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Three-Point Shots, Vol. 1, No. 4: Lege Session Week 5
Three snapshots of Texas politics, and some reading suggestions for your weekend.
Welcome to another edition of Three-Point Shots, an occasional series briefly surveying three interrelated stories of passing importance. Three-Point Shots is a part of my Life Its Ownself Substack page. If you enjoy reading it, please 1) hit the Like button at the bottom, 2) subscribe to the Life Its Ownself newsletter, and 3) recommend it to others. Also, comments welcome and encouraged.
Friday, February 17, 2023
This week began with a fairly super Super Bowl, won in the closing seconds by a Kansas City field goal. As usual, there was a lot of chatter about the commercials and the astronomical sums spent to produce and air them.
The Super Bowl is Valentine’s Day for bros, followed by Galentine’s Day and then Valentine’s Day. However you observe, I hope your day was good.
1. Ted Cruz is not running for President … for now.
Americans everywhere breathed a sigh of relief on Wednesday when Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Cancun) announced he was not running for president in 2024. Instead, he will focus on election to a third term as Texas’s junior senator, even though he recently filed a bill that would cap U.S. senators at two terms, or 12 years.
My take: Ted Cruz is one of the most vain and opportunistic politicians in Texas history (and that’s saying something). He’s taken himself out of the presidential running for now (no great loss, he’s polling between 1-3%) but if anything changes – Trump indicted, DeSantis implodes, etc. – I would not be surprised at all if he jumps back in.
My take #2: Ted Cruz running for a third term while he is pimping a bill to limit senators to two terms is peak Ted Cruz.
While Texans freeze to death two years ago, Ted Cruz jets off to Cancun.
2. Greg Abbott blows up the State of the State
I’ve already written about how Greg Abbott (R-Dystopia) has decided this year to abandon the tradition of a State of the State speech, delivered in the House chamber to a joint session of the Legislature, as a way to lay out his priorities for the session and to fast-track some emergency items. Instead, Abbott was planning to do a closed event that would be beamed to TV stations around the state from a semi-secret location in San Marcos.
It’s gotten even weirder. As the astute John Moritz reports in the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, prospective attendees to the event – including legislators – “were told they must sign a nondisclosure agreement and leave their cellphones outside of the venue.”
Leaving aside the logical inconsistency of requiring an NDA to attend a speech that is to be broadcast to millions of Texans, the plan ran into immediate problems. A gubernatorial spokesbot soon announced that the NDA requirement was rescinded, which is gubernatorial spokespeak for “everyone told us to f*ck off.”
Now, I am loathe to suggest that the State of the State speech has produced any, much less many, moments of soaring oratory and compelling vision for the future of Texas. After all, we’re talking about Texas governors here, who have not distinguished themselves oratorically as a class.
Still, the State of the State reflected a tradition of legislative respect for the Office of the Governor. Members wear clean shirts and are on their best behavior. No one boos or heckles the governor. A standing ovation is de rigueur at the beginning and end of the speech.
Abbott has blown that all up before he’s even said a word. I will report next week about what he actually says, but he’s already damaged the State of the State as an institution, IMHO.
My take: Abbott has decided that the Legislature is not his most important constituency – which it should always be during a session. This fits in a larger trend of executive disregard for legislative prerogatives. Once upon a time, a governor would be punished by the Lege for such disrespect.
Governor Greg Abbott in San Marcos as he delivers a State of the State speech.
3. Senfronia Thompson celebrates 50 years in the Lege.
Monday evening, 500 people gathered at the Four Seasons to honor Rep. Senfronia Thompson as she began her 51st year of service in the Texas House. The occasion was a roast featuring six former Speakers of the Texas House – Ben Barnes, Gib Lewis, Pete Laney, Tom Craddick, Joe Straus and Dennis Bonnen – as well as current Speaker Dade Phelan. The event was organized by former state senator and current Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis, who also served as emcee.
The speeches were fairly anodyne, except for Joe Straus, who, in the parlance of our times, brought it. A frequent theme of all the roasters was how much Ms. T, as she is known, scared the living daylights out of them, even when they were Speakers.
The event was a fundraiser for the Texas Legislative Internship Program, which Ellis founded in 1990 and which has given over 800 young people a meaningful and often life-changing public service experience.
My take: It’s nice to see the legislative-lobby-industrial complex get together and celebrate the crumbling veneer of civility and greater public purpose that use to characterize the Lege’s day-to-day existence — and raise some money for a good cause in the process.
The SRO crowd at the TLIP roast of Rep. Senfronia Thompson last Monday.
Good reads for your weekend … Alex Samuels is a U.T. Austin and Texas Tribune alumna who now writes for fivethirtyeight.com. She’s recently published two helpful field guides to the five main factions of the House GOP and the four main factions of the House Democrats …
“The Campaign to Sabotage Texas’s Public Schools,” by the redoubtable Mimi Swartz in the current Texas Monthly, is a sobering look at the political and ideological infrastructure of the supposedly “grassroots” voucher movement, which is pushing hard to get vouchers approved this session …
For at least a decade, I’ve thought that Melissa del Bosque does some of the best reporting about the US-Mexico border. She avoids the political and ideological tropes to talk about what actually happens down there. For much of that time, she wrote for The Texas Observer and Pro Publica. Now she publishes The Border Chronicle with her colleague Todd Miller. I highly recommend you check it out, and even subscribe.
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