Three-Point Shots, Vol. 1, No. 5: Lege Session Week 8
Proclamation and more proclamations; Academic freedom; and the Era of Good Feelings has Come to an end.
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, March 10, 2023
The level of activity, as well as the level of craziness, are amping up around the ol’ Pink Building this week. Today is the bill-filing deadline, which means any bill filed after this must receive permission for its filing from the chamber in which it is filed. (It’s a little more complicated than that, but that’s the bottom line.) This produces a zany energy around the Capitol: lobbyists and advocates bring bill ideas – most of which have already been rejected – to legislators; the patter goes from “Representative, this bill will make you a national leader in [inset bill topic here]” to “Senator, I promise if you’ll file this bill, I won’t even ask for a hearing on it,” and worse. By midday yesterday, many legislative offices had locked their doors and posted NO BILLS! signs thereon.
1. It’s Austin FC Day! Wait, It’s Orange County Day! …
I have been privileged to meet, work with, and occasionally even befriend thousands of legislators, county commissioners, city council members, school board trustees and health district managers over the last years. I can say with little fear of contradiction that not a one of them ran for office in the hope they could spend an absurd amount of their time preparing proclamations, welcoming hometown delegations, or holding forth eloquently on the merits of a school math club or a winning volleyball team.
And yet, every elected official spends hours on such tasks, including the requisite applause when another official honors his or her math club. In the Texas Senate, after Senator X sings the praises of the local nurses visiting the Capitol today, the Senate stops its business while all 30 other members of the Senate go through a receiving line of the nurses.
We know why this is important: for most constituents, it’s what they remember about their elected officials. The hours spent researching a problem and trying to fashion an ordinance or bill to address it – yawn! The weeks sitting through committee hearings or late-night council sessions – wake me up when they’re over! The day my daughter was given a proclamation honoring her speech club victory – PRICELESS.
So let’s tip our cowboy hats to the elected officials (and their staffs) who work so hard to make citizens feel that their government knows about their joys and sorrows and takes time to celebrate with them. It is truly unappreciated work.
2. Academic Freedom Under Attack at Texas Universities. What’s New?
“Diversity, equity and inclusion” (DEI) policies are the critical race theory of the human resources world: no one is exactly sure what they mean, but they seem bad for the patriarchy, and thus a great battlefront in the culture wars. Accordingly, Texas institutions of higher education are quickly falling in line with a directive from the state’s leaders that DEI policies are bad. Governor Abbott, who never met a culture war spat he didn’t like, called for a ban on DEI considerations in higher ed. Lite Guv Dan Patrick listed “Banning Discriminatory “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” (DEI) Policies in Higher Education” as one of his 30 priorities for the session, and there will be a bill to match. Last month, University of Texas System regents “paused” implementation of DEI policies, and the Texas Tribune reported – on Texas Independence Day, no less – that the Texas A&M, Texas State, and University of Houston systems had all fallen in line.
The no-DEI campaign is part of a larger initiative to get Texas higher education to eliminate “wokeness” if favor of … what, MAGA groupthink? How do you protect academic freedom from the stifling effects of woke political correctness by imposing white political correctness?
3. Trouble in Big Three Paradise
The institutional levers, cogs and belt drives of the Texas Legislature are designed so that the whole megillah works marginally better if the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Speaker are communicating regularly and working towards a common vision. To that end, the Big Three set up opportunities, like weekly breakfasts of the principals or joint meetings among senior staff, to hash out disagreements and anticipate problems.
As a practical matter, this rarely works. The last time the Big Three were so harmonious was in the late 1990s, when George Bush, Bob Bullock and Pete Laney were the mero meros. One of the secrets of their success was that Bush had the self-confidence to let Bullock and Laney get things done as they saw fit, at which point they all shared the credit.
This session, things are not so copacetic, and the edges are starting to fray. It’s playing out in their legislative agendas. Abbott gave his State of the State speech, the traditional forum to laying out an agenda, in an undisclosed location in San Marcos last month. Patrick announced 30 priorities last month, and Phelan is announcing his in groups of three or four.
The differences are mostly of emphasis, not ideology. But already the biennial competition among the Governor’s Office, the House and the Senate is asserting itself. Quorum Report editor Scott Braddock summarizes the state of play:
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick vented about Speaker Dade Phelan on Twitter and Phelan unveiled more House priorities via a news release.
Usually, when someone in a leadership position resorts to Twitter for their critique, it’s safe to say there’s almost no working relationship even if one previously existed.
It appears that Abbott, Patrick, and Phelan didn’t even start the session by having weekly leadership breakfasts.
An old joke around here is that the first couple months of session are a time for relationships to be built so that they can later be burned to the ground. Now among top leadership, it seems there wouldn’t be much to set ablaze.
For your weekend, Academy Awards edition … The 4,329th annual Academy Awards are this weekend. Years ago, my friends Celinda Provost and Katrina Daniel organized an annual Oscars party, complete with a red carpet. My delight in attending was tempered only by the fact that I’d typically not seen any of the movies up for consideration.
Anyway, movies are back! If you want to follow along on Sunday night, you can print out a ballot here or here. And – SPOILER ALERT! – here are some prognostications from Entertainment Weekly, Variety, The Los Angeles Times, and The Atlantic.
And don’t forget … Daylight Savings Time!
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