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Politics

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick Blasts Houston-Area Leaders Over Opposition To Voting Bills

dan_patrick_capitol.jpg
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT


Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick blasted Houston-area leaders for enacting voting laws that he said were unconstitutional, after they called out state legislators for pushing for new strict voting laws.

Senate Bill 7 would ban 24-hour voting and drive-through voting, and would bar local election officials from mass-mailing absentee ballot applications to all eligible county residents — measures that Harris County pioneered or attempted to enact in the 2020 election cycle.

Speaking in the state Capitol, Patrick criticized the county for what he said was overstepping its authority.

"I have news for Harris County: You're not the capital of Texas,” Patrick said. “The state capital resides in Travis County, in the city of Austin, in this building, not in the county judge or the mayor's office. Harris County does not make policy and create law for the other 253 Texas counties."

Patrick was responding to a Monday press conference in Houston, in which local Democratic leaders from the city, Harris County, and Fort Bend County attacked SB 7, arguing it would tend to discourage minority voter participation. Turner referred to the bill as “Jim Crow 2.0,” echoing criticism of similar legislation in Georgia.

“The right to vote is sacred,” read a statement from Turner. “In the 1800’s and 1900’s in this country, women, and people of color had to fight to obtain that right to vote … In 2021, we find ourselves again fighting bills filed in legislatures across this country that would restrict and suppress the right of people to vote.”

But Patrick argued it would not do so, pointing to prior legislation he had supported, the state's Voter ID statute, about which Democrats have made similar claims.

Patrick said voter participation has risen since it became law.

"I listened to that press conference in Houston yesterday, and one of the speakers commented, ‘this has all been under Republican leadership,'” Patrick said. “I'm proud of what we have done as Republicans when it comes to voting. We have secured the vote and increased the turnout.”

Harris County has argued that its unprecedented outreach in the last election cycle led to record turnout, a trend county leaders fear will be reversed with more strict voting laws. Studies have found that Texas is one of the most difficult states in the country to vote.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo declined to comment on Patrick’s statements, but a spokesman pointed to her previous public statements condemning such laws that she said disenfranchsed voters.

The lieutenant governor also attacked Harris County's record on handling the COVID-19 pandemic and combatting violent crime.

"Thank God Harris County is not the capital of Texas," Patrick said. "Because all the other 253 counties would have been shut down like Harris County was to business, and Texas would be like California and New York if Harris County was in charge."

Patrick’s comments came during a press conference in which he attacked Texas-based businesses pressuring the state over SB 7. They also came the same day voting rights groups in Texas called on corporations to apply pressure to Republican lawmakers, according to KUT. The groups asked the companies to stop political contributions to lawmakers who vote for such bills.

The lieutenant governor leveled much of his anger at Fort Worth-based American Airlines, which publicly denounced the measure. Patrick himself said he had received a call from a government relations executive at the company telling him the airline would oppose the bill.

"Let me tell you what, Mr. American Airlines: I take it personally," Patrick said. "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're trying to suppress the vote, you are in essence, between the lines, calling us racists, and that will not stand."

Patrick also warned of consequences for companies that weighed in publicly against SB 7 — specifically that they should expect Republicans to oppose bills those companies support in the future.

"You know, it used to be where you came to the Legislature to talk about policy that may have impacted your business – regulations, financial issues, tax issues," Patrick said. "Stick to that."

Copyright 2021 Houston Public Media News 88.7. To see more, visit Houston Public Media News 88.7.

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