Keyword: Dan Patrick
It’s not lost on participants in the legislative process, from members to their staffs, from the lobby to the state agencies, that the maneuvering to shape the agenda of the 85th Texas Legislature is well underway. While the 2016 presidential election dominates political coverage even more than usual, outside the spotlight the pace and volume of efforts to get issues on the state legislature's agenda increase daily. The Texas Tribune’s annual festival at UT Austin weekend before last generated lots of clues about what issues might rise to the surface -- and glimpses of how the friction between the chambers, as well as within and between the parties, is shaping the jockeying for position in Austin.
Trump’s candidacy has cut across the right–far ideological presentation of the Tea Party brand that has helped define acolytes in Texas and frame the internecine fights in the Texas GOP as a battle for the mantle of “true conservative.”
The week started with a public memorial service for the police officers killed and injured in Dallas, which included President Obama visiting the state and former President and Texas Governor George W. Bush making a rare public speaking appearance. The news media channeled troubled thoughts about the deep structural politics of last week’s events as the usual partisan politics were largely muted early in the week. There were, of course, exceptions, including a prominent one who holds statewide office here.
A battery of questions on the June 2016 UT/Texas Politics Project Poll reveals that the substance of Texans' concerns about transgender access to bathrooms are strongly shaped by sharply contrasting partisan attitudes toward transgender access to both public restrooms and public school facilities. As a group, Republicans are more concerned about transgender access to public restrooms than Democrats, and are also much more likely to think that access to the facilities should be based on birth gender rather than gender identity.
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."