McALLEN — The reverberations of the high-profile filibuster in the Texas Senate on Tuesday night were felt more than 300 miles away in the Rio Grande Valley.
Political drama ensued when it seemed the filibuster against Senate Bill 5 staged by Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, had come to an end. Eventually, advocates against the omnibus abortion bill in the Senate gallery shouted down the anticipated vote in favor of the legislation before the special session could end.
Gov. Rick Perry has called a second special session where SB5 is expected to come before the Senate again. In part, the bill’s wide-ranging restrictions meant women in the Valley would’ve had to travel hundreds of miles to San Antonio to have an abortion.
“I’ve never seen any kind of demonstration at that level,” state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, said of Tuesday night.
On Wednesday, he said he will continue to vote for SB5, but had voted in support of fellow Democrat Davis’ right to speak. He said he couldn’t recall a moment like Tuesday involving the gallery during his nearly 27-year career in the Legislature.
“I was surprised at the point it did get out of hand there weren’t more (Texas Department of Public Safety) officers in gallery or outside the gallery,” he said, noting there were 80 to 100 troopers present.
Lucio said he plans to gather other Valley legislators to ask the governor to place another item on the second special session agenda — tuition revenue bonds. Time ran out for a vote on the bonds during the regular session that, in part, would support significant construction at Valley universities.
He said he hopes the second special session will return to the “sacred decorum” of the respected upper chamber that was not followed Tuesday.
Political figures deemed the dramatic Tuesday filibuster a potential new era for Democrats in the red state of Texas. Meanwhile others theorized Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst may have suffered a political blow. He presided over the Senate and called the crowd an “angry mob” using “Occupy Wall Street tactics.” Dewhurst is running for re-election in 2014.
Jim Barnes, president of the McAllen-Hidalgo County Tea Party, said the gallery’s involvement was a good thing, though most of his group’s members individually support SB5.
“I think it’s an example of citizen involvement in the political process and — you can call it Tea Party or pro-choice — the participation of the citizens, it’s important that it take place.”
Jim Wenzel, University of Texas-Pan American political science department chair, said the protesters Tuesday were “less Occupy Wall Street and more liberal democratic Tea Party” as they shouted people down and disrupted the process.
He said Latinos like those in the Valley might not fall in lockstep with Democrats on issues like abortion and only recently have Republicans learned the liabilities of alienating the group of voters.
As evidenced in the recent push for a merged university here that came with strong support from the Republican governor and Legislature, Hispanic areas are politically important, he said.
“That kind of attention to the Valley was unheard really, until recently,” he said.
Wenzel said issues like abortion don’t allow for middle ground; abortion access advocates see it as an issue of freedom, while opponents see it as life versus death, he said.
Edinburg resident Ester Chapa, 65, said she did not follow closely on Tuesday, but that she is pro-choice. However, she did not support the dramatic way in which protesters interrupted legislators.
“I don’t think it’s right to (have to) go all the way to San Antonio,” she said of SB5’s effect on the Valley while on her way into Women’s Hospital at Renaissance in Edinburg on Wednesday.
Miguel de la Cruz, 28, said he thought the prominent involvement of the public was positive because abortion needs to be discussed more and elected officials need to be held accountable to their constituents.
“They’re not thinking about the people, so they make the decision because they have the power,” he said. “I think that’s wrong.”
He said he’d seen news coverage of the SB5 filibuster as he walked out of the Women’s Hospital at Renaissance with his family, which includes two young daughters and a son. He and his wife, 28-year-old Adrianna Villamil, also welcomed a baby boy this past Thursday.
De la Cruz, an Edinburg resident, said individuals should be able to choose, though he does not support abortion and believes access should depend on the circumstances.
As a political scientist, Wenzel said Texas is an exciting place to be; in the past there have been fistfights on the senate floor and legislators have fled the state to deny a quorum.
“Texas politics has always been weird,” he said. “If there’s one thing that you can count on the Legislature to do, it’s provide entertainment.”
The office of state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and a representative of the Hidalgo County Planned Parenthood group did not return request for comment by press time for this article.