On A Filibuster Down in Texas, and White Men Behaving Badly

Steve Russell
June 27, 2013

If something called “political science” exists, it’s not necessary to relate general principles of political behavior to Indians specifically.  That said, the following political eruption took place in Texas, and Texas has the fourth largest Indian population of any state. 

Some say the Republican “war on women” is a political meme invented by Democrats.  Others point out that in states where Republicans run the show, abortion rights are in jeopardy, access to birth control is in jeopardy, and equal pay for equal work is in jeopardy. 

Texas already has a law that requires a woman seeking an abortion to have and pay for a medically un-necessary ultrasound.  As a judge, I’m particularly offended by the parental notification requirement for a minor to get an abortion.

I have two daughters and four granddaughters and, yes, I would hope they would talk to me about such a thing.  I raised them to believe they could.  But if they feel they can’t, it’s not up to the government to rescue my poor parenting.

Without what is called a “judicial bypass,” parental notification is unconstitutional.  A minor who fears her parents or who is the victim of incest has to have a way out.

Hence a law that requires me to decide if a teenage girl is “mature enough” to choose an abortion.  The absurdity is that if I hold she is not “mature enough” to have an abortion, then I am deciding that she is mature enough to be a parent!  Seriously.

This was not enough for Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who called a special session of the legislature to completely ban abortions after 20 weeks.  This violates the standards set out in Roe v. Wade.  Texas would be the 12th state to take this position, all driven by Republicans who claim not to be warring on women.  Courts have stopped enforcement in three states so far, with the certainty of more to come, particularly since the new trend is to neglect exceptions for rape, incest, and protection of the life of the mother.

The Texas bill would also require abortion clinics to meet the same standards as surgery centers and have a doctor admitted to practice at a local hospital, a provision that has shut down clinics in entire states but is expected in Texas to leave 5 of the current 42 clinics still in operation.  Unfortunately, none would survive in the Rio Grande Valley, where there is already a brisk trade in dangerous abortifacients from Mexico.

Those who don’t remember how it was before Roe v. Wade will learn that women will die.

When the legislature took up this bill, people came from all over the state to testify at the committee hearings.  Each speaker could have only three minutes.  Hundreds of people took their three minutes but the lines to testify did not noticeably diminish.  Some called this a “people’s filibuster,” after the tactic of talking a bill to death.

The Republican House committee chair responded by cutting off citizen input.

When the bill arrived in the Senate, it was the subject of a real filibuster by Sen. Wendy Davis of Ft. Worth.  Davis, the first woman to filibuster in the history of Texas, took the floor at 11:18 a.m. on June 25, 2013. To kill the bill, she would have to talk until midnight without so much as leaning on furniture.  No water, no food, no bathroom breaks, and no speaking about anything not germane to the bill.

Contrast this with the US Senate, where all you do is say “I filibuster.”

Thousands of Texans filled the Senate gallery to watch.  They filled the stairs to the gallery.  They filled the rotunda.

Traditionally, a senator can make three mistakes before losing the floor.

First strike: Sen. Davis mentioned Planned Parenthood’s budget, which was deemed not germane to the bill by the presiding officer, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

Second strike: a male colleague helped Sen. Davis adjust her back brace.  Apparently, that was accepting outside help, sort of like leaning on a desk.

Sen. Davis was called out at 10:07 p.m. for mentioning the Texas sonogram law, which was also deemed not germane.

All of these calls against her were highly questionable, but plainly the days of reading the phone book to keep the floor are long gone in Texas.  Many colleagues argued in her defense, without result.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio, who represented me when I taught in San Antonio, and who had missed most of the proceedings because she was attending her father’s funeral, attempted to make a motion to adjourn, which is by rule not debatable.  Dewhurst pretended she was invisible.

At ll:45 p.m., Sen. Van de Putte approached the microphone and demanded to know “At what point does a female senator have to raise her hand in order to be recognized over a male senator?”

At this point, the pent up emotion in the gallery erupted in a mighty roar of catcalls and shouts of “Shame!” and chants of “Wendy! Wendy!”  Understanding that the skids were greased on the Senate floor and the rules no longer counted, the second citizen’s filibuster continued for 16 minutes.

The vote was finally time stamped 12:02 a.m., meaning the session had expired and the bill failed.  The Senate leadership proceeded to roll back the clock to produce a fake document showing the vote ended before midnight.

This tactic was rendered untenable by the fact that approximately 180,000 YouTube viewers were streaming the entire fandango live.  Twitter and Facebook lit up like Christmas trees.

At 2:04 a.m., the Texas Senate website put up the lie that the vote was taken before midnight, but Mr. Dewhurst reversed himself at 2:45 a.m.  There were just too many people out there.  The eyes of Texas (and the nation) were on the Senate.

Dewhurst accused the people of Texas of using "Occupy Wall Street tactics” to derail his attempt at cheating. Just so. Precisely true.

Mr. Dewhurst is perhaps still addled by the thrashing he took from the Tea Party primary candidate for the U.S. Senate, Ted Cruz.   Perhaps he does not remember that Occupy Wall Street was correct on the substance of the matter. Government failed because people cheated and nobody went to jail. The taxpayers took losses from Wall Street that dwarf the losses from all the street muggers in the nation combined. And nobody went to jail.

Occupy Wall Street was a rational response to the 1% cheating the 99% on a massive scale.

The people's filibuster, which saved the day on June 25, was a rational response when the presiding officer of a deliberative body cheats on that body's rules.

Now, Gov. Perry can still shut down the abortion clinics in Texas for as long as it takes to get to the federal courthouse if he's willing to declare another fake emergency and spend a boatload of taxpayer money to stroke the Tea Party some more.  At this writing, he has already done so.

Mr. Dewhurst and Mr. Perry are making Bozo the Clown look like a statesman. If the late, great Bozo were here, he would point out that timing is everything in politics as it is in comedy.

On June 25, the eyes of Texas were upon the capital as they seldom are. The people spoke as they seldom do.

Yes, Mr. Dewhurst, precisely like the Occupy Movement.


What, Mr. Dewhurst, will the historians say about the, as you put it, "unruly mob" that thwarted your attempt to deny Wendy Davis her victory and deny the people their constitutional rights?

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us..."

Remember exactly what Charles Dickens was describing: revolution. That's all people have left when the powerful refuse to play by their own rules.

This is a situation any politically active Indian knows first hand.  They beat you with their rules, and then when it looks like you might win anyway, they ignore the rules.  When government officials cheat, they put the people in a position where they have nothing more to lose than what has already been stolen.

This is a rule of political science just played out in Texas.  Is it coming soon to a reservation near you?

Steve Russell, Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is a Texas trial court judge by assignment and associate professor emeritus of criminal justice at Indiana University-Bloomington. He lives in Georgetown, Texas.