As the Texas Legislature kicks off its 140-day biennial regular session this month, eyes are on the potential dynamics between the top three leaders: Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and House Speaker Joe Straus.
All are Republicans, but their legislative goals and demeanors are different enough that unity may be an elusive commodity.
Abbott, a justice on the Texas Supreme Court before spending 12 years as attorney general, still reflects a judicial temperament since becoming governor in 2015. He keeps his own counsel, and is not demonstratively out front on most issues.
Patrick, a former Houston conservative radio talk show host, rode his notoriety in 2006 to a Texas Senate seat. In 2014, he upset David Dewhurst, the 12-year Republican lieutenant governor, to become the senate's powerful presiding officer.
A former TV sportscaster, Patrick seems to seek out hot-button politically controversial issues, and the publicity that goes with them, that appeal to his evangelical base.
He has pushed for several months for Texas to copy North Carolina's law requiring transgender people to use restrooms of the gender on their birth certificate, even if they self-identify as the opposite sex.
Patrick made that one of his priority bills, despite the staunch opposition of the Texas Association of Business (TAB).
Based partly on North Carolina's experience, the TAB estimates the transgender bathroom bill could cost Texas $8.5 billion in lost business, canceled sports and concert events, tourism, conventions, plus tens of thousands of jobs.
Speculation continues that Patrick will challenge Abbott for the governorship – despite Patrick's insistence he has no desire to be governor or challenge his "close friend."
House Speaker Straus is for the most part The Quiet Man: where Patrick seeks controversy, the low-key Straus avoids it. He prefers for things to run as smoothly as possible.
While a true conservative, wanting government as small and frugal as possible, Straus also believes those who oversee the government should fulfill their responsibilities in areas like education, health care, infrastructure and so on.
In a recent newsletter, he said he'll concentrate on "issues that will support private sector growth and create opportunities for our citizens, such as promoting job creation, keeping more local dollars in our local schools, improving our mental health system, and protecting children."
Should be an interesting session. Not necessarily pretty, but interesting.
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Cruz Contenders. . . . After he ran second to Donald Trump for the Republican presidential nomination last year, Texas' junior U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz turned his sights toward winning a second term in 2018.
But if he expected to keep his presidential dreams alive for 2020 or 2024 after breezing to
re-election, that may not come as easily as he'd like.
Already, U. S. Rep. Michael McCaul of Austin, the chairman of the House Homeland Services Committee, is getting encouragement to take him on in the Republican primary.
U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, a second-term Democrat from El Paso, is also contemplating the race.
The San Antonio Castro twins – U.S. Rep. Joaquin, and former San Antonio Mayor Julian, President Obama's outgoing Secretary of Housing and Urban Development – are often mentioned as potential candidates for senator, or governor.
Joaquin would have to give up his House seat to run, while Julian will be between political jobs.
There's also a potential independent candidate: political operative-turned-ABC TV commentator Matthew Dowd of Austin.
Dowd gravitated from being a Democratic organizer and campaign consultant for U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen in the 1980s and Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock in the 1990s to helping elect Republican George W. Bush president in 2000 and 2004.
Ironically, another campaign worker in Bush's 2000 presidential campaign was Ted Cruz – who hasn't impressed Dowd positively since Cruz's upset election to the Senate in 2012.
“I don’t think Ted served the state well at all,” Dowd told the Texas Tribune. “He hasn’t been interested in being a U.S. senator from Texas. He’s been interested in national office since the day he got in.”
Dowd said he's drawn to an independent run because he thinks the current system is "broken," and also because it may be the only way to unseat Cruz in Red-state Texas.
“I think Ted is vulnerable, but I don’t think Ted’s vulnerable in the Republican primary, and I don’t think Ted is vulnerable to a Democrat in the general,” he said. “I think a Democrat can’t win in the state.”
Cruz is confident about his re-election chances, but is running scared anyway.
"At this point, I don't see anyone that is likely to run," Cruz told conservative radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt. "But I'm going to assume that the threat is serious and prepare accordingly."
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