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July 7, 2021      4:24 PM

HK: An open letter to Sherry Sylvester

After Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s senior adviser wrote that our publisher had a “pathological determination to push the left-wing phony voter suppression narrative,” Mr. Kronberg responds with the facts and reflects on where elections legislation stands heading into the special session

Editor’s note: Following publication last week of this column by Quorum Report Publisher Harvey Kronberg, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s Senior Adviser Sherry Sylvester wrote in an open letter that his article “reflects a pathological determination to push the left-wing phony voter suppression narrative regardless of the facts.” Sylvester’s entire letter is here for all to read.

Because the Lt. Governor’s campaign elevated this to the level of a statewide news release – garnering national attention for Patrick’s retreat from some key provisions of Senate Bill 7 – Mr. Kronberg’s response is offered here free to the public – SB

Dear Sherry,

Before getting into the specifics that so outraged you, let’s remember the thesis of the column captured in the headline: “As lawmakers prepare to convene in Austin, the level of trust between the big three is in question.“

Frankly, that is not in dispute.

The Lt. Governor has called Dade Phelan “the worst speaker” he has ever worked with, per Senate sources. Meanwhile, the Governor is using the Legislature as a campaign prop having gratuitously threatened the livelihoods of over 2000 innocent bystanders over the actions of a minority of Texas House members who used a legitimate parliamentary tool over a bill that morphed into something completely different when it came back from conference committee.

Furthermore, the Governor offers financial benefit if lawmakers do what he wants – something that should insult both chambers. The Governor and the Lt. Governor have diametrically opposed each other on “repricing” of the electricity market and taken their disagreement public. The mutual admiration society has definitely taken a hit.

By appointing a Select Committee on Constitutional Rights and Remedies, Speaker Phelan sent a message to the Governor and Lt. Governor: Any election bills would be driven less by hysterical rhetoric and more by thoughtful deliberation. It is a strong bi-partisan committee populated by grown-ups.

You say I am pathologically committed to an untrue version of the facts over the evolution of SB7. Amid finger pointing as to who inserted language undermining “Souls to the Polls” and judicial overturning of elections, the behavior of the Senate and its presiding officer belie a fair process. The last floor debate on this in the Senate ran from 12AM to 6AM and let’s just say accuracy in the debate was often a casualty. Chairman Bryan Hughes spent hours publicly defending provisions in the bill which Governor Patrick now says will not come up in the special session.

Read on and you will learn where the Lt. Governor publicly mischaracterized SB7.

What was visible for all to see was that when the House debated the legislation, a point of order called by Rep. John Turner created leverage and afforded the time for Ds and Rs to negotiate away what both sides would later characterize as some of the worst features of voter suppression. A slew of amendments was offered and adopted that both sides would agree eliminated the most egregious elements of the bill.

If any election bill makes it to the Governor’s desk, it will probably look more like the House amended version than SB7 or the Conference Committee Report

Ironically, the original HB6 and SB7 cut a broad path potentially suppressing not just minority voters but also Republican voters, especially the elderly who relied heavily in 2020 on mail-in and drive through voting. Only one in four Republicans voted in person on election day.

Who put courts easily overturning elections and ending Souls to the Polls on the table? The Senate.

The House sent the “cleaned up version” over to the Senate where a 21 page “outside the bounds” resolution, SJR 547, was adopted that gave permission to the conferees to include language to do, among other things, the following:

- withheld voter registration funding for counties that did not properly clean up their voting rolls along with potential fines to county officials

- push back voting hours on Sunday -- Souls to the Poll-- until 1 (yes the Senate affirmatively put that in the Resolution)

- Voters are not eligible for mail in ballots due to a lack of transportation, an injury that does not require an attendant, can’t get off work. Voters must specify the reason for their request for a mail in ballot and in some cases provide an affirmation by a health care provider

- And of course, overturning an election judicially.

Quibble with any details you like, but it was a Senate bill – the Senate was the lead on the legislation. That is exactly why it is so disingenuous for anyone to claim they do not know how provisions were inserted that are clearly voter suppression.

Nevertheless, I am pleased Governor Patrick has now publicly said at least the two most offensive proposals will not be in the next version.

But the bottom line is the House sent over a relatively clean bill, the Senate included last minute new provisions in the Conference Committee report giving the House only an up or down vote on the whole package — in effect a mélange of “take it or leave” it that had never previously been discussed in either chamber.

It is the Senate and its leadership that’s lost credibility here. In what was a press rant more than a press conference, Lt. Governor Patrick said anyone who called the original version of SB7 a voter suppression bill was a “liar who had not read it.”

Patrick successfully bullied most business leaders into keeping their collective head down, but we subsequently learned that elements of voter suppression were at least a part of SB7:

- The Texas Tribune first reported there would be fewer polling locations in minority areas of urban counties.

- The Austin American Statesman reported Patrick dismissing the reduction of drive-in voting of little consequence to minorities saying, “If they're worried about people of color — on the Democrats side who came up with this drive-in voting — statistics show that more people of color don't have cars than not. So how do (drive-thru voting centers) help those folks?”

Move along, no voter suppression to see here. The fact is that the Lt. Governor misled the press and the business community.

As far as polling goes, a majority of Texans initially supported the bathroom bill until they learned more about it. As I recall and depending on what polling you looked at, support flipped almost exactly, 65% first supported then 65% rejected it. But the most important poll on voting is from Republican rising star pollster Chris Perkins in which he reports broad support among Texas voters for expanding and relaxing access to the vote. Take a look.

Finally, you point to the press screaming about voter suppression with Voter ID and straight ticket voting. You claim that since voter ID became Texas law, Presidential voter turnout has increased 40%. In absolute numbers you are correct, but at least 4 million more Texans have been added in that timeframe.

You accurately report that in 2012, the percent of turnout of registered voters was 58.58%. In 2020, the turnout of registered voters was 66.73%. Similarly, the 2014 gubernatorial race saw 33.7% of registered voters turnout. Four years later, it was 53.01%. Of course, that cycle featured Beto O’Rourke facing off against Sen. Ted Cruz, a race that excited Democrats more than they had ever been in decades.

As far as the Baselice poll for the Texas Association of Business that you cited, the most significant number is “By nearly a four-to-one ratio, voters support efforts to make it easier (64%) versus harder to vote (17%).”

My original thesis is accurate. There is much distrust between the leadership.

And while there was quite a bit of innocuous boilerplate in the final version, the writing out of “Souls to the Polls” and writing in of overturning elections with little to no evidence of fraud became the metaphor for what many viewed as pervasive mischief by the Texas Senate.


Harvey Kronberg

By Harvey Kronberg

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