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Gov. Greg Abbott has made the 85th Legislature’s biggest failures his priorities, betting his summer vacation that he can get lawmakers to plow though a list of 20 ideas that stumped them for the first half of the year. He’ll have to find some wiggle room to make it work; neither Abbott nor the leaders of the House and Senate could make this stuff happen in May.
It could even get worse. Instead of shuttle diplomacy and convivial fellowship, the governor, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus are engaged in a snippy dialogue more suited to a contentious political campaign.
They’re talking past one another, on the radio, in emails to supporters and in interviews with reporters.
None of the 20 special session items was an Abbott priority during the full-blown regular session. Not one.
The governor is still reacting to Patrick, slip-streaming the lieutenant governor's multi-pronged attempt to remake the state's political and regulatory culture. Abbott was absent from the conversation during the legislative session, at least publicly, but The Texas Tribune’s Patrick Svitek found that Abbott and his aides were active backstage during those last days, trying to put the Humpty Dumpty Legislature back together again.
He couldn’t close the deal.
And importantly, he and the legislators couldn’t resolve a particular detail that would have avoided a special session — a simple measure that would have kept the Texas Medical Board and a couple of other agencies alive for two more years until their periodic reviews could be finished.
No medical board, no licensing for doctors. That measure failed because the Senate wouldn’t vote on it, so Abbott started his special-session message with a mild swipe at the Senate. He’ll add 19 hot-button items to the agenda, but only after the Senate has kicked out that agency sunset legislation.
It’s got it all: bathroom rules for transgender Texans, limits on local governments including voter consent for big tax increases, education vouchers for special-needs students, abortion restrictions and so on.
Most of those items were on Patrick’s wish list — incentives to save the medical board. And then the governor joined the lieutenant governor, who’s been trying to huff and puff and blow the House down.
Patrick blames Straus for obstructing Senate versions of the bathroom bill, property tax caps and public subsidies for private education. He’s not shy about it, either, making his points in post-session interviews all over the state. In a radio interview last week, Abbott joined in on the criticism of the speaker: “In my conversations and also in my perceptions, it seemed like his priorities differed from, for example, these priorities that I have on the special session call. His priorities differed from the deals that we were trying to broker at the end of the session.”
You can make a deal with two of these three guys, but not if the governor is one of them. It requires assent from the House and from the Senate. Somebody has to stick out a hand, and somebody else has to shake it.
Straus got in his licks, too, sending an email to supporters putting the blame for the legislative overtime on Patrick’s Senate: “Why is a special session necessary? During our regular 140-day session earlier this year, the Texas Senate never voted to keep a number of state agencies, including the Texas Medical Board, in operation.”
At a time when a little warmth might be useful, everybody’s hot.
Abbott went to Belton the other day and cracked wise about the smell of Austin — a stench that often clings to a seat of power.
“I got to tell you, it’s great getting out of the People’s Republic of Austin,” the governor was quoted as saying at the Bell County Republican Dinner’s podium. “As you’re driving, you guys know this, as you leave Austin and start heading up north you start feeling different and once you cross the Travis County line, it starts smelling different and you know what that fragrance is? Freedom. It’s the smell of freedom that does not exist in Austin, Texas.”
The way things have been rambling along so far this year, you might wonder if that’s the result of putting some distance between your nose and your state government.