Editor's note: If you'd like an email notice whenever we publish Ross Ramsey's column, click here.
If you would like to listen to the column, just click on the play button below.
Texas is not blue, but after this latest election, its Democrats are.
The party’s latest effort to turn Texas its way fell short on Tuesday. Democrats got no wins in statewide races from the presidency to the high courts, and the party’s elected officials remain in the minorities of the congressional delegation, the Texas Senate and the Texas House.
Still, Texas Democrats have steadily made it more difficult for Republicans to get things done when the Democrats don’t want to go along. With the 2020 general election behind us, the Republican state House majority is intact, but small. The GOP advantage in the Senate has shrunk again, to the point where Republicans will need to change their rules or be forced to win Democratic support to bring legislation before the full Senate for debate.
If the issues of the day were not enough to force Texas lawmakers into practical things, the politics would be.
Those “practical things” are numerous.
The pandemic continues to require action from the state, and many legislators want a say in a response that has so far been a solo act for Gov. Greg Abbott, who’s been relying on emergency powers to control everything from business closings to rules for wearing masks.
The staggering economic impact of the pandemic has cut deeply into state revenues, leaving lawmakers with a multibillion-dollar hole in the current two-year budget and larger problems for the two-year budget they will have to write in 2021. The session’s financial troubles will start with the first and move to the second, an unwelcome invitation to either cut spending or to find new money to spend.
Issues raised by the killing of George Floyd and others at the hands of police will be on the agenda, including police training, funding, and the liabilities and responsibilities of officers for their own actions on the job.
Lawmakers will probably take up voting and election laws, a persistent source of litigation and argument during this election cycle and an area of law ripe for legislative tinkering and remodeling.
They’ll tackle redistricting, drawing political maps that could be used for federal and state legislative races for up to the next 10 years — the issue that persuaded out-of-state Democrats and Republicans to pump millions of dollars into Texas House races this year.
And they’ll be doing all of that in a Texas Capitol where social interaction is limited, where there has been talk of limiting the number of bills in order to minimize risks and of limiting public access to the proceedings.
It’s not going to be the kind of session where politicians spend their time arguing about proposed regulations on which bathrooms transgender individuals may use. They have real work to do.
And they have real politics in their way. The Senate, which has been the more conservative chamber for several sessions, has been limited by what it could get past the more moderate, but still Republican House. And the Senate lost a Republican vote on Tuesday night, cutting into the Republican majority there.
It’s not that the place became more liberal in this election. The Democrats, with a very few exceptions, fell short.
But what’s left is a House with a narrow Republican majority, a Senate with one more Democrat than before, and a Republican governor trying to keep all of the party’s factions moving in the same direction.
Texas is not as reliably a red state as some might think, but after the contentious and expensive 2020 elections, the Democrats haven’t been able to make it a blue one.