Let me tell you about the time Texas tried to codify how to overturn an election in the middle of the night.
It all started decades ago when reports about climate change started to gain traction. That made oil folx mad because it would mean that they would have less money. Two brothers, Charles and David Koch, needed to keep making oil money, which meant that they had to control the courts, legislative policies, and minds. In response, they started funding think tanks, training programs, and all kinds of media investments to help show people that “it was okay if they were being poisoned and robbed” because money is great. Over the decades organizations like the Heritage Society, Federalist Society, Heritage Foundation, Prager U [NOT A UNIVERSITY], and American Legislative Exchange Council have been training “conservatives” to prioritize freedom of the individual over the community and constituents. Their biggest gains were in the establishment of the “Tea Party,” a small but vocal and increasingly violent-racist faction of the Republican party that laid the groundwork for conspiracy theories and riots to overturn free and fair elections.
Thanks to this echo chamber, they were able to build a system that does not take ‘no‘ lightly. This system has been churning for a few decades now and finally found the right candidate to make authoritarian progress that would protect them from being good neighbors and stewards of the Earth. Donald Trump lost the 2020 election, and like the dirty side of a hurricane, took the Texas Republican party with him.
17 congressional Texas Republicans voted to object to election results in Pennsylvania and Arizona, at least one Texas House member (a co-sponsor of Texas’ SB 7 that sought to place new restrictions around the voting process) was present at the January 6th coup. One member (the “author” of HB 6, the Texas House counterpart of SB 7) volunteered to participate in a lawsuit to overturn election results despite no “conceivable justification” of fraud for mail-in voting. As of this writing, there has been no accountability for a failed coup or for supporting those who fan the flames of authoritarianism.
All of this history culminated on the night of May 29, when Texas House Democrats took the uncommon step of breaking quorum to prevent the heinous SB 7 from passing. The saga of HB 6/SB 7 is a real roller coaster and I highly suggest reading about it here. But, I just want to share a few moments that stand out from my perspective.
- HB 6 was heard for public comment in a committee hearing, but when the Chairwoman of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus asked to be recognized to speak, Chairman Cain suddenly ended the hearing “on accident.”
- A 22-hour hearing was held for HB 6, ending somewhere around 5 am. The Chairman of the House Elections Committee left the room and was absent for many voting rights groups’ testimonies, which was only permitted in person and limited to 3 minutes.
- SB 7 (a related, but different bill, with different objectives and different policy content) was completely stricken and replaced with HB 6 as a committee substitute. Committee members received the substitute mere minutes before being asked to vote on it.
- SB 7, as HB 6, was rushed out of committee and then was hastily passed through the Senate then the House
- After 10 days (TEN DAYS) of being in the conference committee, where 10 members of the House and Senate were tasked with agreeing upon bill language, the final version of SB 7 maintained drafting errors.
- On a holiday weekend, with only 3 days left on which the legislature could act on this legislation, the conference report was released. It included 20 new provisions that had never been discussed when the bill moved through the legislative process, over 40 new pages.
As a policy analyst for the Legislative Study Group covering the House Elections Committee, this situation gave me a few new gray hairs. I had to analyze which good language had been stripped from the bill, and which new out-of-bounds-provisions were a real nightmare or simply a nuisance. As I read through each line of the bill, my anger and fear grew, as a former election judge, volunteer deputy voter registrar, and general lover of democracy. I think some of that came through in my analysis:
“Documented voter fraud in Texas is rare, but SB 7 is a 67 page ode to voter suppression steeped in racism and the baseless Big Lie touted by former President Trump and his anti-democracy followers. Since 2018, only 45 people have been arrested and only half were prosecuted for some kind of vote fraud in Texas…Instead of enacting systemic changes that would actually provide its stated intent of increased election security and access, the bill will create “gotcha” law that will criminalize honest mistakes and decrease access to the ballot box for many … In short, SB7 is the next step in the war on democracy perpetuated by fact-free election fraud claims.”
In short, the bill (and it’s not dead yet) would have codified authoritarianism. Waking up to go to work and having to analyze legislation that intentionally criminalizes the beautiful humanity of voter engagement was very difficult for me. In retrospect, I probably take in more history of authoritarian regimes, climate change and cults than the average Texan. But, I think that it’s important that we look at the full landscape of what and how the state of democracy is functioning.
This is where I want to tell you about the importance of not joining a cult. No one wakes up and decides to leave their family, life, and world behind and says “Gee, I’d love to join a cult today.” People join cults because they are looking for something, or someone, to bring some salvation. These people see something that others outside of the group do not see and seemingly have the answers to make the world make sense or make it all better. Then the behavioral control (isolation from one’s environment and social circle, debilitation through sleep and calorie deprivation, degradation of a person’s sense of self, induced crisis, extensive indoctrination sessions, rigid daily rules, and alternation of harshness and leniency in discipline) sets in gradually over time. Folx sometimes do not realize what is happening until some drastic event happens and even then some choose to ignore it. They join because they believe it is something good, and it is used against them over time to feed someone else’s goals. My experience showed me that a cult doesn’t need to be a defined institution for the parallels to be drawn to what I experienced this legislative session.
As attacks against democracy increase, humanity is debated, and the world suffers from warming temperatures, many of us look for leadership in government to help right the ship. However, politics is full of politicians who are flawed humans – there are no heroes in this fleet. No one is coming to save us, and the politicians we are fans of are going to disappoint us. The only hope we have is in community, by getting involved in the local level; by knowing what your Justice of the Peace thinks about evictions and property owners; what your Court of Appeals thinks about housing and substance use scams; and what your County Commissioners want to do about greenhouse gas emissions; or even BE that local leader.
During the month of May, I had aggravating bills to analyze through the breakneck deadlines the House works with, as more bills were piled on an already 90-bill calendar. There is not time to sleep, eat well, talk to your loved ones, or in general, to be a human. Something my wonderful therapist reminded me is that I am not my job or this career, and if I want to continue doing this work I have to stay in touch with my humanity. I know that trying to change systems and ask for accountability is hard work and that this work can make me feel simply crazy. Through this experience I have discovered that going forward I am going to look at ways I am being programmed to further someone else’s agenda. If I am to be sleep deprived and hungry I want it to be on my own accord, because I am working towards something, not participating in a manufactured crisis.
Folx leave cults by being empowered to think for themselves. If we’re going to get out of the death cult of capitalism – whereby corporations poison us, our air, and our water – we need to get connected deeply into our local and state systems… and learn to rest and take naps.
by Joy Fairchild, Policy Analyst at the Texas Legislative Study Group
Originally posted from University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work’s Austin Legislative Internship Program. The College selects graduate MSW students to intern at the Texas Legislature during its legislative session every two years. This post was syndicated with permission from its authors.
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