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Analysis: Take it from Texas — an election sweep carries no guarantee

Winning isn't everything when it comes to party control. If it was, Texas lawmakers would have nothing to do. But they still have plenty to fight about, and Republicans in Washington, D.C., will, too.

The 84th legislative session ran from Jan. 13 through Jun. 1. State lawmakers enhanced gun rights, allowed epilepsy patients to use medicinal cannabis oil and outlawed local bans on fracking.

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Republicans will soon control everything in Washington, from the White House to the U.S. House to the Senate to, sooner rather than later, the U.S. Supreme Court. Heady stuff.

However — you knew there would be a however — long-running conservative control here in Texas has not satisfied everyone who flies the GOP flag. Texas Republicans have found that, in spite of their numbers, they can’t always get what they want.

Do what the Republicans do: Blame other Republicans. Yes, Democrats in Texas have more power than their federal counterparts. Plenty of legislative debates don’t turn on partisan lines. Fights between business interests and debates over school finance or using public money for private schools, for example, often find some Republicans and some Democrats on each side. Many other debates, like 2015’s fight over whether political nonprofits should reveal their sources of money, pitted Republicans against Republicans.

Long-running conservative control here in Texas has not satisfied everyone who flies the GOP flag. Texas Republicans have found that, in spite of their numbers, they can’t always get what they want.

The party’s candidates haven’t lost a statewide election in Texas in 20 years. Republicans overtook Democrats in the Texas Senate in 1997 and in the House in 2003. Their majorities were skinny at first, but Republican lawmakers outnumber their Democratic opponents by almost two to one in both houses.

That’s not a majority — it’s an avalanche. The people in charge have turned much of their partisan anger toward Washington, at a time when a Democratic administration has been a reliable foe and Congress is less popular than a pack of journalists.

After last week’s elections, they appear to have reached a moment of harmony, with Republicans in charge as far as the eye can see.

“No excuses” is going to be a natural reaction, built around the idea that a Republican majority should get everything that Republicans want. Those officials have to produce acceptable results for a group of supporters who agreed on the candidates but who don’t necessarily agree on all of the issues.

It gets complicated.

Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who has been hoping to get the 50 state legislatures to consider amendments to the U.S. Constitution, might now be in a position to ask those incoming Republican majorities in the House and the Senate to get busy and save the states the trouble. They’re all Republicans, after all. On the other hand, why would Congress want to change the Constitution, as Abbott does, to increase the power of the states and decrease the power of the feds?

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus, two Texas Republicans who frequently (and mostly politely) find themselves at political odds, know all about the GOP’s fault lines.

Patrick’s first post-election news release suggests he will have 30 pieces of legislation on his priority list. That’s not nearly as many as he filed when he was a mere senator, but back then he didn’t get to put most of his legislation on the high-priority list. He certainly wasn’t in the position, as he is today, to control the Senate’s agenda, to speed up legislation he likes and to stall legislation he dislikes.

But it doesn’t mean his darlings will survive.

Patrick and Straus are having a quiet proxy fight in the run-up to the legislative session, with Patrick telling lobbyists and trade groups that they shouldn’t oppose pet initiatives and Straus telling those same groups that they shouldn’t expect the House to be their backstop against Senate bills they don’t like.

The lobbyists could cite precedent, but they know better than to get in the middle of a fight between the House and Senate. All sorts of legislation sailed out of the Senate and died in the House in 2015. House bills croak in the Senate, too — even when Republicans control it all.

Even the Republican governor plays. He laid out a list of priorities after taking office in early 2015 that included ethics reform. It’s hard to get legislators to regulate themselves, and it might be impossible to get them to do a good job of it.

The Republican Senate passed a bill. The Republican House passed one. They killed some good ideas along the way but managed to reconcile some of their differences and sent those Republican ethics reforms to the Republican governor who requested them.

Abbott read it, thought it over, and vetoed it.

Party isn’t everything.

More columns from Ross Ramsey:

  • It won't change the color of the leaves on the trees, but the civics seasons in Texas have changed. Say goodbye to the elections and hello to the legislative session.
  • Texas remained true to the GOP in this week's general election, but the blue spots on the map that represent Democratic votes and mark many of the state's biggest cities are getting bluer. 
  • They might not have predicted this, but Republicans won full control of the federal government in Tuesday's elections. For Texas Republicans, that removes a major political foil.

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Congress Politics State government 2016 elections Dan Patrick Greg Abbott Joe Straus School finance Texas Legislature Texas Senate