What We Learned at The Texas Tribune Festival

We got the low-down from lawmakers and political insiders on “religious liberty,” Black Lives Matter, and the problem with compromise among Republicans in our exclusive interviews at the 2015 Texas Tribune Festival.

By Texas StandardOctober 19, 2015 10:55 am|

This weekend, as thousands of politicians and political insiders gathered for the 2015 Texas Tribune Festival, more than a few GOP members were talking about what they plan to make a priority in the next Texas legislative session.

Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) says the buzz phrase for next legislative session will be “religious liberty.” Specifically, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick gave lawmakers the interim charge to look at ways to preserve freedom of religion, the Second Amendment and the freedom of political speech.

“I think that we need to make sure that if someone wants to talk about the Lord, that is not suppressed,” Campbell tells the Standard. “I believe businesses – if it’s a private business – have the right to run their business as they wish, and have policies that support their business model and their values…. But when you start trying to ask me to believe the way you believe, and I’m wrong if I don’t, I believe we’ve crossed the line there.

Campbell is a licensed physician, staunch opponent of abortion rights and a bête noire of the left.

What was striking – and perhaps even telling – was that even some long-time Texas conservatives appear deeply concerned about the hardening of party lines, especially in a state where elections are often decided by the primaries.

Former Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Republican, says people on the fringes of both parties are controlling the primaries.

“They have this sort of ‘my way or the highway’ mentality, which means if you come together and agree on principles that can be gained with a compromise, somehow you’re not pure,” she says. “Therefore, you have trouble in your primary. You know, I have to say most people are afraid to use the word compromise.”

The hardening of political arteries has already raised the pressure on Capitol Hill – to the point that the House leadership is in disarray over how tough of a line to take against the Democrats and the President.

The sudden resignation of the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, has led to a leadership vacuum. Republicans in Congress have all but begged Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan (R) to run for the the position, but congressman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) says he could be up for the job as well.

“Right now I think it’s Paul Ryan’s decision,” McCaul says. “I think if Paul is not in the race, then I’m certainly interested.”

It has been only a few months since the Texas arrest and jailhouse death of Sandra Bland, but questions surrounding law enforcement race relations are still permeating national headlines. State Sens. José Rodriguez and Rodney Ellis say they may be from opposite sides of Texas – El Paso and Houston respectively – but they are trying to form a unified front to push the issue forward within the state.

“The problem with the law enforcement issues, is that… Black lives matter – that everybody’s lives matter – but especially minority lives,” Rodriguez says. “Because we have borne the brunt of disproportionate incarcerations, disproportionate arrests, of racial profiling, and that’s still a big concern in our communities.”

“It’s a problem that really occurs around the country,” Ellis says. “I think it relates to laws that we’ve put in place that have led to a tremendous over-incarceration of people in this country – particularly of people of color.”

Want to read more of the Standard’s exclusive Texas Tribune Festival 2015 interviews? Visit these links below:

Kay Bailey Hutchison ‘Very Concerned’ About Campus Carry

Sen. Donna Campbell: Gun-Free Zones are a Bigger Concern than Campus Carry

Rodney Ellis & José Rodriguez: Minority Lives Bear the Brunt of Policing & Arrest

Garnet Coleman: Why John Cornyn is Wrong on Guns and Mental Illness