One Texas fleebagger returned to Austin - it's not for why you might think

AP Photo/Eric Gay

One of the Texas Democrats who fled the state rather than stay and do his job in Austin during the special legislative session has returned. No, not as a change of heart and decision to correct his cowardly participation in a trip to Washington, D.C. He returned to Texas Saturday to take care of a family matter and decided to just head back to Austin on Tuesday instead of returning to D.C.

State Rep. Harold Dutton of Houston is one of the longest-serving members of the Texas House. His return to the floor of the House was a surprise to Texas Republicans. Dutton says he didn’t want to return to D.C. because his sister is receiving chemotherapy and staying at his house in Houston. She lives in Phoenix. He returned to Houston to take care of things at his house as they waited for her son to arrive. Dutton was then able to return to Austin.

Over the weekend, after tending to domestic items such as having a broken garage door opener repaired, Dutton said he heard about the outbreak of coronavirus infections among his Democratic colleagues in Washington.

Dutton said he decided it was unwise for him to return to the nation’s capital.

“I thought, ‘I can’t do that because I can’t expose myself [to COVID-19] and then I come back home to her … because her white blood cell count is down because she’s taking chemotherapy,’” he recounted.

“So I thought, ‘I can’t go back there.’ So I thought, ‘Well, OK, maybe I’ll just go to Austin. I’ll go to see Murr.”

Here’s the thing – taking care of his sister and making her comfortable in his house as she undergoes chemo treatment is being a good brother. However, what is the explanation for not returning to D.C.? He’d been in close proximity with over 60 Democrats, counting both the House and Senate fleebaggers for almost a week by the time he left on Saturday. The first case of an infected lawmaker was discovered Friday. Rep. Dutton still has time to test positive. It can take up to a week after exposure to test positive for COVID-19. He may have already exposed his sister to it.

If Dutton simply wanted to abandon the Democrats’ vacation in D.C. to shut down the special session then he should just say so. Republicans will applaud him for it. As for Democrats, he is frequently in conflict with them anyway. Dutton was born in 1945, according to his bio, so that makes him 76 years old. He falls into the most at-risk age group if he develops a serious case of COVID. We are told that all of the lawmakers were fully vaccinated, though, so he would have a breakthrough case if he tests positive which means his symptoms would likely not be severe or require hospitalization. After it’s been found to be a super spreading event, no one would blame Dutton for abandoning the Democrats in D.C. and staying in Austin.

Dutton has been in the Texas House since 1984. He is not a stranger to controversy. He is not afraid to buck his own party and work with Republicans to get legislation passed, even if it is in retaliation against Democrats. For example, in 2015 the liberal publication Texas Monthly labeled Dutton “The Worst” after he let a grand jury selection reform bill languish in the House Juvenile Justice Committee. The bill was passed unanimously in the Senate and was waiting for passage in the House so that the governor could sign it. Instead, Dutton offered up his own bill after a squirmish with the author of the bill in the Senate, also from Houston. The original bill ended up being passed anyway. The same thing happened to another bill by the same state senator from Houston, a bill to decriminalize truancy. Dutton tried to tank that bill but it, too, passed.

Rep. Dutton was censured by the Harris County Democrat Party in May. Dutton, who chairs the House Public Education Committee, revived and helped advance a bill that would restrict transgender students from participating in school sports. This was in retaliation against Democrats sinking one of his bills. Texas Democrats see nothing wrong with biological men competing with teenage girls in sports. The bill would “require the University Interscholastic League to force students to play on the sports teams based on their biological sex instead of their gender identity.” It had already passed in the Senate. Democrats had killed Dutton’s bill that would allow the Texas Education Commissioner the ability to take over a district that fails to meet various academic standards and remove school board members. So, since that bill was denied a vote, Dutton brought back up the bill addressing transgender athletes in school sports.

Dutton rightly said that the bill the Democrats killed addressing failing school districts affects far more students than the transgender bill. The bill advanced and passed out of committee. In other words, Dutton is not hesitant to take a stand when he feels legislation hasn’t been tackled that should be. It’s interesting that he agreed to flee with the rest of the Democrats in the first place. When he went back to Austin Tuesday he said he was doing so to “see Murr”, referring to the House’s lead author of the election integrity bill in the House, Rep. Andrew Murr.

The House Democrat Caucus chairman wasn’t particularly surprised that Dutton left D.C. and the rest of the group. Apparently Dutton didn’t officially sign up for the duration. “Representative Dutton was with us for a few days in DC,” Turner said. “He was not, however, one of the 57 members who signed a letter last week when we left [Austin], instructing the journal clerk at the Texas House of Representatives to lock our voting machines until we returned.”

Dutton is definitely a Democrat, though, and claims the election integrity legislation “constricts” voting access, especially for minority voters.

“The bill constricts access, even though it does it in sort of a benign way,” he said. “But the reality is it has a disproportionate impact on Black and brown people.”

Asked what specifically he’d ask Murr to change, Dutton cited a provision that would give freedom of movement at polling places to partisan poll watchers.

“It gives more authority on Election Day to a poll watcher than it does to a precinct judge,” he said.

Dutton also objects, he said, to the bill’s prohibition on experiments to expand participation, such as Harris County’s allowance last fall of drive-through voting and 24-hour voting at a few locations.

“The people who benefitted from that were more Black and brown than they were white,” he said.

The pandemic is over and voting rule exceptions should not be kept as though there is a need for 24-hour voting. No state offers that. The rogue actions of a progressive Democrat County Clerk in Harris County are rightly being corrected with legislation. How many more elected officials and staff will the Texas fleebaggers infect as they turn their summer vacation in D.C. into a super spreader event?