCOTUS victories) last night, the drama we watched play out in Austin TX was about as good as it gets (at least among things that are intrinsically boring.) Here’s a recap from the Texas Tribune:

Republican senators made a last-ditch effort to approve SB 5, voting 19-10, but by then the clock had ticked past midnight. Under the terms of the state Constitution, the special session had ended, and the bill could not be signed, enrolled or sent to the governor. …

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said he was “very frustrated” with the night’s results, after officially declaring near 3 a.m. that the bill could not be enrolled. “An unruly mob using Occupy Wall Street tactics” derailed legislation that was intended to protect women and babies, he told reporters. “I didn’t lose control of what we were doing,” he said. “We had an unruly mob.”

It’s true that there was a mob there — but Dewhurst was the one leading it. Ya see, there are these things called “rules” — hereabouts, we call them “parliamentary procedure,” but as far as I can tell in Texas they’re called something like “palm tree seizure” — that are supposed to dictate how you run an official meeting. Now, it’s true that if you have a majority you can sometimes get away with ignoring these rules — but if you do that then you give up your moral right to complain when people start hooting at you.  You don’t follow the rules, then the rules don’t so much exist.

This is especially true when, after letting a Senator speak for over 10 hours before trying to pull the rug out from under her by cheating, you simply — I’m giving you a choice of sports metaphors here — blow the layup, miss the extra point, forget to touch home base.  That’s right, the Texas Senate just flat out got confused.  It was not that they couldn’t take a vote while the crowd was hooting; the evidence for that it that the crowd didn’t stop hooting until minutes after midnight, and they took two (or maybe it was three) votes during this time.  Nope, the problem was that they didn’t understand that a upholding the decision of the chair on a point of order, calling the previous question, and actually passing the legislation are three different motions.  They got the second one done at 11:58 and they thought they were done.  Then someone wised up and they got the actual legislation passed at 12:03 — when their right to pass legislation had already expired.

And then — this is the sweetest part of all — they lied about it.  They actually revised the time stamp to show that it had been passed before midnight.  This didn’t work — in part because the whole thing was streaming live and over 150,000 of us saw it happen.  So, seriously, aside from not knowing the rules and not caring about the rules, these people were seriously stupid.  So they went into caucus, realized that they would have to fess up, and did so at three in the morning their time.

Why did they do this?  If they were going to make up reasons to stop Davis’s filibuster, why wait until the last minute when they could possibly run out of time?  Why not snuff it our with many hours to spare so that everyone could go home?  Simple: they liked seeing this pretty and feisty blonde woman suffer.  This was as close as they could get to torturing her without going to jail.  (Someone did apparently firebomb her district office.)  So when they delay until the last minute because they want to see her suffer, you will please pardon me if I don’t feel a lick of sympathy for them.

Someone, I’m sure, will be compiling a list of the “palm tree seizure” atrocities that were committed, but in the last couple of hours I noticed these being among them.

  • They ruled that her mentioning sonograms during debate — a burden recently placed on women seeking abortions by the Texas Lege — was not “germane” (on a related topic) to the bill at hand.  This is almost aggressively stupid.
  • When Sen. Watson, who had tried to appeal a decision of the Chair, was had begun to debate his motion, Sen. Dunbar, the substitute Chair, let someone else sneak in with another motion that should not have been recognized.
  • When Sen. West objected to this, Sen. Dunbar claimed that his decision was not appealable.  When the rule from the rulebook that all decisions by the Chair are appealable was read to him, he denied that what he made had been a decision.
  • While Sen. Watson was allowed to continue speaking, Sen. Dunbar allowed someone else to interrupt him with a motion that did not have precedence.  (If this was something one could do at all, the majority could do it all the time and prevent the minority from speaking.  This is why different motions have an order of precedence, as any fool except possibly Sen. Dunbar knows.)
  • Sen. Dunbar rejected a perfectly legitimate challenge that you can’t take away the floor from a filibustering speaker unless they have been ruled to be non-germane three times, whereas Sen. Davis had only received two such rulings.  (This is sort of like an umpire deciding to call a batter out on two strikes.)  When it was pointed out to him that the “third infraction” against Sen. Davis was that someone had helped her adjust her back brace — not germaneness — he said that he interpreted the rule differently.
  • When asked where the rule allowing him to call her out on two strikes was written down, he essentially said “because I say so.”  And he did not allow for an appeal.
  • When Sen. West demanded that the Secretary read the bill before the vote — as was his right — Sen. Dunbar just rejected it.
So, when you hear that there was an unruly crowd in the Texas Lege last night, consider that it would have been much worse if they had all been scholars of parliamentary procedure.

So I have no sympathy at all for Sen. Dewhurst’s claim to the benefits of “order” and “rule of law.”  He and his caucus had, frankly, spit (that’s a euphemism) all over both.

By the way: hey, companies that Rick Perry is trying to get to relocate to Texas?  If you have women and gays among your work force, you are going to want to stay in California.  We’re much more hospitable — and we have a better legislature, too.  (Although, admittedly, it could be improved by the addition of Wendy Davis, Kirk Wilson, and Royce West!)

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)