This is the way the special session ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.

Good morning Austin

If you’re reading this, it means we haven’t yet been incinerated, in, as our president put it yesterday, “fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

That’s good.

It would be a pity if the world ended before we find out whether the bathroom bill will get a hearing in the House State Affairs Committee.

Or what property tax rate increase will trigger a local rollback election.

Or whether the House Thursday will pass the Senate counterpart of the House sunset legislation – now amended to be identical to the House bill – to extend the life of the Texas Medical Board beyond Sept. 1, an extension without which Rep. Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock, who is carrying the bill in the House, explained to me yesterday, he or anybody could practice medicine in Texas without a license and with impunity.

Apparently T.S. Eliot was not contemplating the Donald Trump/Kim Jong-un chemistry when he wrote that the world would end, not with a bang but a whimper.

But, it appears that in The Hollow Men, Eliot might have anticipated the denouement of this summer’s special session of the Texas Legislature.

This is the way the special session ends
This is the way the special session ends
This is the way the special session ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

And, with the fate of the world perhaps hanging on an errant tweet, that is quite OK.

Also, counterintuitive as it might seem, that deflated outcome might leave Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus all stronger than when the regular session began.

Everybody’s a winner.

That was my conclusion after talking at the close of yesterday’s session to Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, who has found himself rejuvenated by his recent weeks in Austin.

Villalba ended the regular session, like many of the members, out of sorts.

As I wrote as the regular session was drawing to a close:

When state Rep. Jason Villalba was first elected to the Legislature in 2012, he was described as the future of the Texas Republican Party.

Five years later, representing an affluent North Dallas district that Hillary Clinton carried and whose constituents include former President George W. Bush, Villalba is one of only three Hispanic Republicans in the Legislature. During his years in Austin, he has been a loyal and outspoken advocate for House Speaker Joe Straus and an unabashed admirer of Gov. Greg Abbott.

Yet despite his talents and ambition, Villalba remains literally and figuratively a back bencher in the Texas House. Denied a chairman’s gavel, he is custodian of the House candy jar, his talents thwarted and ambitions blunted as he now closes out a session he calls “my toughest yet,” a self-described Reagan Republican out of step with the continued rightward march of his party.

“The conservative grass-roots and Lt. Gov. (Dan) Patrick and his followers can say, ‘We moved the needle materially this session from where it was last session, and last session we claimed it was the most conservative session in Texas history,’ ” Villalba said last week, in the session’s waning days. “So I think it’s a real win for Lt. Gov. Patrick. I think he had an excellent session. Did he go as far as he wanted to go? The answer to that is ‘no.’ But I think he got further than he expected to get.”

But for Villalba, with tough votes on sanctuary cities, transgender bathroom policy and abortion, “There have been more times this session when I felt icky when I drove home, just gross with what the body had done, that I never felt before.”

RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

But in ways that seemed unlikely at the time, the special session, even as it appears to be sputtering to a close, has restored Villalba.

There is some consensus. On some areas like TRS (Teacher Retirement System) funding. Whether the model is the Senate’s or ours , who knows.

I think there’s some consensus on some property tax reform, but I don’t know x percent or y percent. But I do think we will vote this week or next on a rollback, probably early next week. I know that’s something that matters to the Big Three.

But I think the other items on the call, it’s beginning to be clear they are not going to be heard or acted on. My guess is about four of the 20, maybe five (will make it to the governor’s desk. We’ll got some voter fraud reform. Maybe the disabled children funds – that wasn’t on the call yet, but I does seem there is some consensus on that. A unanimous vote sends a strong message, not just to the governor but to the other side, and no one’s against children and we didn’t tap into the rainy day fund, so there shouldn’t be any material objection.

The governor has said he will not expand the call unless the Legislature delivers on all 20 office agenda items – which obviously won’t happen – and his office does not like seeing the money coming from the disaster relief fund, which is under his control.

RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

But, Villalba said:

There’s a fix for that and I think the governors know that.

It would be hard to walk away from those children.

This special session has gone a lot like we might have expected.

At the tend of the special session  there was some level of gridlock. Noting has changed. Nothing will change in 30 days. Not until you recomprise the body or unless there is  catalyst for change. What’s the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing and expecting different results.

There is no reason to think things will be changed. Which is why I don’t think we’ll hear  a bathroom bill in the House. There’s no appetite for it. I don’t think we’ll see ESA (Education Savings Accounts)  for special needs. Those votes just won’t come and the speaker has been very muscular in his response to both of the other two.

That article in the Tribune this week and then his comments to the Burka Blog this week were very strong.

I felt some disillusion at the end of the session because I thought he leadership was a bit rudderless but now I see just a robust, focused-on-issues-that-matter-most, common sense pragmatist like myself.

And you’re seeing that. We’re hitting really important issues, over and over and over again. And we’re ignoring the ideological partisan BS that just seemed to be so popular in the 140 days from the other chamber.

So I think we’re seeing an inflection point in my opinion and, I can’t stress enough, I don’t want to say maturation from the speaker, but I do see a change in his responsiveness and boldness of leadership that I just haven’t seen to this degree, this consistently before. And that matters.

There is going to be a challenge next session probably from somebody, to challenge he speaker, but if he continues to be as strong in the face of the ideological positions that we’ve seen, you’re going to see support for him grow and strengthen.

RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Villalba said he did not think it would make a difference if, as the Freedom Caucus desires, the House Republican Caucus first has to affirm its choice for speaker before the choice is thrown open to the whole House, with its solid Democratic support for Straus.

What the Freedom Caucus really wants is a secret ballot, their thinking being that if you could really vote the way you want without fear of reprisal, then you might do it. I don’t know if I can agree with that.  No change in my vole one way or other, and most members are pretty open about their support.

So I think you’re going to see Straus continue as long as he wants to be in the chair, as long as he wants to be speaker, and I don’t think I would have said that at the end of session. I think I would have said the jury is still out and things are changing and we’ll see.

I think with the boldness he has exhibited  in the special, for a guy like me who is clearly right in the middle with everybody on the Republican side, I am heartened and very excited to see this new strength and resolve.

Why, I asked Villalba, did the governor in my interview with him Friday still insist that he wanted to see all 20 of his items pass – or at the very least get an up-or-down vote – and to assert his continued ambitions for the session in such certain terms, as in:

That’s why I said … if we’re going to have a special session I’m going to make it count, and almost to a point of certainty, I can tell you that in 10 days we are going to have a Texas that I consider to be far better, more conservative, that will continue the Texas model for conservative governance.

JV:  He’s very shrewd.

He’s asking for the world and he’s the top conservative right now and, “Doggone, the House just didn’t get it done. Gosh, not on me.”

He’s equally as conservative to the populace as Patrick is because of the call. The call had all the checkmarks. If it doesn’t happen, it’s not his fault. It’s not the governor’s fault. Blame it on the House,  you can’t even blame Joe. It’s not Joe’s fault. It’s the House’s  fault.

I noted that bathrooms was the one piece of legislation where the speaker personally laid down his marker.

“He was pretty clear on ESAs as well,” said Villalba.

RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

But, of transgender bathroom policy:

That was the issue.

That’s why we’re here right now, because the sunset bill was meant to bring us back to session so they could put a bathroom bill on there.

The governor met his mark and  checked his box. He made his ask. And doggone if it didn’t get through the State Affairs Committee or whatever.

He’s very shrewd. It’s a very shrewd calculus. He leaves this session – insiders like me or you or people in the building might raise an eye and say, hmm, boy does this strengthen him or weaken him? That’s inside baseball for everybody else. All they know is you got a  governor down there that’s doing the right thing. That’s why he’s so popular when you look at the polling.. We live in this atmosphere where the tiniest minutiae  is meaningful, but nobody looks at it like that. Who’s paying attention?

On the bathroom bill, Villalba said:

I think when business spoke out it strengthened the speaker. you heard him yesterday. When AT&T and Southwest Airlines and TI tend IBM, they all come to you, and their CEOs are and the NFL and the NBA and NCAA are all saying, `Hey  look this is bad for us, this is bad for the job creators of he state. It’s his quote – the Texas miracle is something that’s been taken for granted. You can lose this momentum if you start doing wacky suff like putting in wacky stuff, like put in bathroom bills that people don’t like.

Villalba said that Patrick, Abbott and Straus will likely all emerge from the session in good shape.

Whatever doesn’t get done gives Patrick what he needs to press his crusade against Straus. Abbott has given Patrick no space to outflank him on the right, get credit for fighting the good fight and can blame the House for falling short.

And “Straus is a hero to everybody else – the squishy center.”


RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Villalba:

Everybody went toe to toe. I think the all leave here strengthened

Fun times. But I have been more excited than I have been in a long time because of what I have witnessed in the last 20 days.

I was highly disillusioned  by the end of session, just emotionally frayed and not sure what was happening. But the leadership  I have seen from the speaker,  he called it out, just called it out. That was just really cool. Before that I felt like I was on an island, like I was the only guy saying stuff like that, saying I’m against the bathroom bill and I’m this and I’m that and I’m looking around. And to have the main dude doing the same thing …

But the world is comprised of the Strauses. At least my world.

The highest number of calls we get are bathroom bill. they are about 100 to 1 in my district – letters correspondence, calls 0 against. Town hall forums are 100 percent (against).  Tea party forums – 80 percent. I went to two tea party forums and said, `Whose here for the bathroom bill – 20 percent raise their hands. I was shocked.

Here was what they said, consistently. We’ve got more important things to worry about than bathrooms. Throw in the Chambers, people I got to the grocery store with, people my mom works with.. Nobody’s for this bill. My consultant tells me it polls well with the grassroots. It’s how you from it. “Do you want your daughter to shower with boys? Of course not. But that’s not what the bill does.

It’s just not working. I think Straus is on the right path here.

RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Villalba voted for the Paddie amendment at the end of the regular session that House Republicans passed to minimally address the issue, but Patrick found it wanting, and the rest is history.

Paddie to me that was non-discriminatory.  I get shellacked by both side on that. 

Now this time I’m going to vote no, no matter what. I’ve placed my flag in the ground and it happens to be a rainbow.

But he noted, State Affairs Chairman Bryan Cook has said there won’t be a hearing on it and, “without a Cook hearing. We’re down to nine days.”

Villalba carried one of the 20 agenda item bills for the governor – to impose local spending caps, limiting increases to population growth plus inflation.

JV: There are no legs for that either. I talked to Carol (Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, chair of the Urban Affairs Committee) about that today. We tried to move it, to get a hearing.  They can’t even get it through the s=Senate.  Of all the 20 that’s the one that couldn’t make it out of the Senate. You think if you can’t make it out of the Senate, how do you have any chance in the House.

It’s easy to say at the state level to limit spending to population and inflation It’s a much more difficult proposal  for executive at the local level. Cities came out pretty strong against it. I mean,  we’re talking every city. I don’t think there was a single city or municipality that said, `Boy, what a great idea.’ So I think over at the Senate they decided this was one we could really do without.

So there’ no legs over in the Senate and I can’t sell it over here if we don’t have any cover on the Senate side. I asked  Carol for a hearing and she said, `Let’s wait and see if we see some movement,  and we haven’t seen any.

That was my baby. We knew we had uphill lift when we started but didn’t know it would b the hardest to move. That wasn’t my brainchild, not a bill I would otherwise have carried, but when the governor called and said, “You want to do this?” you say, “Yes.” I struggle with being part of leadership and when the governor asks you to carry one of the top 20, that’s a real strong signal, that ‘s a good sign.

I am working on rehabilitation.

Are there any agenda items that may not pass that he thought were crucial?

There are none that are so pressing that it can’t wait until next time.

 

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