The floor of the Texas House on April 22, 2021. Credit: Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune
You knew the state’s liberals were going to hate this session of the Texas Legislature.
Republicans still hold every single statewide office in Texas, having maintained a perfect streak through elections stretching back to 1996. They still have majorities in both the House and the Senate.
Because 2020 was a census year, this set of lawmakers is the one that will use those numbers to draw new political maps. Unless they’re inept — and history says they are not, at least when it comes to redistricting — those maps will favor Republicans wherever possible.
And if you know that, you know the 2022 Republican primaries, with a ballot that includes most of the statewide posts and all of the U.S. House and legislative seats, will be fiercely competitive.
And that brings the logic back to May 2021, the ending days of a legislative session.
It began with big issues like a pandemic, a continuing debate over how elections are conducted and — after a February storm and power outages killed dozens of Texans — serious questions about the reliability of the state’s electrical grid.
It’s ending with some of that, but also with legislation — some finished, some close to finished — that allows adults to carry handguns without licenses or permits, that outlaws abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, that restricts the number of voting places in the parts of the state where voters of color make up larger shares of the electorate and where Democrats do best in elections, that requires the national anthem be played at government-sponsored events and that would outlaw abortion in Texas if the Supreme Court reverses its rulings in Roe v. Wade and other cases.
That’s not enough for some top Republicans. Now, at the end, some of the state’s conservatives hate this session, too. The Texas House hit its deadline for passing Senate bills on Tuesday, and some of the lieutenant governor’s pet issues died when time ran out. The next morning, Dan Patrick, via Twitter, asked the governor to call a special session for June to resurrect some of the Senate bills that didn’t make it.
But even without the bills he cited — dictating which school sports teams transgender kids can join, barring local governments from hiring lobbyists, regulating social media company’s ability to silence users — this legislation has logged a number of successes for the most conservative voters in the state.
Patrick’s push for more echoes his reaction of four years ago, when the Legislature reached the end of its regular session without a win for the “bathroom bill” — a Patrick-promoted proposal to keep transgender Texans from using bathrooms that align with their gender identity. When it became evident that legislation wasn’t going to pass in the regular session, the Patrick-led Senate forced a special session by taking no action on other must-pass legislation. Gov. Greg Abbott called a special election. The must-pass bills passed, the bathroom bill didn’t, and that was that.
Even so, there’s a chance that Abbott will add some of Patrick’s wish list to the special session agenda this year, and that Patrick won’t even have to kill must-pass legislation to get there. Lawmakers will be back this fall, after detailed census data is available, to redraw the state’s political maps. And Abbott has already promised to tack another issue on that agenda, saying he’ll include lawmakers in the decisions on what to do with $16 billion in federal pandemic relief money.
It’s easy enough to add other issues, as Abbott proved in 2017. And there can be some political benefits, too. The issues on the plate in 2017 remained on voters’ minds in 2018, when Abbott, Patrick and most of the rest of the statewide officials won their current terms. Those elections were closer than the Republicans had hoped, but they survived.
The 2020 elections went the GOP’s way, diminishing their fear of Democrats as most of the Republicans seek reelection or promotion in 2022. But their concerns that other Republicans might sneak up on them in next year’s party primary have made them attentive to the conservative voters making the most noise in the GOP right now.
Those voters want action on the issues they deem important, and they’ve been getting it in this regular legislative session. Maybe there’s more to come.
Editor’s note: If you’d like an email notice whenever we publish Ross Ramsey’s column, click here.