The 2/3rds Rule: What Wednesday’s Senate Vote Means for Texas
By Luke Baker - Texas Insider
An Interview with Senator Dan Patrick
Two days ago, in what some are calling a historic day for the Texas Senate, Republican legislators passed a measure exempting the contentious Voter ID bill from the Senate’s ‘two-thirds rule‘. The rule change was sponsored by Sen. Tommy Williams (R), who took the lead on advancing the Voter ID Bill.
Traditionally, a bill must have two-thirds support before it can be brought up for debate in front of the Senate. On Tuesday night, 18 Senators voted in favor of an exemption that would allow Voter ID to be brought to the floor with only a majority vote.
Texas Insider sat down with Senator Patrick yesterday for a one-on-one interview with the Senator, asking his thoughts on the Senate events, the three-fifths proposal, and the tone that has been set this session in the Senate.
Sen. Dan Patrick quietly supported his Republican colleagues on Tuesday. In the past, Patrick has campaigned to replace the two-thirds rule with a three-fifths rule, but until now, the idea has gained little traction.
On Wednesday’s session:
“[Wednesday] was an historic day because the Republicans made the decision that while the two-thirds rule may have had a purpose once upon a time and may still have a purpose, if the party who blocks refuses to negotiate, refuses to compromise, then they are abusing the spirit of the two-thirds rule.”
On Republican resolve:
“Up until now, the Republicans have taken the position: we take a loss. We have now taken the position, that if you refuse to compromise, to the point where you bring a hospital bed to the lobby, to the point where you are ready to go another state; when you refuse to compromise, then we have changed the rules. We have set the precedent that we can create a special order, and in essence, the two thirds rule is no longer an issue.”
On the two-thirds rule:
“It was a very, for me personally, a satisfying moment yesterday because obviously two years ago I spoke about the blocker bill and lost 30 to 1. And most people said there’s no way we are ever going to change this. I think a majority of Republicans came back this time knowing that we cannot continue to go home to the voters as the majority and say ‘I’m sorry, based on a tradition, we can’t pass the bills that are really important to you.’”
More on Wednesday’s Session:
“I thought Tommy did a masterful job. We made the point, that we’re not trying to run over you, we continue to try and compromise, but some people view bipartisanship as them winning. And so, we truly do work all together, as you know 85% of the bills we pass are bipartisanship. Block coalitions are not always Republicans and Democrats, its rural, urban, there are lots of coalitions.
“The bottom line is the majority of Texas has elected Republicans. In state wide offices, and still the majority in the House and the majority in the Senate. They didn’t elect us to give away our majority right. So yesterday I was proud that in two years we had moved from ‘we’re not ever doing to anything about the two thirds rule,’ to ‘we are going to stand up for the issues that our people are concerned about.’
“If I’m in the minority party, I’m going to fight hard to protect my interest. I don’t blame the Democrats for drawing a line in the sand on the issues important to them. That’s their job. But at some point if you go too far: to leaving the state or bringing in a hospital bed; if you go so far that you force the majority into a position of ‘well we’re just going to go home and tell our voters that I’m sorry we couldn’t do anything because we have to abide by this tradition that’s being abused.’ We’re not going to do that anymore. ”
For the People of Texas:
“I think it was a great day for the people of Texas. The average voter doesn’t know or doesn’t care about the rules. They just want us to do the job as the majority. They don’t understand if we come home and say ‘we couldn’t pass voter ID, we couldn’t lower your property taxes, we couldn’t repeal the business tax, we couldn’t deal with illegal immigration, we couldn’t properly fund education, we couldn’t reduce the top 10% rule, we couldn’t fund healthcare because of a tradition.’ That’s not good enough. I believe in tradition, but what’s more important? The tradition of the “body”? The “rights of the club”? Or representing 23 million people in Texas, especially the majority, who we represent.
“Anyone who runs for office, Democrat or Republican, and if the Democrats are in power one day, they don’t’ believe me when I say this, they should have the same right. If there are 19 Democrats one day and they are the majority, I would not expect any Democrat, John Whitmire, Judith Zaffirini, ever, if they had 19 votes, to come in and say ‘you know what, this is really important to my district but because of this tradition I’ll just go home and tell them I couldn’t pass it.’”
On the Three-Fifths Rule
“For me, obviously, I believe in the total three-fifths rule. I think we should go to 19 on everything. And there are many Democrats I think who believe that yesterday was the beginning of the end of the two-thirds rule. It was the beginning of the end. And will it be one more session, or two more sessions, three more sessions? I don’t know. Yesterday the Democrats got up with amendment after amendment. Republicans care about healthcare, Republicans care about college tuition, Republicans sure care about our military and our vets that are coming home to Texas. I was very tempted at that point to stand up and say if you just want to pass all this lets go to three-fifths. Let’s just go to three-fifths.
“In fact, I offered numerous Democrats the opportunity to say, why don’t you join me and go to three-fifths. I made the decision yesterday just to sit quietly, it was Tommy’s deal, but it represented the issue that several of us have been pushing, and I passionately feel strongly about. The Republicans have lost seats in Washington, lost seats in Texas. Moving to the middle is not the answer, grid lock is not the answer, and mean spirited infighting is not the answer.
“The one thing the people don’t want, they don’t want us to come up here, and walk out and fight with each other, they want us to come in here and be statesman like, and come to reasonable compromise on issues, but they don’t want us to sell them out. . If you look at the two-thirds rule in the spirit that it was written, which is to prevent one party from running over the other. But it wasn’t meant to have tyranny of the minority.”
More on Wednesday’s Session:
“[I thought it was a proud day for the Senate. I thought the Democrats, as passionate as they were, I thought they were very respectful. I thought it was civilized, we really did deliberate yesterday, which we seldom do because of the blocker bill. We really deliberated, that’s what the Senate should be about.
“That’s why I was so excited and felt so satisfied, that’s what I’d like to see on every bill. And we don’t get a chance to do that because of the twenty-one votes, because if you’ve got twenty-one you’ve got sixteen. And you’re not going to change five minds, as Whitmire said yesterday, its hard to change one. So the twenty-one vote rule takes away what we had yesterday. And wouldn’t it be great to have that same kind of debate yesterday on healthcare and education, and college education, and illegal immigration? That would be powerful.”
On Senator Zaffirini’s Comment: “Senator Patrick, you are a winner today and I congratulate you”
“In fact I was stunned by what Zaffirini said. It wasn’t a win for me, it was a win on principle, that I believe in. And when Sen. Whitmire said ‘Dan you’ve driven this, this is you’re doing, you’re pushing this agenda and you’re going to be sorry.’ I’m not sorry. That’s what I believe in, why should I be sorry?
“We haven’t destroyed the integrity of the Senate, we haven’t destroyed tradition. I think that the other positive that this does, this allows us to move forward with all the other legislation that’s important to Texas, without this hanging over our head.
“Because it was a battle that was sure to come, and it impacts everything else. ”
Excerpts from e-mail alert sent by Cathie Adams (president of Texas Eagle Forum), 1.16.09:
I know that YOU agree with me about the need for improved voter integrity. We are too familiar with the horror stories of dead people voting, individuals voting numerous times, dozens of people registered to vote who supposedly live in a one bedroom apartment, etc.
To partly remedy this tragedy, it is imperative that Texas Legislators pass a law requiring voters to present a Photo ID in order to vote. A Photo ID is required to board a plane or to cash a check. It surely is just as important to verify identification to vote!
...The Texas Senate's rules include a "rose bush" rule that requires 2/3 of the Senators to suspend the rules in order to consider a bill; 21 Senators must vote to bring up a bill on the Senate floor. This week during debate of the Senate rules, a majority of them voted to KEEP the 2/3 rule, but to EXEMPT ONE BILL from that rule: the requirement for voter Photo ID. This is NOT a partisan rule; instead, it is a clear move to improve voter integrity for both parties. The fact is that 77% of Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Anglos, African-Americans and Hispanics SUPPORT the "rose bush" rule exemption.
Please THANK the 18 of 19 Republican Senators who voted for this rule exemption in an effort to improve voter integrity:
Kevin Eltife Republican District 1 512-463-0101 Kevin.Eltife@senate.state.tx.us
Robert Deuell Republican District 2 512-463-0102 Robert.Deuell@senate.state.tx.us
Robert Nichols Republican District 3 512-463-0103 Robert.Nichols@senate.state.tx.us
Tommy Williams Republican District 4 512-463-0104 Tommy.Williams@senate.state.tx.us
Steve Ogden Republican District 5 512-463-0105 Steve.Ogden@senate.state.tx.us
Dan Patrick Republican District 7 512-463-0107 Dan.Patrick@senate.state.tx.us
Florence Shapiro Republican District 8 512-463-0108 Florence.Shapiro@senate.state.tx.us
Chris Harris Republican District 9 512-463-0109 Chris.Harris@senate.state.tx.us
Mike Jackson Republican District 11 512-463-0111 Mike.Jackson@senate.state.tx.us
Jane Nelson Republican District 12 512-463-0112 Jane.Nelson@senate.state.tx.us
Joan Huffman Republican District 17 512-463-0117 Joan.Huffman@senate.state.tx.us
Glen Hegar Republican District 18 512-463-0118 Glen.Hegar@senate.state.tx.us
Kip Averitt Republican District 22 512-463-0122 Kip.Averitt@senate.state.tx.us
Troy Fraser Republican District 24 512-463-0124 Troy.Fraser@senate.state.tx.us
Jeff Wentworth Republican District 25 512-463-0125 Jeff.Wentworth@senate.state.tx.us
Robert Duncan Republican District 28 512-463-0128 Robert.Duncan@senate.state.tx.us
Craig Estes Republican District 30 512-463-0130 Craig.Estes@senate.state.tx.us
Kel Seliger Republican District 31 512-463-0131 Kel.Seliger@senate.state.tx.us
Regretfully, Senator John Carona, District 16, 512-463-0116, opposed the rule exemption. John.Carona@senate.state.tx.us