The weekly kumbaya breakfast between the big three Texas lawmakers broke down today into a round-robin of recriminations that concluded with Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick declaring he was tired of Governor Greg Abbott and Speaker Joe Straus “picking on me.”
The blow-up, confirmed by multiple sources, represents the boiling point of long-simmering disputes. The House has been upset that Patrick declared his inauguration marked a “New Day” in Texas and that he pushed a conservative agenda quickly through the Senate with expectations that the House would just pass his legislation. But, instead, most of the Senate’s bills on tax cuts, licensed open carry of handguns and moving the Public Integrity Unit have languished in the House without even being referred to committee by Straus.
The House instead has passed its own version of the same legislation, putting the Senate in a take-it-or-leave-it position. To pass the Senate bills now, the House would have to have an entirely new debate on controversial measures it already has approved.
So the Senate, in what looked like retaliation on Tuesday, ignored a House-approved border security bill to vote on its own measure, putting the House into a take-it-or-leave-it position on border security – a measure that House Ways and Means Chair Dennis Bonnen had crafted to win support of border Democrats.
This may be Patrick’s New Day, but Straus’ Old Guard still runs the House.
Topping off that battle, Patrick’s grassroots advisory council sent out a letter Tuesday on its own letterhead attacking the House bill on pre-kindergarten education that was passed after a bitter fight. The legislation is part of Abbott’s signature set of legislation, but the Patrick advisory board of tea party activists claimed the bill would take children out of religious pre-schools and force them into “a Godless environment.” Patrick immediately put out a statement disowning the letter as “unsolicited and expresses the individual viewpoints of Texas citizens.”
But as Patrick arrived at the speaker’s quarters behind the House chamber for today’s breakfast, he encountered House Administration Chairman Charlie Geren in the hallway. Geren sniped about the letter Patrick had put out against Abbott. Patrick again denied having anything to do with it.
Once in the breakfast, Patrick and Straus began arguing over the House not moving on Patrick’s agenda bills, while Straus was critical of the Senate action on the border security bill. At that point, Abbott interjected his displeasure with the letter attacking the pre-k bill that he supported.
With Abbott and Straus coming at him, Patrick declared that he was tired of them “picking on me.” (All three offices have issued statements regarding the breakfast. Straus’s office writes, “Speaker Straus is confident that the members of the House and Senate, as well as the leadership, will work together well in the final weeks of the session.” The governor’s spokesperson said, “Governor Abbott has a strong working relationshiop with Lt. Governor Patrick and looks forward to working with the House and the Senate to address Texans’ priorities.” In a statement that sounds awfully familiar to the governor’s, Patrick’s office wrote: “The Lt. Governor has a strong working relationship with Abbott and Straus and looks forward to continuing their work on Texans’ priorities.”)
Either way it works out, one chamber or another will need to have a new debate on legislation such as open carry if it is to pass. The Senate is most likely to blink, but then Patrick and the Republican senators will have less claim to being the authors of the legislation.
Kumbaya. What’s for breakfast next Wednesday?