Herman: Texas state Sen. Judith Zaffirini’s 60,000 consecutive votes

Before the recent kind-of-special session of the always special Texas Legislature is too far in the rear-view mirror, let’s pause to duly note something remarkable that happened Aug. 13 when the Senate rather unremarkably voted on the third proposed amendment to House Bill 215, a measure concerning abortion reporting requirements.

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, always alphabetically the last name called, voted no. And then Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick stopped the proceedings.

“Members, thank you,” he said. “I’d like to have your attention. This is really a special moment. It’s incredible.”

What happened that was so special and incredible? Did the Democrats prevail on something? No, that would be beyond special and incredible.

“With that vote,” Patrick told the Senate, “Senator Zaffirini has now recorded 60,000 consecutive votes. That’s remarkable.”

Yes, it is. Sixty thousand of anything is impressive.

“It’s a record that will never be broken,” Patrick proclaimed.

Zaffirini, whose district includes parts of Hays and Travis counties, has been in the Senate since 1987. She’s famous for her perfect (actually, near-perfect; we’ll deal with that in a minute) attendance record and consecutive vote streak.

She’s also well-known for making sure we all know about her attendance record and consecutive vote streak. I’ve kidded her about that in the past with no ostensible negative feedback from Zaffirini, who’s a good sport about that kind of thing. Here’s the recent release from her office about the latest achievement she wanted us to know about:

“Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, today extended her unique, career-long 100 percent voting record by casting her 60,000th consecutive vote in the Texas Senate — a record that is unparalleled in Texas and nationally.”

I trust her staff now is checking to see if it’s a world record.

More about the senator from the statement: “Senator Zaffirini’s legendary work ethic also is reflected in her 100 percent perfect attendance in the Texas Senate since 1987, except for breaking quorum deliberately in 2003 to prevent an untimely redistricting that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled (2006) violated the Voting Rights Act and disenfranchised voters in her Senate District 21.”

I’ll leave it to you to decide if the facts, including the fact that she fled the state with other senators to prevent a vote, justify a claim of perfect attendance. A couple of days after her 60,000th consecutive vote, I asked Zaffirini about the streak. Specifically, I asked her how many of those votes were wrong. She laughed.

“Well, it depends on who you’re talking to,” she said. “I know there are some people who wished I would have missed a few along the way.”

There are lawmakers who strategically skip votes, a practice known as “walking” a vote, sometimes in order not to upset a supporter, sometimes a moneyed one. Zaffirini says she’s not a vote walker.

“What happened is a group of people called me and it was about a particular issue and this was a group that was supporting me and disagreed with me on one issue,” she said. “And they had heard a vicious rumor about my stand on this issue. I said, ‘It’s not a rumor. It’s true.’ And then they called back and said, ‘Well, we would still like to support you but could you at least walk any time one of those bills came up.’ I said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘I’m elected to vote for or against. … That’s when I decided I would never walk. And I can’t tell you how many times I was asked to walk a vote. And I never have.”

Weird, isn’t it, when it’s kind of special that a lawmaker does what a lawmaker is supposed to do?

Zaffirini acknowledged voting on measures was more fun in the days of yore when more of her votes were on the prevailing side. Appropriately, her 60,000th vote was another one in which the Democrats lost.

In addition to extending her mind-boggling consecutive voting streak, Zaffirini, according to a statement from her office has “passed more bills that any other legislator in the history of the State of Texas, having sponsored and passed 1,024 bills and 53 substantive resolutions.” That includes 108 this year, “breaking her record of 102 and passing more bills than any other legislator for the second consecutive session.”

Not only does Zaffirini’s tenure extend back to a different Texas political era (one in which Democrats prevailed), it extends back to a different time as far as what a politician could say in public. In 1993, then-Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock outraged some — but suffered little to no real political consequences — when he said Zaffirini could get any bill passed if she “cut her skirt off about six inches and put on some high heels.”

Zaffirini brushed it off at the time, saying, “I guess I’m getting used to his sense of humor. … He likes to tease me that way. … I take it with a grain of salt — lots.”

The skirt and heels joke also was particularly inappropriate because among the many honors we’ve been told about in Zaffirini news releases is that she’s been named by the Sisters of Mercy as an honorary nun.

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