Returning fire, Texas’ Republican lieutenant governor fiercely defended a state Senate bill that he insisted carries no intent to suppress minority, disabled or elderly voters.
SAN ANTONIO (CN) — Fighting back against a Republican-led effort to push through a set of new, sweeping voting restrictions in the state, Texas Democrats on Tuesday announced an aggressive offense campaign in which they plan to call out lawmakers and major corporations for refusing to reject what they labeled as “racist, anti-voter legislation.”
But in his own fiery news conference where he took on everybody from the Democratic Party to the media and American Airlines, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, a Republican, fiercely defended the Senate version of the Election & Ballot Security Bill, which he insisted carries no intent to suppress the votes of minority, disabled or elderly Texans.
“Senate Bill 7 is about voter security, not voter suppression and I’m tired of the lies and the nest of liars who continue to repeat them,” Patrick said in his nearly hour-long news conference. “Nothing has changed for mail-in ballots, Election Day or early voting and anyone who says different is lying to you whether they write with a pen, talk with a microphone or hold political office.”
Clearing the Republican-controlled Texas Senate last Thursday, the proposed law limits early voting hours, bans drive-thru voting and bars election officials from sending vote-by-mail applications to people who don’t request them. Republican Governor Greg Abbott, who has frequently insisted without proof that election fraud is a problem in the state, is expected to sign the bill into law.
SB 7 also increases access to voting locations for partisan poll watchers, including permitting them to shoot video of the ballot-counting process. A House version, House Bill 6, limiting oversight over poll watchers and restricting access to mail-in ballots, is also being considered.
The bills have come under fire by major corporations doing business in Texas like American Airlines, which compared the bills to a similar law passed in Georgia that caused Major League Baseball to move its All-Star Game out of Atlanta. They have also been strongly criticized by progressive organizations and leading Democrats, who argue that Republicans are attempting to pass laws for a problem that doesn’t exist.
“This is the single greatest attack on democracy and the ability to vote in Texas in over a decade,” said former congressman and presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke. “If we connect this to what’s happening in Georgia and 41 other state legislatures across this country, this is the greatest concerted attack on democracy since the Voting Rights Act was signed into law in 1965 by our fellow Texan Lyndon Baines Johnson.”
Another 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, called the issue “a Republican Party power grab” that would bring back Jim Crow-style voter suppression to Texas.
But despite the criticism to improve what he has called a vulnerable voting system, Patrick said the law was needed because Americans no longer trust the election system following the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections. He also called on Democrats to “stop race-baiting on every issue” and praised Republican leaders for increasing voter turnout by 75% in gubernatorial elections from 2014 to 2018.
“I’m proud of what we have done as Republicans when it comes to voting, we have secured the vote and increased the turnout,” Patrick said, adding that the total number of registered voters spiked from 58% in 2012 to 66.7% in 2020 “all under Republican leadership.”
State legislators in Texas and 46 other states have introduced 361 bills with restrictive provisions relating to voting as of March 24, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, with five restrictive bills being signed into law and another 55 bills in 24 states moving through legislatures.
The coalition of Democrats and progressive organizations rallying against the Texas voting measures have already launched campaigns against AT&T for donating to legislators who support the laws, and is expected to launch additional actions against Southwest Airlines, Frito-Lay, Valero, Whole Foods and Amazon.
But before ending his press conference, Patrick continually poked at American Airlines for having “the audacity” to call his office to oppose the bill, despite claiming that the company hadn’t read it.
“Well let me tell you what Mr. American Airlines, I take it personally,” Patrick said, growing angrier with each word. “You’re questioning my integrity, and the integrity of the governor and the integrity of the 18 Republicans who voted for this. When you suggest that we are trying to suppress the vote you are in essence, between the lines, calling us racist and that will not stand.”
“That will not stand,” he repeated.