Jammy Texas Data Points from the Week in Texas Politics - April 29, 2016

It was another big week of agenda setting maneuvers in the world of Texas legislative politics, while in the 2016 presidential race, the Cruz campaign continued trying to salvage hope while trailing badly in both votes and delegates.  ​Special bonus for no particular reason: there's a Spotify soundtrack, though probably of narrow generational appeal.

1. Trouble no more. The week started with another strong signal from Speaker of the House Joe Straus that he thinks the Sunset Review Process is troubled and needs some legislative fixing. Speaker Straus talked to Ross Ramsey about this last week about the Sunset process, which seems to have spurred the Wise Old Owl of the Tribune newsroom (h/t Reeve Hamilton) to write about Sunset twice this week. It’s worth quoting Ramsey and the Speaker trading solos like Dickey Betts and Duane Allman at the Fillmore East on the failed efforts to pass the Texas Department of Transportation sunset bill in 2009: 

When the Texas Department of Transportation was up for its periodic legislative review in 2009, the must-pass bill became a magnet for every legislative idea that had not already passed on its own.

“There were, like, 200 or 250 amendments,” recalled House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, in an interview last week. “I couldn’t even see the parliamentarian for the stacks of amendments everywhere. It was just ridiculous.”

He has a pretty good memory: An aide looked it up and found there were 222 amendments. The most important thing to remember, however, was that after months of work on one of the state’s biggest and most important agencies, that so-called Sunset legislation failed.

“It makes a mockery of the whole Sunset process, and it makes me question whether or not it still serves a useful purpose,” Straus said. “So, let’s give it a try, to try to refocus and instill some discipline, and see how we do.”

A little later on, Straus does a solo jam on the lobby:

“From my observation, when a Railroad Commission Sunset bill doesn’t pass, it’s certainly a lobby victory,” Straus said. “I don’t think it’s a member problem — I think it’s a lobby thing. A lot of people get hired in the lobby to work these things, especially when it involves an agency like the Railroad Commission, or TDI [the Texas Department of Insurance] or TxDOT or some of those others.” 

Ross responds with a minor contrapuntal, dryly reminding readers that "none of those lobby provisions can get added to legislation without the help of the legislators. They’re the only voters in the process."

The overall effect of the two columns on Sunset -- the latter telegraphs State Rep. Larry Phillips probably attempts to pass a reform bill in the 85th -- is the impression that the Speaker shares the common impression among participants in the process that Sunset is broken -- and he aims to do something about it.   If you're wondering where the data are: we don't poll on Sunset because no voters know what it is.

2. Tied to the Whipping Post.  The Speaker wasn’t the only one giving the lobbyists a public flogging this week. Chairman Bettencourt’s Select Committee on Property Tax Reform and Relief Traveling road show rolled into Arlington, the Lt. Governor appeared as a special guest witness.  Both the members of the committee as well as the Lt. Gov. Patrick ritualistically thanked county and city officials for their service and expressed solemn appreciation for how hard their jobs were -- prior to reminding them that the Senators were taking seriously the job of protecting citizens from the scourge of high property tax bills and profligate local government that they represented in the eyes of the committee leadership. “I want our mayors and all our local elected officials to hear me clearly,: Patrick declared, “We are not at war with you, but we are going to fight for the people in your districts who cannot afford property taxes to increase on their homes.” The Lt. Governor also went the extra mile to lash the

...lobbyists who have instructed the county judges and the mayors not to compromise, not to give an inch, not to work on a solution. And I would suggest that to our county elected officials and our city elected officials and our superintendents if that’s the best your consultants and lobbyists can tell you to do, you might as well go and hire a Billy goat to get the same advice, because that is no help resolving the problem...it’s a different day.  This is not the 1990 legislature any more.

The Lt Governor sitting in with the committee provided a telling contrast between the priorities of the two chambers: Straus focused on reforming a big part of the internal process while Patrick led the charge up the latest hill in the crowd-pleasing forever war against government theft taxes.  Given the stoked expectations about property tax reform in the 84th legislature, the meager results that ensued, and the rhetoric emanating from GOP Senators and the Lt. Governor, this is going to be a priority in the Senate.  If you think of 2015 as the first Gulf War, in 2017 they want to head to Baghdad -- and the WMD are hidden in city and county government coffers.

Lt. Governor helpfully posted video of his "testimony" on YouTube, which contains many more quotable moments and is pretty fun in its own way as long as you don't work for the Texas Association of Counties or the Texas Municipal League.



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Strongly support38%44%62%
Somewhat support26%32%26%
Somewhat oppose14%11%6%
Strongly oppose11%2%1%
Don't know11%12%4%

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Enough to make a difference to most Texas families25%20%35%
Not enough to make a difference63%47%53%
Don't know/No opinion12%33%12%

3. Because there’s a man down there...I don’t know.  Not content with lecturing local officials and urging them to fire their lobby teams, the Lt. Governor also reinserted himself in the debate over bathroom protections.  While we wrote last week in TribTalk about the potential difficulty that statewide party leaders might face within the Republican coalition should Texas follow in the footsteps of North Carolina and Mississippi, Patrick has decided to forge ahead on a course in which the Legislature regulates exactly who can use which which bathrooms. Patrick went on to say that “If it costs me an election, if it costs me a lot of grief, then so be it." It’s unlikely to cost him an election, but grief is another question. Lofty commitments notwithstanding, the Lt. Governor’s political operation rolled out one of the online petitions that have become familiar tools for gathering voter contact data.  This one flags Target’s new trans-friendly bathroom policy and invites visitors to pledge to “not spend a single dollar with any business that says a man can enter a bathroom with the women in my family or your family.”  Among Texas Republicans, transgender people were perceived as experiencing “a lot” or “some” discrimination by 62% of Texas Republicans, second only to that of Christians (yes). What’s the over under on how high a number Patrick’s bathroom bill receives?

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Group"A lot" or "Some""Not very much" or "None at all"Don't know
Transgender people57%37%6%
Gays and lesbians55%40%5%
African Americans52%44%4%

4. Ted Cruz's Stormy Monday -- Tuesday was just as bad.  Ted Cruz started the week with the news-alert generating announcement of what amounted to non-aggression pact with Ohio Governor John Kasich that would clear the way for each to campaign against Trump in states that presumably favor one over the other.  But by the end of the day, Kasich was urging his voters to vote for him in Indiana anyway, Cruz was downplaying the amount of coordination, and the whole thing had turned into a net gain for Donald Trump.  the announcement of former candidate Carly Fiorina as Cruz’s vice presidential pick generated heavy breathing among the political press, but seem unlikely to provide enough oxygen to the Cruz campaign to change the fundamental dynamics of the race -- and the press panned this move as the week wore on, too. While most of the press were generally negative about Cruz’s efforts this week, increasingly viewed as desperate (see here, here, here), over at Burkablog, Erica Grieder makes the case for Cruz’s Fiorina play as admirable because... staying in the campaign is good for our civic health. Seems like both the Kasich move and the Fiorina adoption seem to be more simply understood as Cruz making the best of dwindling options in the effort to preserve his long-shot candidacy. If the implicit logic here is that anything that decreases the probability of Donald Trump getting closer to the presidency boosts the political immune system, the fact that the moves were ineffectual and perhaps even counter-productive rob them of even that contorted notion of virtue. 

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Donald Trump27%
Ted Cruz27%
Ben Carson13%
Marco Rubio9%
Jeb Bush4%
Carly Fiorina4%
Rand Paul4%
Mike Huckabee2%
John Kasich1%
Chris Christie1%
Rick Santorum1%
Bobby Jindal0%
Lindsey Graham0%
George Pataki0%
Jim Gilmore0%
Don't know5%

5. You Don’t Love Me. In the midst of Senator Cruz's not very good week, the tension between Texas' U.S. Senators resurfaced when Senator Cornyn remarked publicly that Senator Cruz went to D.C. to become president. “Clearly, he didn’t come here to remain in the Senate. He came here to run for president. I think that perhaps explains the difference in tactics.”  The word "tactics" carries a lot of baggage in that sentence.  At least Cornyn didn’t call Cruz Lucifer or an SOB - which is probably the best news Cruz got all week.

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Approve strongly1%3%38%
Approve somewhat8%15%26%
Neither approve nor disapprove6%21%13%
Disapprove somewhat5%12%10%
Disapprove strongly76%38%9%
Don't know4%10%4%

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Approve strongly18%
Approve somewhat19%
Neither approve nor disapprove15%
Disapprove somewhat10%
Disapprove strongly32%
Don't know6%

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categoryLeaning conservativeSomewhat conservativeExtremely conservative
Approve strongly12%18%13%
Approve somewhat35%29%24%
Neither approve nor disapprove27%20%19%
Disapprove somewhat13%14%15%
Disapprove strongly5%9%20%
Don't know8%10%10%

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categoryLeaning conservativeSomewhat conservativeExtremely conservative
Approve strongly17%39%58%
Approve somewhat29%29%20%
Neither approve nor disapprove22%10%9%
Disapprove somewhat12%11%5%
Disapprove strongly16%7%6%
Don't know5%5%1%