AUSTIN, Texas - At least one Texas Democrat returned to Austin from Washington D.C. to talk with Republicans about voting legislation that prompted Democrats to leave the state in the first place.
Republicans are optimistic the holdout is falling apart.
Some fellow Democrats are not happy one of their members is back in Texas, with one going as far as to call it "defection."
At an event Wednesday, Governor Greg Abbott was optimistic more Democrats might soon return to Austin.
"There have been a slow trickle of Democrats coming back," Gov. Abbott said. "There are others who are tired of their escapade to Washington D.C."
The governor’s comments came as news spread that State Rep. Philip Cortez, of San Antonio, had returned to Texas from D.C.
He’s the first of the 57 Democrats who had their voting machines locked and fled to D.C. to come back to the Lone Star State.
He said in a statement:
"I returned to Texas to try to engage in good faith dialogue about the aspects of the bill that I, and others, think are harmful."
His departure did not have the blessing of his party’s leaders.
House Democratic Caucus Chair State Rep. Chris Turner said Cortez left without telling him.
"I’ve encouraged him to return to the 50 plus members of the House Democratic Caucus who are here in our nation’s capital," Turner said.
Democrats point out there are still 56 of them still in D.C. There’s still cushion, on top of the 51 needed to deny a quorum, for them to continue to thwart Republican-backed voting legislation.
"Our group is strong, our group is united, and we're looking forward to continuing to work together here in Washington," Turner said.
Meanwhile, those in the Texas Senate traded barbs over how the voting legislation is being talked about and handled.
"Governor Abbott, you haven’t had one Democratic senator in your office. You spend more time with the governor of Florida than you have with these honorable members of the Senate and House," said State. Sen. John Whitmire (D - Houston).
"If they start from the premise that this is Jim Crow 2.0, and that somehow we don’t want people of color voting, well then it’s pretty hard to sit down and have a discussion on a bill when you walk in a room and accuse people of being something they’re not," Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said.
The author of the House voting legislation, Republican State Rep. Andrew Murr, said Wednesday that he had been talking with Rep. Cortez in D.C.
He said the two don't expect to see eye-to-eye, but will give him a seat at the table in discussions about how to move forward with the bill.