A Texas state lawmaker has likened himself and fellow “fugitive” Democrat legislators with civil rights protesters of the 1960s, many of whom were brutalized by police and their fellow citizens during peaceful marches.
In an op-ed for USA Today, Texas state Rep. Jarvis Johnson, D-Houston, noted that a 1965 voting rights march in Alabama included the celebrated John Lewis, the future congressman whose skull was fractured in a beating. In what came to be known as “Bloody Sunday,” Lewis and other marchers were physically assaulted both by police officers and white rioters intent on preventing black Americans from voting.
“Today, I’m one of the members of the Texas House Democratic Caucus and Texas Legislative Black Caucus risking our lives to protect voting rights by leaving our state on July 12 to prevent the passage of Republicans’ legislative assault on access to the ballot box,” Johnson wrote in the USA Today commentary, published Friday.
Johnson is among 56 Texas Democrats legislators and at least 12 staff who are staying in hotels in Washington, D.C., covered by a political action committee. They have had the chance to meet with multiple members of Congress as well as Vice President Kamala Harris.
It’s costing the group about $10,000 per day for hotel rooms and meals, one of the Texas House Democrats said.
The special legislative session officially ended on Aug. 6, but Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has asked for another special session.
Johnson, treasurer of Texas’ Legislative Black Caucus, also used the platform of a national media outlet to raise money for Democrats.
“In addition, Texas Democrats staying with me in a hotel in Washington, D.C., are suffering financially because we maintain separate full-time jobs to support our families,” Johnson wrote. “Unfortunately, many of us cannot work remotely because our jobs or profession won’t allow it. (If you believe in our fight to protect every American’s and every Texan’s right to vote, you can donate to us.)”
The Texas election reform bill, which already has passed the state Senate, would require some form of voter ID for absentee ballots that includes a Social Security number or a driver’s license number. The bill also would block “drive-through” voting.
In the USA Today op-ed, Johnson noted that the Texas Democrats have gotten numerous death threats since coming to Washington to prevent a quorum in Austin to vote on the Republican-backed election reform bill.
His office got 20 death threats before he asked staff to stop forwarding them, Johnson wrote:
Here is just a sample: I was called the N-word repeatedly. One person wrote [that] he hopes my plane crashes. I was told to eat excrement and die. Another person threatened to come after me and lynch me.
Interestingly, Johnson’s piece acknowledged the racist legacy of the Democratic Party.
“Ironically, for the more than 50 years between 1891 and 1942, Southern Democrats used the filibuster to block voting reform, anti-lynching and anti-poll tax bills designed to provide black Americans with access to the ballot,” he wrote.
Johnson also argued that the GOP-backed bill in Texas was a “dog whistle” to racist supporters of former President Donald Trump.
“But I can never accept the voting suppression agenda of Republicans with blind loyalty to Donald Trump, whose slogan ‘America First’ is clearly a dog whistle to white supremacists,” the Texas legislator wrote.
Both travel to and lodging in Washington is free for the Texas Democrats, covered largely by private donations and a political action committee started by former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke.
Special interest donors are covering much of the cost for the Texas Democrats to stay in pricey D.C. hotel rooms, but Texas taxpayers still are losing close to $500,000 on expenses for a legislative session that isn’t happening.
The self-professed “fugitive” Texas lawmakers who fled their legislative session for the nation’s capital ultimately will have to report all of the private money pouring in to help them. That includes at least $600,000 from O’Rourke’s PAC.
Another Texas House Democrat said it’s costing the group $10,000 a day for D.C. hotel rooms and meals.
“We don’t know how long it’s going to take to beat back Republicans’ anti-voter bills. That’s why I need your help,” state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer said in a tweet as the lawmakers left Texas. “Every day we are away costs $10,000 for hotel and meals.”
A legislative session in Austin costs about $43,000 per day, which includes a $221 per diem for each lawmaker plus the cost of operating legislative offices, Texas state Rep. Jared Patterson, a Republican, previously told The Daily Signal.
Texas Democrats have 30 days to report campaign contributions after the end of the session, which was Friday. However, the Texas lawmakers have until next April to report gifts—or something of value—in annual financial disclosures.
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