The 2022 Republican primary season in Texas unofficially kicked off Wednesday as Gov. Greg Abbott unveiled his agenda one day ahead of the special session of the Texas Legislature.
If state politics were a board game, this session might be titled, Special Benefits for the Fringe. While Abbott’s 11-point laundry list offered no major surprises, it’s still notable for its far right reach. Not to mention how much of it likely will not be accomplished in a session that likely will last 30 days.
At least three Republican primary candidates are lined up against Abbott and his bid for a third term as governor. All three make the dubious claim that Abbott is not sufficiently conservative; on the contrary, his agenda confirms his continuing tilt toward the party’s formidable pro-Trump wing. It’s better seen as a primary election insurance policy rather than a serious effort to address the state’s most pressing public policy issues.
Texas is still emerging from the long pandemic, and a June heat wave brought renewed concerns about the reliability of the state’e energy grid only months after its near-collapse in the extreme cold of February. No matter: Public health and secure energy are not on the agenda. Neither is the unresolved matter of how to efficiently and fairly allocate billions of dollars in federal stimulus funds controlled by the state — funds that could prove key to further accelerating the state’s post-pandemic economic rebound.
The priority item, of course, is a bill that corrals innovative county election officials and further contains the ways Texans can register and vote. I’ve written about this continuing effort, part of a larger red state initiative to pass voter suppression laws after Trump’s November loss to Biden and his stubborn refusal to concede defeat in a free and fair election.
Earlier this year, House Democrats walked off the job in the waning hours of the regular session, subverting Republican plans to complete the bill. Abbott retaliated with a line-item veto canceling the paychecks of more than 2,000 state legislative and staff employees. That veto will take effect Sept. 1, so it hangs over the opening of the special session as minority lawmakers consider their rearguard options. And it’s one of the agenda items.
The Texas Supreme Court has yet to act on the Democrats’ lawsuit challenging Abbott’s executive action.
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A second agenda item high of the governor’s list is a law-and-order play to make jailed individuals raise cash bonds to make bail.
Another effort will be made to outlaw the teaching of critical race theory, which translates to preventing Texas public school teachers from engaging students in the role of slavery in the fight for Texas independence, or how Jim Crow laws passed in Texas and other Confederate states after the Civil War reverberate down to the present as reflected in racial bias still embedded in government and society.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a special session without some phobic reaction to how we define gender, sexuality, and acknowledge the need to address such issues developmentally in children in adolescence. This session the legislative majority will respond to Abbott’s call to exclude transgender students from participating in organized school sports that correspond to their gender identity.
For a governor who really didn’t care about Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s obsession with the so-called “bathroom bill” in the 2019 legislative session, including a highly divisive transgender item is evidence of Abbott’s veer to the right.
Abbott’s agenda also includes the obligatory attack on social media platforms that have blocked users, including Trump, from posting knowingly false statements and hate speech. Such a bill would have little impact, in all likelihood, on the ability of private companies to police their own businesses. It will serve as an effective applause line in a campaign speech.
As local government sensibly recesses for the heat of the summer to allow elected officials and staff to recharge their batteries, enjoy family vacations, and anticipate the next fiscal year, all eyes will now be on Austin. Texas once again will be in the national headlines, undoubtedly for all the wrong reasons.