“Something special is happening in Austin tonight.”
That Tweet from President Obama came as Ft. Worth Democrat, Wendy Davis, was entering hour nine of her thirteen-hour filibuster attempt to stave off a state bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks; closing 37 of 42 clinics currently in existence.
Rules of the Texas State Senate are so asinine and quirky, filibusters are nearly impossible to complete. It requires a days worth of standing, no food or drink, no leaning or stopping, no sitting or taking bathroom breaks and no physical support of any kind. You have to filibuster alone. And three sustained points-of-order from the opposition end it.
At 11:15 Tuesday morning, the President of the Special Session (appointed by Republican Governor Rick Perry) asked Senator Davis, “Is it your intention to filibuster?”
Standing tall in business attire with comfortable pink tennis shoes, readying for the long day ahead, Senator Davis gave her reply. “Yes, Mr. President.”
Davis’ goal: Make it to midnight.
Thanks, in part, to live streaming of the Senate debate, people began to pay attention. As Davis continued, supporters started trickling into the courthouse, finding open seats in the upstairs gallery and settling in for what could either be a long day or a quick end to it.
By 5:00pm the trickle had become a steady stream. The gallery, now standing-room-only, watched Senator Davis reach her sixth hour.
But then just after 5:30pm, a Republican colleague challenged her filibuster, arguing she had gone off point while discussing Planned Parenthood’s budget. The President agreed and charged her with her first violation. Strike one.
An hour later, a fellow Democrat asked for part of Senator Davis’ testimony to be read back. While doing so, a colleague attempted to help her stand by trying to apply a back brace. This prompted, yet again, another challenge from the floor. Voicing opposition, another Republican called for a point-of-order. Claiming, inappropriate touching of the filibustering Senator, the presiding President agreed. Strike two.
With time running out and only one strike left, the hundreds had now become thousands. Not only was the upstairs gallery packed, but the rotunda below was filled to capacity, as well.
Just before 10:00pm, nearly two hours shy of her goal, Davis began speaking about the financial effects of a previous abortion bill, specifically, a sonogram law that had passed last year. For the third time, a Republican raised another point-of-order claiming the Senator had, once more, gone off topic. The President agreed and issued Senator Davis her third and final strike. The filibuster had ended.
Or had it?
As the calling for the final vote began, the upstairs gallery exploded with voices of disgust and chants of, “Let her speak!” The votes being cast were simply drowned out.
If the Republicans intended to rely on technicalities to end Senator Davis’ filibuster, they’d failed to take into account the Democrats finding technical solutions on their own.
Enter parliamentary inquires.
Trying to delay the legislation, a group of Democratic lawmakers began asking questions of the presiding officer. “What, exactly, were the reasons for the three strikes?” They asked.
At 11:45pm, Republican Lieutenant Gov. David Dewhurst, who been presiding over the Special Session, took one last question from a Democratic lawmaker, who’d shown up late after attending her father’s funeral. Trying to get caught up on the day’s events in the chamber, she asked her question.
“At what point must a female Senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues in this room?” She asked.
For fifteen straight minutes the crowd roared, thunderously, in support. For fifteen minutes Dewhurst tried tallying the votes. As the midnight deadline passed, the Republican majority, in clear violation of their own rules, continued to try recording the vote.
At three in the morning Dewhurst conceded. After eleven hours of filibuster and two hours of debate, it was over. The filibuster was valid.
This is a remarkable story. Not because the territory was unfriendly for Wendy Davis (out of the 150 seats in the State House, 95 are Republican) and not because the Democrats out-maneuvered their Republican colleagues. Rather, it’s extraordinary because of the people. Yes, Wendy Davis is in the spotlight, and yes, Texas Republicans have, once again, shown themselves to look ridiculous and petty. But the people of Texas haven’t. Senator Davis was never really alone on that floor.
Governor Rick Perry is calling for, yet again, another Special Session on passage of this bill. So something special, as President Obama said in his text, has to happen again. The public has inserted itself into the democratic process more so now than ever before. And even if this bill passes, it’s important to stay involved. Continue to pay attention. Republican’s in Texas are trying to “see to it” that people won’t. Then again, they don’t see too well, do they?