Debates over the budget, the bathroom bils and sanctuary cities are getting national attention, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus get a lot of the headlines. But what about Governor Greg Abbott? Why has he been so quiet?
Tilove says complaints from the Legislature and activists about Abbott’s lack of leadership are “a familiar refrain.” There was also a lot of grumbling from lawmakers from both the House and the Senate at this time last session.
“I think what they want him to be decisive about is mutually exclusive,” Tilove says. “The people in the House want him to slap down Dan Patrick and Patrick’s wondering why [Abbott’s] not leaning more heavily on Straus and the House to enact what’s really Patrick’s agenda.”
Abbott, however, sees his role as a behind-the-scenes player.
“The governor in Texas is by design a weak office,” Tilove says.
Abbott’s power rests largely in the veto. As the session progresses, the Governor can use veto threats as a bargaining tool, and make it clear which pieces of legislation will not get his signature.
“I think in the meantime, [Abbott] sees his rule as really mediating and not overstepping,” Tilove says. “There’s no real gain for him to be more public in his declamations on various issues.”
Abbott did speak out on his legislative priorities during his Jan. 31 State of the State address where he highlighted four emergency items for expedited action – reforming Child Protective Services, banning sanctuary cities, ethics reform and approving a resolution to support a convention of states to amend the U.S. Constitution to limit federal power.
All of these items have been passed by the Senate, and it is likely that most will also fare well in the House.
Tilove says that Abbott’s call for a convention of states resolution will face backlash from Democrats on the House Select Committee on State and Federal Power and Responsibility, who have previously opposed such a resolution.
Abbott told Tilove he’s not afraid to work to get this resolution passed through the committee, so it has a shot on the House floor.
Abbott has also received criticism for his silence on Senate Bill 6, the so-called ‘bathroom bill’ that would require transgender people to use bathrooms that correspond to the gender on their birth certificate in public schools, government buildings and public universities. Straus and Patrick are divided over the bill: Straus opposes it while Patrick has named it one of his legislative priorities.
Tilove points to Abbott’s’ tweets as evidence of the governor’s position on the bill.
“He’s expressing sympathy for the concern of those who want the bathroom bill and at the same time I think there’s little doubt that he would prefer never to see it on his desk,” Tilove says.
While Patrick represents the Tea Party wing of the state’s Republican Party, Straus represents the party’s more mainstream business wing. Abbott wants to span the Republican political spectrum, and therefore has something to lose, no matter the outcome of the bathroom bill debate.
“He does not want to indicate that he’s not concerned about the concerns of those on the right, and at the same time he does not want to alienate the business community which I think is very much opposed to the bill and sees it as a distraction,” Tilove says.
Despite portrayals of Abbott as a weak leader, Tilove says that ultimately the governor remains the most popular politician in the state.
“He’s got $35 million in the bank, he’s up for re-election and there’s no real opponent in sight,” Tilove says. “So it’s hard to characterize him as a failed politician.”
Written by Molly Smith.