I was one of hundreds of thousands of viewers who tuned in for the wrangling of the TX Senate on Tuesday during the filibuster by Senator Wendy Davis. It may be that this was the first time so many citizens were able to watch the arcane and exacting business of parliamentary procedure.
According to the parliamentarians, “parliamentary procedure defines how groups of people, no matter how formal or informal, can most effectively meet and make decisions in a fair, consistent manner—and make good use of everyone’s time. Even a basic background in parliamentary principles can help you and your organization hold more efficient meetings.”
What I saw, admittedly with my scarce understanding of Roberts Rules of Order, was what appeared to be biased and unfair parliamentary rulings against the filibuster by Senator Wendy Davis. While other Senators have been able to read from the phone book during a filibuster, Senator Davis was ruled out of order once because a colleague handed her a back brace and then assisted her to put it on.
“This challenge was resolved by a vote of the Texas Senate, as the Lt. Governor, citing no prior precedent for a ruling, turned the decision over to the body. The Republicans who were sticklers for the letter of the law voted for a violation not written in the rules for which there was no precedent!”
At another point, one of her colleagues tried (and failed) to get a ruling against her for reading from an electronic device of some sort instead of from “paper” as written in the rules. In the end, Senator Davis was shut down by two rulings from the chair related to her speaking “off-topic” on matters that were clearly related to the bill.
Editor’s Note: Three rulings shut down her filibuster: two for what the Lt. Governor ruled was ‘off-topic’ speaking and the third for touching her back brace. –MyFDL Editor
The TX Senate Parliamentarian is appointed by the Lt. Governor, and Karina Davis, the designated parliamentarian who ran the show may be incompetent, biased or both. It will be a service to those who were watching if a proper review of her rulings is made by certified experts. It is possible she simply “knows her place” based on TX parliamentarian history.
It will probably be days before we see evaluations and analysis of the rulings of the Chair in the TX Senate. My personal experience with parliamentary process is limited, but I have a healthy respect for those who have learned the intricacies of the manuals and books that are used in our legislative bodies as a means of keeping order and decorum in the process of making laws. I hope we see some explanations on the rulings of what was “germane” to the discussion as well as a review of the collaboration between the Lt. Governor and Karina Davis.
The final vote was taken after the clock ran out on the special legislative session. The Republicans first claimed the vote was timely, but they tampered with the time stamp and their attempted fraud was thwarted due to the thousands of witnesses on line and present in the capitol.
So the filibuster was successful, and women’s rights are temporarily safe, until the next special session when there will be another chance to watch parliamentary process in action. Let’s hope the public sees a fair example of it the next time. I won’t hold my breath.
Photo by bloomsberries released under a Creative Commons No Derivatives license.