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Joe Straus

Bonnen supports removing Confederate plaque

Good.

Rep. Eric Johnson

After a yearlong push to remove a controversial “Children of the Confederacy Creed” plaque from inside the Texas Capitol, momentum appears to be picking up steam.

On Monday Gov. Greg Abbott announced a Jan. 11 meeting of the State Preservation Board that oversees the Capitol grounds and the likely next Texas House Speaker said he supports removing the plaque, The Dallas Morning News first reported. The plaque, which was erected in 1959, asserts that the Civil War was “not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery.”

Republican state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, who is expected to lead the lower chamber next year, applauded Abbott’s efforts and voiced his support for removing the plaque.

“I commend the Governor for calling this meeting to begin the process of removing the confederate plaque from the halls of the State Capitol,” the Angleton lawmaker said in a statement to The Texas Tribune. “It is historically inaccurate, and I stand by those who have called for its removal.”

Abbott called the meeting in a letter, which did not specify an agenda, to preservation board executive director Rod Welsh. But a spokesperson for the board told the Tribune this afternoon that this will be the Abbott-led board’s first meeting since March 2017, and word of it comes nearly two weeks after Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an opinion saying the Legislature or the panel is among those who have the power to unilaterally remove the plaque.

Additionally, the meeting will fall three days after the start of next year’s legislative session, when Bonnen is expected to take over the speakership. Both the Texas House speaker and the lieutenant governor serve as co-vice chairs on the preservation board under Abbott.

See here, here, and here for the background. It should be noted that outgoing Speaker Joe Straus also supported the removal of this mendacious plaque, so Bonnen’s support is maintenance of the status quo and not a shift in the politics. It’s still the right thing to do and he deserves credit for it. The key is whether Greg Abbott will join in and do what needs to be done to finish the job. We’ll find out on January 11.

It sure looks like Dennis Bonnen will be the next Speaker

The Speaker’s race is over before it started, basically.

Rep. Dennis Bonnen

State Rep. Dennis Bonnen announced Monday that he has support from 109 members to become the next speaker of the Texas House. That number, if it holds, is more than enough votes for him to win the gavel.

The Angleton Republican’s announcement comes after four other speaker candidates — Republicans Tan Parker, Four Price and Phil King, along with Democrat Eric Johnson — dropped out of the race in the last 48 hours. All four endorsed Bonnen upon removing their names from consideration. Bonnen said during a news conference at the Texas Capitol on Monday afternoon that his team plans to release the list of 109 members supporting his bid soon.

“We are here to let you know the speaker’s race is over, and the Texas House is ready to go to work,” said Bonnen, who was flanked by at least two members of the hardline conservative Texas House Freedom Caucus — Jeff Leach of Plano and Mike Lang of Granbury — and state Rep. Tom Craddick, a Midland Republican and former speaker, among other Republican and Democrats. When asked by reporters what the House’s No. 1 priority would be during the 2019 legislative session, Bonnen suggested school finance would be at the top of members’ lists.

[…]

During Monday’s press conference, Bonnen dumped cold water on rumors that there would be no Democratic chairs under his leadership — adding that he would adhere to the House tradition of being a “bipartisan chamber.”

“We are excited to bring the house together, to be unified and to do good work for the people of Texas,” he said.

See here and here for some background. All of the other Speaker wannabes have since withdrawn and gotten behind Bonnen as well. The dominoes really started to fall when Rep. Four Price dropped out on Sunday and endorsed Bonnen. Then the tweets started flying, with a 3 PM press conference announced, and Democratic Rep. Eric Johnson announced his withdrawal and endorsement of Bonnen an hour or so ahead of that, and the next thing you know Rep. Bonnen is announcing his 109 supporters and getting cautious kudos from Rep. Chris Turner, the House Dem Caucus leader. There may still be some bumps in the road from those who had previously committed to other candidates, but honestly that’s a bump on a log. Your average Alabama football game has more suspense about who’s going to win at this point. Look to see who gets named to Committee chairs, and then we’ll see how spicy this session may be.

Now how about that Speaker’s race?

It’s a little different now.

Rep. Eric Johnson

Democrats picked up 12 state House seats and are now confident they’ll have a stronger hand in electing the next leader. It’s an outlook even some Republicans agree with, although they’ll only say so privately. But while the GOP’s 95-55 stronghold shrank, they still appear to hold 83 seats — comfortably above the 76 votes a candidate needs to succeed retiring House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio.

“Election night strengthened the Democratic caucus and a renewed commitment to taking our time,” said state Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin. “We have time to be thoughtful. We mattered at 55, and we matter even more now at 67.”

But of the six declared Republican speaker candidates, two told The Texas Tribune that the state of the race hasn’t changed much — despite the fact that their party lost a considerable number of seats.

Republican Travis Clardy of Nacogdoches, who launched his bid in August, said he didn’t think Tuesday’s results will impact his party’s role in determining who will replace Straus on the dais — and that he still has a “viable path forward” after Tuesday.

“I didn’t lose any supporters [Tuesday] night, by my calculus,” he told the Tribune. “I think it is going to prove to be helpful to me not because we lost Republican seats, but because we’re bringing in a new energy.”

Phil King of Weatherford, who filed to run for speaker before Straus announced his retirement, said the race will still be settled exclusively within the 150-member lower chamber even if it does have a new balance of political power. And King pointed to an upcoming GOP caucus meeting scheduled for Dec. 1, when members are set to rally around their preferred speaker candidate ahead of the full floor vote in January.

[…]

Rep. Eric Johnson of Dallas, the only Democrat to throw his hat in the ring to replace Straus, is bullish that his party’s 12-member gain means that a lawmaker from the minority party can win the speakership.

“My perspective on this is pretty straight-forward: Democrats should stop being defeatist in their mentality and start thinking about the speaker’s race in terms of us sticking together — we have 67 votes and are nine away from the majority,” Johnson said. “If we start thinking in terms of finding nine Republicans who will join with us, we can change the conversation from ‘which Republican is it going to be’ to whether we can elect one of our own as speaker. And there’s no reason we shouldn’t be thinking that way.”

I think the odds of Speaker Eric Johnson are extremely slim, but as a matter of strategy, Rep. Johnson has it right. The more united the Dems are, the more influence they will have. As the story notes, some Dems have met with Dennis Bonnen, which fuels my speculation that he was recruited by the Straus disciples for the purpose of garnering enough Dem support to win the job. That said, as the story also notes, the smaller Republican caucus means the number of them needed to form a majority and declare their choice is smaller. Assuming they all agree to support their majority-of-the-majority choice, of course. I suspect there will be plenty more drama and intrigue before it’s all over. The Chron has more.

UPDATE: Four Price has dropped his bid to be Speaker and has endorsed Dennis Bonnen. I didn’t see this in time for this post. I’ll post about that story tomorrow.

Zerwas out, Bonnen in for Speaker

A harbinger of intrigue.

Rep. John Zerwas

State Rep. John Zerwas, a Richmond Republican, has withdrawn from the race for speaker of the Texas House, he confirmed to The Texas Tribune on Sunday evening.

“I am grateful for the opportunities I have had to engage with the members of the House. The honest conversations are critical to the relationships I have, and I am honored to work with such principled leaders,” he said in a statement to the Tribune. “While I believe that I could lead the House through a successful 2019 session, it has come time for me to end my bid for Speaker and wholly focus on writing the budget for the 2020-2021 biennium.”

His departure comes amid an effort among roughly 40 GOP House members to draft state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, into the race. Bonnen did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Texas Tribune.

On Sunday night, that group of 40 members was scheduled to gather in Austin to discuss recruiting him for the job. Bonnen previously had told The Texas Tribune in May that he was not interested in running for the top slot in the lower chamber. The Tribune was told Sunday night that Bonnen was not at the meeting.

There are still a lot of Speaker wannabes. Zerwas was the first among them, declaring his intent to run right after Joe Straus announced his departure. My speculation when I read this was that the various Straus-like candidates have concluded their best move is to consolidate behind one candidate that they think can win, someone who Democrats and enough Republicans can support, so as to pre-empt the non-Straus contenders. For that to happen, to assuage egos and whatnot, the compromise/consensus candidate would have to be someone who is not currently a candidate. And thus it was:

State Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, said Tuesday he is officially running for speaker of the Texas House — two days after an Oct. 28 meeting in Austin, where roughly 40 GOP House members gathered to discuss recruiting him for the job.

“Throughout my career in the House, I have always emphasized my respect for the institution as a whole as well as the unique position each member has to serve their district,” Bonnen said in a statement. “I look forward to the many conversations to come with members across the state. My desire, which I believe I share with the vast majority of my colleagues, is that this process come to a conclusion with a House ready to do the people’s business with strength, resolve, and unity in the 86th Legislative Session.”

Clearly, they were sufficiently persuasive. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is more or less how Straus emerged as a contender for Speaker in the first place – the dozen or so renegade Republicans who were publicly gunning for Tom Craddick emerged from a meeting with him as their exemplar, and after that it was all a matter of counting noses. We’ll see if it works.

Four makes seven

Rep. Four Price files for Speaker, making him the sixth Republican and seventh member to do so.

Rep. Four Price

State Rep. Four Price, R-Amarillo, filed Thursday for speaker of the Texas House, making him the sixth Republican to enter an already crowded race to replace the retiring House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio.

“Having successfully worked for the last four sessions with my colleagues from across our state to pass major legislation and focus on issues of importance to all Texans, I am eager to seek this leadership position in the Texas House of Representatives,” he said in a statement. “Looking towards the future, I truly believe the Texas House will play a leading role in making the decisions that keep Texas on the path to prosperity.”

Price enters a speaker’s race that already includes Republicans Tan Parker of Flower Mound, Phil King of Weatherford, John Zerwas of Richmond, Travis Clardy of Nacogdoches and Drew Darby of San Angelo, as well as Democrat Eric Johnson of Dallas.

As with the other Republicans, I have no official opinion on Rep. Price, though I will note that he was endorsed by the Texas Parent PAC when he first ran for office. Honestly, at this point I’d rather see another villain type declare for Speaker, as that would help divide the bad-guy vote some more. The goal here is for the next Speaker to need Democratic help to get there, so the more division on that side, the better.

And then there were six

Five Republicans for Speaker, six in total.

Rep. Drew Darby

State Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, filed on Friday to run for speaker of the Texas House.

“After prayerful consideration, discussions with my family, and at the urging of my House colleagues, today I filed paperwork with the Texas Ethics Commission to start a speaker campaign for the 86th Legislative Session,” Darby said in an emailed statement. “In the coming weeks, I plan to visit with every House member to discuss the priorities of their district and how the Texas House of Representatives can work together to put forward good policies to keep Texas the number one state to live, work and raise a family.” 
 


Darby, who’s been in the House since 2007, joins four other Republicans in vying for the top slot in the lower chamber: state Reps. Tan Parker of Flower Mound, Phil King of Weatherford, Travis Clardy of Nacogdoches and John Zerwas of Richmond. Dallas Democrat Eric Johnson has also declared he is running.

[…]

When the Texas House convenes for its legislative session in January, picking the next House speaker will be one of its first acts. Ahead of the vote from the full chamber, House Republicans last year agreed to hold a non-binding vote to pick a speaker candidate within the GOP caucus. And ahead of this year’s primaries, the Republican Party of Texas urged candidates and incumbents running for House seats to sign a form pledging to back whoever the caucus picks as their speaker candidate. Parker and King have signed the form, while Darby, Clardy and Zerwas have not.

See here for some background. What I said about Rep. Clardy’s candidacy holds true for Rep. Darby’s. Not sure how some of these guys will distinguish themselves from their rivals, but that’s their problem.

One more for Speaker

And then there were five.

Rep. Travis Clardy

State Rep. Travis Clardy, R-Nacogdoches, filed Monday morning to run for speaker of the Texas House, making him the fourth Republican to throw his hat in the ring in the race to succeed retiring House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio.

“We’re coming out of the summer and I think it’s time we get serious about the political process,” Clardy told The Texas Tribune. “I think it’s more important than ever that we make a decision as a House to pick our leadership, and be prepared to start the 86th Legislature with a strong, positive step and a vision for the future.”

[…]

He enters a speaker’s race that already includes Democrat Eric Johnson of Dallas and three Republicans: Tan Parker of Flower Mound, Phil King of Weatherford and John Zerwas of Richmond.

Ahead of the next regular session, House Republicans agreed to select a speaker in their caucus and then vote as a bloc on the floor. Prior to the March 6 primaries, House Republicans pushed incumbents and candidates to sign a form promising to ultimately support the caucus pick. While Parker and King have signed the form, Zerwas and Clardy have not. Clardy told the Tribune Monday, however, that he does intend to vote with his party next session on who should succeed Straus.

“I’m a lifelong Republican and I was at the convention, but that pledge was originally prepared before we did the caucus vote. It’s kind of redundant,” Clardy told the Tribune. “I already voted with the caucus to support a Republican nominee out of our caucus to be the next speaker. It’s kind of backwards to pledge to do something I’ve already done.”

See here and here for some background. I don’t have an opinion on Rep. Clardy, who told his hometown newspaper shortly after Straus announced his retirement that he’d be interested in the Speaker gig. As I said in that first link above, the question is whether Republicans can coalesce around a single candidate so that they can elect him (all the candidates so far are male) without needing any dirty Democratic support, or if their divisions are too deep and whoever comes crawling to the Dems first wins the prize. The more Dems there are, the fewer Republicans there are, the less room the Republicans have for dissent, the more likely that latter scenario. So basically, as with most of my other entries the past few months, the message is to get out and vote, and make sure everyone you know votes. It’s not just about Congress, after all.

Who’s willing to tell Trump he’s all wet?

Not Greg Abbott or Dan Patrick.

During a visit to Pinkerton’s Barbecue on Friday afternoon, gubernatorial candidate Lupe Valdez said Gov. Greg Abbott failed to forcefully refute the president, who said on Wednesday that some Texans “went out in their boats to watch the hurricane” and that it “didn’t work out too well.”

Abbott told the Chronicle that he had “no information one way or another about that,” comments Valdez said were intended to avoid confronting the president.

“The heck with Trump… what are you doing taking care of somebody else?” Valdez said of Abbott. “Take care of your own people.”

[…]

[Lt. Governor candidate Mike] Collier said Trump’s comments were “one of the more offensive things I’ve ever heard.” He said that Texas’ elected Republican leaders have refrained from criticizing Trump’s comments because they want to protect the president.

See here for the background. Look, this is a layup, even for a craven Republican like Abbott or Patrick. “I’m not sure what the President saw, but the rest of us saw many people going out into the storm to help their neighbors, because that’s what we do in Texas”. Joe Straus got it right. It ain’t rocket science. Now, I do appreciate Abbott and Patrick giving Valdez and Collier a chance to dunk on them, but don’t these guys have advisers? Whatever, keep up the good work, fellas.

The status of Confederate monument removal

We still have a long way to go.

Texas has removed the most Confederate symbols and statues in the country since 2015, according to a new Southern Poverty Law Center study. But the trend does not extend to the state Capitol, where lawmakers have been reluctant to take down monuments and plaques.

Texas cities removed 31 symbols, which include statues and renaming of schools and streets, according to the report. Austin led the way, with the removal of 10 symbols, the majority of them on the UT campus. Houston renamed seven schools and one street.

Cities in Texas and across the country have removed hundreds of symbols following the mass shooting at a black church in Charleston in 2015, which prompted lawmakers in South Carolina to remove the Confederate flag from the statehouse.

“As a consequence of the national reflection that began in Charleston, the myths and revisionist history surrounding the Confederacy may be losing their grip in the South,” the SPLC argues in its report. “Yet, for the most part, the symbols remain.”

Houston ISD spent $1.2 million to change the names of eight schools that once honored figures of the Confederacy. Reagan High became Heights High; Davis High was changed to Northside High; Lee High took the name of longtime educator Margaret Long Wisdom; Johnston Middle was changed to Meyerland Performing and Visual Arts Middle School; Jackson Middle became the Yolanda Black Navarro Middle School of Excellence; Dowling Middle was renamed after Audrey Lawson; and Lanier Middle changed its first name to honor former Houston Mayor Bob Lanier instead of Confederate poet Sidney Lanier.

Dowling Street, named after Houston businessman Dick Dowling who served as a lieutenant in the Confederacy, was renamed Emancipation Avenue by the City of Houston in January 2017.

Two controversial monuments remain in city parks.

The Spirit of the Confederacy statue has stood in Downtown’s Sam Houston Park for 110 years. A monument commemorating Dick Dowling was erected in Market Square Park in 1905 before moving to its current location in Herman Park.

You can read the SPLC report here. There’s a sidebar story in there about the history and origin of Stone Mountain in Georgia, which, yeah. Go read that if you’re not familiar with what I’m talking about. I don’t know if they counted this sort of thing, but in addition to the schools that got renamed, HISD also recently got rid of a Confederate-themed school mascot. So yes, progress.

One place where a lot more progress could and should be made in short order is in the state Capitol. State Rep. Eric Johnson, who has been leading the charge to get a particular historically false plaque removed, just submitted a brief to the AG’s office regarding the authority of the State Preservation Board, which includes Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick, to remove that “Children of the Confederacy Creed” plaque. He subsequently got support from outgoing Speaker Joe Straus.

The Republican speaker of the Texas House says a Confederate plaque hanging in the state Capitol can — and should — be removed immediately.

In a letter to Attorney General Ken Paxton, Speaker Joe Straus called the plaque offensive and misleading. And he agreed with Rep. Eric Johnson, the Dallas Democrat pushing for its removal, that the Texas Preservation Board has the power to remove the plaque immediately.

“Every year, thousands of visitors to the Capitol are exposed to this inaccurate plaque,” the San Antonio Republican’s staff wrote on the Speaker’s behalf. “Maintaining it in its present location is a disservice to them and to history. The plaque should either be removed or relocated to a place where appropriate historical context can be provided.”

[…]

Johnson said he was disappointed he hasn’t heard from Abbott in the seven months since the two men sat down to discuss the plaque. He wants the governor to call a meeting of the board and vote on his request to remove this plaque. If the agency fails to act quickly on his request, he wrote, a court of law could compel it to do so.

“The Curator similarly cannot let a request languish,” Johnson wrote. “Should the Curator fail to act on a change request within a reasonable period of time, mandamus can issue to require the Curator to act.”

One may be disappointed in Abbott, but one shouldn’t be surprised. Straus has previously backed removing the monument, so if Abbott and Patrick would get off their butts and take action, we could get this done tomorrow. What are you waiting for, guys?

State House remembers it was going to do something about sexual harassment

It’s something.

Rep. Joe Straus

Months after reports detailed a pervasive culture of sexual harassment at the state Capitol, Texas House Speaker Joe Straus on Wednesday announced another measure to address the issue.

Straus, a Republican who will retire early next year, created a work group to recommend additional steps to “prevent and eradicate” misconduct in the Legislature. The appointment of the group comes months after the House updated its sexual harassment policy following reports from The Texas Tribune detailing flaws in the former policy, which often left victims to fend for themselves. The Daily Beast had previously detailed accounts of sexual assault in the Legislature.

“This is the next step in our effort to make sure that sexual harassment is not tolerated at the Texas Capitol,” Straus said in a news release.

In a news release, Straus said the group will review existing policies and research best practices from other states to ensure a safe environment. The co-chairs of the new group are state Reps. Linda Koop, R-Dallas, and Donna Howard, D-Austin. Other members are: state Reps. Angie Chen Button, R-Richardson; Tony Dale, R-Cedar Park; Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth; Lina Ortega, D-El Paso; Abel Herrero, D-Robstown; Tom Oliverson, R-Cypress; Gary VanDeaver, R-New Boston; and Gene Wu, D-Houston.

The House revised its policy in December to require all House employees and staff to undergo anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training. House leaders cannot require lawmakers to complete the training, but all current lawmakers took the online course this year.

See here, here, and here for some background. As the story notes, the House has still done more than the Senate has done. Putting this group together to do something is good. Having that group actually do something, something constructive, will be better. The Chron has more.

Runoff races, part 4: Republicans

Again, not going to spend too much time on this, but here are the US House and State House races for which there are Republican primary runoffs:


Dist  Candidate    March%
=========================
CD02  Roberts      33.03%
CD02  Crenshaw     27.42%

CD05  Gooden       29.97%
CD05  Pounds       21.95%

CD06  Wright       45.15%
CD06  Ellzey       21.76%

CD21  Roy          27.06%
CD21  McCall       16.93%

CD27  Bruun        36.09%
CD27  Cloud        33.83%

CD29  Aronoff      38.60%
CD29  Montiel      23.58%


HD04  Spitzer      45.78%
HD04  Bell         26.21%

HD08  Harris       44.99%
HD08  McNutt       39.39%

HD13  Wolfskill    38.47%
HD13  Leman        36.28%

HD54  Cosper       44.60%
HD54  Buckley      41.55%

HD62  Smith        45.84%
HD62  Lawson       34.35%

HD107 Metzger      45.32%
HD107 Ruzicka      27.34%

HD121 Beebe        29.56%
HD121 Allison      26.34%

We’ve discussed CD02 and CD21 in recent days. Bunni Pounds in CD05 is the Republicans’ best hope to bolster the ranks of female members of Congress from Texas. I mean sure, Carmen Montiel is still in the running in CD29, but I think we can all agree that winning the runoff would be her last hurrah. In any event, Pounds is outgoing Rep. Jeb Hensarling’s preferred successor, and she has the support of Mike Pence. Which, it turns out, has caused some drama in the White House, because everything these days causes drama in the White House. The two contenders in CD27 are also running in the special election. It would be funny if the runoff loser wound up winning that race, but my guess would be that the runoff loser withdraws from the special election.

In the State House races, HD121 is Joe Straus’ seat, while HD08 belonged to his deputy Byron Cook. Thomas McNutt and Matt Beebe are the wingnuts backed by Tim Dunn and Empower Texans who have run against Straus and Cook in the past, so if you hope to retain a touch of sanity in the lower chamber, root for their opponents. Scott Cosper is the lone incumbent in a runoff. Stuart Spitzer is a return customer in HD04 best known for his extreme love of virginity. HD107 is held by freshman Dem Victoria Neave, who like Rep. Oliveira had a recent brush with the law, and in part due to that may be the one truly vulnerable Dem in any legislative chamber this cycle. HD107 is also the latest example of Why Every Vote Matters, as primary runnerup Joe Ruzicka collected 2,070 votes in March, exactly one more than third place finisher Brad Perry’s 2,069 votes.

Finally, there’s the runoff for Justice of the Peace in Precinct 5 in Harris County, a race that will be decided by the Republican runoff as no Democrat filed for it. (There actually was a Dem who filed but he either withdrew or was disqualified late in the game, I don’t know which, and there wasn’t the time to collect enough petition signatures for a backup candidate.) The race is between normal incumbent Republican Jeff Williams and village idiot Michael Wolfe, backed by the likes of Steven Hotze and Eric Dick, the Tweedledum to Wolfe’s Tweedledumber. Go read Erica Greider if you want to know more about it.

Rep. Eric Johnson declares for Speaker

It’s not as crazy as it sounds.

Rep. Eric Johnson

State Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, filed Wednesday to run for speaker of the Texas House, making him the first Democrat to enter the race to succeed retiring House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio.

In a statement sent to The Texas Tribune, Johnson pointed out that, if elected, he would be the first speaker under the age of 45 since former House Speaker Price Daniel Jr. in 1973 and the first person of color to ever serve as speaker of the Texas House.

Johnson enters a speaker’s race that already includes three Republicans: Tan Parker of Flower Mound, Phil King of Weatherford and John Zerwas of Richmond.

“I’m in it, and I’m in it to win it,” Johnson told the Tribune.

[…]

“I am deeply troubled by the far rightward shift in our state government and the excessive partisanship and the poor legislation this shift has spawned,” Johnson said in a separate statement. “Texas has become a one-party state, and this has been to Texas’s detriment.”

As a Democrat, Johnson would need bipartisan support to be elected speaker in the Republican-dominated House. Ahead of the next regular session, House Republicans agreed to select a speaker in their caucus and then vote as a bloc on the floor — a move that could completely cut out Democrats from picking the chamber’s next leader. Prior to the March 6 primaries, House Republicans pushed incumbents and candidates to sign a form promising to ultimately support the caucus pick. While Parker and King have signed the form, Zerwas has not.

Let’s state up front that Republican members are not going to vote for a Democrat for Speaker, at least not as long as they have a majority in the House. Let’s also state that it is…unlikely…that the Republicans will lose the majority in the Texas House. So, barring something very unexpected, Rep. Eric Johnson will not be the next Speaer of the House.

What could happen is that Republicans fail to coalesce behind a single one of their Speaker candidates, so that none of them can get a majority to become Speaker. In that case, Eric Johnson and his Democratic supporters can make a deal with one of them to push him over the top in return for some concessions. This is a more likely scenario with Democrats numbering in the mid-to-upper sixties (or higher, of course), but it could still happen with something more like the current caucus size. This is not unlike how Joe Straus became Speaker himself in 2009; I trust you will find the irony of that if it happens to be as delicious as I will. Having Johnson file as Speaker should mean that the Dems will be unified behind him, rather than making their own individual deals a la Tom Craddick in 2003.

And that’s the key. Being able to elect a Democratic Speaker would be awesome, of course, but the way the House map is drawn they’d need not just to win the statewide vote, they’d need to win it with some room to spare. That just isn’t going to happen. But being in a position to get a seat at the table, that’s a fine consolation prize. The more seats we do win in November, the closer we can get to that.

Did Greg Abbott oppose the bathroom bill?

Color me skeptical.

Gov. Greg Abbott himself was opposed to the controversial “bathroom bill” that dominated debate at the Texas Capitol for much of 2017, according to a state representative involved in keeping the legislation from passing the Texas House.

State Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, the chairman of the House State Affairs committee that blocked the bill from reaching the House floor for a full vote, said Tuesday that Abbott “did not want that bill on his desk.”

Cook’s comments on the bill, which would have restricted the use of certain public facilities for transgender Texans, came alongside the long-awaited release Tuesday of a report from the House Select Committee on Economic Competitiveness. After months of discussion, a public squabble and several hours-long hearings, most committee members came to the conclusion many had anticipated: the “bathroom bill” is bad for business.

“Future legislators should focus on [low taxes, limited regulation and local control] to maintain a predictable and reliable business climate, avoiding legislation that distracts from critical priorities and is viewed by many as enabling discrimination against certain groups or classes of Texans,” says the committee’s report. “Texas policymakers must acknowledge warnings from leaders in the business community, academicians and law enforcement officials about the consequences of such discriminatory legislation to avoid endangering the state’s successful economy.”

Two of the committee’s Republican members, state Reps. Angie Chen Button of Richardson and Charlie Geren of Fort Worth, didn’t sign the final report. Neither Abbott, Button nor Geren immediately returned a request for comment Tuesday.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick first unveiled a “bathroom bill” in January 2017, and for the first several months of debate, Abbott remained largely silent even as some cautioned that it would be bad for business. When an alternative form of the bill emerged in the Texas House in April, Abbott called it a “thoughtful proposal.” But he didn’t give the policy his clear support until later that spring, when he endorsed it as a legislative priority.

No bathroom bill made it to Abbott’s desk by the end of the legislative session in May — a block largely credited to Straus and Cook, who said in a hearing that “there’s no information” supporting the need for such a bill. But Abbott revived the controversial legislation in June, when he put it on his 20-item call for the summer’s month-long special session.

After that, he struck a delicate balance on the thorny issue, calling on legislators to pass all of his special session priorities but taking care not to emphasize the “bathroom bill” individually. Many observers speculated that Abbott was happy to stay out of the fight, letting Straus take the heat for keeping the bill from the floor.

The rest of the story is about that report, which looks like it says more or less what you’d expect it to. I guess the best argument for what Rep. Cook says to be true is basically that Abbott was too scared of getting primaried by Dan Patrick to say anything against a bathroom bill. He’s a weak leader, and I can believe he’d let Joe Straus take all the bullets for him on this, so I can’t completely dismiss Rep. Cook’s words. But how big a wuss does he have to be to put the bathroom bill on the call for the special session if he didn’t want a bill to be sent to him? There’s just no bottom to his fecklessness. The Chron has more.

No, the bathroom bill issue hasn’t gone away

Lisa Falkenberg tries to argue that the bathroom bill issue has faded away this election, but I don’t buy it and I don’t think she does, either.

But there’s one hot-button issue that’s been notably absent: the bathroom bill.

And actually, it has been notably absent from just about every Republican primary contest this season, as the Texas Tribune reported this week.

That is interesting, seeing as how the divisive provision regulating transgender bathroom use distracted from serious legislation and even triggered a special session. I asked those closely involved in fighting the bill for a ballpark figure on the hours wasted in hearings, negotiations, stakeholder meetings and floor debate.

Hundreds, they said.

The fact that the burning issue is now a non-issue is a bit surprising, seeing as how Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick warned lawmakers who worked successfully to thwart it that they would face consequences, namely the wrath of their constituents.

“Let them go home and face the voters for the next 90 days,” Patrick was quoted saying on the last day of the special session in reference to bill opponents.

Certainly, plenty of political observers, myself included, expected that the bill that launched protests, hours of debate among lawmakers and stoked fear in the hearts of parents and transgender Texans would play a role on the stump, whether employed as a strict litmus test or a mere dog whistle.

Now, it seems all but forgotten. The question is why.

[…]

Mark Jones, political science professor at Rice University, says the issue just didn’t have the staying power among the Republican base as issues such as illegal immigration, abortion and taxes. He said most GOP primary voters have largely forgotten about the issue, which was never a priority for them anyway.

Jones says he suspects one reason that potty politics have quieted is that “even for most conservative activists the bathroom bill was something of a manufactured issue, where some members of the GOP elite converted a relatively non-issue into an issue among the base, but one that absent a constant stoking of the fire by the GOP elite has for all intents been extinguished.”

He added, “Until such time that Dan Patrick decides to pour some gasoline on the remaining embers.”

Hold that thought for a minute. The Trib had an article along the same lines a day or two before Falkenberg’s piece.

For starters, its biggest champion, Patrick, is no longer promoting it with remotely the same level of enthusiasm he did before and during the 2017 sessions. In October, he declared bathroom bill supporters had “already won” by sending a message to any school or business thinking about providing the kinds of accommodations that led to the push for the proposal in the first place.

Furthermore, the two Republicans most closely associated with the legislation’s death — Straus and state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, the chairman of the House State Affairs Committee — are not seeking re-election, avoiding primary challenges that could have been shaped by their opposition to the proposal.

For some bathroom bill supporters, the Cook and Straus retirements are enough proof that the failure of the legislation had political consequences.

[…]

In a small number of cases, primary challengers have sought to appeal to more moderate Republican voters by providing a contrast with incumbents who supported the bathroom bill. In her debut ad, Shannon McClendon, who’s running against state Sen. Donna Campbell of New Braunfels, said the incumbent “wants the government to intrude into our bedroom, our bathrooms and our boardrooms — I want to focus on our classrooms.”

That’s about as far as it goes among Republicans who weren’t keen on the bathroom bill, though. Even the political arm of the TAB, among the legislation’s biggest opponents last year, has kept talk of the issue at a minimum as it has sought to play a more aggressive role in the primaries. It snubbed a number of bathroom bill supporters in its primary endorsements, but it also backed some who unapologetically voted for it, like Campbell.

Hey, you know who’s a big bathroom bill booster that’s being challenged over that issue in the Republican primary? Dan Patrick, that’s who. His what-used-to-be-considered-mainstream Republican opponent is Scott Milder, who has gotten support from editorial boards and not much of a hold on the news pages. One reason why the bathroom bill isn’t getting much attention is precisely because this race isn’t getting much attention. Other reasons include the departures of Joe Straus and Byron Cook, and the big focus on federal races – Congress plus Beto O’Rourke – where bathrooms take a back seat to all things Trump. At the state level, there’s more attention on the Democratic gubernatorial primary than anything else.

But look, none of this really matters. What matters is what Mark Jones said. Dan Patrick doesn’t forget, and he doesn’t give up. The fact that there weren’t high profile fights over potties in the primary will be taken by him as proof that he was right all along, that Republican voters were on his side. And when you consider that there are no Republicans of prominence on the ballot who are disputing that, and that as expected the Texas Association of Business has been as toothless as a a newborn, why should he think otherwise? Republican primary voters are gonna do what Republican primary voters do, which over the past half dozen or so cycles has meant “nominate more and more unhinged lunatics”. You want to restore a little sanity and put things like bathroom bills in the trash can where they belong, vote Democratic. That’s a message that maybe, just maybe, Dan Patrick will have to listen to.

Speaker Straus not running for re-election

A bombshell no one saw coming.

Rep. Joe Straus

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, a San Antonio Republican, announced Wednesday he will not run for re-election in 2018, a decision that has the potential to upend the political balance of power in the state.

Straus, who has lately been the most powerful moderate Republican in the Texas Capitol, said he will serve until the end of his term. That means there will be a new speaker when the Legislature next convenes in 2019.

His decision will immediately set in motion a scrum for control of the House, pitting arch-conservative members who have opposed Straus against more centrist Republicans. Within hours, one of Straus’ top lieutenants, Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, announced that he had filed to run for the speaker’s post. State Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, has already announced he is running. Other candidates are expected to jump in.

Straus has clashed with hardline conservatives in recent years, not least Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Tea Party leaders and their allies have blamed Straus for killing controversial measures backed by the far right, most notably a bill that would have regulated which bathrooms transgender Texans could use.

“I believe that in a representative democracy, those who serve in public office should do so for a time, not for a lifetime. And so I want you to know that my family and I have decided that I will not run for re-election next year,” Straus said in a campaign email. “My time as a State Representative and as Speaker will end at the conclusion of my current term.”

[…]

Asked if he planned to run for any other office in the future, Straus said he is “not one to close doors.” He acknowledged he has received encouragement to run for other offices and did not rule out the possibility of a gubernatorial bid. But he said he doubts he will be on the ballot in 2018.

As for the race to succeed him as speaker, Straus suggested he would not get involved.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for people who aren’t members in the Legislature in the next session to really register an opinion on that,” Straus said.

The announcement immediately set into motion speculation about the future of Straus’ top lieutenants. One of his closest allies, Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, who is chairman of the House State Affairs Committee, said in a statement first reported by Quorum Report that he “will pursue other opportunities to serve our great state.”

Straus made his announcement on Facebook, which if you have a feed like mine immediately took over everything. This came as a big surprise, because just last month Straus was urging business leaders to keep up the fight against bathroom bills and other such harmful proposals, and two weeks ago he formed the House Select Committee on Economic Competitiveness to push pro-growth policies. I doubt it had occurred to anyone that he himself might walk away at this time, but if a young, scandal-free first-term US Senator can say “screw it, I’ve had enough”, then nothing like this should surprise us. Indeed, as Ross Ramsey notes, this will almost surely presage a lot more retirements. Get ready for it.

As to what happens next, I’m not going to panic or despair, at least not yet. For one thing, like Christopher Hooks, I’m a little wary of the hagiography coming from my fellow travelers over Straus’ legislative career.

Liberals have never quite figured out what to make of the man. On one hand, it’s undoubtedly true that Straus was a bulwark against the new populist tendencies of the Texas GOP. He and allies such as Byron Cook, who is also retiring, stopped a metric ton of junk legislation that would have passed with a different speaker. When considering the question of why Texas has fared generally better than similarly red states like Louisiana and Kansas, which are on fire, Straus and the conditions that created Straus are a significant part of the answer. He’s the last person in state government who seems to care about governing as a concept.

But out of that fact emerged too a picture of Straus as a sort of Aaron Sorkin character, a paternal figure with an unnaturally rosy image and a passing resemblance to Gregg Popovich, typified by the mythic representation of Straus’ bathroom bill showdown with Patrick in a recent New Yorker article. There is an element of Stockholm Syndrome in that, as if Straus was the jailer who always asks about your kids. Among other things, the House of Straus passed many of its own pieces of junk legislation — voter ID, loads of anti-abortion laws, etc. — and served at times as a trough for the lobby. Straus and his lieutenants often declined to water down bad legislation, including, spectacularly the state’s “show your papers” law. The Capitol debate over what Straus personally wants, and when his hand is being “forced,” is as long and storied as it is useless to ordinary Texans.

Straus isn’t Jeff Flake or Bob Corker — he’s been staying true to some version of his principles since he was elected speaker, not just recently. But it’s also worth wondering why a person who places so much emphasis on good government is willing to abandon his post, possibly to another Republican in the mold of Dan Patrick or Donald Trump. A tremendous amount now depends on whether a Straus-type successor can be elected speaker.

For sure, we could have done much worse than Straus – we had already done much worse, under Tom Craddick – and we could do much worse going forward. I’m just suggesting that we maintain a bit of perspective here. Going forward, a Speaker Zerwas would be more or less the same as Speaker Straus was, while a Speaker King would basically be Speaker Craddick minus the Craddick Dems. The way to enhance the odds of the former is for more Democrats to win legislative races next year, especially against wingnuts in swing districts like Matt Rinaldi. Perhaps the Texas Association of Business, who helped give us Speaker Craddick in 2002, might get involved in a few Republican primaries if they’d like to see Straus’ legacy live on. There are concrete things that can be done to ensure a better outcome, is what I’m saying. That’s where I’d put my energy if this news is distressing to me. The Chron, RG Ratcliffe, the Current, and the DMN have more.

Has Harvey changed anything politically?

You’d think it would, but it remains to be seen as far as I’m concerned.

A month to the day after Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas, the reality of the storm was beginning to sink in on the minds of politicians, policy makers and advocates bracing for a long recovery.

In short, any political plans people had pre-Harvey are now moot.

“Whatever any of us thought or hoped that the agenda for the next session would be, it is going to be overtaken by mother nature,” House Speaker Joe Straus told a full auditorium at the University of Texas Saturday. “It’s going to the biggest challenge that we face.”

[…]

Politicians said it’s still too soon to know exactly what the state needs to do to help the areas slammed by the storm cover, such as how much money it will cost to fix schools and roads and invest in such infrastructure to guard against future storms.

What policy experts and politicians across the board do know is it could take years for the state to recover.

The storm may provide an opportunity for a special legislative session for lawmakers to rethink the state’s school funding formula given property taxes, which schools depend on for funding, are expected to tank in storm-ravaged areas, said state Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Humble.

“I don’t believe 1 million children are going anywhere, but their homes have been destroyed,” he said, noting his home sustained $50,000 in damage from Harvey. “I just don’t see any path to victory for the schools if we don’t take this very seriously going forward.”

Huberty wants lawmakers to return to Austin for a special legislative session focused on storm relief. In that conversation, they could rehab the state’s school funding formula to level out funding for districts that stand to lose property tax revenue from the storm.

[…]

Education Commissioner Mike Morath said he’s still undecided about whether to cancel, delay or ease how the state grades schools based on the tests. However, his tone changed from last week when he told the State Board of Education it was unlikely Texas would tinker with the STAAR.

That will be worth keeping an eye on. I’ve been thinking about what would have to happen for me to accept that “things have changed” in a substantive fashion. Two possibilities come to mind:

1. A special session to address school finance. This can’t be just to make payments to districts to cover Harvey costs that insurance and the feds won’t pay, though that absolutely needs to happen, and it can’t be something that waits till 2019 and is the initiative of the House Education Committee and Speaker Straus, because we already know they’re on board for this. It also can’t be used as a vehicle for pushing through the usual hobbyhorses like vouchers or the new obsessions like bathroom bills. The call would have to include both addressing disaster funding and more importantly the overall inequities of the system. The reason why this would be a change would be that it would demonstrate for the first time that Greg Abbott wants to fix this problem, and it would provide him with the chance to separate himself from Dan Patrick. For a variety of what should be obvious reasons, I don’t expect this to happen, but if it does it will be a real change.

2. Someone loses an election as a result of being unwilling to take positive action to abet recovery. I don’t think this will happen because right now the main obstacle to getting things done is Paul Bettencourt, and he’s not in any position to lose a race. The members of Congress who voted against Harvey aid, whatever their reasons for doing so, are all well outside the affected area. If a special session does happen, then that would create opportunities for people to say and do potentially costly things, but in the absence of such, I any current officeholder has much to worry about at this time.

I’m sure there are other possibilities, but these are what come to my mind. Everything else feels like normal business to me. Maybe if the state winds up doing nothing to help cities and school districts cover costs, despite the $10 billion-plus in the Rainy Day Fund, that would count as something having changed, though that’s clearly not what the story is about. I’m open to the idea that “things” will “change” after Harvey, but I’m going to wait until I see it happen before I believe it.

Straus backs removing Capitol Confederate monument

Kudos.

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus requested on Tuesday that a contentious Confederate plaque be removed from the Capitol.

The plaque, erected in 1959, asserts that the Civil War was “not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery.”

“This is not accurate, and Texans are not well-served by incorrect information about our history,” Straus said in a letter to the State Preservation Board, which oversees the Capitol grounds.

Straus added in his letter that “confederate monuments and plaques are understandably important to many Texans” but stressed the importance of such landmarks being “accurate and appropriate.”

“The Children of the Confederacy Creed plaque does not meet this standard,” Straus wrote.

State Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, who has called for the removal of the plaque, told The Texas Tribune he was “pleased” that Straus agrees it should come down.

“I am confident that it will come down soon,” Johnson said.

See here for the background. As you know, I am objectively anti-Confederate monuments in general, though I will stipulate there is room for debate. But a Confederate monument that contains a blatant and obvious lie about what the Confederacy and the Civil War were about? In the state Capitol? I’ll be glad to drive to Austin with a hammer and pry bar and do the removal myself. Good on Rep. Johnson for bringing this up, and on Rep. Straus for doing the right thing.

House to study Harvey-related issues

Good to see.

Rep. Joe Straus

House Speaker Joe Straus is asking three House committees to wade into issues related to Hurricane Harvey, including how the state can maximize federal funds and whether to rethink how to grade schools affected by the storm this year.

Straus issued five interim charges Thursday, focused largely on education issues, like the scope of damage to schools and figuring out how to help districts absorbing students displaced by Harvey. He also wants lawmakers to look at student testing and accountability to “prevent unintended punitive consequences to both students and districts.”

[…]

Straus’ other charges include taking a close look at the state’s infrastructure and use of state and federal funds during storm recovery and review the role of regional entities to developing flood control projects.

“Hurricane Harvey has devastated our state and upended the lives of millions of Texans,” said Straus said in a letter to House members asking for further suggestions of issues lawmakers should study leading up to the next legislative session that begins in January of 2019. “The importance of getting these issues right when we meet again demands that we start working on them now.”

As we know, the TEA isn’t inclined to cut school districts any slack at this time, so it’s nice for the Lege to look at that. I’ll be very interested to see what they come up with regarding infrastructure. As noted before, we authorized a fund for building reservoirs and the like. What are we doing with that, and can we use it for flood mitigation instead of drought mitigation? This seems like as good a time as any to find out. The Trib has more.

No special session needed to address Harvey flooding

So says Greg Abbott.

Gov. Greg Abbott said Friday another special session of the Texas Legislature won’t be necessary to deal with the response to Hurricane Harvey.

“We won’t need a special session for this,” Abbott told reporters, noting that the state has enough resources to “address the needs between now and the next session.”

[…]

In recent days, some members of the Texas Legislature have speculated that a special session to address the recovery seemed likely. They included state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, an ally of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the chairman of the Senate GOP caucus.

“My personal assumption right now is that we will probably be back in Austin at work no later than January,” Bettencourt told the Houston Chronicle on Thursday.

Here’s that Chron story. A few details from it to help clarify:

“My personal assumption right now is that we will probably be back in Austin at work no later than January,” said Senate Republican Caucus Chair Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, echoing the sentiments of other House and Senate members.

“The governor and the Legislative Budget Board have the ability to move around quite a bit of money in current appropriations, but it probably won’t be enough when all the bills come in. This storm is going to cost more than (hurricanes) Katrina and Sandy put together, and I’m thinking we’ll be breaking the $200 billion mark before this over.”

While the state would be liable for only a fraction of that amount, after insurance and federal payments come in, but whatever that (remaining) amount is will be something the Legislature will probably have to address.”

That, say other lawmakers, will most likely involve a politically charged debate over tapping the state’s so-called Rainy Day Fund — a $10 billion account officially known as the Economic Stabilization Fund — to pay for some of the storm-damage tab.

[…]

In a Thursday letter to House members, House Speaker Joe Straus said he will be issuing selective interim charges — directives for legislative recommendations — “in the near future to address these challenges” resulting from the massive destruction caused by Harvey, especially to schools.

“The House Appropriations Committee will identify state resources that can be applied toward the recovery and relief efforts being incurred today, as well as long-term investments the state can make to minimize future storms,” the San Antonio Republican said in his letter. “When the appropriate time comes, other committees will review the state’s response and delivery of services.”

The Legislative Budget Board, jointly headed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Straus, can make key decisions on reallocating state funds to meet emergency needs — up to a point, officials said. Half of its members — three senators and two House members — represent areas devastated by Harvey.

My guess is that Abbott is probably right and the LBB can cover this for now. Tapping the Rainy Day Fund, which I will point out again was created for the purpose of helping to cover budget shortfalls in times of economic downturn before being bizarrely recast as in-case-of-disaster savings by Rick Perry in 2011, may require the Lege, but that may be done in a way as to defer that action until 2019. My wonk skillz are limited in this particular area. Point being, if Congress can manage to allocate relief funding without tripping over their ideologies, there shouldn’t be that much for the state to have to pick up. We’ll see.

State Rep. Larry Gonzales to retire

This is an opportunity for the Democrats.

Rep. Larry Gonzales

State Rep. Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock, is not running for re-election.

“It has been an honor and a privilege to serve HD52 and this great state,” Gonzales wrote Wednesday night on Facebook. “We certainly gave it our all.”

Gonzales announced his decision not to run again at a meeting Tuesday night of the Williamson County GOP Executive Committee, according to attendees.

First elected in 2010, Gonzales has served on the Sunset Advisory Commission since 2014 and currently chairs the panel, which is responsible for periodic reviews of state agencies. He is also the chairman of a House Appropriations subcommittee.

[…]

At least two Republicans have already lined up to run for Gonzales’ seat in House District 52: Texas GOP chaplain Jeremy Story and Round Rock resident Christopher Ward.

Another person, James Talarico, has filed paperwork indicating he is interested in running. He is expected to make an announcement early next week.

HD52 is one of several in which Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump by less than five points, with the spread in the downballot races being about eight points. It was a bit more Democratic than in 2012, though not dramatically so. It’s still one of the clearer Democratic targets for 2018, especially now that it is open. If that isn’t enough incentive, there’s also the Speaker’s race dynamic. HD52 is also a target for the wingnuts.

Gonzales was already facing a Republican primary challenge from the right in March. Jeremy Story, a 42-year-old father of seven from Round Rock who founded and is president of Campus Renewal, a Christian organization seeking to unite campus ministries across the country, has announced he’s running for the Republican nomination. Story also serves as chaplain to the Williamson County and Texas Republican parties.

Story said Wednesday that, like Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott, he was disappointed that Straus did not deliver on more of the governor’s 20-point agenda for the special session. He said he believed the House could benefit from a change in leadership.

But, on Tuesday night, the Williamson County Republican Party executive committee defeated, 31-14, a measure to call for the speaker’s replacement, and Chairman Bill Fairbrother said that support for Straus was stronger in the southern end of the county that makes up Gonzales’ district.

Fairbrother described Gonzales as a successful and popular legislator who had worked tirelessly to get around and represent the district. He said he expects several other Republicans to jump into the race in the near future.

They need to be joined by at least one good Democrat. Don’t let us down, Williamson County.

Meanwhile, up north there’s another retirement:

State Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, announced Thursday she is not running for re-election.

Laubenberg, who chairs the House Elections Committee, did not provide a specific reason for her decision in a statement. “I am looking forward to the next chapter of my life,” Laubenberg said.

Laubenberg has served eight terms representing House District 89 in Collin County.

The seat is likely to stay under GOP control. One name that was already being mentioned Thursday evening as a potential candidate to replace Laubenberg was Candy Noble, a member of the State Republican Executive Committee from Lucas.

Laubenberg was the author of the infamous HB2 abortion bill that eventually got canned by SCOTUS, but not before a bunch of clinics were forced to close. I seriously doubt that anyone else will be better than she was – HD89 is a safe Republican seat, having been carried by Trump by over 20 points – but no one I know will be sorry to see Jodie Laubenberg walk out the door for the last time.

Court throws out State House map

Once more, with feeling.

Parts of the Texas House map must be redrawn ahead of the 2018 elections because lawmakers intentionally discriminated against minorities in crafting several legislative districts, federal judges ruled on Thursday.

A three-judge panel in San Antonio unanimously ruled that Texas must address violations that could affect the configuration of House districts in four counties, where lawmakers diluted the strength of voters of color. In some cases, the court found mapdrawers intentionally undercut minority voting power “to ensure Anglo control” of legislative districts.

These are the nine districts the court flagged:

  • Dallas County’s HD 103, represented by Democrat Rafael Anchia, HD 104, represented by Democrat Roberto Alonzo and HD 105, represented by Republican Rodney Anderson
  • Nueces County’s HD 32, represented by Republican Todd Hunter, and HD 34, represented by Democrat Abel Herrero
  • Bell County’s HD 54, represented by Republican Scott Cosper, and HD 55, represented by Republican Hugh Shine
  • Tarrant County’s HD 90, represented by Democrat Ramon Romero, and HD 93 represented by Matt Krause.

Adjusting those boundaries could have a ripple effect on other races.

[…]

In both the congressional and state House rulings, the court ordered Attorney General Ken Paxton to signal whether the Legislature would take up redistricting to fix violations in the maps.

But so far, state leaders have signaled they have no appetite to call lawmakers back to Austin over mapmaking. Instead, Texas is looking to the U.S. Supreme Court to keep its political boundaries intact.

“The judges held that maps they themselves adopted violate the law,” Paxton said in a Thursday statement. “Needless to say, we will appeal.”

Meanwhile, the state and the parties that sued over the congressional districts are scheduled to return to court on Sept. 5 to begin redrawing the congressional map. In its Thursday ruling, the court indicated they should be prepared to also meet on Sept. 6 to consider changes to the state House map.

“Today’s ruling once again found that Texas racially gerrymandered its voting districts and used Latino voters as pawns in doing so,” said Nina Perales, vice president of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, who is representing plaintiffs in the case. “With the 2018 election cycle fast approaching, it’s time for Texas to stop discriminating against Latino voters and agree to a remedy that will provide equal opportunity to all.”

It was just over a week ago that the same court invalidated the Congressional map, also calling it intentionally discriminatory. Add in the voter ID ruling and you’ve got three such judgments in a span of eight days; you can also toss in the ruling on interpreters for a four-game losing streak for the state. Don’t forget the Pasadena case, too – it’s not the state, but it is another intentional-discrimination opinion. Maybe this will all add up to enough to convince Chief Justice Roberts to change his mind about the state of voting rights and the need to protect communities of color.

Or not. I wouldn’t hold my breath. Be that as it may, this ruling could have an effect on the effort by wingnuts to oust House Speaker Joe Straus. RG Ratcliffe explains.

The court found that in Nueces County, the district maps discriminated in the placement of minority voters in a way that favored the re-election of Representative Todd Hunter, a key Straus Republican ally and chairman of the House committee that sets bills for debate on the daily calendar. To make his district safe, the court said Hispanic voters were packed into the district of Representative Abel Herrero, a Democrat. Redrawing the districts won’t automatically guarantee Hunter’s defeat, but it will make it more difficult for him to win re-election.

The court also ruled that the Legislature intentionally split a minority community in Killeen to guarantee the election of two white Republicans in Districts 54 and 55, Scott Cosper of Killeen and Hugh Shine of Temple. Both have backed Straus in the past. Putting the minority community in Killeen back together probably endangers Cosper’s re-election, and may put a Democrat in that rural district. Either way, this likely is a wash in the politics of electing the next speaker.

In Dallas and Tarrant counties, the court ruling likely would help Straus win re-election. In declaring that five districts in those two counties discriminated against minorities, the most likely losers in any redrawing of the district maps will be Republican Representatives Rodney Anderson of Irving and Matt Krause of Fort Worth. Anderson was among nineteen House members who voted against Straus in one election for speaker, and Krause is a member of the Freedom Caucus, which has been trying to force a speaker vote in the caucus instead of on the House floor, where Democrats also have a say.

Anderson barely squeaked by in 2016, in a district that was ever so slightly bluer than HD107, which flipped to the Dems. He was going to be a target no matter what. The ripple effect in Dallas could be very interesting. And of course, anything that puts jerks like Krause in jeopardy is a good thing. We’ll know if and when SCOTUS intervenes if a second special session will be forthcoming. A statement from MALC is here, and Michael Li, the Chron, the DMN, Rick Hasen, the HuffPost, and the Lone Star Project have more.

Pastoral malignancy

Know your enemy.

A day before the Texas Legislature ended its special session this week, a session that included a high-profile fight over a “bathroom bill” that appeared almost certainly dead, David Welch had a message for Gov. Greg Abbott: call lawmakers back to Austin. Again.

For years, Welch, executive director of the Texas Pastor Council, has worked to pass a bill that would ban local policies that ensured transgender individuals’ right to use restrooms in public schools and government buildings that match their gender identity. The summer special session, which was quickly coming to a close, had been Welch and other social conservatives’ second chance, an overtime round after the bill — denounced by critics as discriminatory and unnecessary — failed during the regular session that ended in May.

But with the Texas House unlikely to vote on a bathroom bill, Welch gathered with some of the most conservative Republicans in that chamber to make a final plea. The bill, they argued without any evidence, would prevent men from entering bathrooms to sexually assault or harass women.

“If this does not pass during this special session, we are asking for, urgently on behalf of all these pastors across the state of Texas, that we do hold a second special session until the job is done,” Welch said at the press event, hosted by Texas Values, a socially conservative group.

Though the group of lawmakers, religious leaders and activists were still coming to terms with their failure to get a bill to Abbott’s desk, for Welch’s Pastor Council, the years-long fight over bathroom restrictions has nonetheless been a galvanizing campaign.

The group, which Welch founded in 2003, has grown from a local organization to a burgeoning statewide apparatus with eyes on someday becoming a nationwide force, one able to mobilize conservative Christians around the country into future political battles. If Abbott doesn’t call lawmakers back for another special session to pass a bathroom bill, the group is likely to shift its attention to the 2018 elections.

“Our role in this process shouldn’t be restricted just because people attend church,” Welch told The Texas Tribune. “Active voting, informed voting, is a legitimate ministry of the church.”

[…]

With primary season approaching, members of the Pastor Council are preparing to take their campaign to the ballot box and unseat Republicans who did not do enough to challenge Straus’ opposition to a “bathroom bill.” Steve Riggle, a pastor to a congregation of more than 20,000 at Grace Community Church in Houston and a member of the Pastor Council, said he and others are talking about “how in the world do we have 90-some Republicans [in the 150-member Texas House] who won’t stand behind what they say they believe.”

“They’re more afraid of Straus than they are of us,” he said. “It’s about time they’re more afraid of us.”

First, let me commend the Trib for noting that the push for the bathroom bill was based on a lie, and for reporting that Welch and his squadron of ideologues are far from a representative voice in the Christian community. Both of these points are often overlooked in reporting about so-called “Christian” conservatives, so kudos to the Trib for getting it right. I would just add that what people like Dave Welch and Steve Riggle believe, and want the Lege and the Congress to legalize, is that they have a right to discriminate against anyone they want, as long as they can claim “religious” reasons for it.

As such, I really hope that Chris Wallace and the rest of the business community absorbs what these bad hombres are saying. I want them to understand that the power dynamic in the Republican Party has greatly shifted, in a way that threatens to leave them on the sidelines. It used to be that the Republican legislative caucus was owned and operated by business interests, with the religious zealots providing votes and logistical support. The zealots are now in charge, or at least they are trying to be. Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton and increasingly Greg Abbott are on their side, and now they want to take out Joe Straus and enforce complete control. Either the business lobby fights back by supporting a mix of non-wacko Republicans in primaries and Democrats in winnable November races, or this is what the agenda for 2019 will look like. I hope you’re paying attention, because there may not be a second chance to get this right. The DMN has more.

The long view of the bathroom bill

The Chron considers the future of the bathroom bill.

Texas’ controversial bathroom bill, championed by Gov. Greg Abbot and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, may have been declared dead, but some say it could be revived soon enough.

“Like Frankenstein, the bathroom bill could come back to life,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a University of Houston political scientist. “Because, in an election year, it’s an issue that appeals to the Republican base that turns out to vote.”

Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said many lawmakers have kept their views on the controversial measure private, and there remains support.

“The bill may be dead, but the issue is not,” he said.

Chalk up the bill’s demise to Texas business leaders who support nondiscrimination laws and see the issue of which bathrooms transgender people use as a manufactured one. Nevertheless, both supporters and opponents agree the issue will be back — either in a future legislative session or in the Republican primaries next March, when bathroom bill proponents hope to oust House Republican moderates they blame for derailing its passage into law this summer.

[…]

“It was largely a manufactured issue that will evaporate over time,” said Rice University’s Jones. “There is no crisis on transgender Texans for most Texans. But for Republican primary voters, it will still be around.”

More than a dozen tea party and conservative Republican activists agreed, saying they plan to press Abbott to call the Legislature back into a special session early next year to remind GOP primary voters how much of the summer’s conservative agenda did not get passed – including the bathroom bill.

“It’s looking pretty dismal right now, all the priorities of Gov. Abbott that the House blocked, and I can assure you that people in Texas are not going to forget about that,” said JoAnn Fleming, executive director of Grassroots America: We the People, an influential tea party group among conservative Texas Republicans. “An awful lot of bills have not been passed, and now they’re trying to cut deals in the House at the very end to make it look like they’re accomplishing something when they’re not.”

Other activists in Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio echoed that disdain, warning that the business leaders may end up sorry they fought the bathroom bill, when the Texans who support it successfully push it through in another legislative session.

Jeff Moseley, CEO of the Texas Association of Business, the lobby group that for decades has wielded considerable clout at the Capitol and threw its weight behind derailing the bathroom bill, disagrees. He said his group, facing a growing amount of legislation that is bad for business, plans to continue its legislative momentum.

After remaining relatively low-key in some recent sessions, lobbying for criminal justice reforms as lawmakers fought about conservative social issues such as abortions, Big Business took a higher profile last spring in fighting attempts to place new restrictions on eminent domain, to cut tax-abatement incentives and to kill the state’s business-development fund – along with their fight against the bathroom bill that grew into a full-on throwdown this summer.

“We were ringing the bell during the regular session, and then the governor put it on the special session agenda, and we knew that our voice had to be heard strongly and loudly,” Moseley said. “For Texas to remain globally competitive, we have to remain open for business. And laws like this are a disregard for the Texas Miracle, which wasn’t some cosmic accident. It was a result of solid policies that encouraged business growth and economic development in Texas.”

I disagree with the assertion that the demonization of transgender people will fade over time. These GOP primary-driven issues don’t go away. Look at the history – voter ID, campus carry, and “sanctuary cities” all took multiple sessions, but in the end they all passed. Hell, they’re still fighting against same-sex marriage, SCOTUS be damned. The Lege overall is a lot more conservative now than it was before the 2010 wipeout, especially in the Senate where one mainstream Republican Senator after another has been replaced by a Dan Patrick minion, and that is what drives this. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: Dan Patrick is not going to give up. He has no remorse and no conscience, and he doesn’t accept defeat. The business lobby that fought the bathroom bill need to internalize this or they’ll see a bathroom bill get passed over their objections just as the “sanctuary cities” bill was passed. The only way they can improve their odds going forward is to knock off some of the main proponents of the bathroom bill and whatever lunacy comes after it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like this lesson has been learned:

The intensity of the debate has raised questions about the future relationship between business groups and the state’s Republican leadership, which have shared a decades-long bond. Mr. Wallace, president of the Texas business association, said the bond would remain unbroken despite the differences in the current showdown.

“Ninety-plus percent of the time we are in agreement,” he said. “We just happen to disagree on this issue.”

This is a recipe for disaster. Either the business lobby needs to be more selective about which Republicans they support, and more willing to oppose the ones who push this crap, or they will live to regret it. I don’t know how else to explain it to you, Chris Wallace. I just hope you’re not really that naive. The Trib has more.

Let’s play two?

Oh, God, please, no.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday put blame on the House — particularly Speaker Joe Straus — for the shortcomings of the special session and left the door open to calling another one.

“I’m disappointed that all 20 items that I put on the agenda did not receive the up-or-down vote that I wanted but more importantly that the constituents of these members deserved,” Abbott said in a KTRH radio interview. “They had plenty of time to consider all of these items, and the voters of the state of Texas deserved to know where their legislators stood on these issues.”

The comments came the morning after lawmakers closed out the special session without taking action on Abbott’s No. 1 issue, property tax reform. Abbott ended up seeing legislation get sent to his desk that addressed half his agenda.

As the Senate prepared to adjourn Tuesday night, some senators said they wanted Abbott to call them back for another special session on property taxes. Asked about that possibility Wednesday, the governor said “all options are always on the table.”

“There is a deep divide between the House and Senate on these important issues,” Abbott said in the interview. “So I’m going to be making decisions later on about whether we call another special session, but in the meantime, what we must do is we need to all work to get more support for these priorities and to eliminate or try to dissolve the difference between the House and the Senate on these issues so we can get at a minimum an up-or-down vote on these issues or to pass it.”

In the interview, Abbott contrasted the House with the Senate, which moved quickly to pass all but two items on his agenda. The lower chamber started the special session by “dilly-dallying,” Abbott said, and focused on issues that had “nothing to do whatsoever” with his call.

Asked if he assigned blame to Straus, a San Antonio Republican, Abbott replied, “Well, of course.”

Such big talk from such a weak leader. I suspect there won’t be that much appetite for another special session (*), with the preferred strategy being to attack Straus and get the 2018 primaries up and running. Failure to pass certain bills is often as big a victory for the zealots as success is. Everyone has their talking points for the primaries, so why waste more time in Austin when you can be out raising funds?

(*) The one thing that might make House members want to come back is a court order to redraw the House map. Everyone will be keenly interested in that, especially if some districts are declared illegal. They’ll not want to leave that up to the court, so if it comes down to it, expect there to be pressure for a special session to come up with a compliant map.

Smell ya later, Senate

How about that?

The special legislative session is over — in one chamber, at least.

The Texas House abruptly gaveled out Sine Die – the formal designation meaning the end of a session – on Tuesday evening after voting to approve the Senate’s version of a school finance bill that largely stripped provisions the chamber had fought to keep.

Gov. Greg Abbott called lawmakers back for a special session on July 18. Special sessions can last for up to 30 days, which gave both chambers til Wednesday to work.

The House’s abrupt move came after days of difficult negotiations with the Senate on school finance and property tax bills — and leaves the fate of the latter in question.

House Ways and Means Chairman Dennis Bonnen had been expected to appoint conference committee members Tuesday so that the two chambers could reconcile their versions of the bill.

But instead, shortly before the surprise motion to Sine Die, the Angleton Republican made an announcement.

“I have been working with members of the Senate for several days on SB 1, we have made our efforts, so I don’t want there to be in any way a suggestion that we have not, will not, would not work with the Senate on such an important issue,” he said.

So now the Senate can take it or lump it on SB1, which in the end was the bill Abbott was really pushing for. Dan Patrick has a press conference scheduled for today, and I expect it will be epic. I have no idea what happens next, but this is as fitting an ending for a stupid special session as one could imagine. Some things, including at least one really bad thing got done, but most of the petty attacks on local control, as well as the odious bathroom bill, got nowhere. We’ll see if Abbott takes his ball and goes home or drags everyone back out again.

Ethics, schmethics

This little exchange says so much about our weak and insecure Governor.

Rep. Sarah Davis

The fireworks began with a press conference called by GOP Rep. Sarah Davis, chair of the House Committee on General Investigating and Ethics. Davis, flanked by both Democratic and Republican members of the committee, noted that Abbott had made ethics reform an “emergency” priority in the past two regular sessions. Though it’s not currently on the agenda for the special session this summer, she said the need for reform is greater than ever.

As an example, the Houston-area Republican said she is moving forward this week with ethics legislation — including a bill that would close a major loophole allowing state lawmakers during special sessions to hit up contributors for campaign cash at the same time they’re considering legislation that could affect those donors’ interests.

“I think we need to go ahead and close that loophole,” Davis said.

Such fundraising is illegal during regular sessions, under the theory that lawmakers shouldn’t be simultaneously casting votes and taking campaign money. But there is no such ban during these 30-day special sessions called by the governor. House Speaker Joe Straus and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, both Republicans, have voluntarily pledged not to fundraise during this summer’s special session, but Abbott continues to seek donations in email solicitations.

Davis was joined by Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, who took a more direct slap at the governor. He said he is again pushing a bill attacking what he calls a “pay for play” system in the governor’s office when it comes to appointments to state boards and commissions.

Larson’s legislation would limit the amount of money an appointee could give a governor. Donors who give more than $2,500 would be ineligible to serve, though Larson said he’s considering raising the amount to $5,000 and putting the effective date as 2022 in a bid to garner Abbott’s support.

Larson said donors who give amounts well into six figures can receive the most prestigious appointments — such as spots on a major university’s board of regents. He said Abbott and his predecessors, both Republican and Democratic, have used appointments to attract huge sums for their campaigns.

“I think it’s imperative that if we control both the legislative and the executive branch of government that we should reform the most egregious ethics violations we’ve got in the state, and that’s where people have to pay large sums of money to get appointed to highly coveted seats,” Larson said.

Speaker Straus agrees with Reps. Davis and Larson. What about Greg Abbott?

Abbott spokesman John Wittman, minutes after the press conference concluded, blasted the two lawmakers in a written statement.

“Instead of working to advance items on the special session agenda that could reform property taxes, fix school finance, increase teacher pay and reduce regulations, Reps. Davis and Larson are showboating over proposals that are not on the Governor’s call,” Wittman said. “Their constituents deserve better.”

So very touchy. Let’s put aside for a moment the fact that these proposals are perfectly reasonable on their merits and focus on the fact that Greg Abbott, who controls the special session agenda, says we can’t talk about them until the Lege passes the entire 20-item agenda he has already laid out. Which means that Abbott is saying that his bizarre obsession with trees and his insistence on overriding all kinds of local ordinances is more important than ethics reform, which by the way was something that he had once labeled an “emergency” priority. I’d be hypersensitive about this, too.

Halfway through the session

The House is doing House things, and that’s fine.

Rep. Joe Straus

Brushing aside concerns that they are not moving swiftly enough to enact Gov. Greg Abbott’s 20-point agenda, Texas House members opened the second half of the special session Wednesday with a flurry of activity Wednesday.

“We made good progress, and we’re only half the way through,” House Speaker Joe Straus told the American-Statesman.

“I’ve been spending my time, the first half of the 30-day session, trying to get the House in a place to consider the items that the governor has placed on the agenda,” said Straus, a San Antonio Republican. “We work more slowly than the Senate does because we listen to people and we try to get the details right. And so the House committees have been meeting and have shown some good progress, moving many of the items that are on the call.”

[…]

Straus has indicated he opposes a measure — favored by Patrick — that would pre-empt schools and local jurisdictions from making their own transgender friendly bathroom rules.

But, its sponsor, Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, said he considered that bill an “outlier” — the only one he knows of that Straus explicitly opposes, “and so it’s not surprising to me that that has not moved expeditiously.”

Simmons said there had been an effort to discourage members to sign on to his bill and so he only had about 50 members willing to do so, far fewer than in the regular session.

Of his other bill on school choice for special needs students — also part of Abbott’s agenda — Simmons said, “I’m not sure it will get voted out of committee.” He said he holds out a faint hope that it might advance if there is some “grand bargain” on education.

“The governor wants school finance and we’re going to do that; we’re going to pass our plan on Friday,” said Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, chairman of the Public Education Committee. “I think it’s very clear that the House has not agreed on the voucher issue, but we have a solution to help special needs students.”

“The House is doing what it should do, which is being deliberative, thoughtful and being sure that legislation that we would pass is sound policy that would benefit the citizens of the state of Texas,” said Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, chairman of the State Affairs Committee. “The House is not built for speed.”

“This is the House,” said Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, who chairs the House Republican Caucus Policy Committee. “We will use all 30 days. There’s plenty of time.”

Goldman said it looks like the bill he is carrying for the governor to pre-empt local cellphone ordinances is unlikely to make it out of committee.

“Nothing nefarious,” he said; there’s just too much opposition from local police and elected officials who hold great sway with House members.

Imagine that, listening to stakeholders. Who knew? The House will pass more bills, some of which will be amenable to the Senate and some of which will not. Expect to see a lot of gamesmanship, passive aggressiveness, and the occasional bit of decent policymaking, though that latter item is strictly optional.

Dear business community: Dan Patrick is not your ally

Here’s the full Chron story about the latest group of business leaders to call for a stop to the bathroom bill. I want to focus on one key aspect of this:

A week after police chiefs from Houston, San Antonio and Austin joined in protest against the bill, Abbott said the legislation specifically attempts to avoid adding any added burden on local police.

“There is not a role for law enforcement to play,” Abbott said Monday at the annual Sheriffs’ Association of Texas Training Conference and Expo in Grapevine. “Enforcement of this law is done by the Attorney General.”

According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Abbott said because it is a civil action and not a criminal one, police will not be part of the enforcement.

“So what I urge is for everyone to step back, calmly look at what the bill actually says, before they cast some misguided judgment,” Abbott said.

Patrick, another champion of the bathroom bill, blasted the partnership’s letter.

“The Partnership is out of touch with the majority of Houstonians who voted overwhelmingly in 2015 to reject the same kind of ordinance that Senate Bill 3 will prohibit. They warned of economic doom at the time, but there has been no negative impact on the City’s economy. In their rush to be politically correct this business group is ignoring the fact that companies continue to expand and new ones are moving to Houston. The people of Texas are right about this issue and they are wrong,” Patrick said in a statement.

Look at the language Patrick is using to describe business leaders whose companies employ hundreds of thousands of people in Texas. “Out of touch”. “Politically correct”. Patrick has been treating the business community with contempt and hostility since the beginning of this manufactured fight. He will never back down – if SB3 doesn’t pass and Abbott doesn’t grant his wish to have yet another special session, he’ll work to get more legislators like him elected and he’ll be back in 2019. The fight business leaders are putting up now is great, but unless they’re ready and willing to keep fighting, next March and next November, it will mean nothing. Actually, that’s not true. It will mean Dan Patrick will be totally vindicated in his belief that he cannot and will not be stopped by anyone, that there are no checks or limits on his power and his agenda. He’s going to keep doing damage until enough people stand up to him. There’s never been a better time for that.

I keep coming back to this because I keep seeing stories like the recent one about the NFL Draft in which it is implied or outright stated that business organizations may or will lack options if the bathroom bill passes. Which is ludicrous, of course, since their first and foremost option is to stop supporting politicians who oppose them on this very fundamental principle. Turn off the campaign contributions, for a start. Even if it’s too scary to back an opponent, everyone can do that much.

And again, remember that a win on this issue in the special session is not a final victory. Dan Patrick will be back, and it’s up to all of us whether he’s stronger than before or not. The good news is that it’s beginning to look like maybe he will lose this time around.

[House Speaker Joe Straus] may not even refer SB 3 to a committee, leaving it to die untouched by House members.

In addition, the author of two House bills to limit transgender bathroom policies acknowledged Monday that his legislation is at risk.

Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, said he was promised a public hearing — but nothing more — on his bills by the chairman of the House State Affairs Committee, Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana.

“Chairman Cook said he going to give us a hearing. At the same time, he said he’s not going to move the legislation,” Simmons said during a downtown Austin event sponsored by the Texas Tribune.

“I think the prospects are not great, not because the (Republican) majority doesn’t want it … but because there are some key leaders who do not want it. That’s the way the system works,” he said.

Simmons predicted that his bills would pass if given a vote by the full House, and Abbott has been pressing House leaders to allow a floor vote.

Abbott also urged conservative Republicans last week to add their names as co-authors to Simmons’ bills as well as to other legislation pertaining to his special session agenda.

By Monday evening, 49 House Republicans had attached their names to House Bill 46, Simmons’ main piece of legislation. A somewhat similar bill had 80 co-authors — 76 votes ensures passage in the House — in the regular session that ended in May.

The special session bills take different approaches.

Here are those House bathroom bill sponsors again, which should be read as a starter’s kit of legislators who need to be voted out. Some of those legislators are in swing districts. Some will need to be taken out in a primary. Opposition to the bathroom bill is broad and diverse. Support for it is narrow and zealous. It’s time to change the culture. We can win, but we can’t let up. The Chron has more.

Law enforcement against the bathroom bill

Add another group to an ever-expanding list.

Police chiefs from three of the five biggest cities in the state gathered at the Texas Capitol on Tuesday to spurn proponents’ claims that such legislation is needed to protect privacy, arguing that proposals being considered by the Legislature are discriminatory, won’t keep people safe and would divert law enforcement resources.

“It may be great political theater,” said Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, “but it is bad on public safety.”

The police chiefs were joined by public school officials, advocates for sexual assault survivors, representatives for the Harris County and El Paso sheriff’s offices, the Corpus Christi ISD chief of police and other members of the law enforcement community.

“If a bill like this were to be passed that would pull police officers’ time away from combating violent crime into enforcing a bathroom bill, it makes communities less safe,” said Austin Police Chief Brian Manley. “It is time not spent ensuring community safety.”

[…]

“I asked my department to go through the record. What we found is this: There were no known incidents of bathroom assaults performed by men posing as transgender women,” San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said Tuesday. “I am a believer that if you propose a bill to address a criminal justice concern, it is important to determine if there is an actual problem you are trying to solve.”

Corpus Christi ISD chief of police Kirby Warnke added: “School districts face multiple issues that the Legislature could help us with, but the bathroom bill is not one of them.”

As the story notes, this is the first time law enforcement has organized to speak out against the bill. I’m trying to think of any group that isn’t associated with professional conservatives who supports it, and I just can’t. In a sense, none of this matters, as the Senate went ahead and passed a bill that is basically identical to what they had passed in the regular session, by the same 21-10 vote as before (all Rs plus the insufferable Eddie Lucio), but that’s the wrong way to look at it. As I look at it, everyone who votes for this abomination is giving more and more people a good reason to vote against them next year, with a lot of those people being strongly motivated to see them get voted out. It’s also given a lot of people the chance to stand up and speak out for doing the right thing, which is always welcome. We’re going to lose battles along the way, but this is a fight we will win. The Press has more.

Senate has mostly completed the Abbott special session agenda

I’m just going to hit the highlights here because this stuff is happening quickly and often late in the day, but most of the Abbott 20-point special session agenda has been turned into bills that have as of this morning passed the Senate. Yesterday’s action included vouchers and still more unconstitutional abortion restrictions, while the weekend saw a lot more. Basically, if it hasn’t passed the Senate yet, it will in the next day or two. They’ll then sit around and wait for either more agenda items to be added or amended bills to come back to them from the House.

As for the House, they’re just getting started. They passed the sunset bill on first reading, which is the one thing they had to do. There are committee hearings scheduled for the week – unlike in the Senate, the House is going to follow its usual process, which means taking a certain amount of time rather than acting like they have ants in their pants while their hair is on fire. How many Senate bills they take up, and how many they vote on, remains to be seen. You can bet that the voucher bill is a non-starter, but most things after that are at least possible. That includes some kind of bathroom bill, though whether they pass anything more than the weakened form of the bill that the Senate rejected in the regular session is anyone’s guess at this point.

In the meantime, the threat of the bathroom bill as well as the reality of the “sanctuary cities” ban continues to cost the state business, and there’s more where that came from. Texas Competes had a small business-focused press conference yesterday, and in their release they totaled the damage so far at over $66 million in canceled conventions, with $200 million set to pull out if Dan Patrick gets his wish, and over a billion that may follow suit. The Charlotte News & Observer sums it up nicely:

The story now is well-known: Bill passes, business vanishes, national disgrace ensues, Republicans stumble through an amateur hour of near repeal and finally, thanks to intervention from business people, a settlement is reached that unfortunately allows Republicans to save a little face by limiting local governments’ rights to pass anti-discrimination ordinances for a period of time. But North Carolina did enough to bounce back and start landing business again.

Ah, but in Texas, pardners, the HB2 lesson has gone unlearned, as Republicans in the Texas legislature prove themselves to be – using a Lone Star expression – “all hat and no cattle.” They’re actually pushing their own version of HB2, even after many Republican states backed away when they witnessed what happened in North Carolina.

[…]

In this age of Republicans driven by the hard-right, or whatever it is, ideology of the “base” that elected Donald Trump, the Texas debate proves that anything (crazy) is absolutely possible. What’s astonishing is that Texas lawmakers had a perfectly clear view of the economic catastrophe that came to North Carolina after HB2 — tens of millions of dollars lost, including $100 million economic impact for Charlotte with loss of the NBA All-Star Game, and thousands of jobs gone, with companies deciding against establishing offices or expanding the ones they had.

It’s as if, pardon the Texas-sized metaphor, Texas lawmakers stood and watched North Carolina Republicans run full-face forward into a cactus, and then turned to one another and said, “Hey, that looks like fun.”

Yes, this is the world we live in these days. Call your representative and let them know you’d really rather we not slam our faces into a cactus.

Long read on the ongoing bathroom bill fight

From the Daily Beast. Covers a lot of ground, some of which is familiar but quite a bit of which is new or at least additive. A small sample:

Two bills, HB 46 and HB 50, have so far been filed for the special session, sponsored by state Rep. Ron Simmons. A further Senate Bill, SB 23, is aimed at prohibiting cities from introducing non-discrimination legislation above and beyond that which has been sanctioned at state level.

HB 46 would stop school boards from enforcing policies that allow transgender youth or staff to use the restrooms of their choice; HB 50 would undo any ordinances passed in specific cities designed to protect the rights of trans people to use the public bathrooms they want.

Simmons told The Daily Beast: “At least in Texas, for 170 years since we’ve been a state, bathroom usage was understood. People used the bathrooms… you know, male used male, female used female.

“All HB 46 and HB 50 does is says this is an issue that needs a lot of debate and a lot of discussion. Right now, we don’t need patchwork of ordinances around the state. We need to keep in place what is currently in place until there is a federal law or a state law change.

“We’re also protecting—just like a transgender woman might feel uncomfortable going into the biological bathroom of her choice; say she’s a biological man, but a transgender woman—a person who is not transgender who might feel very uncomfortable for someone who is biologically male to be in same shower or changing facility as them. We’re protecting their privacy as well.”

Simmons dismissed Speaker Straus’ concerns over trans suicide. “I don’t think there are any statistics that relate trans use in restrooms to suicide rates.” He added he would be happy to study such figures if they existed.

There are, in fact, many statistics showing the high levels of discrimination and prejudice experienced by transgender Texans.

In the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, 61 percent of trans Texans reported avoiding public restrooms because they were afraid of confrontations or other problems they might experience. Thirty-six percent limited what they ate or drank so they wouldn’t have to visit a restroom.

There’s a lot more, including further examples of ignorance and made-up statistics from Rep. Simmons. I actually don’t think he’s one of the true bad guys in all this, but he really needs to meet a few trans people and maybe do a little reading outside the right wing bubble. He could start with this article, and I commend you to do the same.

On a tangential note, kudos to Gromer Jeffers of the DMN for saying something that has needed to be said:

Business leaders have been criticized for not doing more to squash the bathroom bill proposals during the regular session. Now that Gov. Greg Abbott has added it to the call for a special session, there’s a likelihood that some sort of legislation will be passed, perhaps one that deals with schools.

The state is at this crossroads in part because business executives didn’t confront Abbott about the proposals with any gusto. They let his position evolve from public indifference to wanting a bill on his desk.

The governor, perhaps, found the arguments made by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and segments of the Republican Party base more persuasive than the faint objections of the business community. That’s extraordinary when you consider that Abbott’s robust campaign war chest includes money he got from influential donors who also oppose bathroom bills.

OK, he’s not the first person to bring this up, but still. Businesses have done an admirable job pushing back against this crap, but there’s a lot more they can do, and they don’t deserve full credit until they do it.

This special session is going to be so much fun

So much repressed hostility

Starring Dan Patrick as Thelma, Greg Abbott as Eunice, and Joe Straus as Vint

Five days before the Texas Legislature is scheduled to open a special session, it is clear the relationship between the leaders of the House and Senate remains as strained as it was at the end of the regular session.

On Thursday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick used a press conference to blast fellow Republican and House Speaker Joe Straus, comparing his education funding proposals to a “Ponzi scheme,” accusing him of laying the groundwork for a state income tax, and complaining that Straus won’t even meet with him one-on-one to bridge their differences.

Those comments come almost exactly one month after Straus used a speech in San Antonio to demand the state’s school finance system be added to the special session call and took issue with the Senate’s focus on transgender bathroom issues. And earlier this year Straus had compared the Senate’s budget writing to Enron accounting methods.

Patrick said his news conference on Thursday was to roll out new education proposals, including a bonus system for teachers. But much of the focus of the first 10 minutes was on his counterpart in the House and his continued call to have public school finance added to the special session call.

Patrick said Straus’ was using education funding as “dangerous political stunt” and accused him of having no plan to pay for the billions of additional funding Straus has said the state should be committing to schools.

“Where does that money come from? The only way to do it is a state income tax,” Patrick told reporters.

Later Patrick was even more direct.

“I will not join the Speaker and lay the groundwork for a state income tax,” Patrick said.

[…]

“It’s encouraging to see the Lieutenant Governor’s newfound focus on school finance reform,” Straus responded in a prepared statement.

“Nothing could be more important in this special session than beginning to fix our school finance system so that we improve education, keep more local dollars in local schools, and provide real property tax relief, just as the House overwhelmingly approved in the regular session,” Straus said.

so little time.

“My position is very well known. And let me say this very clearly: I know how to govern without being an extremist,” Straus said. “I know how to govern, trying to bring people together to focus on issues that really matter to all Texans, and I think that’s where our focus ought to be in the special session. It’s where our focus should be in any regular session as well.”

The bathroom proposal would keep transgender people from using multi-occupancy restrooms of the gender with which they identify in government buildings, or at least in public schools.

Straus, along with advocates for transgender people and business groups, has voiced concern about the possible economic effect of boycotts because the bill is viewed as discriminatory. He also has expressed a worry that it could hurt transgender people.

“I see no good reason to promote a divisive bathroom bill when it does nothing but harm to the economy, and some very vulnerable people could be harmed,” Straus said.

[…]

Straus, who has been a thorn in the side of Abbott and Patrick on red-meat issues, said he considered it “actually encouraging” that Patrick was talking about school finance. Straus has said that issue is more worthy of attention than most of those on the special-session agenda.

On Friday, when Abbott was showcasing his record as he announced for re-election in San Antonio, Straus made his point about the need to focus on core issues by citing CNBC’s annual ranking of America’s Top States for Business. In it, Texas fell from No. 1 to No. 4. The No. 1 state was Washington. Its governor and both senators are Democrats.

“While No. 4 is not a terrible place to be, I don’t like the direction. And I think that our Texas political leadership ought to be focused on making Texas No. 1 and reverse that slide,” Straus said.

They’re putting the “special” in “special session”, that’s for sure. The Observer has more.

“America’s future is Texas”

Here’s that long story in the New Yorker that everyone is talking about. It covers basically the entire legislative session with a bunch of preliminary background info, most of which is very familiar to all of us, so I’m just going to focus on a couple of bits relating to Speaker Joe Straus and the bathroom bill battle.

Rep. Joe Straus

I met Straus in his office. He switched on a closed-circuit TV to watch a press conference by a new group of a dozen cultural conservatives, the Texas Freedom Caucus, which is led by Matt Schaefer, a state representative from Tyler, in East Texas. The group, which models itself on the similarly named body of far-right House Republicans in Washington, had formed, in part, because the term “Tea Party” had lost its meaning—in Texas, at least—as nearly every Republican in the legislature claimed to be unimpeachably conservative. What distinguished this group was that the members were all vociferously anti-Straus. The declared mission of the group is to “amplify the voice of liberty-minded grassroots Texans who want bold action to protect life, strengthen families, defend the Bill of Rights, restrain government, and revitalize personal and economic freedoms in Texas.”

As he watched the conference, Straus shot me a weary look.

We moved to the dining room, which had Audubon bird prints on the wall. “The thing that concerns me is the near-total loss of influence of the business community, which allows really bad ideas like the bathroom bill to fill the void,” Straus said, as we sat down to plates of delicious crab cakes. “C.E.O.s have stopped coming to the capitol to engage directly,” he continued. “They now work only through lobbyists.”

Straus comes from a longtime Republican family in San Antonio. One of his ancestors founded the L. Frank Saddlery Company, which made saddles, harnesses, and whips. Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders stopped in San Antonio in 1898 to equip themselves with L. Frank gear on their way to fight in the Spanish-American War. The company’s slogan was “The horse—next to woman, God’s greatest gift to man.”
When Joe Straus is not in Austin, he is an executive in the insurance and investment business. He entered that industry after a spell in Washington, where his wife, Julie Brink, worked in the Reagan White House and on George H. W. Bush’s 1988 Presidential campaign. During that period, Straus served in the Commerce Department.

He is trim and dapper, like an account executive on “Mad Men,” and is the most prominent Jewish politician in Texas history. In campaigns, his opponents have mentioned his religion, to little effect. This is his fifth term as speaker, which ties the record. It’s a surprise to many observers that the laconic and even-tempered Straus has persevered. Evan Smith told me, “All the things they said about him—‘He’d show up at a gunfight with a butter knife,’ ‘He can’t make a fist’—they were all wrong. Joe Straus is so much tougher than he appears.”

His speakership has focused on providing the workforce and the infrastructure that Texas businesses need, by protecting public education, building roads, establishing more top-tier universities, and expanding job training. Perhaps his biggest victory was in 2013: in the middle of a devastating drought, he ushered through a two-billion-dollar revolving loan fund for state water projects.

With each session, Straus has watched the Republican Party drift farther away from the “compassionate conservatism” of the Governor Bush era and become increasingly dominated by Christian ideologues, such as Patrick, for whom economic issues are secondary. Although Democrats and non-Tea Party Republicans alike see Straus as a brake on the controversial cultural agenda being pushed by Abbott and Patrick, he worries that his supporters have unreasonable expectations. “I can only do so much to keep the focus on fiscal issues and away from the divisive stuff,” he told me. “A few loud and fanatical people occasionally unsettle the majority of Republicans, who are really mainstream.”

Unlike Patrick, who decides which bills come to the floor in the Senate, Straus has to exercise influence by artfully appointing committee members, who can dull the fangs of fearsome bills (or let them languish until there’s no time to consider them). Sometimes he thinks that his moderation, along with the relative centrism of the Texas House, is being used as a foil for the Senate radicals. “The confidence that people seem to have in the House to serve as a stopper only enables the Senate to run hotter than it ever has before,” he said.

Straus believed that most Republicans in the House didn’t want to vote for the bathroom bill, but, like their conservative colleagues in Washington, they worried about being challenged from the right in primaries. “If it gets to the floor, it could be a close vote,” Straus observed. “I can’t imagine anyone really wanting to follow North Carolina’s example, but I can’t guarantee that’s not going to happen.” Meanwhile, he was pressing his own legislative agenda, which included securing additional funds for public schools, improving Child Protective Services, and devoting more resources to mental health—even though the state budget had been hit because of the fall in oil and gas revenues.

Before the session began, Straus spoke out against the bathroom bill. “I’ve become more blunt than ever,” he told me. He frequently urges business leaders to remain firm in their opposition to such legislation. “I try to be diplomatic but clear—that if you give in on the bathroom bill to preserve a tax break, there’s another equally awful idea right behind it.”

[…]

Speaker Straus was waiting in his chambers, seated on the couch in his shirtsleeves, under a painting of Hereford cattle. He looked far more relaxed than I thought was warranted, given that Governor Abbott was poised to call a special session that would likely focus on Patrick’s must-pass bills. But Straus seemed satisfied. He boasted that the priorities of the House—his priorities—had mostly been accomplished. “We did the Child Protective Services reforms, adding fourteen hundred new caseworkers,” he said. “We made tremendous progress on mental-health reforms and funding.” Texas’s decrepit hospitals were going to be upgraded. A health-care plan for retired teachers had been saved. Enormous cuts to higher education had been averted. “These were issues a little bit under the radar, because they’re not sensational, but they’re issues that are going to make a big difference in Texas lives,” Straus said. “What we didn’t achieve was to begin fixing the school-finance system, which everybody knows is a disaster.”

Straus said that some schools in districts that had been strongly affected by the downturn in the oil and gas economy might have to be closed. “We had a plan to bridge that,” he noted. “Unfortunately, the Senate had other priorities.” He attributed the failure to Patrick’s “fixation on vouchers.”

I asked Straus about the clash between business and cultural conservatives. He quoted William H. Seward, Lincoln’s Secretary of State, who described the forthcoming Civil War as “an irrepressible conflict.” The prejudices unleashed by the election of Donald Trump had poured kerosene on the already volatile world of Texas politics. Straus, referring to the bathroom bill, said, “We came very close this session to passing a sweepingly discriminatory policy. It would have sent a very negative message around the country.”

“That’s still possible, right?” I asked. Couldn’t Abbott put forward his own bill in the special session and threaten to veto any amendments?

Straus agreed, but noted, “The legislature is not obligated to act upon his agenda items within the thirty-day period. And the Governor would have the option to call as many thirty-day sessions as he would like.”

“So the bill could stay in committee and not get voted out?”

Straus smiled.

The first quoted section is from March 2, the second from late in the session, right after the Matt Rinaldi/ICE kerfuffle. In between is a quote from Straus that has been widely shared about him not wanting to have “the suicide of a single Texan on my hands.” (The Trib has a brief audio clip with the story author talking about that quote.) You can take all of this for what it’s worth, and I’m not sure if one should feel more or less dread about the special session based on a story like this. I would point out that while the House has been a bit of a moderating force it’s still a place where SB4 and all kinds of unconstitutional anti-abortion bills get passed, so there’s a limit to how “mainstream” Straus’ Republican allies are. The Senate is the way it is in part because of Dan Patrick, but also in part because in every Republican primary for the Senate since maybe 2010, a Patrick acolyte has won and steadily replaced the more Straussian business-friendly types. Democrats have a couple of opportunities for gains next year, which would go a long way towards restoring some sanity, but it would be nice of the Straus wing of the party could do better in some March races as well. Anyway, read the (very long) whole thing and see what you think.

Next round of bathroom bills getting prepped

Meet the new bills, same as the old bills.

Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, is expected to introduce two bills in the upcoming special session of the Texas Legislature that would regulate which public bathrooms transgender Texans, including schoolchildren, can use.

The first bill, which will closely resemble his bill that failed during the regular session, will be a broad attempt to prohibit cities, counties and public school districts from enforcing non-discrimination ordinances involving multi-occupancy restrooms or locker rooms.

It is expected to allow exceptions for people already protected under state and federal anti-discrimination laws, which do not include sexual orientation or gender identity.

Simmons’ bill would effectively invalidate local nondiscrimination ordinances that allow transgender people to use public bathrooms that match their gender identity, as well as school district policies that make accommodations for transgender students.

That proposal, House Bill 2899, had 79 co-sponsors, all Republicans, before lawmakers left Austin in late May. A bill needs to win a simple majority, or 76 votes, on the House floor to pass.

A second proposal Simmons plans to introduce would apply only to public school districts.

Despite Speaker Joe Straus’ disinterest, I have a hard time imagining a scenario where most of Abbott’s special session wingnut agenda, including a bathroom bill, doesn’t pass. There’s no place to hide, and with the session tucked in between July 4 and Labor Day, there are no holiday weekends to eat up time. Abbott has decided to get involved, which ought to give his items a push. I suppose anything can happen, and for sure we should engage and resist to the max, but I strongly suspect the real opportunity to deliver a message will be next year.