Ken Herman: A rough night for democracy

June 29, 2014 

Sometimes, time affords a fresh perspective not available at the time of an event. A year after the Wendy Davis filibuster that sparked unprecedented Texas Senate mayhem is not one of those times.

Though I sided with the screamers in opposing the abortion restriction bill, I noted at the time that they were way out of line. I still believe so. The process remains more important than anything it produces, and what happened that night was a perversion of the process.

Regardless, Texas Democrats are marking the anniversary as if they were heroes. Included is a group called Fight Back Texas, which is encouraging supporters to "Dust Off Your Orange," the official color of protest last June, to mark the anniversary.

"Last summer, extremist lawmakers ignored the voices of thousands of protesters -- and instead pushed an anti-woman, anti-abortion bill into law," Fight Back Texas recently tweeted.

Is that what happened? Or was it that a group of senators stuck to what they believed and what they believed their constituents believed in the face of taunts from screamers who interrupted a duly-constituted legislative body made up of duly-elected legislators. Even with the perspective of time, I'm pretty sure that's what happened.

In addition to siding with protesters in opposing the bill, I agree with them that Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst made questionable parliamentary rulings against Davis. But such rulings should not be subject to thumbs up or thumbs down by a screaming horde. This ain't Rome.

"The filibuster was just the beginning -- our voices will continue to be heard," says Fight Back Texas.

Good. And just as filibuster night was the wrong time for those voices to be heard, this is the right time as Davis runs for governor and Dems are filled with optimism sure to be heard at their state convention in Dallas this weekend. Best wishes to them in their effort to make this something of a two-party state, which would be good for us.

The Davis campaign planned "filibuster anniversary" parties across the state Wednesday night. "One year ago, Wendy Davis launched a nearly 13-hour filibuster and stood up for the rights of Texas women," says the invitation. "It was an act of courage and strength that brought together women and men across the state."

I'm not a filibuster fan. It's a loser's tactic utilized by senators who don't have the votes to do what they want done or stop what they don't want done. It's also an unfair tactic, not equally available to all legislators regardless of age or physical condition.

The big anniversary celebration was planned for Wednesday evening at the Palmer Events Center. Davis, lieutenant governor candidate state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte and "other special guests" were scheduled to be on hand. Tickets ranged from $20 for general admission to $1,000 for hosts, who also got into a "VIP pre-program reception" and "photoline with Senator Davis."

I'm not sure it's an anniversary to be proud of, but I am in favor of (almost) anything that gets folks involved at the right time. The right time is when we pick our leaders and legislators, not by screaming as they do the leading and legislating they were elected to do.

Last June's screamers already have had an impact at the ballot box, albeit perhaps not one they wanted. In defeating Dewhurst in the GOP lite guv primary, challenger state Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston often reminded voters that Dewhurst lost control of the Senate chamber on filibuster night, which he indeed did.

Van de Putte has a long-shot chance of beating Patrick in November. Failing that, the legacy of last year's Democratic screamers could include a new GOP lieutenant governor they'll like even less than the old GOP lieutenant governor.

Happy anniversary.

Ken Herman, Austin American-Statesman; kherman@statesman.com.

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