Published 6:36 pm, Thursday, June 22, 2017
Photo: Eric Gay /Associated Press
Like many of you, I am still recovering from the aftershocks of a reckless and irresponsible legislative session. One political party was in absolute control, dictating all the terms, from the work schedule to the policy priorities, and even determining the lunch menu at the Capitol cafeteria.
Republicans had the power, and they weren’t shy about using it. They passed a budget that once again underfunds education, ignores our growing health care crisis, and refuses to make responsible investments. They did all of this despite having nearly $10 billion in Texas’ savings account, the largest in the country.
Republicans also exercised their political will promoting extreme views on women and communities of color and never-seen-before attacks on local governments. The effects of one-party control are consequential, and Texans are paying the price.
Apparently, 140 days of legislative torture wasn’t enough to quench the appetite of those with extreme, misogynistic and ideological views. With so many looming priorities, I am confused by the decision of Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special session to concentrate mostly on matters where there is no compromise and, worse, serve no purpose other than to take our state backward several decades.
Gov. Abbott has resorted to Donald Trump-like behavior, attacking and belittling those who see things differently. The governor took to talk radio promoting the most ideological and extreme special session agenda Texas has ever seen, and then proceeded to attack House Speaker Joe Straus and members of the Texas House.
In his interviews, the governor characterizes the members of the Texas House of Representatives as “lazy” and claims they “lack the will” if they fail to pass his ill-conceived agenda. He then sharpens his attack on Speaker Straus by insinuating that Straus’ priorities differed from his self-described and defined conservative views.
I served in the Texas House for 16 consecutive years, and I learned a few things about politics, policy and governance. I also learned the importance of taking principled stands when others overreach. Respectfully, Gov. Abbott, the members of the Texas House of Representatives are not “lazy.” Unlike you, they are not afraid of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Nor are they afraid to lead the Texas House the way our state constitution intended, as an independent body.
Let’s be clear about a few things — there is no excuse for the results, or lack thereof, from the 140-day legislative session. If the outcome of the session doesn’t meet the governor’s satisfaction, he has nobody to blame but himself and his teammates.
It was widely reported that the governor was noticeably absent during the 140-day session. Senate Bill 6, otherwise known as the “bathroom bill” is a clear example. The governor did not take a public position on this topic until the 99th day of a 140 -day session. When factoring the rules and procedural deadlines of the Legislature, waiting 99 days to show some leadership is like the Spurs benching its starting lineup until the fourth period and expecting to win.
Make no mistake: This special session is not about public policy — if it were, members could do the job in less than one week. For Gov. Abbott, this special session is about politics, and by adopting Patrick’s extreme legislative agenda verbatim, it is clear to me that Gov. Abbott is placating Patrick for fear of his own political survival.
I remain hopeful that the Texas House will rise above the Abbott and Patrick pity party. I have served in 12 special sessions, and each of them was unique and nearly every single one took unpredictable paths.
Governor, this special session is your first rodeo. Be careful what you ask for. Your role is limited. You can bring lawmakers to town, and you can accept or reject the legislation they pass. It is the Legislature that controls every single syllable of those proposals, and you should never, ever underestimate the power, resiliency or creativity of “lazy” members who lack the “will” to look out for your political survival.