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Lucio's bathroom bill support is the latest example of aisle-crossing by Valley Democrat

At a news conference with senators supporting the so-called bathroom bill, Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. was the lone Democrat. It's not the first time Lucio has bucked his own party to vote with the GOP on controversial issues.

Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, speaking in favor of SB6, the so-called "bathroom bill," on March 6, 2017. Behind him are Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, Republican of North Carolina, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

Of the seven senators flanking him on Monday at a news conference supporting the so-called “bathroom bill,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick singled out the one Democrat for special praise.

Patrick, not usually prone to kind words about members of the opposing party, called Eddie Lucio Jr. a “man who is bold and courageous and does the right thing, always.” 

Lucio’s presence bestowed bipartisan credentials on the measure championed by Patrick. He became the first — and so far the only — Democrat in the Legislature to support it.

Monday’s news conference isn’t the first time Lucio has found himself the lone Democrat allied with the Senate's Republican majority. The Brownsville senator has bucked his party on a number of controversial topics, including abortion, gay marriage and private school choice programs. 

When asked about the times he's broken with fellow Democrats, Lucio said he's never abandoned his commitment to his party. A devout Catholic who has served in the Senate for more than two decades, Lucio also said his religious beliefs serve as an important guide. 

"I look at issues in a nonpartisan way, and Ive voted like that in my entire career," he said. "I turn to my faith for my decision making and I do that in the most sincerest of ways, always trying to do my best to be inclusive of all my stakeholders."

Here are some of Lucio’s most notable odd-man-out moments from the 2015 session:

 1. The two-thirds rule: Lucio sided with Republicans to break the almost 70-year Senate tradition intended to encourage compromise among its 31 members. The change, for which Lucio provided the crucial swing vote, had the practical effect of allowing Republicans to consider a bill without a single vote from one of the chamber's 11 Democrats.  At the time, Lucio said he supported doing away with the rule because too many good bills had been killed over the years after they lacked one vote to come to the floor. 

2. Tax-credit scholarships: When Patrick brought his prize school choice measure to the floor, Lucio was the only Democrat to vote in favor. Opponents decried the legislation, which provided state tax credits for businesses that donate money to fund private school scholarships, as a voucher program that would drain money from public schools. The bill later died in the House. Lucio cited his work with Patrick on the Senate's education panel as the reason for their current friendship.  

3. Judicial bypass on abortions: Lucio was the lone Democratic vote in the Senate for a 2015 measure that tightened the requirements on “judicial bypass,” the legal process that allows minors to obtain court approval for an abortion if asking their parents for permission could endanger them. The senator, who reliably supports anti-abortion measures in the chamber, said those were the easiest votes for him to cast. 

4. Anti gay-marriage resolution: A measure forbidding state or local governments from using public money to issue same-sex marriage licenses got new life when Lucio attached it to a wide-ranging county government bill that came through the intergovernmental affairs committee he chairs. When the bill came to the Senate floor, Lucio was forced to take it down after it became clear its original author would not let it pass in the House. He instead joined the chamber’s Republicans in passing a resolution reaffirming the state’s opposition to same-sex marriage.

The legislation Lucio announced his support for Monday requires transgender people to use the bathroom in public schools, government buildings and public universities that matches their biological sex and reverses local nondiscrimination ordinances that cover the topic. It has ignited widespread opposition among LGBT advocates and members of the business community, who say it is discriminatory and could have dire consequences on the state's economy.

As he spoke at the news conference, Lucio said he would vote for Senate Bill 6 because of his sympathy for parents and children on both sides of the issue.

“We can be compassionate and fair to all while working to defend human dignity,” he said. “Children, youth, and parents in these difficult situations deserve compassion, sensitivity, and respect without infringing on legitimate concerns about privacy and security from other students and parents.”

The backlash against his position was swift and fierce. Liberal groups across the state, including Progress Texas and the ACLU of Texas, asked their members to call Lucio’s office to express their disappointment. His son Eddie Lucio III, a Democratic state representative from Brownsville, was prompted to issue a statement Monday evening clarifying that he did not join his father in supporting the bill. 

"Shortly after it was made public that my father supports SB 6 and participated in a press conference, my office started receiving negative feedback from across Texas on his position on the bill,” he said. "Unfortunately, most of the people who were calling my office were mistaking me for my father. On this issue, I respectfully disagree with my father."

The elder Lucio said he had raised his son to have a mind of his own.

"My approach is a little different. I grew up in a different generation maybe, but I taught my son to always be fair, never to cheat anyone, never to take from anyone one, always to give, and he has," he said. "I love him more when he speaks his mind."

He said he had received "emails, texts, calls" from constituents thanking him for his support of the legislation — and that he wasn't concerned about negative reaction within his district.

"At my age I don't worry about political backlash," he said. "I don't worry about the next election. I want to improve the quality of life."

Disclosure: Progress Texas has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors is available here.

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