The Texas Legislature adjourned its 86th session on Monday. Both Republicans and Democrats lost their fair share of battles – even some bills members of both agreed on failed. But substantive bipartisan issues like school funding and property taxes took center stage in a seemingly harmonious session.
Republican strategist, Jenifer Sarver says this legislature was not only a shift back toward the center for Republicans, but a display of civility and respect by both sides. She says the Republican Party avoided focusing on highly partisan issues.
“I think this was a repudiation of the far right,” Sarver says.”I think that the Republican Party showed that it can govern and it can do it in a bipartisan way. And I don’t think people would’ve expected that a year-and-a-half ago.”
Sarver says unity among the “big three” – Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen – helped push school funding and property tax relief through the House and Senate.
“I’m delighted to see that bipartisanship is not a dirty word anymore in Texas,” Sarver says. “And I think that pendulum swing from the far right is coming back to the center.”
Ed Espinoza is director of Progress Texas, a progressive advocacy organization. He says Democrats, who had more seats in the Legislature this session than last, won some victories. He says the passing of education reform and the thwarting of bills threatening voter rights are notches in the win column for the minority Democrats. Much like the Republicans, Democrats strayed away from divisive “red meat” issues.
“We didn’t get everything we wanted but we got a little bit. And I think that that’s progress,” Espinoza says.
Both sides saw their fair share of losses.
Espinoza says the property tax relief, which caps property tax increases at 3.5% without a vote, does not apply to smaller cities and will hurt larger, blue ones. A ban on mobile polling sites passed, to the dismay of voting rights activists. And he says not addressing health care in any way was a loss for Democrats in a state with a high rate of uninsured residents.
Sarver says property tax caps and failed attempts to ban paid sick leave ordinances demonstrated the tensions between local and state governments.
“As out cities becomes bluer, that’s going to be a continued tension,” Sarver says. “How do Republicans retain that local-control-limited-government mantra when we’re constantly trying to control the local government.”
The decriminalization of marijuana – supported by Democrats and Republicans – did not pass, largely because Lt. Gov. Patrick blocked it.
Both Sarver and Espinoza stress that balance was the driving force behind the success of the session.
“I don’t believe Texas is going blue anytime soon but we’re a lot closer to purple.” Sarver says. “And that forces our lawmakers to govern on substantive issues that impact all of the electorate, not just primary voters.”
Written by Geronimo Perez.