Texas Wing: The Davis Filibuster

Without taking a side on the issue, I wanted to react to the Texas filibuster last night. First, let me give credit to West Wing for even having a hint of interest in a filibuster. I’d heard the word before, but never knew what it was until I watched the “The Stackhouse Filibuster” episode on season two of West Wing. The show explained what a filibuster was, and played out the story leading to the senator’s decision. In the case on West Wing, the senator didn’t have to stay on topic. And his goal was to delay voting on a bill so he could get an appropriation added (or however you say that). So his goal was to delay long enough that they’d miss the news cycle. Josh said they wanted to hurry up and pass the bill without delay or making it more complex. So, his goal was to delay so they’d consider adding funds to research autism. His goal wasn’t to get the whole thing ignored.

Last night, the democrats (in general) were trying to delay until the end of the session at midnight. The filibuster started around 11AM. I believe one senator, Wendy Davis, talked for the majority of the time (11 hours). Unlike the filibuster on West Wing, where he talked about nothing (for example, he read recipes and parts of books), it appeared Davis had to stay on topic. I tried to read some and it sounds like national versus state filibuster rules are different. It’s also possible filibuster rules have changed since the West Wing episode. Or the West Wing episode wasn’t accurate. My guess it’s the state versus national thing. Anyway, Davis was stopped after eleven hours for not staying on topic.

This is where I learned the word germaneness. Yes, that’s a word. And apparently it’s written in the rules somewhere. I missed the original dropping of this word, so I’m not sure if it was defined to the senators, but I’ve never heard such harsh abuse of a word outside of the word “literally.” I’m not even sure some of the senators were using the word in context. Because, you see, the thing about a filibuster is, it’s just a stall tactic. And it’s boring and annoying. You can feel your life ticking away. You see people in the background holding their heads in annoyance and frustration. You see the “president” fake banging his gavel. You see all kinds of nonsense adults probably shouldn’t be involved in. And you have to wonder, is this what the government intended with a filibuster? Because, it’s dumb.

Listening to grown adults talk very slowly, in circles. I suppose end-of-semester presentations prepared these senators well because that’s the last time I’ve seen such obvious stall tactics for time. Sentences that ramble on, and as the person goes off topic saying, “Stay with me.” It’s hard to stay with anyone who’s speaking in one slow, run-on sentence.

On the other hand, as the clock ticked to midnight and it was apparent the president wanted to push the vote through (but the woman in white who knew all of the rules seemed to be on the other side), it really was exciting. What was going to happen? Could the democrats come up with more crap to talk about?

In the end, a woman senator, whose name I don’t know, said something to the effect of what does a woman senator have to do to get the attention of a male president. On my clock, this was around 11:48PM. This elicited a small amount of clapping that ruptured into applause. I am a little unclear on who was in the room, if it was just senators or if it was citizens. I saw pictures of people standing in line to get in the room, so I have to suspect there were more than senators in the room, based on the applause. The “president” first seemed to bang the gavel in a fake way. Then he actually banged it. Then he got annoyed and at times could be heard saying something to the effect of he was trying to bring the room to order. The secretary was asked to take roll, but that was impossible over the cheers. This went on for a few minutes before it was apparent the democrats weren’t going to yield until after midnight. At one point, the “president” throws his arms up in exasperation and leaves the stage. As midnight draws near (and according to my clock passes), the secretary starts to call roll again. I’m unsure how she could even hear votes. Ultimately, time had elapsed, and the vote was too late.

So, here’s what I don’t get: what’s to stop senators from merely screaming when they don’t want to vote on a bill that won’t go their way? I can understand that you can’t limit the time a person talks about stuff relevant to a bill, because that could, long-term, cause a bill to not be discussed as it should be. But, the screaming? I saw a tweet saying those who scream or otherwise cause the session to be out of order can be jailed for up to forty-eight hours. It was clear there was no way to arrest all of those causing this ruckus in time to meet the midnight deadline. So, ultimately, the filibuster, which had been broken, was carried out by a mob of non-rule-abiding citizens.

I don’t necessarily have a stake in anything that happens in Texas, so I’m not speaking to this bill specifically, but I’m speaking to filibusters in general. Is what happened OK? It seems like something that would happen on Mean Girls (in a high school) and not with elected officials. I cannot believe it’s this hard to make laws. And in a state controlled by republicans, you have to expect the republicans are going to make the rules. Just like states controlled by democrats will be, well, controlled by democrats. If the citizens of Texas don’t like it, don’t elect republican officials. But, the state of Texas elected these officials, so shouldn’t they be allowed to vote on the bill? It’s so weird to me.

Look, I used to flip game boards over when it was clear I was going to lose. But I was like 10 years old. As I’ve grown up, I realize you can’t win everything. For democrats, does it suck to take a step back in time? Sure. For other bills that are going to pass, do those suck for those senators? Yes. But the thing is, this is how a democracy works, right? If you’re going to filibuster a bill, then do it the right way. If this becomes the way things are done, I feel like the government is only going to get more chaotic and even less able to come to amicable agreements. You can’t get everything you want all the time. And in a government where you buy or bribe votes, everything’s already screwed up, anyway. But if the elected officials are going to vote for or against a bill that the minority is pissed about, find a way to talk sense. Or find a way to elect the right officials into office.

You can’t just scream and flip the game board over. That’s not progress. That’s regression. 


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