In back-to-back appearances Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick held what amounted to a pep rally for the special session that begins Tuesday, with the governor calling for a running public count of who is with or against his 20-item agenda, and Patrick warning House Speaker Joe Straus not to get in the way.
“I’m going to be establishing a list,” Abbott said in a midday question-and-answer event on the session at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, the conservative think tank where many of the governor’s priorities are born and raised.
“We all need to establish lists that we publish on a daily basis to call people out,” Abbott said. “Who is for this. Who is against this. Who has not taken a position yet. No one gets to hide.”
Patrick was more direct and personal, identifying Straus as the odd man out in a special session that he portrayed as a kind of ideological buddy movie in which he and the governor were entirely in tune, and Straus was discordantly out of sync.
At one point, Patrick warned of Straus, “If he personally attacks the governor, I will be his wingman.”
There was a time — before the regular session — when it seemed that Abbott might have more reason to be wary of Patrick, who competes with Abbott for the hearts of the party’s conservative base, than Straus, who doesn’t.
But Patrick began the year with a news conference saying he would never run against Abbott, and he has been torquing up for the special session by presenting himself as the governor’s ally and alter ego — Robin to his Batman, Starsky to his Hutch — with Straus as a threat to Texas Republicans’ conservative agenda.
“I’m a 20-for-20 guy,” Patrick told a receptive audience at the Texas Public Policy Foundation policy orientation blocks from the Capitol, where the House and Senate will convene at 10 a.m. Tuesday.
“The speaker’s a nice guy, good guy, but he’s opposite on the issues than Gov. Abbott and I,” Patrick said.
“I don’t think it’s helpful or professional for the speaker, especially since he’s in the same party, to call the governor’s special session manure,” Patrick said.
“He is a Republican the last time I checked,” Patrick said, to some loud coughing from his conservative audience, “and so I don’t want this to be a battle among us. But I don’t want to let anyone take on Greg Abbott when he’s trying to do the will of the people and say it’s a bunch of horse manure. Greg Abbott’s priorities are my priorities, are the Senate’s priorities, are the people’s priorities.”
The “manure” reference comes from a joke Straus told to open his remarks in June before the Texas Association of School Boards in San Antonio. In the anecdote, a boy is all excited by a room full of manure.
Why? “The boy said, ‘With all this manure, there must be a pony in here somewhere.’” Straus said. “So, I’m going to take the optimistic approach to the special session and keep looking for that pony.”
Property tax reform
In a half-hour, Q-and-A event with Kevin Roberts, executive vice president of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Abbott said it’s hard for a parent to choose the favorite of his 19 children — referring to the number of items on the agenda in addition to the one that required a special session: keeping five state agencies operating.
But, Abbott said, of those 19 priorities, doing something about rising property taxes was, he felt, most urgent if Texas is not to lose its brand as a state synonymous with low taxes and freedom.
“We have to cut property taxes,” Abbott said. “I would think that is the No. 1 issue.”
Abbott, who frequently talks about his mission to stop Texas from becoming like California, said he is also concerned about the Lone Star State going the way of Illinois and said that property taxes in Texas were now “up near” Illinois.
“We do not want to be there,” said Abbott.
“It seems like you don’t own your own home; it seems like the appraiser owns your home,” Abbott said. “We must rein in property taxes in the state of Texas.”
Abbott said he liked legislation that would mandate local rollback regulations when a local government seeks to raise property taxes more than 4 or 5 percent. But he said he is open to a better idea if someone comes up with one.
Both Abbott and Patrick are championing teacher pay raises without providing additional money to schools and, picking up on a theme he struck last week, Patrick said that Straus’ call for a big increase in school spending is inevitably laying the groundwork for imposing a state income tax — something the speaker has never called for.
“Speaker Straus doesn’t support a state income tax because it would be bad for Texas and harm our economy, just like the bathroom bill,” Straus spokesman Jason Embry said, referring to a Patrick priority to establish limits on which bathrooms in schools and public buildings transgender people may use. Patrick said Monday that bill was not aimed at transgender individuals but at sexual predators posing as transgender individuals.
House and Senate Democrats, meanwhile, held their own news conference Monday, saying the special legislative session is built on “make-believe crises.”
They vowed Monday to resist wherever possible, starting by denying Patrick the ability to speed the approval of bills in the early part of the special session.
Patrick, who presides over the Senate, cannot suspend Senate rules without the support of 25 senators, including five of the body’s 11 Democrats.
“He doesn’t have five Democrats,” said Sen. Jose Rodriguez of El Paso, head of the Senate Democratic Caucus. “This is not a time for us as Democrats to just roll over and say yes we want to get out of here, pass all your bad legislation.”
“I’m here to resist,” said Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, head of the Senate Hispanic Caucus. “We will try to do everything we can to stop what we can.”
As the minority party in both houses, Democrats are limited in their responses to Abbott’s agenda that is filled with issues important to social and religious conservatives, including abortion regulations and a bathroom bill.
Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, the House Democratic Caucus chairman, said Democrats also plan to act as a counterpoint by focusing on issues pertaining to children, the economy, health and communities.
Ten American-Statesman reporters will be covering the 20-item special session agenda with expert analysis and insight, from the opening gavel Tuesday to the close of business next month. In addition, columnist Ken Herman will offer his unique take on the session and PolitiFact Texas fact checker W. Gardner Selby will scrutinize what the politicians say.
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