Gov. Greg Abbott issued a proclamation calling for the third special session of the 87th Texas Legislature Tuesday afternoon, adding four items to the agenda in addition to the expected focus on redistricting, and setting September 20 for the legislature’s return. n addition to the Constitutionally mandated drawing of new district maps for the U.S. House of Representatives, the state legislature, and the State Board of Education, Abbott called on the legislature to consider and act on allocating federal COVID relief funds, “disallowing” students from competing in UIL athletics “designated for the sex opposite to the student’s sex at birth,” prohibiting COVID-19 vaccination mandates, and the dog abuse bill that the governor vetoed after the regular session. We’ve compiled results of recent polling to provide the public opinion context for all but one of the issues on the governor’s call.
This week, the Supreme Court released its much anticipated decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Civil Rights Commission, narrowly ruling for the plaintiffs and spurring both sides in the debate over LGBTQ rights to claim larger victories than justified by the decision. While LGBTQ rights were clearly being tested, beliefs about discrimination in America lurk just below the surface of responses to the decision — and those beliefs vary markedly among partisans.
On the Texas side of politics, this week felt like a flashback to last Spring, as the anti-sanctuary city law, the bathroom bill, and the general tone of the 85th Legislature all got rehearings. It’s hard not to feel yet again that there are much bigger goings-on nationally, as students not on spring break staged a national walk-out to protest inaction on gun policy, the Democrats won a squeaker in a Pennsylvania special election, and we discovered what many presupposed, that Special Counsel Mueller has some questions about the Trump business empire and its connections to Russians. Read on for Texas public opinion data linked to some of the big stories from the week in politics.
When it comes to legal cases in general, and legal rights in particular, it's important to note that public opinion can often act as a poor guide to a just outcome, and in many cases, may have no relevance on particular legal proceedings. With that caveat aside, public opinion is useful in determining how elected officials, including the Attorney General, might react to court decisions, and further, whether the state chooses to push ahead in the legal process in the face of adverse decisions.
Speaker of the House Joe Straus continued his efforts to shift his party’s agenda into the realm of economic development and to re-engage the business sector. Meanwhile, over at the White House, apparently tired of Congress’s inability act on the ACA, Donald Trump used executive power to launch a frontal assault on Obamacare this week, with extremely uncertain political and policy results to come. Texas Governor Greg Abbott also expressed some very public frustration with Congress, who as a group had a pretty tough week even as they uncharacteristically tried to do their jobs by moving another disaster relief bill, which was passed by the House. One of those members, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, outraised his expected Democratic opponent, though also got word that he may have a primary challenger. And lest you think Congress deserves some sympathy, their response to the Las Vegas shooting devolved into the usual puddle of avoidance and utter predictability from all involved.
Most of the post-session coverage among the Texas political press has predictably focused on the politics of the big three and how much (or how little) of Greg Abbott’s agenda was acted on by the Legislature – coverage led by public signalling from both the Governor and the Lieutenant Governor. But a look at some of the lower profile aspects across the arc of both the regular and special sessions of the 85th Legislature reveals a lot about the nature of the for-now dormant legislature and, more broadly, Texas politics as the political mix shifts more heavily toward electoral politics.
Public Opinion Notes on Gay Marriage and Discrimination in the Wake of the Texas Supreme Court Ruling
The Texas Supreme Court appears to have slowed down the progression in LGBTQ rights since the U.S. Supreme Court's 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision that ruled gay marriage constitutionally protected. Per Alexa Ura's coverage in the Texas Tribune, the Texas Supremes have remanded "a lower court ruling that said spouses of gay and lesbian public employees are entitled to government-subsidized same-sex marriage benefits" back down the chain in order to clarify whether and how much the state can limit benefits associated with marriage. The June 2017 University of Texas / Texas Tribune Poll included the latest version of our standard gay marriage question, as well as an item on whether religious beliefs should be a legal rationale for exemptions from anti-discrimination laws.
The June 2017 University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll underlined both the Lt. Governor’s success at getting his name out there, but also the continuing strength of a better known Governor. An increase in the salience of legislative efforts to regulate transgender people’s access to bathrooms among conservatives in the GOP is a testament, though, to Patrick’s ability to capture the imagination of his base. Or maybe it’s hearts and minds, judging by some of the patterns of support for another conservative cause, so-called conscience exemptions. You don’t need to practice much pattern recognition, though, to pick up on the odd fact that, for all the declarations that some people in the legislature let conservatives down in the 85th, the Tea Party faction seems pretty pleased with the achievements of the legislature and its leadership. One thing no one seems interested in is throwing legal voters in jail, even if they fail to use their photo id when they vote. Seems there are limits after all.
No, That Really is Rain You Feel on Your Back: Texas Data Points from the Week in Politics, March 17, 2017
The House raised the bet in the budget poker game as the House and Senate also displayed differences on sanctuary cities legislation, one of the Governor's emergency items. On the other hand, rejecting Governor Abbotts' lead on pre-k funding is an area of increasingly rare agreement between the House and the Senate. Still pending is how the Senate will respond to the statewide texting-while-driving ban passed this week by the House after a pretty lively debate. SB 6 passed the Senate this week, even as Chairman Cook confirmed the general sense that the House leadership, like the public, per UT/Texas Tribune Polling, is much less interested in the legislature regulating bathroom access than the Senate leadership. Looking toward 2018, Congressmen Will Hurd and Beto O'Rourke took a roadtrip and live streamed the whole thing, much to the delight of the national media and Jonathan Tilove – but probably not Texas' Junior Senator.
The Senate State Affairs Committee hearing tomorrow on Senator Lois Kolkhorst’s Senate Bill 6 has triggered three press conferences today and will no doubt be the focus of a large chunk of tomorrow’s news media coverage in Texas – and probably some national coverage, too. Much of the extant coverage has missed how conflicting public attitudes provide an essential context for understanding the politics among the leadership. Recent results from the February 2017 University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll confirm that while Texans’ attitudes convey the expected conservative tilt, only a minority – 39 percent – think it is important for the legislature to act on this issue now.