GOP Rule-Wrangling During Davis Filibuster Draws Fire
Published: July 10, 2013
Kronberg, who described the scene as “combative,” considers the last point-of-order sustained a “terrible” decision, as well as in “defiance of precedent and rules.”
The confusion on the Senate floor that evening culminated before midnight, when State Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) offered a challenge to the ruling in defense of Davis. In a series of questionable procedural calls by Republican legislators, Watson’s objection was effectively trampled over and, in the end, a vote to end the filibuster was considered the same as a vote to decide if the last straw point-of-order was valid — which, under no circumstances, is equivalent, said Kronberg.
“That’s when the crowd knew the game had just been fixed, the rulebook was gone, and we were now in uncharted territory in terms of Senate procedure,” said the political insider. “The end of the session was 15 minutes away and they realized they could drown out the Chair.”
Inaudible to the public, a vote was cast amid the noise, an overlap of procedural rules and an unresolved challenge. Just when things couldn’t get messier, the rulebook, now completely discarded, was set on fire by Senate Republicans who argued the vote had taken place before midnight, the deadline for it to count. Democrats — many of who weren’t even certain what they were voting for in the midst of the confusion — countered, alleging someone altered the record vote to make it appear valid.
While the final determination allowed the bill to die for now, the ethical question remains in limbo and a possible investigation may arise as a result. Greg Cox, director of the Public Integrity Unit — a division of the Travis County DA’s office that looks into public corruption — says his office has received dozens of complaints and the case is currently under review. A formal decision on whether an investigation should begin could take days or weeks.
In the meantime, the gray area doesn’t bode well for the GOP who are being seen as disorganized, working haphazardly, and weakened by competing political leadership. That means there’s more for them to prove during the second special session.
“The lack of unified strategy among Republican leadership made it difficult to manage the process and put the Senate in a position where they had to push and manipulate the rules,” says Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at The University of Texas at Austin. “Some members of the majority went in with the strategy of testing the bounds of the body’s common understanding of those traditional rules. My own impression is that in the end, that didn’t work too well for them.”
So now Republicans are dealing with a whole other layer in the political fight, said Henson. In addition to getting the bill itself passed they’re also going to be “focused on reversing the perception of chaos and public failure.”
But public interest groups and the thousands of citizens that ventured to the Capitol in the past few weeks to protest the anti-abortion bills have taken notice of the departure from regular procedure. One organization in particular has identified specific infractions. Progress Texas will announce their allegations later this week.
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