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Special session is called

And no one is surprised.

With the ink barely dry on the bills passed during the 83rd Legislature’s regular session, Gov. Rick Perry called lawmakers back into an immediate special session to consider redistricting measures for the Legislature and the Texans who serve in the U.S. Congress.

Speculation had been mounting for days that Perry would follow Attorney General Greg Abbott’s recommendation to reconvene the Legislature so lawmakers can approve the court-drawn maps currently in place for legislators and members of the U.S. House. Republican leaders believe it will help the state’s case in court and forestall any delays of next year’s primaries.

For now, the agenda for the 30-day session only includes redistricting, though that could change. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who is anxious to burnish his conservative credentials after his loss in the U.S. Senate race to Tea Party firebrand Ted Cruz, wants Perry to add to the agenda a host of conservative measures that failed during the regular session. Dewhurst also says he will not adhere to the so-called two-thirds rule, which the minority party can use to block divisive legislation.

Many conservative activists have advocated for the state Senate, where the GOP has a 19-12 edge, to jettison the rule, which has kept many of their initiatives bottled up but also has reduced the threat of open partisan warfare.

In a letter to the governor Monday, Dewhurst said he needed to the flexibility to pass a variety of pet conservative issues, including abortion restrictions, expanded gun rights and school vouchers.

“Given that a number of members from both chambers have demonstrated their unwillingness to find consensus on these important legislative items, I can see no other alternative than to operate under a simple majority vote in the special session,” Dewhurst wrote.

That pronouncment is already causing a stir. Though the two-thirds tradition has been lifted in redistricting measures during special sessions, Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said it generally remains in place for other issues. Watson said the Legislaure shouldn’t be used to bolster Republicans’ political fortunes with issues that failed to get approved in the regular session.

“Middle class Texans have a lot on their plate right now,” said Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin. “What they don’t need is to worry about somebody’s party primary. We need to be doing the business of the state and not wasting taxpayer dollars trying to carry out a political agenda just because they didn’t get it achieved during the regular session.”

So far, the call is only for redistricting, but Perry can add other items at any time, or call other sessions as he sees fit. The issue of the 2/3 rule, which as I often noted was frequently described as being “not in use” for special sessions, is already an issue as noted by BOR.

Initially, Dewhurst told reporters that the 2/3rds rule would not be in effect for a special session. During tonight’s floor discussion, Senator Kirk Watson attempted to determine if the 2/3rds rule would be in effect for the special session.

Watson also asked specifically about “blocker bills,” which are passed out of committee quickly to occupy the top spot on the calendar and thus force Senators to suspend the rules to bring up any other bills, which requires 2/3rds of the Senators to vote for the suspension.

Dewhurst claimed that there would not be blocker bills and that there hadn’t for 10 years; Watson countered with actual historical examples of blocker bills in previous special sessions. If there is no blocker bill, then there is no need for the 2/3rds rule to be used to bring a bill up for a floor vote.

Much of this early questioning is about potential future redistricting litigation.

[…]

Watson’s request to clarify the 2/3rds rule and [Sen. Rodney] Ellis’s motion to get it in the record is in response to previous cases in which the Federal courts slammed Texas for departing from traditional procedural norms to force through a discriminatory map. Should Dewhurst ignore the 2/3rds rule during the special session, that hands Democrats — who would be on the receiving end of any partisan redistricting malfeasance — a huge weapon to use in a future lawsuit against whatever maps might pass without it.

At this point it’s not clear to me what the rules are for the special session. The Senate is now in recess until Thursday, though the House will gavel in tomorrow for no clear reason. The Senate Redistricting Committee will meet Thursday morning, but beyond that we’ll have to wait and see what happens. Even if the Senate adopts a two-thirds rule at the beginning, it can always remove it later, by passing the blocker bill or by other means. If Perry wants to grant Dewhurst’s wishes, then that is what will happen.

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5 Comments

  1. Linkmeister says:

    I remember back when Bush was running for President and we were told that Texas’s system was “weak Governor, strong Lt. Governor, which never made sense to me. Why would the top job have less influence than the second one?

    But from reading your posts it seems to me that if the Governorship ever was weak it’s not anymore. As you write in your “Wrapping up the rest of the regular session post:

    This as I’ve said before is simply a matter of what Rick Perry wants to do. There’s plenty of speculation about what Perry may do and what may or may not be good politics for him to do. All I know is we’ll know when he tells us. Rick Perry does what he thinks is best for Rick Perry, and that’s all there is to it.

    Am I wrong, or is Perry a stronger character than Bush who seized more power from the Lt. Gov.?

  2. Ross says:

    Perry is strong because he’s been around long enough to appoint every position in the State. That makes the entire leadership of the bureaucracy beholden to him. In the past, governors changed often enough for that not to be an issue. In those days, the Lt. Governor had power because of his influence in the legislature. I am tired of Perry. He lacks the pragmatism I think is essential to govern effectively.

  3. Linkmeister says:

    Ah, I see. So it’s longevity as much as anything else. Thanks, Ross.

  4. Longevity is a big part of it. One of the powers the Governor has is the power of appointment, and by now pretty much every department and board and what have you is full of Perry appointees, while a large number of judges got their start via appointment to fill an empty bench. That gives him a large cadre of loyalists, a lot of influence over policy, and friendly judiciary. Plus, a lot of his former staffers are now lobbyists, and the accompanying money gives him more power. Paul Burka says that Perry has basically shaped the Texas GOP in his image, and while he may finally get surpassed by those younger and crazier than he is (read: Ted Cruz and Greg Abbott), he is pretty much the godfather. The Lt. Gov. and Speaker do have power (though our current Lt. Gov. is feckless and our Speaker is not nearly as ruthless as some of his colleagues), but the old stories about how they ran things in Texas are as quaint as a David Broder column about bipartisanship.

  5. Linkmeister says:

    Thanks, Kuff. I was puzzled.