A Bill is Killed; A Star is Born

With all the strange things that happened during Wendy Davis's filibuster, there's one point that has gone almost unnoticed.
Wed June 26, 2013 2:30 pm

of the day in San Antonio attending her father’s funeral, had had enough. “At what point does a female senator have to raise her hand,” she asked, “in order to be recognized over a male senator?” 

The outpouring from the people watching, in response to that question, was unlike anything anyone could remember seeing in the Texas lege. The cheering in the gallery was deafening and sustained. It was boosted by hundreds of people outside the Senate chamber, who had been trying to keep track of developments via text and Twitter. The Republicans were trying to keep moving on the bill, but they simply couldn’t hear each other. The Democrats, who had gone to stand with Davis, encouraged the crowd, by flashing two fingers at the gallery–in the Texas Senate, two fingers means you’re voting “no”—and, as the minutes ticked by, five fingers: it was five minutes until midnight, and the death of the bill. Republicans rushed to the podium and frantically tried to vote on the bill there, shouting at each other. But the last minute had already elapsed. Around three in the morning, after several hours of backroom debate, rumors, and even shenanigans, Dewhurst went to the podium for the last time: the vote on SB5 took place after midnight, and so it didn’t count. And so the people of Texas, who had been cut off at the committee hearing, had the last word. 

Republicans were apoplectic. Dewhurst, who said a few clipped sentences to reporters after the Senate finally called sine die on the special session, called the protesters an “unruly mob.” And it was, certainly, an unusual way for Davis’s filibuster to end.

Still, it would be hard to argue that Democrats had flouted the rules or traditions of the Texas Senate harder than Republicans did. The whole drama had started, thirty days previously, with the Republicans’ decision to get rid of the Senate’s two-thirds rule. And it only ended after Democrats held the Republicans to the rule that midnight still means midnight, even in the Texas Lege: Chuy Hinojosa, a Democrat from McAllen, made sure that everyone saw two printouts of the time-stamped record vote: the first version, which showed that the final vote on SB-5 happened on June 26, and the later version, where the date had mysteriously been nudged back to June 25.

As for the abortion bill, it may rear up again. Perry is widely expected to call a second special session, if only to deal with transportation funding and juvenile justice, the subjects of two bills that were pending in the Senate yesterday but died at midnight along with the abortion bill. He could, at that point, add abortion to the call, and another abortion bill would almost certainly go through. The Republicans do, after all, have the votes to pass it.

But there’s reason to think that Perry might quietly take a pass on reviving the issue. There are a number of issues where the Texas legislature is more conservative than the people of Texas as a whole, and women’s health is one of them. After the events of the past week, Texas Republicans have to realize that. They were, notably, largely quiet on the subject yesterday. Perry  didn’t even send out a press release about the Senate fight, nor did he  get drawn into the biggest Texas political showdown of the year on Twitter. For that matter, a lot of Texas Republicans–other than the ones in the Senate, and a delegation of House representatives from Tarrant County, which is Davis’s area–steered well clear of the debate. We might look back at yesterday as a pivotal moment in Texas politics: the moment when Republicans once again realized they might have to compete with Democrats, rather than Republicans farther to their right.

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