Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo teamed-up Monday with numerous Democratic elected officials and other community leaders to decry sweeping statewide voting restrictions proposed by Texas Republicans, and to persuade state businesses to use their clout to speak out against new voting limits that critics claim would take Texas back to the racist Jim Crow era.
Turner specifically called out Senate Bill 7 and House Bill 6, two Republican-backed measures that would ban drive-thru voting, would require disabled voters to provide proof from a doctor of their condition to vote by mail and would limit early voting hours among other restrictions, for being “part of a national campaign to restrict people’s right to vote.”
Hidalgo argued these bills, along with a controversial slate of voting limitations recently signed into law by Georgia’s Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, are all part of a nationwide effort by the GOP to limit voting access thanks to the widespread belief among the party’s rank-and-file that former President Donald Trump lost his reelection campaign due to so-called voter fraud, although zero evidence of such widespread fraud has come to light.
“What we’re seeing right now is voter suppression happening in real time,” Hidalgo said, “A party that has bought into a conspiracy theory, the Big Lie, is now trying to change our laws to make it harder for all of us to vote.”
Turner also alleged that these bills are motivated by Republican fears that increased voter turnout, particularly among minorities, would make it harder for the GOP to beat Democrats in future elections.
"[It's] Jim Crow 2.0," he said.
Turner lambasted Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, not just for backing these new voting restrictions and for playing into Trump’s debunked claims of widespread voter fraud, but for Abbott’s decision Monday to back out from throwing the ceremonial first pitch at the Texas Rangers’ home opener that night. Abbott made the move mere hours before the game, citing Major League Baseball’s decision last Friday to pull its all-star game from Atlanta in response to that state’s new restrictive voting laws, which Abbott said was proof that MLB was “being influenced by partisan political politics.”
Turner wasn’t having it. “I totally disagree with the governor,” Turner said before expressing his support for MLB’s decision, which he likened to the efforts of global businesses to put pressure on apartheid-era South Africa to end government-mandated segregation decades ago.
“That’s a reminder that if a state goes against the fundamental, basic rights of its people, there is a price to be paid for that,” Turner said. “The governor is wrong, and it’s about time that people hold him accountable for the things that he says and the things that he does.”
Multiple speakers begged large companies with ties to Texas to follow the leads of American Airlines and Dell, two companies that last week issued statements denouncing the Republican-led efforts to restrict voting across the state.
Former Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins — who spearheaded the county’s implementation of drive-thru voting and extended early voting hours during last year’s election which helped Harris County hit a record turnout of more than 1.7 million voters — argued that election restrictions being pushed by state Republicans “would make it impossible, or even illegal, to do the things that we did.”
Hollins applauded the leaders of Houston’s Hispanic, Black and LGBTQ chambers of commerce for coming out on Monday to voice their opposition to the voting restriction bills, but said that more business leaders need “to stand up for the rights of your workers, to stand up for the rights of your customers.”
“The expansion of free enterprise cannot happen without a free country,” Hollins said, “and we cannot have a free country without free and fair elections.”
Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis specifically called out the Greater Houston Partnership — the region’s largest business advocacy group — and its president Bob Harvey for not making a public stand against the proposed voting restrictions as they did against the anti-transgender “bathroom bill” pushed by state Republicans in 2017.
That controversial legislation, which would have forced transgender Texans to use the bathroom of the gender they were assigned at birth, was eventually scuttled after the Greater Houston Partnership and other business interests spoke out against it, citing the negative economic impact that’d come from the PR hit Texas would take for enacting such a policy.
When U.S. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee mistakenly said that Harvey was in the crowd of critics Monday, Turner made sure to correct the record: “I know the congresswoman called out Bob Harvey, but I do not believe that Bob Harvey, or a representative from the Greater Houston Partnership, is here.”
Hidalgo stressed that if there’s any hope of preventing these voting restrictions from getting passed into law, more businesses will need to push Texas Republicans to reconsider.
“If you’re a major corporation,” Hidalgo implored, “whether you’re based here in Texas or not, take a stand right now. Your influence and dollars can save us from this latest attack on our democracy.”
“In fact,” she continued, “it may be the only thing that can.”
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.