2017-08-10 / Opinion

Abbott-Patrick special session: Straus in charge

Dave McNeely

Gov. Greg Abbott may be wishing he had laid out fewer than 20 subjects for the 30-day special legislative session he called.

And Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick may wonder if rapidly passing bills through the Senate may have inadvertently handed House Speaker Joe Straus the keys to the legislative car.

Patrick, after all, made the special session necessary.

By playing keep-away with must-pass sunset safety-net legislation at the end of the regular legislative session, Patrick forced the special session, to continue the doctor-licensing board and four other agencies.

He wanted another shot at bullying Straus and the House into passing his anti-transgender bathroom bill, plus a bill to make it tougher for local governments to raise property taxes.

The House dutifully passed the sunset safety-net legislation -- but its own, not the bills the Senate had sent over. Take that, Patrick.

Straus also more or less shamed Abbott into opening the call to school finance revision, rather than just a teacher bonus.

Meanwhile, Democratic Houston auditor Mike Collier is challenging Patrick’s 2018 re-election as bad for Texas businesses and for Texans in general.

Collier calls Patrick the “million-dollar” man -- the estimated cost of the special session Patrick caused.

“It’s your money,” said Collier’s campaign email Friday, Aug. 4. “Because Dan Patrick couldn’t get his job done during the regular session, Texans are forced to spend $1 million of our tax dollars on this special session. Dan Patrick is not only wasting our time focusing on bathrooms, he’s wasting our money.

“Texans know – we should be focusing on classrooms, not bathrooms!” Collier exclaimed.

Patrick cost taxpayers $1 million, but “Instead of fixing our schools, roads, and property taxes, Dan Patrick is stirring up hate and distrust (and) alienating businesses with his bathroom bill.”

Patrick on July 26 bragged about the Senate’s fast work on Abbott’s 20 items.

“In the past week, (senators) have logged almost 57 hours in committee hearings and over 33 hours on the Senate Floor to pass 18 bills on the Special Session call,” said Patrick’s statement. “The senators are a true testament to what can be accomplished when you are determined to do what is best for Texas.”

Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Jose Rodriguez of El Paso responded in a column for his hometown newspaper, charging that the rush was accomplished by running roughshod over time-honored legislative processes.

Patrick in 2015 had axed the Senate’s tradition of requiring a two-thirds vote – 21 of the 31 senators -- to consider legislation, reducing it to three-fifths, or 19, Rodriguez wrote. Thus the number to block a bill was raised from 11 to 13 – neutering the Democrats, who are outnumbered 20-11 by Republicans.

“This past week, the Texas Senate, which once prided itself on being known as a great deliberative body, ignored long-standing rules, disregarded the minority opinion, and threw itself into passing divisive primary election fodder, sacrificing good public policy and the democratic process,” Rodriguez wrote.

At the 30-day session’s midway point, Patrick complained on a right-wing social media talk show that Straus has snubbed his attempts to talk.

Abbott, Patrick and Straus had met for a traditional weekly Wednesday breakfast during the regular session, but tensions broke that down halfway through the session.

“My door is open,” Patrick said on the interview show. “The speaker has my phone number. He knows where I am most of the time. I don’t care about our differences. I don’t care about anything that’s been said in the past. I want to sit down and find a way to complete the governor’s agenda.”

But he couldn’t resist another shot at Straus, who had overseen de-fanging Patrick’s bathroom bill in the regular session. Abbott included it in the session’s call.

“Right now, if that bill fails, he alone will have killed it,” Patrick said of Straus.

Straus, in interviews, agreed he uses the tools of being the House’s leader to protect House members from having to vote on Patrick’s and Abbott’s hot-button proposals.

“This bathroom bill is a perfect example of that,” Straus said.

Straus says his “door is always open,” press spokesman Jason Embry said.

“The Speaker is more than willing to meet with the lieutenant governor and has always expected that they would talk at the appropriate time during the special session,” Embry said.

Still, Straus might view such a meeting’s usefulness as remote – sort of like President Barack Obama’s mention of U.S. Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, at the 2013 White House Correspondents Dinner:

“Some folks still don’t think I spend enough time with Congress,” Obama said. “‘Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?’ they ask. ‘Really? Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?!’”

Contact McNeely at davemcneely111@gmail.com or (512) 458-2963.

Return to top