When Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa was 6 years old, he and his mother — picking cotton in the Valley together — were caught in a sweep by immigration officials and trucked to Mexico. He was U.S. born, but his mom was illegal: his father, a U.S. citizen, was a truck driver who spent the next year locating them and arranging to bring them home.
In the intervening months, Hinojosa said he and mother lived in a room behind a bar in Reynosa, where he remembers peaking through doors to watch the dancing. “That’s why I love dancing,” he said.
Hinojosa shared this story after the Senate’s debate Wednesday on Eliot Shapleigh’s bill creating a dual language certification for teachers. During the debate, Hinojosa told his fellow senators that he never spoke English until he went to school. Back then, teachers in the Valley taught in Spanish and English — not because of a curriculum mandated by Austin — but out of a common sense response to the students in their care, who had been raised speaking Spanish.
Hinojosa’s childhood memories provide an interesting backdrop to the Texas Capitol political landscape. This session, the English-only movement just doesn’t seem to have much traction here. But the fate of other legislation seen as hostile to Hispanics — such as the Voter ID bill — could still cause emotional upheaval this session.
Today, four senators voted against Shapleigh’s bill on final passage: Ken Brimer, Chris Harris, Robert Nichols and Dan Patrick. Yesterday, the House passed a similar bill by Rob Eissler with only 17 dissenting votes. The Statesman today gives Kino Flores the “Quote of the Day” for his rejoinder to Jim Jackson, who sponsored a bill requiring holders of commercial driver’s licenses to speak and read English. (It got knocked off the calendar by a point of order.) Flipping through internationally recognized road signs, Flores pointed to one and said to Jackson, “This last one says ‘You’ve got a bad bill; get it off the floor.'”
Senate Democrats have signed a letter blocking the Voter ID bill, which they think will discourage voter registration. David Dewhurst told reporters today that, based on the “Luna” precedent, he will give ailing Senator Mario Gallegos 24-hours notice to return to the Senate to register a “no” vote — on a single piece of legislation this session.
Yesterday, Dewhurst called the Voter ID bill an “apple pie and motherhood” issue and predicted that it would ultimately garner support of “a large majority” of the Senate. Will he dispense with the Senate 21-vote tradition for debating a bill if it means the Democrats shut down discussion of Voter ID? “I’ve haven’t considered any such plans,” he said.
It would be hard to imagine Dewhurst abandoning the 21-vote rule for Voter ID. After all, in the 2003 redistricting imbroglio, the lieutenant governor was under tremendous pressure from Delay, Rove and Co. A more dangerous moment for Democrats will be the debate of some other election-related bill, which might provide an attractive berth for a Voter ID amendment. But, given Texas’ demographic trends, I’m wondering if Republicans really want to vote on these issues, and risk losing the Hispanic vote forever.