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Six Scenarios for Thirty Days

The Upcoming Special Session Explained Through Game of Thrones

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Illustration by Anna Donlan; Photo: Erich Schlegel / Stringer

Maybe it is just a cosmic coincidence that next Tuesday’s special legislative session begins shortly after the premiere of the final two seasons of HBO’s popular medieval fantasy Game of Thrones, a tale in which political intrigue has more to do with power for power’s sake than the good of the people of fictional Westeros.

On the surface, the thirty-day special session called by Texas Governor Greg Abbott should lack intrigue because only one piece of legislation must pass—a bill to keep alive the state agencies that license doctors, social workers, marriage and family therapists, psychologists, and professional counselors.

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick took that bill hostage at the end of the regular session, in order to force a special session on transgender bathroom access. In response, Abbott agreed to add the bathroom bill and other social conservative and libertarian agenda items to the special session call only after the Senate approves the agency-renewal legislation. With that, Abbott created more scenarios for how this session will end than the Khaleesi has dragons. (She has three, in case you don’t follow the show.)

Here are some of my theories on what will happen, explained, in part, through Game of Thrones.

Hail the Conquering Heroes—Patrick and Abbott get everything they want after opposition in the Texas House collapses. Their triumph would be in passing legislation preventing transgender public school students from using bathrooms and changing rooms not of their gender as assigned on their birth certificate. It also would deliver blows to local governments in the form of automatic tax-rollback elections, restrictions on growth in spending, and limitations on local governments’ ability to annex land and restrict development through permitting.

Like Game of Thrones, this scenario is a fantasy. House Speaker Joe Straus, in an interview with New Yorker magazine writer Lawrence Wright, noted that were the transgender bathroom bill to pass it could well result in some suicides (the transgender community sees higher than average abuse and suicide rates), and that was something Joe Straus was not going to have on his conscience. Also, House members are close enough to their local governments that they are not likely to support sweeping restrictions on their city councils and commissioner courts.

Sunset and Sine Die–As promoted by the Houston Chronicle editorial board, the Legislature passes the Sunset bills required to keep the five agencies alive and then adjourns sine day; that is, without another day. This is wishful thinking. For one, Patrick did not kill the Sunset legislation to force a special session just to say, “Kings Landing, I was only kidding. Forget it.” No, Sunset and Sine Die means a unilateral adjournment by the House while the Senate keeps meeting, portraying Straus and his House members as do-nothing legislators. The pressure on Abbott to call another session would be enormous.

Cersei Never Sleeps–The ultimate Game of Thrones survivor, Queen Cersei almost always seems to have plan up her sleeve when things go wrong–even if that means burning everything to the ground. Patrick is not as sinister as Cersei, but he can fulfill Abbott’s demand by sending the House Sunset legislation to save the Medical Board. But that bill may include something that requires a House amendment to fix, so the bill comes back to the Senate and puts Patrick, once again, in control of whether there’s another special session. Maybe it is something simple requiring a few words to fix, or maybe it is something contentious, like a restriction on doctors who perform transgender surgery or abortions. This rates as a reasonably possible scenario.

Run for the BorderRoss Ramsey of the Texas Tribune recently mused that the state Democrats are mulling a “fantasy getaway” to break the legislative quorum to block the social conservative legislation. This is sort of like how Yara and Theon Greyjoy escape to go find Daenerys Targaryen, rather than accept the decision of the Kingsmoot that Yara not been named Queen of the Ironborn. Ramsey–Ross Ramsey, not Ramsay Bolton–noted that spending the rest of the summer in New Orleans might not be all that bad for Texas Democrats. But the one lesson learned by the great quorum breaks of 2003 over redistricting is that quorum breaks don’t work, at least not when the governor can call a new special session. They are great theater, but the resulting publicity likely would shake the resolve of those House Republicans who just wish the whole transgender bathroom thing would go away.


Déjà vu All Over Again–This is the scenario I think is the most likely. The summer session is just the sequel to the regular session with the same plot. The Senate under Patrick passes the Sunset bill and the social conservative legislation. The House passes the Sunset bill and then sends the Senate the “watered down” bathroom bill that it passed in the regular session. The bill essentially tells schools to be sensitive to students who want privacy while changing clothes or performing bodily functions. The House also would pass its version of local property tax reform, which includes greater disclosure but lacks the automatic tax-rollback elections demanded by Patrick and the Senate Republicans. After that, everyone stares at one another until the thirty days are up, with an occasional news conference to decry the other side. Straus and the House avoid the do-nothing label. Patrick still blames the House for the failure of the bathroom bill. And Abbott tells his constituents that there is no sense having another special session when the Legislature can’t come to an agreement on the priorities he designated in his call. The status quo is maintained. Rough GoT equivalent: neither the Lannisters nor the Starks overpower the other–even though there’s lots of bad blood between them.

A Twist at the End–If we’ve learned nothing from Game of Thrones, there’s always the possibility of the unexpected, a twist at the end. So if you have scenarios of your own, we’d love to hear them in the comments.

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  • WUSRPH

    While I’d emotionally love to see a Sunset & Sine Die, I recognize that is impossible….Thus, I hope your last scenario is what happens. But worries me is what just might pass……..There are just too many items on the Patrick list (as submitted by the governor) that in the long run are devastating for Texas but that would be very hard for many house members to oppose if they reach the floor. The anti-local control stuff is bad enough…but the real damage would come from the restraints on state and local spending growth that would apply garrotes to the fiscal ability of the both the state and local government to meet the needs of their citizenry. Protecting Texas from those and other harmful measures may rely primarily on Joe Straus’s more responsible view of the role of government and his distaste for political demagoguery. The question is can he resist the pressure, especially if it could result in his personal defeat and/or the defeat of his closest allies.

    • WUSRPH

      The fact that his home county GOP Executive Committee has formally called for a new speaker can only make Straus’ handling of the special session more important.. And it also once more demonstrates how the party machinery has been taken over by the radical right.

  • How big a concern is the “do-nothing” label really? Is there a big clamor among state residents for legislators to pass a lot of bills this special session? If Straus avoids adjourning just so he and his colleagues can appear busy, that seems more problematic than simply passing the must-pass bill, adjourning and holding a big press conference touting the all the bills passed by the House since January.

    Also, what am I missing: Isn’t Cersei Never Sleeps just a prolonged version of Sunset and Sine Die? What prevents the House from passing an amendment to clean up the Senate bill and immediately adjourning, leaving the onus on the Senate to pass the House’s version as is?

    • WUSRPH

      What you advocate is just what happened in 1989 in the second called session on workers compensation insurance. The House, under Speaker Laney, passed its version of the bill, sent it to the Senate and moved sine die. This was after a regular session and another special session dominated by the topic, and the apparently inability of Lt. Gov. Hobby to be able to get the necessary votes. The House did not actually wind up going home, but it’s action forced a compromise in the Senate. But that was a one topic special, not one in which Abbott/Patrick have invested so much demagoguery. I am not so sure that Abbott/Patrick would be willing to let it go until 2019 but, instead, might just call another special session. It could be a long summer.

      • Presumably, Abbott and Straus could keep calling and adjourning sessions for the next 18 months. Eventually, they could just do it by tagging each other in tweets. 😉

  • Nice GIFs.

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  • donuthin2

    Straus has shown more leadership than anyone in Texas for a number of years, but he can only do so much. He can be no better than his constituents and that is pretty limiting.

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  • Arrow2u

    Red Wedding

  • SpiritofPearl

    While Abbott sits on the Iron Throne plotting bathroom bills, get ready to pay $10 for a tomato:

    https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2017/06/can-americas-farms-survive-the-threat-of-deportations/529008/?wpmm=1&wpisrc=nl_todayworld

    • SeeItMyWay

      Grow your own like I do. I have so many everyone around me is being handed some daily.

  • IndyTexan

    Patrick, and so it appears today, Abbott, are making the day of political independents to emerge as a unifying force in the state. Will we and if so, how? That’s the only way outta here.

  • WUSRPH

    I suppose you saw that Dan Patrick is at it again—promising about $1 billion in spending for public education WITHOUT SPENDING A PENNY OF NEW MONEY. Patrick today announced what—if you don’t dig into the details–sounds like a good program…A pay raise for teachers, incentive pay for long-term teachers, more help to retired teachers with their increased health insurance costs (caused because the Leg. did not provide enough money), one last bail out for the districts losing their hold harmless funding and facilities funds for charter schools…..All, but the last two, probably good public policy. BUT all things that the Regular Session could have done had Patrick not killed anything for education that did not have vouchers attached to it. What he brushed over, however, was how all this was going to be paid for—–first, by dedicating $700 million to teachers salaries from the lottery proceeds…..which would be nice EXCEPT the lottery proceeds are already dedicated to public schools…..by some bookkeeping tricks and by forcing local districts to “reprioritize” their spending…to, in effect, “do more with les”……In other words, by the State not spending an additional penny more than it spends now. Sometimes you wonder how these guys can say such things without breaking out laughing at the thought that public will buy their bs. P.S. That “one last” bail out of the hold harmless funds districts will run the total of “hold harmless” spending since 2005 to more than $22 billion….when it was supposed to end years ago….

    • WUSRPH

      If you think what Patrick is proposing is bad, you should see what his good friends down at the Texas Public Policy Foundation are pushing…….That radical right group’s “education” plan calls for doing away with all minimums and requirements for teachers salaries, leaving whatever they get up to the local districts and specifically school principals…..AND repealing Chapter 21 of the Education Code which gives teachers basic protections and requires that they be certified and protects them from political pressures. If the TPPF’s plan was adopted, teachers would be subject to being fired “at will” and could be paid as little as the minimum wage….Welcome back to the 1920s.

      • SeeItMyWay

        I think that we need to pay for the educations of those wanting to teach in public schools in return for a maintained GPA and commitment to teach for a certain number of years.

        • WUSRPH

          Another thing Patrick said he would like to see done on education is to abolish the Robin Hood system under which the richest school districts in the state have to send part of their local property tax revenues to the state—–to the tone of nearly $6 billion. This idea has a couple of basic problems—first without that money the State would have to either cut total spending on education by that $6 billion or come up with the funds at the state level…..Patrick said this could be done by cutting all other state spending on general govt. by 2%……but, more importantly, Patrick’s suggestion overlooks the reason for Robin Hood in the first place…..Robin Hood was created specifically to limit or cap the
          amount of spending possible by the richer districts in order to put some control on the equity differences between what they can spend on their educational program and what the rest of the districts can spend….The problem is that richer districts can raise so much more—at a lower tax rate—and the State was unwilling then and probably still is to spend enough from STATE revenues to make up the difference. Taking off that cap—by repealing Robin Hood—would just put Texas back where it was with some districts able to outspend others by many, many thousands per student……Of course, Patrick probably sees no problem with that…but, hopefully, the courts will—as they have in the past.

          • SeeItMyWay

            A few questions.

            Is the main gripe that teachers are paid too much for the results we see? That we have too many teachers that are just not qualified to teach? Think that we would have better qualified teachers if we paid for their educations and they did not have big student loans to pay off on a teacher’s salary?

            Should a wealthy district be able to spend more to get the results they want?
            If they are having to redistribute property tax revenues and drop their educational level because of it, is this fair? Think it is the catalyst behind school vouchers? If you are totally against funding the educational costs of lagging behind minority children and those of illegal immigrant parents at the expense of your own child receiving a watered down education, is there no room for discussion on the subject?

            I want out public schools to be strong, but we are going to end up like Louisiana if we don’t start getting better value for dollars expended. We are admisistarily top heavy; we spent too much on brick and mortar; we spent too much on ancillary activities.

            Is any of this going to change? I doubt it.

          • WUSRPH

            You ask many questions and raise many points that it would take many pages to answer or respond to them all….so I will, at this time, limit my comments to the why rich districts are not allowed to spend all they want–i.e.—why is there a cap on what they can raise?
            The answer is that because without that cap they could spend so much more than the average and particularly the low property wealth districts and do it with a much lower tax rate…The State has a responsibility to maintain an efficient system of free public education that offers as close as reasonable possible an equal opportunity to all its students. The state would fall this test—even at the Texas Supreme Court–If the rich districts were allowed to spend vastly more than the poorer districts. This means that the State either has to come up with the cash to make spending more equal in all the districts or cap the top spenders. Closing the gap (say even to what was once a goal of the spending capacity of the district at the 95th percentile of wealth) would probably cost billions more per year. The State decided in 1993 that it could not (or would not) be able to produce sufficient revenues, especially if the increasing wealth of the richer districts meant that it would constantly be chasing their spending levels. As a result, it adopted the Robin Hood system. Is this fair?…In some cases, such as the Highland Parks of Dallas, probably yes. Even with the cap they are still able to provide an education equal or superior to the best private schools. In others—such as Austin ISD, probably no because they are districts rich in taxable wealth but with a student body that is majority poor and ethnic and the cap makes them unable to spend what is really needed to educate such students. Will it change? Not until the State is willing to pick up the difference between what the rich can spend or until we get a Texas Supreme Court even worse than the one we have now…….

          • SeeItMyWay

            You lost me before I read your entire response. Where did I ask a cap question?

          • WUSRPH

            “Should a wealthy district be able to spend more to get the results they want?
            If they are having to redistribute property tax revenues and drop their educational level because of it, is this fair?”

            It sure looked like a cap question to me/

          • WUSRPH

            Many of your other questions—or allegations—such as spending too much on administration and other ancillary expenses are based on popular myths that do not reflect the factual data. If you want to get a better understanding of what districts spend, etc. I suggest you look at the PIEMS reports on-line at the Texas Education Agency at

            http://tea.texas.gov/financialstandardreports/

            They show revenues and expenditures by various categories for each district and for the state. What you will find is that school districts are in most cases multi-million dollar operations (up to more than a billion dollars in the very big districts) with thousands of employees and students. They operate with no more of an administrative overhead than any enterprise of that size. To expect them to manage, supply, transport AND teach such big operations without some overhead is absurd. Most are operating very close to the bone, but there could be some trimming…..there can in any instance….but if you are talking about sport and extracurriculars, etc. that is and has been a part of the educational experience for many, many years. You enjoyed it….why deny it to the current students?

    • SeeItMyWay

      You hit nail on head. Mandates and promises without funding. Drop it on cities and counties, while at the same time making it harder for them to function autonomously without scheduling a vote or asking the legislature’s permission. Until the sleeping populace wakes up and starts paying attention, the active TP’ers who have taken over control of local precincts will ram their agenda down everyones’ throats. Until Big Business starts forming dark money PAC’s to fight the Dunn and Weekley types and their money we are all in trouble. There are moderate candidates out there, but they need the same type of support and get the message out $ that the Stickland’s, Campbell’s, Burton’s and others have been getting.

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  • WUSRPH

    Did you see that Straus defended himself today in the SA E-N talking about how the legislature should be working to reverse Texas’ fall in the rankings on business and the economy and major issues and not spend its time on “divisive social issues”. Classic “business conservative”. The guy just doesn’t understand. When you refuse to spend any money or seriously consider problems like millions now having health insurance coverage (soon) and what that might mean to our economy and national wellbeing and the continuing problems of a semi-stagnant economy “divisive social issues” like where sexual transgender persons go to the bathroom and whether you health insurance should pay for an abortion are all you’ve got to keep divert the public’s attention. You’d think he believes that part of the function of government is to address those real questions….When will he get it? Probably not until after they defeat him.

    PS. A new slogan for the Texas Legislature:

    Religion belongs in the minds and morals, of the members (but) not in the measures they pass.

    • BCinBCS

      Well, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus went out of business so someone had to step up.

      • WUSRPH

        Actually, that was probably not a proper description of what the Texas Legislature provides. It does provide a good deal of entertainment, but very little bread to anyone….So I probably should have just said “circenses” and left off the “panem”.

        • BCinBCS

          True.

  • WUSRPH

    It looks like Joe Straus, despite his talk about fixing school finance during the special session, may have decided that doing so is not possible with both the Governor and Lt. Governor pushing for only tinkering with the system without spending any state dollars. At least that is how people are interpreting a statement he issued on the eve of the special session in which he specifically mentions only two proposals…..both, by the way, benefit only the wealthier districts.

    The two items he mentioned were the doing away with our reducing the payments the richest districts make to the state under the Robin Hood recapture system and extending the already 11-year-old “hold harmless” provision due to expire this September.

    It is a shame, but I guess he has accepted the political reality that neither of the state’s other two top leaders (SIC) is really interested in doing any significant for public education.

    Both Patrick and Abbott have talked about education, but only in terms of a teacher pay raise that would be funded without any new state dollars. Abbott has also talked about making it easier to fire teachers (without coming and directly saying it) , but has not yet indicated how he would do that. Their friends at the Texas Public Policy Foundation have called for the total repeal of Chapter 21 of the Education Code which gives teachers legal protections and requires that they be certified. The radical right group has also called for doing away with any controls on what local districts must pay teachers, leaving their pay solely up to the principal of the school at which they work. Abbott has also called for a traditional “kick the can” commission to study the problems of school finance that will delay any action until 2019 after his likely re-election.

    • BCinBCS

      You have now brought up the “hold harmless” provision a couple of times. What is it?

      • WUSRPH

        This is a difficult one to explain to someone who does not have a background in the way schools are now funded in Texas (which I used to have, but have lost touch with over the years as more changes have been made)…I’ve asked an expert friend for a brief description and will provide it when he responds. Otherwise it will take me pages.

        • BCinBCS

          Does that make any sense?

          Yes, thank-you.
          I learn something new every day.

          • WUSRPH

            Did you get the more detailed and technical description of the hold harmless I sent?

          • BCinBCS

            Wow! Yes I did.
            I’m sending you a message. Be sure to look for it.

  • WUSRPH

    Boy, Glen Hegar, the State Comptroller, sure knows how to be a party pooper. Here the Legislature is coming back to town (two years early thanks to Gov. Abbott) and he goes and takes the fun out of it by telling them they have no money to spend. Actually, Hegar’s revenue estimate says they can have a total of $42 million in General Revenue Funds to spend, having spent or obligated the rest of the $108 BILLION he estimated they would have before the recent Regular Session. But, $42 million is nothing considering that the alleged teacher pay raise Abbott and Lt. Gov. Patrick are pushing would cost $700 million (if they really intended for the state to pay for it.)….Plus just having the Legislature in town for 30 days could cost as much or more than $1 million. All this means that, If it is going to do any spending, it is going to have to be with smoke, mirrors and accounting tricks—or, as Abbott and Patrick are advocating, making local governments pick up the tab.

  • WUSRPH

    Assume you saw that Abbott says he is going to keep a list of good and bad during the special session and punish the bad afterwards. He and Patrick also took out after Straus saying they wanted to protect Texas and indicating Straus did not……Sounds like a nice, polite friendly special.

    • BCinBCS

      Greg Abbott, Texas’ Richard Nixon.

  • WUSRPH

    Not sure whether Abbott is going to give a speech to a joint session during the special, but, if so, it will be interesting to see how he is received. House members are usually just a little peeved with threats and when their leader is attacked. They feel free to do so, but do not like others doing it.

  • WUSRPH

    Since Gov. Abbott says he is keeping a list of who is good and bad during the special, I presume that Speaker Joe Straus will probably be at the very top. Since conceivably the purpose of a list is to do something with it—like use it as a list of people whose reelection the governor will oppose—does that mean that the governor might come out against Straus’ reelection both to the House and as speaker? The last governor I can remember who got that involved in party primaries and speaker elections was John Connally. And, needless-to-point our, Greg Abbott is NO John Connally.