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Texas Rep. Andrew Murr is a conservative, but he's also willing to admit he's a pragmatist. His Democratic colleagues in the Texas House of Representatives may not always agree, but that is his hope.
"I pride myself that I will speak to anyone about any policy or listen to their arguments, but that doesn't mean that I will change my mind," said Murr, a multigenerational resident of Junction, who represents the 53rd District, including all of Kerr County. "I'm never going to be one that refuses to shake someone's hand or refuses to listen to their point of view. I think we owe it to all of our constituents because not all of them are not cut from one party."
Considering Murr's lineage, he's the grandson of former Texas Gov. Coke Stevenson; reasonable and logical are cornerstones of his upbringing.
However, in these hyper-partisan times, Murr is often painted as a hard-right conservative. During this summer's battle between Republicans and Democrats in the Texas House, Murr's signature legislation over voting security and regulation faced a walkout by Democrats. It became a national news story as Democrats fled the state, most heading to Washington, D.C.
Murr sat at the table with state Sen. Bryan Hughes, who authored the Senate Bill 1, the senate's version of the voting bill, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott, who signed the bill into law. Abbott and Patrick have positioned themselves as heirs to former President Donald Trump's brand of populist conservatism. At the same time, Hughes was a legislative hammer by writing many of the most controversial bills during the 2021 legislative session.
However, Murr said he never positioned the voting bill as an attack on voting rights but focused on streamlining procedures to ensure voting is fair across the entire state.
"From the framework of considering good policy, we listened to everyone," Murr said. "We arrived at something that is very comprehensive, but I believe it promotes voter access."
VIDEO: Texas Rep. Andy Murr discussing voting integrity bill.
Not everyone agrees with Murr's assessment. Within hours, Gov. Greg Abbott signing the bill, liberal-leaning groups sued Texas. The Texas ACLU led a coalition that filed suit on Sept. 3.
"SB1 officially cements Texas as the hardest state to vote in the country," said Ryan V. Cox, senior attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, which joined the ACLU in filing suit. "For decades, voters of color have been silenced through voter suppression, gerrymandering, and deceptive tactics. We cannot allow our democracy to be undermined by these blatantly illegal voting restrictions aimed at disenfranchising communities of color and voters with disabilities."
How the battle will play out in court could be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. Considering the high court's recent decisions to roll back some of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Texas may be in a position to defend itself against court challenges.
Previously, Texas had to get pre-clearance from the U.S. Department of Justice before enacting election changes, but that went away in 2013. Voting rights advocates argue this is just one step toward disenfranchising voters.
"Voters with disabilities and voters with limited English proficiency have the same right to vote as anyone else," said Tommy Buser-Clancy, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Texas. "S.B. 1 cruelly targets these voters and anyone who might assist them with increased burdens and unnecessary criminal penalties. These provisions are unlawful and part of a long history of Texas implementing discriminatory anti-voter measures. The legislation should be struck down."
"These provisions are unlawful and part of a long history of Texas implementing discriminatory anti-voter measures. The legislation should be struck down." — Tommy Buser-Clancy, ACLU of Texas
One of the chief criticisms of the new Texas law is it's a knee-jerk reaction to the 2020 national election — one which Trump calls fraudulent. Around the country, Republican-controlled legislatures and states are working to tighten election rules, but Murr says Texas is improving the process.
During the coronavirus pandemic, there were many concerns about the viability and safety of voting. The pandemic left election officials scrambling, leading many to come up with solutions that angered Republicans, especially in Harris County.
The new election bill eliminates 24-hour voting or voting in cars — two innovations used by Harris County.
"You go to the 24-hour voting, the way that the election code was written, before we passed that bill just said, for example, and in many instances, during early voting it had to be open for a minimum of eight hours." — Andy Murr.
"You go to the 24-hour voting, the way that the election code was written, before we passed that bill just said, for example, and in many instances, during early voting it had to be open for a minimum of eight hours," Murr said. "It never had a maximum. No jurisdiction had ever pushed for and tried for a 24-hour voting cycle."
While Murr wants to tighten procedures, he said this isn't a response to voter fraud allegations, including those made by Trump. Documented cases of voter fraud, at least in Texas, are generally limited to individuals or incidents in small electorates.
I will point out in the 36 hours of hearings, questioning and cross-examining on the floor debate, have I ever pointed to the existence of fraud as something that is necessary to consider and change Texas policy regarding the election laws that we have," Murr said. "The legislative intent for the bill was to provide uniform and consistent elections to reduce the likelihood of fraud. We've always pointed to that."
However, Murr's family connections tie him to one of the great voter-fraud conspiracies in Texas history — the 1948 primary race for the U.S. Senate between Murr's grandfather, Coke Stevenson, and Lyndon Johnson.
In that case, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Caro, who has written a vast and still unfinished biography of Johnson, claimed Johnson stole the Democratic primary race when 202 ballots for Johnson turned up in a box in Jim Wells County. That turned the tide for Johnson, who routed his Republican rival, leading him to the U.S. Senate and eventually the White House. The race remains one of the great political what-ifs in Texas history.
"She said, 'yes, I remember quite vividly as a little girl we were at an event and Lyndon was there, and Coke and Lyndon shook hands. They made some small talk, and Lyndon picked my mother up and tossed in the air a little bit. When she finished telling me that story, I thought, 'wow,' there's not a lot of people who could go through a circumstance like that and look their former opponent in the eye and still shake his hand and move on. " — Andy Murr
The story of the race between his grandfather and Johnson also brings Murr back full circle to separating politics from personal relations.
VIDEO: Andy Murr talking about his grandfather's relationship with LBJ
"I asked my mother, who was a little girl at the time, did they ever encounter Lyndon?" Murr said. "She said, 'yes, I remember quite vividly as a little girl we were at an event and Lyndon was there, and Coke and Lyndon shook hands. They made some small talk, and Lyndon picked my mother up and tossed in the air a little bit. When she finished telling me that story, I thought, 'wow,' there's not a lot of people who could go through a circumstance like that and look their former opponent in the eye and still shake his hand and move on. That's got to be something we all strive for because that tells me he worked to be the better man."