The Texas Republican Convention on Saturday made the abolition of abortion, property taxes, mandatory licensing of handguns and all forms of taxpayer-funded lobbying the party’s top legislative priorities for next year.
The convention also approved a fifth priority, calling for “religious freedom and privacy legislation,” such as limits on transgender bathroom use that didn’t pass during two legislative sessions last year.
But Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who led the crusade for that legislation, declared in his speech to the convention Friday that schools and local governments in Texas were now complying with what those who waged that battle were seeking.
“We won the war,” he said.
The priorities were contained in a rigorously conservative platform, which was approved after several hours of debate that showed no trace of the bitterness of the previous afternoon when James Dickey was re-elected chairman over Cindy Asche of Frisco.
The 2018 platform has 330 planks, up from 266 two years ago.
“We leave here energized and united around the issues,” Patrick told the American-Statesman on Saturday just as the platform debate — in which he did not take part — was getting underway.
“There is no civil war in our party,” Patrick said in his speech Friday. “There are just a few Republicans that haven’t gotten the message that it’s over.”
That said, Gov. Greg Abbott, the most popular Republican elected official in Texas, was unable to secure the defeat of two moderate GOP members of the House — Reps. Sarah Davis of Houston and Lyle Larson of San Antonio — who had been burrs in his saddle and who he had campaigned and spent money to topple.
Likewise, legislative candidates backed by House Speaker Joe Straus, a moderate Republican from San Antonio, did well in the March primaries. That, along with Democratic gains in the fall, could conceivably shift the center of gravity in the next Legislature toward the center when House members will choose a successor to Straus, who did not seek re-election.
Straus, who has tied the record for House speaker longevity, was censured in January by the State Republican Executive Committee for being an impediment to the party’s conservative agenda, and Patrick said he expects Straus’ replacement by a candidate pre-selected by the House Republican Caucus will facilitate the kind of historic shift to the right that accompanied Patrick’s taking command of the Senate in 2015.
The convention Saturday also agreed to keep Rule 44, under which Straus was censured, intact.
Under Rule 44, a Republican party or public official who takes three or more actions in a biennium that are in opposition to the core values of the party defined in the preamble to the platform, can be censured by and penalized by denying that candidate party funds.
The Legislative Priorities Committee spent four days honing a list of five priorities. The most contentious issue was abortion, precisely because it is probably the issue on which delegates feel most strongly.
The 2016 platform called for the abolition of abortion and for Texas to ignore federal law and the Supreme Court.
The 2018 plank still calls for banning abortion and calls for legislation that would “ignore or refuse to enforce any and all federal statutes, regulations, executive orders and court rulings.” But it also calls for what Texas Right to Life calls the “prudent incrementalism” of legislation that would weaken and ultimately undermine the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.
But Terry Holcomb from San Jacinto County, representing Senate District 3, who supported that plank in 2016, said people needed to realize just how radical the implications of the undiluted abolitionist plank are.
In his closing remarks on the issue when it was debated by the Legislative Priorities Committee, on which he served, Holcomb warned that the abolitionist approach was dangerously naive.
“‘All we have to do is ignore Roe,’ that shows the literal lack of understanding of the impact this would have, because you wouldn’t just have to ignore Roe, you’d have to arrest DAs, you’d have to arrest doctors, you might even have to arrest governors and lieutenant governors and all these other people, and the magnitude is something that we need to get our arms around because if we ever decided we had the backbone to abolish abortion, this is what we’d have to do,” Holcomb said.
“It has nothing to do with the federal government, it has to do with what we would do right here in Texas,” Holcomb said. “And that is going to require more than people can possibly imagine. Blood. Tears, treasure. The whole thing.”
But even the compromise measure was too much for Melissa Bodenger, an Austin delegate, who served on the committee.
“This is lunacy,” Bodenger said, trembling, when the committee approved the language. “No legislator is going to walk out of his office with this. And I’m sorry, but who here signed up to start defying the Constitution? I mean, seriously? Seriously, you’re going to do that? My God, how selfish.”
The platform language on “religious freedom and privacy” calls for legislation that “protects the privacy and safety of women and children in multi-use facilities.”
Asked about it, Patrick said, “If there’s a need for it, absolutely.”
But, he said, right now, it does not appear it would be needed.
“Our bill said that no school can pass a policy that says boys and girls must share showers and restrooms,” Patrick said. “If we see school districts do that, you betcha. We also said no government entity can do that. No government entity is doing that.”
The call to end taxpayer-funded lobbying is aimed at local governments that spend public monies to lobby the state government. The plank also restates a longtime Republican priority of ending the payroll deduction of union dues by the government.
On handguns, the platform repeats the party’s call to “pass constitutional carry while maintaining licensing as optional for reciprocity purposes.”
‘Keep Texas bright red’
Beyond the election of a chairman and the adoption of the platform and priorities, the convention, which drew nearly 10,000 delegates and alternates to the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, was largely a pep rally for the party’s statewide ticket.
“This election is a battle about the future of this country,” U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz told the convention Saturday.
“If Democrats take control,” he said, their agenda will be to roll back President Donald Trump’s signal achievements and “paralyze this administration for the next two years.”
Cruz warned that Democrats are angry and energized, and that while he has raised the most of any Republican U.S Senate candidate, his Democratic rival, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, out-raised him by more than 2-to-1 in the first quarter of the year.
“The good news is there are more conservatives than liberals in Texas,” Cruz said.
“This election is all about turnout,” Cruz told the party faithful. “If conservatives show up in Texas, we will keep Texas bright red. Y’all are the guards standing guard in the state of Texas.”
Noting the bitter battle on Friday for party chairman, Cruz said, “maybe your candidate won, maybe your candidate lost, but at this point I don’t care. We need unity.”