The responses from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to their failures in the recently ended Special Session are telling. Both men are acting like the proverbial spoiled child after getting their agenda mostly blown out by the Texas House under the leadership of Speaker Joe Straus.
Abbott blamed Straus of “dilly-dallying” on initiatives such as lowering property taxes and the bathroom bill. Patrick likened Straus to a coward in battle: “Thank goodness Travis didn’t have the speaker at the Alamo. He (Straus) might have been the first one over the wall.” Straus countered that the House “worked diligently in the special session, passing legislation that was in the best interest of all Texans.”
One of those three men sounds like a leader who wants what is best for the state. Two sound like whiney hineys that didn’t get their way. I’ll let you decide which is which.
Observing from a purely Republican primary point of view, it seems like Abbott is still frightened that Patrick is going to run against him. He acknowledges that Straus told him before he called the special session that there would be no vote on the privacy protection act (i.e., bathroom bill) yet he put it on the call for the session anyway. Can’t let Patrick get to his right, right?
And while Abbott rails against the failure of property tax reform, the truth is that the bill proposed by the Senate didn’t save anyone any property tax money; it might have slowed the growth of a few political subdivisions but on the whole, it did nothing. The plain fact of the matter is that in blaming the House for the failure of property tax reform, he is blaming the wrong chamber. The House actually passed a bill before adjourning while Patrick adjourned without taking a vote on it.
So how is Speaker Straus strengthened by all of this? Glad you asked.
First off, a lot more voters got involved in the special session because of Abbott’s decision to ignore Straus’ warning that there would be no vote on the privacy protection act, AKA the bathroom bill. And their involvement gave them a chance to see how the process works and how the way the three leaders handle themselves on policy issues. It showed those new activists that Abbott is actually a very weak leader, swaying with the wind.
It also gave them a good look at how nasty and petty Patrick can be when he doesn’t get his way. Those of us that have followed Patrick through the years are well aware of this tendency and didn’t need the reminder. But that crack he made about Straus at the Alamo was the bottom of the barrel as far as I’m concerned, especially given Patrick’s wearing his Christianity on his sleeve. A man of integrity would apologize for that. I guarantee you that the majority of the House members know that Patrick’s statement is far from the truth after seeing Straus take hit after hit and never backing away in his efforts to protect them from a vote that they didn’t want to make.
Second, it showed Straus’s constituency, the House members, that he truly does let the will of the House decide its course and the lengths to which he will go to absorb criticism to protect them. After a regular session in which I thought he had succumbed to ego and began believing his own positive press. He corrected that course and started talking about ‘we’ instead of ‘I’. Those members aren’t going to forget that.
The question is, what does he do with the increased strength? What are his political options?
I had to laugh when I saw that blogger Perry Dorrell suggested that in order to defeat Abbott, the Democrats would have to draft Straus. Bathroom-bill-itis must have blinded Dorrell to the conservative bills passed under Straus’ leadership the past five sessions. The idea that Straus would switch parties is laughable.
So that leaves the Republican primary for governor. Tough sell and I don’t think he’d make it but it would be interesting. I’ve wanted for years to see what would happen if November Republicans turned out in the primary. I think you would see very different, much better leadership and policy. Unfortunately, they don’t and without that, Straus would be spinning his wheels and wasting money and throwing away his increased political capital. And if he did file, my guess is that Patrick would also join the race and win in a three way battle.
Now, a race for lieutenant governor between Patrick and Straus would be fun, but, again, without those November Republicans, Straus couldn’t win. It would be fun because of the contrast that Allen Blakemore, Patrick’s strategist, would create. He’d position Straus as an ultra liberal while Patrick is the ultra conservative on a white horse. In truth, while Patrick was still just a talk radio jockey, Straus had already worked for President Ronald Reagan pushing his agenda. Who is the Republican again?
Returning to the House is the most obvious landing place and where Straus can do the most good. The “Oust Straus” folks won’t have a chance to replace him and he can focus on finally getting school finance fixed. Obviously that will still be a mountain to climb with Patrick controlling the Senate, but it would offer the best chance for a real solution. Folks, our school finance system is a mess. At some point, we need to put pressure on the big three to find a solution that at least mostly cleans it up. No one is going to get everything they want but something has to give. We can’t continue with some kids using 10 year old information technology textbooks while other kids get iPads to take home.
If you’ve managed to get this far, then you obviously have the fortitude to hold your elected representatives accountable for your particular issues. And that makes me happy, even if you are on the ‘Oust Straus’ train. Mostly because I know your issue is going to go off the tracks but still, it’s good to see people involved in the process.
David Jennings is the founder of BigJollyPolitics.com and has been observing and writing about Republican politics for fifteen years. He is also the Republican Chair for Precinct 377 in Harris County.