The Texas State Capitol in Austin.
The state Capitol in Austin. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The early months of 2021 in Texas saw the coronavirus spiking, the future of public education funding at risk, and an extreme weather event that led to the worst power outage in the state’s history. The year 2020 was defined by more than the long, deadly pandemic. There was the Black Lives Matter movement and the national outcry for police reform to end the mistreatment of Black people and other minorities.

With much serious work to be done on behalf of the state’s 29 million residents, I held out hope for serious bipartisan debate in the 87th session of the Texas Legislature, hope that legislators would rise above the ruling party’s penchant for playing to its base.

Only one week remains for legislators to send bills to Gov. Greg Abbott for his signature. For those of us in Texas hoping – make that praying – for a better day, this will be remembered as our season of discontent. Looking at how the state’s top elected officials and legislative majority spent their time and energy, it’s fair to judge them guilty of dereliction of duty.

A rotten bushel of bills awaits Abbott’s signature and passage into law. It will be a bitter harvest, one that only feeds the most extreme elements of the state’s electorate. Once again, Texas is paying the price for being a one-party state.

Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and House Speaker Dade Phelan have made no pretense this session of representing all Texans. Do you know someone mistreated by police officers who were never held accountable? Did you suffer property loss in the power outage? Are you worried that school funding will prove inadequate to make up for the loss of learning suffered by so many students? Concerned that family planning is now beyond the reach of most socioeconomically disadvantaged women?

These were not the issues addressed in this legislative session or highlighted in emergency agendas set by the state’s top officials. Thankfully, a fast-recovering state economy assured the continued funding of Texas public schools, while public pressure led officials to reluctantly release more than $11 billion in federal stimulus funds allocated to Texas public school districts.

I have not heard Abbot or his appointees utter a single word of contrition or responsibility for the disaster that led to devastating loss of life and property during the February freeze. You would be foolish to believe the state’s power grid is more secure now than it was before the storm. Disaster can and likely will happen again.

A voter suppression bill passed by the House this session makes clear that the ruling party will do everything in its power to deny the vote to many who might otherwise turn them out of the office and turn the state purple.

Nothing frightens me more than the notion that legislators can and should dictate what Texas schoolchildren are taught about the state’s history of slavery and racism and how that history reverberates down from past centuries to the present. Why should legislators have any say at all? Very few send their children to Texas public schools.

Meanwhile, Texans will be cleared to carry weapons they have no need to carry, without a permit. More individuals who have no business obtaining firearms will easily do so in Texas. What good can come from more civilians in our state carrying loaded firearms?

The federal courts are our best hope to strike down the voter suppression law as unconstitutional and, now, the anti-abortion law that makes it all but impossible for women in Texas with limited means to obtain a procedure.

The all-but-certain court challenges will take time, probably years, to adjudicate. Until then, Texas is a source of national disapprobation. It should be, and only voters can prevent it from continuing down the same anti-democratic path. Now would be a good time, with no statewide elections on the immediate horizon, to register to vote and to make a commitment that, come next year, you will turn out and vote and not allow anyone to stop you from exercising your constitutional right.

Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard is co-founder and columnist at the San Antonio Report.