How wrong I was to think that this week was going to be the calm before the storm.
Chaos broke out in the Texas Senate on Tuesday as Democrats blocked consideration of a voter identification bill after successfully arguing that the original vote wasn’t properly counted.
Under Senate rules, two-thirds of the chamber, or 21 senators, must agree to bring a bill up for debate. Democrats hold 11 seats, just enough to block a bill from being considered if they vote together.
Democratic senators revolted after the original 19-9 vote was revealed, loudly arguing that Sen. John Whitmire was on the floor but his no vote wasn’t counted.
“Right is right. Wrong is wrong. You tell the man I have a right to have my vote counted,” Whitmire growled before slamming his fist on the desk.
After a few minutes of tense debate, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst allowed a re-vote. By that time, a sick Democratic senator made it to the floor to cast his vote.
The final vote was 21-11.
I’m told that pretty much everything in the Capitol came to a halt as this was playing out. Apparently, Whitmire went completely ballistic, for which I’m very grateful. I had predicted that Dewhurst would wait till Gallegos was not in Austin, then try to bring up HB218. Seems he didn’t want to wait that long – I’m told Gallegos was there at the time. Oh, and that final vote should be 20-11, unless they’re counting Dewhurst, because the Senate only has 31 members.
I’m sure there will be plenty more on this soon. Stay tuned.
UPDATE: According to Eye on Williamson, the “sick Democratic Senator” was Carlos Uresti. What a sleazy maneuver by David Dewhurst.
UPDATE: The newspapers and their blogs are weighing in now. DMN:
Democrats were able to prevent consideration of the voter ID bill when Sen. Carlos Uresti of San Antonio — who had been absent with the flu — suddenly walked out on the Senate floor just as a vote was being taken on whether to debate the measure.
Mr. Uresti was summoned from his apartment near the Capitol, where he had been resting, by his Democratic colleagues, and he scrambled to the Senate chamber. As he walked to his desk, he held up two fingers to signify his “no” vote.
Mr. Uresti’s absence from the roll call Tuesday morning prompted Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, to quickly bring his voter ID bill up as the Senate started its agenda for the day.
Democrats immediately began looking for a way to halt the debate, but they lost an initial vote when Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, moved to cut off questions and begin polling members on the bill.
Mr. Dewhurst announced the vote as 19-9, enough to move forward on the legislation. That brought howls of protest from Democrats, including Sen. John Whitmire of Houston, who charged that his vote had not been counted.
“I have a right to have my vote counted,” Mr. Whitmire said in a booming voice intended to be heard by Mr. Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate. Mr. Whitmire, the longest-serving current senator, cursed as he walked around the chamber, and Democrats began demanding a verification vote.
Mr. Dewhurst then warned Mr. Whitmire that he was about to be removed from the Senate chamber.
“You’re going to compose yourself or you’re going to leave this floor,” Mr. Dewhurst announced from the Senate rostrum.
As Democrats prepared to use delaying tactics on the measure, Mr. Dewhurst said he would allow a second vote, insisting that it would make no difference in the final outcome. That was because one Republican’s vote also was not counted in the 19-9 tally on the initial vote.
So Fraser wins the Co-Sleaze prize. Here’s the Chron blog:
Republican Glen Hegar, R-Katy was absent during a roll-call vote needed to bring the bill up for debate. But Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst also counted Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston absent even though he had been on the floor mobilizing opposition to the bill.
Dewhurst announced that 19 senators voted for debate on the bill and 9 in opposition – which would have allowed the bill to proceed.
Whitmire was livid. He had momentarily visited the member’s lounge.
“I have the right to have my vote reflected,” an irritated Whitmire said, adding an expletive.
Dewhurst warned: “You are going to compose yourself, or you are going to leave the floor.”
After some tense moments, Dewhurst agreed to call the roll again, guaranteeing that the outcome would not change.
By then, Hegar appeared on the floor.
And then, less than 10 seconds before reaching Uresti’s name, the San Antonio freshman senator walked into the chamber – amid applause from several colleagues.
“He was in his office, throwing up all morning. He’s sick as a dog,” Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio said.
With Uresti’s presence counted, Dewhurst announced the 20-11 vote total.
And the bill could not be considered “at present,” he said.
Uresti immediately headed to the Senate lounge.
Better keep a cellphone close by, Carlos, just in case. Note that with Hegar’s absence, had Whitmire’s vote been properly counted, the whole thing would have ended right there, as the 19-10 margin would have been enough to keep the bill under wraps. But that would have been a lot less dramatic.
Finally, Postcards from the Lege:
Whitmire was not on the floor at the time Dewhurst asked for a roll call vote to suspend the rules to discuss the bill. Whitmire was in a back room and entered after the vote had been taken.
In spite of Dewhurst’s insistence that he called Whitmire’s name several times before slamming down the gavel on the roll call, Whitmire contended that he was on the floor all the while marshaling forces to defeat the bill.
The vote was 19-9, a two-thirds majority necessary to bring the bill to the floor.
“That’s dirty,” Van de Putte muttered in the direction of Dewhurst.
Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, the author of the bill agreed to another vote count, but only after Van de Putte rose to speak. When asked upon which reading she intended to speak, she said, “Whenever I can stop this bill, Mr. President.”
Her speech didn’t stop the bill. The recount did. As the names of the senators were read alphabetically, Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, made a dramatic entrance to cast a “no” vote. A few moments earlier, fellow Democrat Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, had asked that Uresti be given some consideration because he was sick and not in attendance.
As he strode toward his desk, fellow Democrats, who seemed genuinely surprised, applauded Uresti.
As do I. Thank you, Sen. Uresti.