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Texas Democrat Explains Walkout On Voting Bill

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Until late last night, Texas looked poised to become the latest Republican-led state to pass new restrictions on voting. Nationwide, about two dozen such laws have been enacted so far this year. That's according to a tracker from the Brennan Center for Justice. Among other things, the Texas law would have banned 24-hour voting and drive-through voting and made it a felony for election officials to send mail-in voting applications to people who didn't request one. But it will not be going into effect, at least for now. That's after a last-minute maneuver by Democrats in the state House of Representatives. Joining us now from Austin is the member who orchestrated that maneuver. Chris Turner is chair of the House Democratic Caucus.

Welcome.

CHRIS TURNER: Hi, Mary Louise. Thank you for having me.

KELLY: All right. So last night, 10:35 p.m. local time, you sent a text to fellow Democrats which said what?

TURNER: Well, that specific text encouraged members who were still on the floor of the Texas House - many had left already, but if they were still there - to take their keys out of their desk - the key is what enables us to vote on the floor of the House - take their key and leave the chamber. There was a lot that led up to that, but that's what that specific text said.

KELLY: And what happened? This text went out. It landed in people's phones. And describe the moment.

TURNER: Sure. Well, to really set that scene, I need to step back a couple hours, if I may. You know, the Democrats have been fighting this bill, this vote suppression bill all session long. And all 67 members of our caucus are completely and vehemently opposed to these Republican vote suppression bills. And we came to the floor of the Texas House yesterday, the very last day to pass bills in this legislative session, and determined to just do whatever we could to stop it.

So we had multiple strategies to try to stop it. And our - we tried to derail the bill with parliamentary procedure. We planned to speak against the bill for hours because each member is entitled to give a speech against - for or against a bill for up to 10 minutes each. So we had enough time, and we had delayed the bill being taken up by addressing some other issues first. So...

KELLY: But this was the last - I mean, the final hour. The clock was ticking towards the very end of this legislative session. And the strategy was what?

TURNER: Yeah.

KELLY: They can't vote if there aren't enough members on the floor.

TURNER: That's right. And so to set up the situation that you're talking about at 10:35, we had to push the bill as close to midnight as possible...

KELLY: OK.

TURNER: ...To help make that possible. And so by getting it passed 10:35 at night with only less than an hour and a half left to pass bills, that's what helped make the final move very successful.

KELLY: Now, the reaction from the governor, Republican Governor Greg Abbott, has been swift. He is now playing the no paycheck for you card. He tweeted this afternoon that he will veto the article of the state budget that funds the legislative branch, i.e. you. He also says he's going to call everyone back for a special session, and presumably this bill could pass during that session. So what was accomplished here? Was this delaying the inevitable?

TURNER: Well, a couple of things there. One, on the pay issue, you know, Texas lawmakers - we get paid $600 a month in salary. We do receive a per diem during the legislative session. But if he wants to - a colleague of mine figured out what that would equate to for the hour and a half that we weren't there last night. I think it kind of came out about $16 or something like that. So he wants to veto the budget over that.

KELLY: And just in the minute we have left, sir, the - to the broader point of what was accomplished here.

TURNER: So we stopped a very bad bill, and we stood up for our constituents, and we protected our constituents and their right to vote. And what the governor does going forward - sure, he can call a special session. He has that power. We can't control what the governor does. We can only control what's in front of us and try to impact it, and that's what we did. And all 67 members of our caucus fought shoulder to shoulder to stop this bill, and I'm very proud of each and every one of them.

KELLY: Chris Turner is the chair of the House Democratic Caucus in the Texas Legislature. We'd love to speak to you again as you figure out what your next move will be here.

Thank you for taking the time.

TURNER: Thank you very much. Have a great day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.