Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick didn’t condone the violence at the U.S. Capitol, but as President Trump’s campaign chairman in Texas, he fanned the flames and the lie of the “Stop the Steal” movement that resulted in the insurrection. He even offered rewards of as much as $1 million for people with proof of voter fraud.
Patrick and the “Stop the Steal” movement wrongfully claimed that democracy was being “stolen” in the presidential election, when in truth they were undermining to a dangerous extent the democratic process.
Now, the Texas Legislature is in session, and Patrick is back to promoting his own version of theft in the state Senate. In his zeal to neutralize the influence of Democratic (upper case) senators, he has engineered another rule change to undermine democracy (lower case) in that chamber.
For many years before Patrick took office as lieutenant governor in 2015, the Senate had operated under what was called the two-thirds rule. That provided that no bill could be brought up for debate by the full Senate without the approval of at least two-thirds of the senators who were present. If all 31 senators were present, 21 had to approve debate. That meant only 11 senators could block and ultimately kill a proposed law.
The two-thirds rule served an important democratic (lower case) purpose. It promoted more deliberation, compromise and accommodation in the Senate and helped protect the interests of the political minority, which for many years in Texas were Republicans. It also gave more power to individual senators, sometimes at the expense of the lieutenant governor.
Even before Patrick became lieutenant governor, the two-thirds rule had started to fall victim to increased Senate partisanship. Under Patrick’s predecessor, David Dewhurst, a new Republican majority had occasionally bypassed the two-thirds rule on selected partisan issues, such as redistricting and voter identification bills.
But that wasn’t enough for Patrick, who considers deliberation, compromise and accommodation obstacles to his political and ideological agenda. And Republican senators, who are supposed to have more control over the Senate’s rules than the lieutenant governor, have let Patrick be the boss.
In 2015, GOP senators replaced the two-thirds rule at Patrick’s behest with a three-fifths rule. Republicans had a 20-11 majority that year, and the new rule allowed only 19 Republicans to approve debate on a bill with Democrats unable to stop them.
That 19-vote requirement was all Patrick needed for the next two sessions. Last session, the GOP majority was 19-12. But one Republican senator was unseated by a Democrat in November, so Patrick had the rule changed again this week. With an 18-13 Republican majority now, all it will take is 18 votes to advance a bill. That means if all 18 Republicans are united on a vote to debate a bill, Democrats will be powerless to block it, eroding the democratic process even more.
It is time to stop the real steal, Dan.