Gov. Greg Abbott has called a special session starting July 18, 2017. What’s on the agenda? Wochit
El Paso Times/USA TODAY
Texas lawmakers return to Austin on Tuesday for an unnecessary and divisive special legislative session.
The special session was forced by the conservative-dominated Senate, led by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, because the more moderate House, let by Speaker Joe Straus, refused to go along with a number of nonsensical and destructive bills.
Toward the end of the regular session in May, the Senate Republicans essentially took hostages to try to get their way. The Senate refused to pass some required sunset legislation that would reauthorize several key state government functions, such as licensing physicians. The House thankfully refused to budge, but the session ended without passing the necessary sunset legislation.
Patrick and his allies correctly figured that Gov. Greg Abbott, who was a weak presence during the legislative session, would have to bring lawmakers back to deal with the sunset bills and that he would include some of their preferred legislation in his call for the special session.
So here we are. After perhaps the most divisive legislative session of recent times, lawmakers are back to fight some of the same nonproductive battles that marred the regular session.
There will be no real discussion of the big issues facing Texas, such as school finance and health care. Instead, we’re back to talking about bathrooms and keeping Democratic-led urban areas from passing rules that offend the sensibilities of the conservatives in charge of state government.
This special session is, in part, about a power struggle between three leaders, all Republicans – Abbott, Patrick and Straus. The only one of them who has shown true leadership this year is Straus.
But the special session really is about the dynamic tensions of the state’s past, present and future.
For decades, Texas government was largely focused on being business friendly. That was true when Democrats were running the state in the first three-fourths of the 20th century, and when Republicans took increasing control in the 1980s and 1990s.
Since the rise of the Tea Party in 2010, the business interests who long called the shots have seen their power wane, with anti-government and social conservatives rising to power. Straus and his allies are the tie to the business past of the Republican Party, while Patrick is the face of the ascendant Tea Party group. Abbott has tried at times to balance past and present, but has increasingly leaned toward Patrick.
Texas’ future is the specter that hovers over all else. The demographics of Texas are changing in ways unfriendly to the Republicans, especially the Patrick faction of the party. The Republican answer to this future so far has been gerrymandering and voter suppression to keep the emerging Hispanic face of Texas at bay.
The Republicans have no long-term strategy to grow their base in Texas, so they wind up in intense fights over issues that appease the current base but damage the party in the long run. That’s the reason for many of the 20 items on Abbott’s special session agenda.
In an ideal world, the Legislature would pass the sunset bills and adjourn. That won’t happen. Lawmakers will debate and perhaps even pass legislation harmful to Texas’ present and future.
As President Trump would say, sad.