Half an hour before deciding to deliver all of Texas’s 38 electoral college votes to Donald Trump and Mike Pence, the Texas electors faced a simpler vote. Who would chair their meeting? There were several contenders. Matthew Stringer, a right-wing activist and correspondent for the media wing of Empower Texans, was nominated as chairman and promptly seconded. Ken Mercer, a former member of the State Board of Education, then nominated Richard Tex Hall, a cowboy-hat-wearing, tobacco-dipping insurance agent from Bulverde, north of San Antonio. Finally, Randy Orr, who had lost a bid for a Texas Senate seat in 2018, put himself forward, apparently ignoring the advice of the Reverend Gregory S. Davidson, whose invocation before the meeting had asked God to “deliver [the electors] from all considerations of self-interest.” Neither Hall nor Orr could find a second, and thus were eliminated from contention. As voting on Stringer ensued, Hall and Mercer kept their hands down. But when the presiding chair of the meeting, Secretary of State Ruth Hughs, clarified that Stringer was the only eligible candidate, Mercer’s and Hall’s hands crept up. It was a swift lesson in democracy: the importance of accepting the results of a process that doesn’t go your way.
The lesson didn’t stick long. Minutes after unanimous votes for Trump and Pence, the meeting of electors turned to “miscellaneous business” that proved to be anything but. Mark Ramsey, a former member of the State Republican Executive Committee, formally introduced a resolution that he had circulated to his colleagues before the meeting, calling on the legislatures of four Biden-voting states with GOP-led state governments—Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—to appoint their own electors in the face of “a clearly unconstitutional process.” (By the time the resolution passed 34–4, all four states had already allocated their electoral votes.) Four years after Governor Greg Abbott had called the meeting of electors a “circus” because of the decision of two members to not support Trump, the body began debating how best to frame its attempt to get politicians in other states to override the voters’ will.
“Don’t mess with Texas,” Hall told me after the meeting, pointing at an engraving on his boots reading the same. “It’s just like when you’re sitting at home and something is starting to happen at your neighbor’s … We’re standing up for our neighbors.”
What would the resolution even amount to beyond words? Hall told me that if Biden were inaugurated, he would “call him president because that’s what he’d be.” Tamon Hamlett, a student at the University of Houston, had a different idea. Trump could “pull an Obama move” and create a special counsel to investigate fraud. And if Republicans take the House in 2022, which he assured they would if Democrats didn’t “cheat,” they can “promptly impeach Biden and remove him.”
The bid to toss out the results in the four other states proved remarkably uncontentious: only one elector spoke against it, questioning whether the electors had the procedural authority to issue resolutions. But a second clause, condemning the U.S. Supreme Court’s “moral cowardice” for dismissing Ken Paxton’s lawsuit challenging the legitimacy of the votes in those four states, inspired debate.
Jim Pikl, an appellate lawyer in North Texas who tweeted a week ago that the GOP will never win another election unless they “cheat like the Dems,” argued that the “moral cowardice” clause would sully an otherwise sound resolution. He proposed an amendment striking the clause and merely condemning the Supreme Court. Hall took the floor and concurred. “I, Don Quixote, come and tilt at this windmill … kinda grabs your attention,” he said, before Stringer interrupted to request that he stay on topic. The “moral cowardice” phrase, Hall continued, is “like this fire ant bite I got the other day. When you throw those words out front you get their attention, but not in the right way.”
The electors agreed, voting 28–9 with one abstention to strike the clause. Then their attention turned to grammar. Did the amendment read cleanly without “moral cowardice”? Should the resolution censuring the Supreme Court “condemn” it in the singular form, or should it read “condemns”? Pikl identified himself as a “grammar nerd” and said no additional clause was needed. Satisfied that there was no moral cowardice left to debate, the electors overwhelmingly passed the amended resolution, calling on four sister states to overturn the election.