Texas governor threatens to defund state legislature after Democrats block voting bill

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Voting rights advocates on Tuesday excoriated Texas governor Greg Abbott’s bizarre threat to defund the state legislature after Democratic lawmakers thwarted an 11th-hour attempt to pass his priority bill that would have made it even harder for the public to cast a ballot in elections.

“At the end of the day, it’s so embarrassing that our governor can’t take a setback without throwing a tantrum about it,” Emily Eby, staff attorney at the Texas Civil Rights Project, told the Guardian.

In Texas and across the United States, Republicans have tried to roll back access to the polls after last year’s election, when their rightwing supporters bought into unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud.

Texas’s Senate Bill 7 would have imposed felonies on public officials for certain activities related to boosting mail-in voting, banned 24-hour and drive-thru voting, emboldened partisan poll-watchers and made it easier to overturn election results, among other provisions.

The legislation went through a dizzying rash of iterations and revisions to reconcile both chambers’ priorities, even as advocates and experts warned that its bedrock proposals could disproportionately disenfranchise communities of color, city dwellers, voters with disabilities and elderly people.

But even after pervasive condemnation of what critics dubbed “Jim Crow 2.0”, SB7 seemed primed to clear the state legislature just before the session’s end – until Texas Democrats walked off the House floor Sunday night.

“No pay for those who abandon their responsibilities,” Abbott tweeted Monday. “Stay tuned.”

As Texas’s chief executive, Abbott can veto individual line items in the budget, and he said he intended to do away with Article X funding the legislature, including lawmakers, staff and adjacent agencies.

But the budget he’s considering won’t go into effect until September, the Texas Tribune reported, rendering his retributive plan largely ineffective while potentially hurting future legislators.

“This might be one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard a politician suggest,” said Wesley Story, communications manager for Progress Texas. “But there is pretty stiff competition in that department when it comes to Texas Republicans.”

For pundits and lawmakers alike, a giant question mark loomed over Abbott’s incendiary wielding of power as he tried to exercise the authority to punish a whole government branch.

“He didn’t get his voter suppression bill so he’s withholding pay from not only the entire legislature, but the staff and aides who rely on it to survive,” political commentator Brian Tyler Cohen wrote online. “To their core, Republicans despise democracy.”

“This would eliminate the branch of government that represents the people and basically create a monarchy,” tweeted state representative Donna Howard.

Meanwhile, Abbott said he’s also planning to call a special session – what amounts to legislative overtime – in part to address the specious talking point of “election integrity”, which he still considers an emergency despite the legislature’s failure to pass SB7.

When that rapid-fire round will take place remains unclear, though Republican leaders are already presenting it as an inevitability.

“We will be back – when, I don’t know, but we will be back,” Texas house speaker Dade Phelan told his colleagues. “There’s a lot of work to be done, but I look forward to doing it with every single one of you.”

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