The greatest deliberative body in the world?

“The Texas Senate is the greatest deliberative body in the world.”

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times. Texas state Senators of both parties love to say it.

I wonder if they even noticed, before last night, that it’s not true anymore?

Yeah, about last night.

Last night made it clear that these days, The Greatest Deliberative Body In The World may not even be the greatest deliberative body in the building.

Perhaps it was the first point of order sustained against filibustering Democratic Senator Wendy Davis, in which this great deliberative body, where virtually all things are usually ruled germane to debates, suddenly ruled that Davis’ discussion of past legislative family planning budget cuts wasn’t germane to a bill on abortion restrictions.

Or perhaps it was the second point of order sustained against Davis, in which she was ruled out of order because another Senator decided to help her with her back brace. Yes – a point of order was sustained against a Senator based on an entirely different Senator’s action.

Or maybe it was Davis’ third strike – which called her out and ended her filibuster – the Republican point of order sustained against her in which Davis’ discussion, on how other legislation on the topic of abortion restrictions could affect this bill,was ruled not germane.

Let that sink in: debate on the topic of abortion restrictions is unrelated to legislation on abortion restrictions. That was the Republican claim, and that was the Republican ruling. Everybody watching in the building and around the world knew that Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate, was the referee who threw the game. It was intended to end Wendy Davis’ filibuster. It may have instead ended some Republicans’ careers.

Dewhurst shouldn’t have been surprised when it also ended the last shred of patience with the hundreds of pro-choice Texans watching upstairs from the Senate gallery. Ignited by Senator Leticia Van de Putte’s angry pronouncement that a female Senator’s motion wasn’t being recognized over a man’s, the upstairs crowd exploded, and their deafening noise took over the building for more than ten minutes and ran out the clock.

It’s terrible precedent for a Senate gallery to take over the Senate floor. It’s worse precedent for the majority party to cheat in order to win. Thousands of people swarmed into their Capitol building last night to see how their government works, but once they got there they found out that, these days, it doesn’t work at all. Republicans shouldn’t have been surprised at their reaction, which was essentially to rise up with one voice and declare “up with this shit we will not put!”

I’ve been watching the Texas Senate for almost 25 years, and I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve also never seen anything like this level of clock mismanagement by  legislative leadership, which is why this anti-abortion bill ended up in the red zone in the first place, vulnerable to Wendy Davis’ ultimately-successful filibuster.

Ironically, despite Dewhurst bumbling just about everything he touched last night, he’s also the lone Republican in state leadership who first raised the alarm bell mid-last week, and turned out to be exactly right in urging the House leadership to hurry up and return the legislation to the Senate, lest the bill get into Democratic filibuster range. The House scoffed at him, declined to meet Saturday, and put off final debate until a day later. Dewhurst’s warning turned out to be an accurate premonition.

This morning, the special session is over. The anti-abortion bill, currently dead, faces an uncertain future at the hands of Governor Perry’s decision of whether to call another session. People like Democratic Senators Wendy Davis, Senate Democratic leader Kirk Watson, and Senator Leticia Van de Putte are suddenly progressive heroes, the former propelled into international political stardom. Tens of thousands of Texas progressives and Democrats are suddenly feeling more empowered than they’ve felt in a generation.

And it’s entirely possible that none of it would have happened, if the Republicans in charge had managed the clock and run a fair fight.

Greatest deliberative body in the world indeed.

I’ll leave you with my own point of personal privilege, which not only demonstrates how proud I am of Wendy Davis and the Senate Democrats, but also proves that this woman can filibuster for 13 hours late into the night, and still be up and awake by 9 am the next morning:

 

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