Something extraordinary happened on the opening day of the Texas Legislature: the top man in the Senate didn’t show up. It turns out Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick had been summoned by President Donald Trump’s team, but the reason wasn’t clear at the time.
Then there were reports that Patrick would be part of a press event at the governor’s mansion Wednesday morning, joined by newly-elected House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and Gov. Greg Abbott, all for what some speculated might be tied to the president’s border crisis pitch.
What happened next was another surprise of sorts. KUT Austin’s Senior Editor Ben Philpott, who covered Wednesday’s event at the governor’s mansion, says the press conference was an effort to show everyone that Texas’ top lawmakers are united at the beginning of the legislative session. That’s surprising because last session, Patrick was famously at odds with then-House Speaker Joe Straus.
During the press conference, Patrick said, “I think we’re gonna have the best session we’ve ever had in the history of the state of Texas in this session.”
With Bonnen now in Straus’ place, Philpott says Patrick wanted to make a point, showing that he and the new speaker are aligned when it comes to goals for the current session, including on school finance.
“He’s saying this time, ‘Hey, look, we’re all kind of on the same page; we know that we need to get something done,'” Philpott says.
But Patrick also made a comment about how that bill has yet to be written, Philpott says.
“I don’t know how you can agree on something that you don’t know what the details are,” Philpott says.
As for Gov. Abbott, Philpott says he’s highly focused on property tax and school finance reform because of the outcry from voters during the midterm elections, especially in traditionally Republican suburbs. Abbott said as much during the press conference.
“The response from the governor was, ‘We got a mandate to do something about it,'” Philpott says. “Those voters said, ‘Look, you haven’t done enough. We love our public schools in the suburbs and we want you to do something to make sure they’re still great.'”
Speaker Bonnen said during the press conference that teacher pay would be another focus of the session, and Patrick mentioned the same thing. But Philpott says Patrick made similar statements about teacher pay raises during the last session, yet he didn’t increase state funding to help.
“It was essentially telling districts, ‘Pay your teachers more without more money,'” Philpott says. “So, that of course, then turned education groups against the whole idea.”
Reporters also asked Patrick about his absence during the first day of the session Tuesday. Patrick said during the press conference, “It was a very late ask, and it was a tough judgement call, but when the White House calls, you respond.”
Philpott says the call from the White House was likely about border security, and possibly to provide ideas for Trump’s speech Tuesday night and about the president’s trip to the southern border on Thursday. But he says there are also rumors that Patrick could be tapped for a position in the Trump administration.
“Could this be a move that would bring him to Washington in a cabinet position … or an adviser position?”
He says Patrick followed up by saying that he plans on being Texas’ lieutenant governor as long as possible.
Written by Caroline Covington.