This week’s good news is that the Texas Legislature adjourned. The bad news is that they will be coming back later this year. Oh yeah and some more bad news is what the Legislature did while they were here. United Democrats did manage to kill the voter suppression/poll worker intimidation bill with an en masse walkout from the Texas House that broke quorom on the last night of the session.
At least two major pieces of legislation aimed at Austin passed, however. Those are the draconian HB 1900 which was a response to the Austin City Council’s cuts to the police budget last summer and HB 1925 which established a statewide camping ban. Abbott signed HB 1900 on Tuesday June 1. The Independent has covered both these bills in recent weeks. We also discussed before how the Council leadership on these issues might have avoided this fate with a more deft and less hubristic approach. We won’t retread that ground today, but probably will return to the topic in the future.
Back to the successful Democratic walkout, it only bought a little time. Texas Democrats immediately appealed to Democrats in the US Congress to step into the fray and pass national voting rights legislation.
In response to the Democratic tactics, Governor Greg Abbott promptly displayed some of the vicious pettiness for which he is becoming famous. The Governor threatened to veto the budget for the legislative branch of state government. He tweeted, “No pay for those who abandon their responsibilities. Stay tuned.” As the Texas Tribune explained it, “Abbott’s tweet referred to Article X of the budget, which pays not only lawmakers and staff but also funds legislative agencies, such as the Legislative Budget Board. Under the current budget, the legislative branch is funded through the end of August, and the budget Abbott is referring to covers the fiscal year starting Sept. 1.”
Abbott was testy even before the Democrats derailed the voter suppression bills. A few days earlier he had a spat with Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick when Patrick tweeted that Abbott should call a special session in June to deal with three of his, Patrick’s, top priorities. Those are:
- preventing transgender girls from participating in girls sports, or as Patricks describes it, to “save girl’s sports;” (Patrick’s anti-transgender “bathroom bill” failed in the last regular session (2019) and was blocked by then Speaker Joe Strauss in a special session.)
- prohibiting local governments from hiring legislative lobbyists; and
- a bill to punish social media companies for censoring speech.
Abbott responded rather harshly a couple of days later: “That’s pretty goofy because everybody knows there’s only one person with the authority to call a special session, and that’s the governor. Only I have that ability.” Abbott added that he also gets “to decide what will be on that special session.” He then described the process he would put in place: “To make sure that bills I want passed will get passed, first, the only thing I will be putting on there are things I want to see passed. Second, we’re going to go one item at a time. It will be one item placed on the agenda. Not until they pass that item will we move on to another item. So, if anybody tries to hold hostage this legislative session to force a special session, that person will be putting their members in the Senate or the House potentially into a special session for another two years until the next regular session because I’m going to make sure we get things passed, not just open up some debating society.” As Shrek famously said in his 2001 movie debut, “Do you think maybe he’s compensating for something?”
Contained within this bit of harsh Republican infighting, however, is a hypothetical on which most Austinites can probably agree with Greg Abbott, for once. We don’t want the Texas Legislature in session for two years straight. In an odd way there’s still another commonality revealed there between Abbott and a lot of Austin residents; Dan Patrick irritates him too.
Maybe Abbott will cheer up now because Tuesday he won the coveted endorsement of former President Donald Trump. The endorsement even got Trump semi-back on Twitter for a few words, because Abbott posted a copy of Trump’s short endorsement on his own Twitter account.
Before leaving the topic of the Texas Legislature entirely, I want to defend them on one point; well, actually not defend them, but clarify their approach on something. The flood of anti-Austin bills in this session set off another round of charges that members of the Legislature, especially Republicans, are hypocrites because they preach “local control,” but then try to take away the powers of cities when cities do things the Republicans don’t like.
For a while, years ago, I made the same mistake myself. Then I realized something. It’s not local control that they believe in. It’s States’ Rights; which dates back to the rights of states to legalize slavery in their states. In fact it goes back to the beginning of the nation. Of course States’ Rights was a central issue of the Civil War. For example part of the short inscription on the Jefferson Davis Monument in Richmond — toppled by protestors last summer — read “Defender of the Rights of States.” Even with the monument to the Confederate President toppled and hauled away, advocates for the Lost Cause still today maintain that the Confederacy was fighting for States’ Rights during the Civil War, not slavery. But, it was the same thing.
States’ Right was also the core principle of Southern Senators and Congressmen who fought against Civil Rights legislation in the 1950s and 1960s. So, it is not inconsistent to be a strong backer of States’ Rights and believe that states have the right to take away powers from cities. Once you realize that, it’s not so contradictory that the Republican-dominated Texas Legislature is taking powers away from cities. So let’s stop calling them hypocritical on that particular one.
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