Texas senator’s 15-hour filibuster spotlights voting clash

Carol Alvarado

Texas State Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, wears running shoes as she prepares to filibuster Senate Bill 1, a voting bill, at the Texas Capitol Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A Texas Democratic senator who spoke for more than 15 hours against GOP voting restrictions knew she was just delaying the inevitable. Still, Carol Alvarado saw the filibuster as one more tactic she could use to spotlight her party’s marathon clash with Republicans over voting rights.

And much like her Democratic colleagues who have derailed both chambers of the Texas Legislature by skipping out on work, she did it with dramatic flair.

Alvarado, chair of the Texas Senate Democratic Caucus, took questions from some other senators — mostly Democrats — while standing on the Senate floor from Wednesday evening to Thursday morning. She said the Republican legislation that would increase liberties for poll watchers and prohibitions on 24-hour and drive-thru voting would disproportionately disadvantage disabled voters and minorities. Most of her words were spoken into an empty room, after senators left as the maneuver dragged on.

“Texas Democrats in both chambers draw the line in the sand and say unapologetically and in one accord for the world to hear that voter suppression anywhere is a threat to democracy everywhere,” Alvarado said as she closed out her speech, with Democratic allies forming a line behind her.

Minutes later, the bill passed the Senate in an 18-11 party-line vote. It now goes to the House for a vote, but the legislation can’t move forward as minority Democrats there continue their walkout that has stretched into 32 days.

A filibuster can last indefinitely, and the current special session is only on day six of 30. That timeline was not lost on Senate Republicans.

“If she can speak on the bill until Sept 1, it dies,” tweeted Sen. Kel Seliger.

But buying time has been a theme of the Democrats’ summer revolt, including when House members decamped to Washington, D.C., in hopes of pressing President Joe Biden and Congress to pass federal legislation that would protect voting rights. In America’s largest red state, they have little choice besides a filibuster or a walkout because they are outnumbered. Republicans won’t budge on their party’s national priority, as seen by the way tightened voting restrictions have been approved in states such as Georgia and Florida.

The standoff in the Texas House even led to Republican leaders calling on law enforcement Thursday to round up the wayward Democrats and bring them back to the Capitol.

In the Texas Senate, where Republicans hold a majority, making quorum would be possible even if the Democrats walked out. But filibusters have remained an option for minority parties in Texas and at the federal level because senators typically have fewer rules governing how long members can speak.

Alvarado’s filibuster — during which she was not allowed to sit or take bathroom breaks — was reminiscent of then-Texas Sen. Wendy Davis’ use of the delay tactic in 2013 to stop legislation that would have restricted woman’s access to abortion. Davis filibustered for nearly 13 hours and became a Democratic star. But that hasn’t translated to more success for her or the party; she ran for governor but lost badly to Republican Greg Abbott in 2014 and she lost to the GOP’s Chip Roy in November when she ran for Congress.

Alvarado’s ambitions are unknown. But for her colleagues, that’s not necessarily the point.

“At the end of the day, what this bill is trying to do is shave points in close elections, isn’t that right?” Democratic state Sen. Ronald Gutierrez asked Alvarado in his late-night questioning.

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Acacia Coronado is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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