Keyword: Dan Patrick
In addition to its focus on Texans’ views of the presidential election, the University of Texas / Texas Politics Project Poll asked for assessments of the state’s exclusively Republican leadership. Given the Republican Party’s dominance of state government and all statewide offices, the most meaningful competition has increasingly occurred among these leaders, leading to some inevitable degree of comparison.
The state’s political leadership moved this week to publicly acknowledge what reporters at some of the major dailies have been saying for weeks now: the use of emergency leave as severance pay by another name (mostly) is a thing, and not a good one. Depending on your perspective, Speaker Straus either sent up a trial balloon or invested a little political capital in an agenda setting move as the 85th Legislature looms a little closer on the horizon. Speaking of trial balloons, Hillary Clinton launched a big blue one in a reference to competing in Texas in a very good long read profile in New York Magazine, triggering a renewed discussion of her prospects in the land of Hill & Bill’s McGovernite youth as well renewed attention the headaches and heartburn Donald Trump’s approach to Hispanic outreach is causing in the GOP. Conservative opinion leader Bill Kristol’s search for a conservative alternative to Trump in the presidential has apparently led him to one David French. Sadly, there was another shooting on a college campus, which resonated, if probably only briefly, with the ongoing movement in Texas toward the August 1 implementation of campus carry policies on Texas campuses.
The Obama administration has jumped into the fight over how LGBT rights should be applied to bathrooms in public schools, which will no doubt enter the discussion at the State GOP convention and be a matter for the Lt. Governor to engage in a high profile way. In other less attention-grabbing news, Iran is testing missiles and the courts won't force the Texas Legislature to revamp the manner in which Texas schools are funded.
While there was plenty going in Texas politics this week, it’s all secondary to Donald Trump taking the wheel of the national Republican Party while the kids fight in the back seat. Ted Cruz had a bigger taste of the presidential race than almost anyone expected, and is likely to come back to Texas, on balance, an enhanced political figure in his party. He’ll look even better if the Trump candidacy is a disaster for the GOP, though it would have to be some kind of meltdown for Trump to make Hillary Clinton a real contender in Texas. Not all Republicans will be on board, though the Governor and Lt. Governor ripped the Band Aid off quickly and endorsed Trump. Others Republicans have chosen to pick at those scabs.
With Donald Trump seemingly headed toward big wins in both the South Carolina and Nevada primaries and Texas’ proportional representation primary less than two weeks away, the magnitude of Ted Cruz’s strength in Texas, and its geographic distribution, loom as major factors on Super Tuesday. Technically, Super Tuesday actually got underway in Texas on Monday, when early voting for the primary election started. Guns were back in the news this week as another private university took advantage of the campus-carry opt-out privilege accorded private institutions even as the University of Texas at Austin begrudgingly announced its policy, which reflected the legislature’s concerted effort to force public universities to allow guns in classrooms. The legislature continued its vision of protecting Constitutional guarantees Wednesday when the Senate State Affairs Committee held a hearing on their interim charge to protect sincerely held religious beliefs from the depredations of government. At several points in that hearing, the testimony flared into the kind of vituperative opposition to gay and lesbian rights that would have pleased Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who died over the weekend near Marfa. The stakes of choosing Scalia’s successor on the high court couldn’t be higher, including among Republicans whose faith in the court was shaken by the court’s decisions affirming gay marriage and the Constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act – decisions from which Justice Scalia dissented with characteristic color.
When Comptroller Glenn Hegar assured the Senate Finance Committee that he would “much rather be in this state than the other 49 states in this nation,” Dallas Senator Royce West captured the underlying tension in the Senate’s engagement with the economy, budget prospects, and taxes when he cracked back, “I just don’t want to be in a state of denial.” The finance committee’s worry about what the budget might look like was little in evidence the next day when the Select Committee on Property Tax Reform and Relief convened in San Antonio to wave a red flag on local taxation. The Senate State Affairs Committee explored how the state is muddling through implementation of the state’s new gun laws, while over on the House side, Republicans flipped a seat in the HD118 special election, triggering Democratic dismay and some public self-loathing. A Houston grand jury propelled Texas into the national headlines after reviewing the case of the surreptitiously filmed attempt to buy fetal tissue from Planned Parenthood and indicting the fraudulent would-be tissue peddlers rather than anyone at Planned Parenthood. Way back at the beginning of the week, Rick Perry also got back in the national news for about half a news cycle after leaking to Politico (take that, state press corps) that he would be endorsing Ted Cruz. Perry revealed that he apparently doesn’t know Cruz real well, but he former governor reported that the endorsement comes after they “spent some very appropriate time together."
The saga of sanctuary city politics continued in Texas this week, with the issue being used to attack candidates in at least three Republican primary races in the Texas House: the HD-8 contest between incumbent Byron Cook and challenger Thomas McNutt, and in the races in the districts of both Speaker Joe Straus and Rep. Charlie Geren. Friday afternoon, a story in the Texas Tribune suggested that Texas cities account for only a tiny share of undocumented arrestees not held in custody for deportation nationally. You’d never know it by these campaigns – or by looking at either the Texas Legislature or public attitudes on sanctuary cities, for that matter. Nationally, the president gave a State of the Union Address that was part victory lap and part attempt to shape the tone of the 2016 campaign season, with some taunting thrown in for sport (mainly his). And there was another GOP presidential debate, in which Ted Cruz and Donald Trump went at like they were scrapping for the One Ring. We’ll leave it to you to figure out who the other candidates were in that reference.
Texas voters may not be currently clamoring for ever fewer restrictions on gun rights, but the political leadership is determined to deliver them anyway.
While a more comprehensive analysis of the 2016 nominating race awaits the public release of the data and crosstabs from the November 2015 University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll next week, the weekend pause in the Texas Tribune release schedule invites a few initial observations on the first wave of results.
It was a week in which Texas political headlines were generated by characteristically low-turnout Constitutional and local elections and the release of interim charges by the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives – which is to say, it was a week for insiders.