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.
The lowered expectations for the special session make sense if one looks at conservative and Republican attitudes toward the legislature and statewide leaders at the conclusion of the regular session of the 85th Legislature. While Governor Abbott, Lt. Governor Patrick, and the leadership of some of the state’s most vocal conservative interest groups have either suggested or implied widespread public demand for more action, polling suggests significant conservative contentment with the results of the 85th – and thus, little active demand for more legislation from the legislature at this time.
With the passage of Sunset Legislation out of the Senate, Governor Greg Abbott kept his promise this morning, adding 19 items to the Special Session call, and opening the doors for a more entertaining (if politics is where you find your entertainment) July and August than many of us would have expected at the start of the 85th Session.
Below is a list of the added items and, where available, any relevant public opinion data from the University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll, with links to graphics of cross-tabulations for each item.
Lt. Governor Dan Patrick’s press conference today was a textbook Patrick effort to garner media coverage in order to shape the legislative agenda after several weeks marked by the relatively predictable public assertions of Governor Abbott. The overall effort was geared at delivering a Republican approach to public education after a session in which Patrick and his allies focused primarily on creating a means of funneling public funds to private and parochial schools in the name of “school choice” as their major approach to improving public education. Here are some of the messaging components in the press conference, with some notes on how these messages might fall in the public opinion landscape among Texas Republicans.
Greg Abbott is expected to announce his intention to seek a second term as Governor tomorrow in San Antonio. In addition to what is already a formidable war chest of more than $34 million (with an increase in that number expected to be announced soon as well), Abbott also has high job approval ratings among the state's Republican majority.
Texas Data Points from the Week in Politics: “OMG, The New Yorker is Paying Attention to Us!” Edition
The Fourth of July came and went this week, and by Thursday the invocation of self-evident truths had given way to the U.S. Department of Justice deeming Senate Bill 5 a good enough fix to the deficiencies in Texas' voter ID law. The center right and leftward embraced Lawrence Wright's telling of the tale of the 85th Legislature in The New Yorker, which at 20,000 words or so had lots of space for close observations by a good writer, though the actual argument about Texas and the U.S. promised in the hed ("America's Future is Texas") seemingly remains to be made in the forthcoming book.
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.
The increasing efforts to use state government to pre-empt the power of local governments emerges from a confluence of state and national politics that is much bigger than Austin, even though the Legislature has a history of treating Austin as a liberal burr under an ever more conservative saddle.