A Historic “New Day in Texas”
Due to a schedule change, I was able to return from Scotland early enough to attend the Texas inauguration of Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and Governor Greg Abbott in Austin. Clear blue skies and a warm sun made a perfect day for the inauguration, held at the South Entrance to the stately pink granite Texas Capitol building.
Tuesday January 20, 2015 – Changing of the Guard
First the Lt. Governor, then the Governor were sworn in and both gave speeches to a crowd estimated at 17,000 on the steps and grounds of the Capitol. At the end, one of the largest barbeques in history was served in a spectacularly efficient manner—almost no lines!!! Only in Texas! Then there was a parade, a bit of time to visit with elected officials in the Capitol, a dinner with some local conservative stalwarts and elected officials, and finally an “Inauguration Gala Ball” (black tie) that featured both the Governor and Lt. Governor and the music of the group “Lady Antebellum”, said to be one of Greg Abbott’s favorites.
Notably, Texas outgoing super-Governor Rick Perry showed true leadership one last time as Texas' Governor in this note from Matthew left for incoming Governor Greg Abbott penned in a historic governor’s Bible. He gets it. Thank you, Governor Perry.
"But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28 NKJV)
It was a very full day, but perhaps more importantly, as Lt. Governor Patrick said in his “home run” speech, it represented “a new day in Texas!” (full speech here). However, the historic part was to follow the next day – keep reading.
Wednesday, January 21, 2015 – Witnessing History
A truly historic debate and vote would be taken Wednesday.
The first act of business of most legislative bodies is to vote on the rules they will operate by during the session. In the absence of rules, Robert's Rules of Order is the default, but most deliberative bodies have additional rules that supersede Robert's for at least some procedures. Usually rules adoptions are non-debated, pro-forma adoptions of prior session rules, whether for the legislative bodies or even the SREC.
There is little or no discussion and meaningful changes are extraordinarily rare.
This year was different. A workgroup to study needed rules changes to improve the functioning of the Texas Senate (which has at times been called dysfunctional due to the “Rose Bush Blocker Rule”) was ably led by Senator Kevin Eltife. Importantly, the workgroup solicited input from all 31 senators, and was itself made up of four Republicans and three Democrats.
Rose Bush Blocker Rule
The rule, in place for most of the readers’ lifetimes, required a 2/3 supermajority to even bring a piece of legislation to the floor. 2/3 of 31 Senators is 21, meaning that only 11 Senators can block a bill (hence the name), even if 20 others are in favor of the bill. It is a higher threshold than even the US Senate has for breaking a filibuster (which is 60 of 100).
Lt. Gov. Patrick first noticed this thwart-the-will-of-the-majority rule before he was even in elected office. He steadfastly has worked to change it over the past ten years or so. The Democrats had, of course, with their 11 or 12 votes, been using this rule to block or effectively veto conservative legislation, including bills related to pro-life, reducing government, protecting Second Amendment rights, lowering taxes, securing the border, providing education choice and reform, and many, many more.
A few weeks ago changing this blocker rule was identified as one of the top eight “Grassroots Legislative Priorities” by the State Republican Executive Committee (SREC). Changing or even eliminating the blocker bill has been a priority of conservatives across the state, and a plank in the Republican Party of Texas (RPT) platform has called for its change for many years now.
For the first time in memory of the senior members of the Senate, the proposed rules were significantly improved and were being debated at great length. There were other rule changes to improve the efficient functioning of the Senate, but the debate hinged on the blocker rule. The proposed rule change would require only a 3/5 vote rather than the in-place-for-64-years 2/3 vote.
Why the big deal over going from 2/3 to 3/5? Do the math. Instead of 21 votes being needed to bring a bill to the floor the number drops to 19. The GOP now has 20. Simply put, the Democrats would no longer have veto power.
The Democrat Senators one-by-one stood and desperately argued for not changing the rule—they obviously did not want to give up what was effectively veto power. They in vain appealed for nearly two hours that not changing the rule was the most conservative thing to do. Two played “the race card”. They even condemned the until-now Harry Reid-led Democrat-controlled US Senate and said that changing to 3/5 (as the Senate has for filibuster breaking) would make the Texas Senate worse!
Republican senators outside of Eltife said very little, and the Democrats offered no amendments. Both behaviors were indications that all knew the GOP had the votes and the rest was mostly grandstanding.
When all was said and done, the clerk took the recorded roll call vote, and the historic rule change passed in a bipartisan vote of 20-10-1. (One pro-life Democrat—Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr.—voted with all of the Republicans except one—Sen. Craig Estes—who voted present, and all of the other Democrats voted against the rule change.)
There was a separate vote for the rest of the rule changes, all directed at streamlining the Senate, including REDUCING the number of standing committees – reducing government if you will! This second vote passed as well, also with bipartisan support, with an even wider 27-4 margin.
One day—One grassroots priority accomplished—One campaign goal achieved. Even long-time Democrat Senator Whitmire was heard to say that yes, indeed, it was a “new day in Texas.”