State Democrats Should Go Anywhere But D.C. for Voting-Rights Lobbying

Arizona’s state capitol, just a short hop from Austin. Photo: Jon Hicks/Getty Images

I really admire the chutzpah of Texas Democratic state legislators in going (quite literally) the extra mile to stop an egregious power grab by the Republicans who control their state government. For all the huffing and puffing (including threats of arrest and incarceration) by said Republicans about the maneuver, leaving the state to deny Republican a quorum is as defensible as the travel-free filibusters the GOP deploys so regularly in Washington to deny the majority the ability to work its will.

But speaking of Washington … I do have some issues with the destination chosen by those Texas Democratic legislators: Washington, D.C. Yes, I understand the logic of protesting a voter-suppression bill by going to the place where legislation to preempt such bills is pending, namely the U.S. Senate. But on the other hand, the gambit reinforced several decades of anti-Washington demagoguery by Republicans everywhere: Look at them! Instead of making their case and earning their pay in Austin, the Democrat socialists went right up the yellow brick road to the Emerald City to beg Uncle Sam to take control of the Lone Star State’s election laws! The substance of the Democratic plea to Congress was sound, but the optics, as the saying goes, were sub-optical, to say the least.

Now Texas Democrats are getting some reinforcements — but unfortunately they’re just feeding these Republican talking points. Per the Washington Post:

More than 100 state legislators from across the country will converge in Washington on Monday to join their Texas counterparts in pushing the Senate and President Biden to take action on voting reform legislation.

The lawmakers represent more than 20 states, including some in which Republican-led legislatures have passed or are considering new voting restrictions, and will urge senators to pass the For the People Act, or at least show progress on a federal voting law, before their summer recess. They are scheduled to rally outside the Capitol on Tuesday and press their case during other public events and private meetings.

The implied suggestion, unfortunately, is that President Biden and Senate Democrats generally could pass voting-rights legislation if they really wanted to. They cannot, of course, because (a) nobody has figured out a way to include such legislation in a budget-reconciliation bill that cannot be filibustered; (b) Senate Republicans are united in defending an unreformed “right” to filibuster; and (c) certain Senate Democrats, most notably Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, refuse to support even a limited filibuster reform “carve-out” for crucial items like voting rights. So if state-level Democrats really want to put pressure on those stopping the For the People Act or the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, they’d be better off targeting the home states of a few key Senate Republicans, or of Manchin and Sinema.

Now it’s likely that Manchin would greet a delegation of hostile Democrats from Texas or other states with great joy, for the same reason that protestations aimed at him in Washington have zero positive impact: He represents a heavily Republican state where perceived independence from other Democrats is a priceless political gift. Perhaps the most effective thing Joe Biden could do to sway Manchin is to spend a week or so traveling around West Virginia calling the senator every nasty name in the book.

So maybe a better travel destination for Democrats wanting to force action on voting rights in Washington is Kyrsten Sinema’s Arizona, a highly competitive state where Democrats do not have to behave like Republicans to get elected statewide, and anger has been building towards her cynical belief that triangulating against her own party is the ticket to Senate seniority. Phoenix’s Sky Harbor airport is just a short hop from Austin. And Democratic legislators visiting Arizona could stop by the state fairgrounds to draw attention to the bizarre 2020 election audit that shows the hostility of Republicans to basic democratic norms.

State Dems Should Take Voting Rights Pitch Anywhere But D.C.