Thanks, Democrats, for showing up for Tuesday’s opening day of the oh-so-special legislative session, but it looks like you’ll be just a minor speed bump as the Republicans steer the state even farther to the right.
Despite the tension in the Capitol, things got off to an amicable start in the upper chamber as a bipartisan gaggle of senators chatted about grandkids — Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, has a cute new one! — moments prior to the opening gavel.
During a break in the impromptu meeting of the Senate grandparents caucus, Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, chatting with a journalist at the press table, shared his underdog team’s strategy: “We’re going to avail ourselves of all the parliamentary tools at our disposal to achieve legislative goals and objectives.”
And then they did, predictably and with predictable futility.
Within minutes, we’re were into a battle over a procedural move by Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, to slow the GOP train by forcing a 48-hour waiting period before a committee could hear the agency sunset bills. At that moment, the bills were the only things on the special session agenda as set by Gov. Greg Abbott, who plans to add topics Democrats dislike as soon as the Senate sends the sunset measures to the House.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick ruled against every Democratic effort to block a floor vote — sure to be won by the chamber’s Republicans — to negate Rodriguez’s effort, which was the first of what could be many Democratic efforts to slow things down.
Resistance, in the absence of votes, is futile.
Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, said she’s never seen the particular move used Tuesday by Republicans in her 30 years in the chamber.
Patrick assured her it had happened, maybe “30 and 40 and 50 years ago.” Later, he talked about instances in which this particular move by Republicans had happened “going back 60, 70 years.”
As expected, the Senate, in three votes that each took about 30 seconds, voted 20-11 to allow its Business and Commerce Committee to vote on the bills Tuesday morning.
Meanwhile, the House, with little to do on opening day, passed a resolution honoring the late Nelson Mandela on his birthday. There also was brief discussion of punishing any members who skip town to block action.
Also meanwhile, and throughout the day, the Democrats were plotting their resistance, starting with “activist training” at the (Confederate Postmaster General John H., not GOP President Ronald) Reagan State Office Building.
“We’re all here to use our voice. And we’re going to use our voices for the next 30 days and beyond,” said a voice from the Democrats’ past — disastrously unsuccessful 2014 gubernatorial nominee Wendy Davis.
“The most powerful way to persuade, is through a personal story,” she said as the Texas Democratic Party tweeted her quotes for all to see.
I don’t mean to get personal here, but that didn’t work so well for Davis in 2014.
Meanwhile, the GOP machine moved on, large and in charge. The Senate Business and Commerce Committee, with no public testimony on the noncontroversial matters, took less than a half hour to advance the two sunset bills needed to keep several important state agencies in operation. Chairman Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, noted that witnesses would be limited to two minutes each.
“I don’t think that’s going to be a problem today,” Hancock said.
Nope, it wasn’t. There was no public testimony and both must-pass bills won 9-0 approval, including from Democrats Zaffirini and John Whitmire of Houston.
Senate floor action on the measures could happen Wednesday.
While the Senate was zipping through the bills, the Democratic resistance continued with its activist training and moved on to a Capitol steps rally, “direct action” in the building and wrap up with happy hour at Scholz Garten.
For Texas Democrats, long wandering in the Texas political desert, this special session is going to be many unhappy hours. They, again, are destined to be Capitol road kill as they whip themselves into what’s probably false optimism about the November 2018 elections.
Republicans also have their eyes on the ballot box. But the one they’re looking at is their March 2018 primaries, the one in which any incumbents who don’t get on board with the Abbott/Patrick agenda being served up in the current special session could face a primary foe.
“It’s all about March,” an aide to a GOP senator told me Tuesday.