Winners and losers in Texas’ third overtime legislative session

The Dallas Morning News weighs in on how Republicans and Democrats fared in a third legislative session that tackled redistricting, trans youth sports participation, and property tax relief.

By Jill AmentOctober 20, 2021 11:00 am, , ,

It’s been a little over nine months since Texas lawmakers first gaveled in the beginning of the 87th legislative session. Since then, there have been two Democrat walkouts, three special sessions and more back and forth over hot-button issues than is possible to accurately count.

Lawmakers accomplished the must-do items of passing a budget and redrawing political district maps. They also passed Gov. Greg Abbott’s top priority bills from the session. So there’s a likelihood – though no guarantee – that the third special session will be the last.

Dallas Morning News Austin bureau chief Bob Garrett tells Texas Standard that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the Republican Party came out on top overall. Losers, however, were Democrats and Texas’ Hispanic voters, Garrett says. Listen to the full interview with Garrett in the audio player above, or read the interview transcript below, to see how other top Republicans fared, and whether a possible fourth special session is on the horizon.

This interview has been edited lightly for clarity.

Texas Standard: Let’s start with a few of the winners: the top of your list are Republicans. That’s because of the way they’ve redrawn the state’s political maps. Is that right?

Bob Garrett: That’s right. I mean, they’ve built in advantage for years to come at all levels: Congress and Legislature and State Board of Education.

It was also session focused on conservative priorities. That must have figured into their win.

Garrett: That’s right. And no one leads the conservatives more than Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. And he’s one of the winners just because he’s completely a dominant lieutenant governor of a sort we haven’t seen. The Senate seems to be completely under his sway, and he seems to push it around Gov. Abbott and Speaker Dade Phelan quite a bit.

For Abbott and Phelan, you have them in a separate “TBD” category. So what, exactly, is still to be determined?

Garrett: For Gov. Abbott, he’s up for reelection. That fact has been very noticeable this year because he’s got two challengers from his right, and he’s been really leaning further to the right than the normal. And so we’ll see whether that is a smart strategy that gets him through and reelected to a third term next year, or whether he’s overplayed it and could alienate some people in the center. That, of course, would require a formidable opponent next fall, either Democrat or Independent, to exploit. But I think he’s, in a way, pushed his already kind of not-so-great relations with the Legislature, he’s pushed them to the limit. Abbott has just [been] holding them in all year in special session.

Who do you think are the biggest losing Texans this ongoing legislative session?

Garrett: Well, you know, Democrats, who got the short end of the stick on these maps; I think of all the racial minorities, none of which were that happy with the new redistricting plans – Hispanics really stood out as having contributed so much of the population growth and yet did not receive new minority opportunity districts favorable to Hispanic candidates. We had that transgender sports bill restricting transgender girls from participating in female sports. So the LGBTQ community, even though it fought the bill hard and it took virtually all year to pass, it did pass. And then we have one kind of interesting category of loser and that was Donald Trump, because he wanted an election audits bill out of this third special session, issued a number of statements and wrote an open letter to Gov. Abbott about that. And in the end, he didn’t get what he wanted.

You also break down a category of homeowners and renters: one in the “Winners” and one in the “Losers” category. Could you explain that?

Garrett: One of the last-minute things that happened Monday was on the final sort of full day of the session was that the Senate and House finally agreed on a way of delivering some more property tax relief, and they’re going to do it by raising the homestead exemption on school taxes. Currently, that’s – since 2015 [you’ve been able to] ignore the first $25,000 of value and calculate your tax bill … if the voters approve in May, that’ll go to $40,000. So a savings of about $176 a year for the average homeowner but locked in permanently, affecting future budgets because they’ll have to shove money to school districts to make up for this. From now on, assuming it passes in May, it’s hard to imagine people won’t vote for a lower property tax bill.