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The Texan legislature plans to continue its shift to the right

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WALLER COUNTY, Texas – Cindy Schmid and her friend Gail Mikeska meet every Thursday at a roadside bar at 359 Farm Road, where the sprawling Houston gives way to horse stables and hay rolls: Family, country music, the hard turn to the right in Texas politics.

“We think very differently politically,” said Ms. Mikeska, a conservative who has more than one weapon and is generally satisfied with the way the state is developing.

“I’m a democrat,” said Ms. Schmid, whose only weapon is an inoperable antique from the civil war. “I think Texas is losing its bloody mind.”

Within a few months, the second most populous federal state of perhaps the most conservative legislative period in the history of the state was followed by a special session with even more prerogatives of the right flank, a pronounced political change that even arrived many conservative residents unprepared. Legislators will convene another special session on Monday to discuss more laws on cultural issues such as transgender athletes and redistribute the state, likely in favor of Republican members.

The new laws, which were passed surprisingly quickly, restrict abortion, the right to vote, and racial education in schools. They are also expanding gun rights, financing a border wall with Mexico, and banning social media bans because of political opinions. The moves cheered conservatives, alarmed liberals, and forced Texans to wrestle with their state’s identity as the spearhead for conservatives in the nation’s most controversial social conflicts.

Add to this a surge in coronavirus cases and an ongoing tug-of-war over the pandemic response between Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, and Democratic leaders in growing urban centers, and sentiment among many Texans has fallen. For the first time in more than a decade, a majority of residents told University of Texas pollsters last month that the state was going in the wrong direction.

“Texans are watching their state government being consumed by these partisan debates over abortion and electoral reform, but they actually live in a state where schools can’t provide clear safety warnings about Covid,” said Joe Straus, a Republican from San Antonio of the through 2019 Was spokesman for the Texas House. “The concern is that the conservative faction has gone too far and has damaged the reputation of our state.”

None of this has slowed the momentum among the Conservatives, led by Mr. Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who oversees the decidedly right-wing Texas Senate. Both continue to focus more on targeting their own main voters than on the changing demographics of the state’s rapidly growing democratic cities.

For a new special session of the House of Representatives starting next week, the governor added laws that would restrict transgender athletes from participating in school sports, a late addition to a session focused on redistribution.

The Republican-controlled legislature will redraw the line for the first time since the Supreme Court repealed federal oversight provisions in the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Texas has historically been found to be against the law in redistribution, and Democrats fear that Republicans will seize the opportunity to redesign counties in such a way as to weaken the influence of the state’s growing black and Hispanic populations and the Maintaining control of the Capitol is rural white lawmakers in a state that is becoming increasingly diverse. The process could extend the state’s Republican ineligibility for at least another decade, at a time when the state and presidential races in Texas become more competitive.

“The Republican Party should be very, very optimistic about Cycle ’22,” said Ray Sullivan, a Republican political adviser who served on the administrations of two new governors, George W. Bush and Rick Perry. “The vaunted blue wave of 2020 never happened, and PS, the Democrats don’t even have a candidate for governorship.”

Although Conservatives have controlled politics in the Texas Capitol since the early 2000s, Austin legislation this year was significantly more divisive and targeted the Republican Party’s electorate, according to lawmakers and political advisers on the left and right.

Many attributed the jolt to the ultra-conservative main challengers who take on Mr. Abbott. Some complained that the Capitol tradition of kindness and compromise had all but vanished, and Austin – where Democratic and Republican lawmakers still sit mingled, with no dividing aisle – felt no less partisan than Washington.

Mr Patrick, who heads the state Senate, has been brazen in his partisan leadership and changed the panel’s rules for the 2021 session so that bills could be tabled with 18 senators voting in favor – the exact number of Republicans in the Senate – than 19 after a Republican had lost his seat. The reason for the change, he said in a statement last year describing his plan, was so that he could have a say on a bill “without the Democrats blocking it.” It went along the lines of the partisans.

Others on the right felt the series of conservative bills was the expected result of a strong Republican performance in 2020, when the Democrats spent a lot of money trying to take over the House of Representatives and failed to win a single seat.

The Republicans then rolled over their Democratic counterparts, whose dramatic flight to Washington to protest a restrictive new voting bill could not stop its passage.

On September 1, exactly 666 new laws went into effect, including a ban on abortion after heart activity was detected or approximately six weeks after pregnancy, a measure that has stopped almost all abortions in Texas and is the most restrictive in the country.

Matt Mackowiak, a conservative political adviser and leader of the Travis County’s Republican Party, said the shift to the right had less to do with Mr. Abbott’s fear of a primary challenge from “ankle-biters, mouth breathers – basically dubious people who don’t campaign seriously.” than with the governor’s own policy. “Greg Abbott is a conservative point,” he said.

Understand the Texas Abortion Act

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The citizens, not the state, will enforce the law. The law effectively represents ordinary citizens – including those outside of Texas – and allows them to sue clinics and others who violate the law. It will give them at least $ 10,000 per illegal abortion if they are successful.

“The Democrats have no one to blame but themselves,” he added. “If you were going to stop this agenda, you had to get a majority in the Texas House. They didn’t do that. “

The experience has demoralized some Democrats, particularly in Waller County, a Republican-dominated rural area just outside Houston, where there have been repeated attempts in the past to restrict the right to vote for black residents.

“A lot of teenagers are discouraged that you do all this hard work and that’s what you get,” said Kendric Jones, 25, the only black member of the Waller County Commissioner’s Court. “Politics is supposed to be about compromise, and right now there are no compromises in the state of Texas.”

The town of Prairie View, which Mr. Jones represents, has long been at the center of heated suffrage battles by students at Prairie View A&M University, a historically black college against which predominantly white district leaders have fought. A major thoroughfare in the city is named after Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old African American who was pulled over in 2015 for not signaling a change of lane and was arrested right outside campus, where she was about to start a new job. She hanged herself in the county jail.

The arc of this story is not immediately recognizable under the school’s green oaks, some of which date from when a plantation house dominated the rural landscape.

But for Frank Jackson, 72, former mayor of Prairie View, the history of the state was key to understanding what happened in Austin that year. “You see the crest of a wave. But you have to see the water behind the wave, ”he said, adding that the right turn didn’t surprise him. “You expect it. You are not surprised. You say, ‘Okay, here it goes again.’ “

Mr Jackson attended the university when it was so poorly funded he said the students parked on mud fields. One afternoon last week, he looked at students rushing to class on wide idyllic paths and saw everyone as the “target” of political movements, particularly a new law aimed at restricting discussion of race in schools.

“You have these people who are concerned that these people in Texas will get their memories back and start really tuning their consciences,” Jackson said.

At the other end of the county, down 359 Farm to Market Road, some regulars were talking about abortion policies during happy hour at Thirsty Parrot, a cavernous bar that attracts Harley-Davidson riders on weekends.

The owner of the tavern, Susan Easter, called herself an anti-abortion opponent and said she was not concerned about politics in the state. Still, she said, her main problem is property taxes. “This is a big deal for seniors,” says Ms. Easter, 66. “Not so much the abortion law.”

She agreed with Jason Powers, an oil industry worker who sat at the bar in a straw cowboy hat, that more must be done to prevent people from illegally crossing the border from Mexico. But Mr Powers, 45, said he has reservations about the state’s new abortion law, which has been challenged by the Justice Department. A federal judge hearing in Austin is scheduled for October 1.

“I’m a conservative, but the first heartbeat doesn’t suit me,” said Mr. Powers, adding, “It’s a big government that is stepping back in. It’s like, you all have to slow down.”

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