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GOP Rule-Wrangling During Davis Filibuster Draws Fire

Photo: Photos by Mary Tuma, License: N/A

Photos by Mary Tuma

The “unruly mob” watched as GOP lawmakers defeated decorum in their own way.

Photo: Thousands of pro-choice supporters have swarmed the Capitol for both special sessions., License: N/A

Thousands of pro-choice supporters have swarmed the Capitol for both special sessions.

“At what point must a female Senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over the male colleagues in the room?” asked Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio) to presiding chair, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, sparking those in Senate gallery seats to rise and deliver thunderous, sustained cheers and applause in the last minutes of the first special session, a scene that will surely leave an indelible mark on the Texas legislative record.

The noises emanating from the orange-clad pro-choice activists — who came by the hundreds last month to oppose the passage of what would be the strictest abortion law in the state — did indeed drown out and slow down the vote.

The audience has since been heavily criticized and derided by GOP leadership. Dewhurst referred to the mobilized citizenry as an “unruly mob” who employed “Occupy Wall Street tactics,” and Gov. Rick Perry said the protestors were guilty of “hijacking” the democratic process. They’ve been chastised for disrupting order and upsetting decency and “decorum,” or the traditional Capitol protocol.

However, below the gallery rails, chaotic disorder and the breakdown of decorum ensued well before the “unruly” roar of voices filled the chamber.

First, take the rise of the bill itself. The controversial legislation taking up time, attention, and taxpayer dollars was barely a blip on the legislative radar during regular session, failing to make it to either chamber for deliberation. Despite this, Gov. Perry decided to assign the unpopular bills priority in the shortened special session. While a two-thirds majority rule in the Senate allowed the minority bloc of Democrats to maintain some voting power in the regular session, Dewhurst arbitrarily drained that power at the start of the special session.

With the suspension of normal checks and balances, socially conservative Republicans soon fixed their eyes on defeating State Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Forth Worth), who mounted a nearly 13-hour filibuster to kill the abortion restrictive bill. Onlookers described the GOP’s attack on Davis in unprecedented terms.

As a veteran Capitol reporter and founder of The Quorum Report, Texas’ oldest political newsletter, Harvey Kronberg has witnessed his share of filibusters. Most of the time lawmakers will leave the floor and go to their offices, only to come back if they’re needed, he says. But in this case, Republicans took every opportunity to knock Davis off her feet.

“I’ve seen a lot of filibusters, but I’ve never seen anyone bust a filibuster,” said Kronberg. “This time, it was considered far more high-stakes and Republicans were clearly looking for a screw up and Democrats were playing defense.”

To derail a filibuster, lawmakers may call a “point-of-order” or a question to determine if any procedural rules have been broken. If sustained by the Chair, these points essentially function as a “three-strikes and you’re out” policy. Republicans launched all they could at Davis on the Senate floor that day, and Dewhurst nodded them in — even green-lighting a complaint over whether or not talking about the state’s pre-abortion sonogram law was germane (or relevant) to a discussion about an abortion law.

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