After spending a dramatic interim mostly on the sidelines of the policy response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its ill effects on the economy and the lives of Texans, state legislators now have their chance to respond to the impact of the crises in Texas as the 87th Legislature convenes in Austin this week. While they are empowered to legislate, they do so in conditions not of their own choosing – and those conditions are at best difficult, at worst grim. Below we explore the most important factors forming the context of legislators' attempts to address the problems facing the state, from the big structural factors like the pandemic, the economy, and racism to more mundane political conditions like the images of the state's leadership among the public and the politics of federalism after the election.
Public Opinion in Texas at the Intersection of the Agendas of President-Elect Trump and the 85th Legislature
Whether one takes President Trump literally or seriously – or both or neither – the advent of unified government under the auspices of a Republican Congress and a Republican President (nominally, at least) will shift the context within which the 85th Texas Legislature meets to pass a budget and create laws and public policy for the state. After 8 years and four sessions of counting on having a Democratic president and his policies to use as default examples of bad policy and government failure on most every issue, the Republican leadership in Texas now finds the federal government, and their national party, led by a President who on many of the most salient issues to Texas Republicans took positions strikingly similar to those they have used to win a host of lesser offices in recent years.
The holidays were definitely over this week with the primary contests heating up and President Obama making a big push on gun safety and earning a swift, even preemptive responses from Republicans in Washington and Texas. Speaking of Washington Republicans in Texas, Marco Rubio made his first campaign visit to Texas this week in an effort to break into the top tier here. The DPS officer who pulled over and arrested Sandra Bland, who later died in custody in Waller County, is out of the job and in legal trouble, while federal law enforcement officials are taking a MUCH more measured approach to the constitutionalist occupation of a building on national park land in Colorado – perhaps following a little-noticed Texas precedent. As we were gathering material for this post, Greg Abbott called for a Constitutional Convention – U.S., not state, so if you’re a Texas legislator, it’s ok – and 9 new amendments broadly aimed at reasserting state authority vis-a-vis the federal government and putting new checks on the U.S. Supreme Court. He seems sort of fed up! To borrow a phrase.