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State of Texas: Border, voting rights loom large as special session nears

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AUSTIN (Nexstar) – This week, Governor Greg Abbott and former President Donald Trump visited Weslaco, Texas, to hold a news conference on border security. Abbott began by complimenting Trump on his border security efforts during his time in office, while simultaneously disparaging President Joe Biden’s border policies.

“Mr. President, things have changed so quickly and so dramatically under the Biden administration. It’s been amazing and disastrous,” said Abbott.

To support his claim that things have dramatically changed on the border during Biden’s time in the White House, Abbott cited several statistics regarding fentanyl and illegal crossings.

“The Texas Department of Public Safety alone has apprehended more fentanyl to kill every man, woman and child in the entire state of Texas. This is deadly, it’s dangerous,” claimed the Governor. “… if you just look at the year-over-year numbers, look at this May versus last May, the increase in people coming across the border who have been apprehended has gone up more than 800%.”

“The border has never been this way. We went from the best border we’ve ever had in the history of our country… it’s the best by far,” said Trump.

The former President went on the tout the accomplishments he claimed he achieved during his four years in office, including building 500 miles of wall after being sued for 2.5 years over his plans and decreasing the flow of fentanyl over the border to almost nothing.

On Wednesday, the same day as Abbott and Trump’s border visit, four Texas Democrats alleged that Governor Abbott is using the border wall for political posturing, instead of fixing the power grid, which still poses a significant threat to Texans’ safety.

“One of the things that’s important about Governor Abbott, and what we’ve seen in terms of his lack of leadership in the state, is it seems that every time that there is a crisis or a challenge that the state has faced, we deflect to the border,” said Jamarr Brown, a co-executive director of the Texas Democratic Party. “Last year, and even now up to this point, we faced a ravishing and dangerous COVID-19 pandemic. And every time we saw cases go up, infections go up, we saw the governor go to South Texas and talk about the border.”

Representative Celia Israel, D-Austin, further emphasized that Democrats believe Abbott is playing to his base instead of concentrating on issues which are currently affecting Texans.

“Chief Nim Kidd and DPS and state resources are being activated right now for a political event, for political posturing. They put on their camo, take a hat, flip it backwards, get the action shot and demonstrate as if they are taking action. So, I lament that, and I am sad for that,” said Israel during the press conference.

Mike Collier, who is running for Lieutenant Governor in 2022, said fixing the power grid needs to be the primary focus of the special session, which begins next week on July 8.

“We came within five minutes of the state of Texas being without power for weeks [in February]. Imagine how many people would have died, a lot of people did die in the freeze. Now look at this heat wave in Portland – 115 degrees – just imagine if that hits here, and we can’t keep up, and we have to shut down the whole thing, and we stay shut down for weeks and weeks and weeks. That is a very real possibility. They need to get up here and fix this damn grid,” asserted Collier on Wednesday.

Collier went on to explain that even from a business standpoint, the power grid in its current form is detrimental to Texans. He justified this claim by telling how a CEO was thinking of moving their business to Texas but decided not to because there could be serious commercial implications if the power grid failed and they could not do business for several weeks, especially with their business competing in the international tech markets.

“We’re competing against the Chinese, their grid works. The Texas grid doesn’t. And that’s going to hurt job creation,” said Collier.

Lawmakers prepare to return to work in the special session

The special session begins next week, but it’s still not clear what’s on the agenda. Two seasoned political reporters shared their thoughts on what Texans might see in the coming weeks.

Scott Braddock, editor for the Quorum Report, and Bob Garrett, Austin bureau chief for the Dallas Morning News, joined Josh Hinkle this week for a State of Texas roundtable to discuss what legislation might be included in the special session, how lawmakers are going to handle SB7, a bill to tighten voting rules in Texas.

Democrats broke quorum at the end of the regular session, preventing SB7 from passing. Braddock said Republicans also bear responsibility for failing to move the bill forward.

“Republicans had a tough time with it – if they all agreed on what the bill should look like, it would have passed months ago,” explained Braddock. “I mean, the Speaker, Lieutenant Governor and the Governor never got on the same page about what should be in the elections bill.”

Since walking off the House floor worked for Democrats during the regular session, there are questions of whether Democrats will simply not attend the special session, thereby preventing any legislation from being passed, including SB7.

In response to the Democrat’s ploy, Abbott vetoed Article X of the budget, which cut funding from the Texas legislature – lawmakers will still be paid, but staff will not. Garrett is unsure whether this will force Democrats to be present at the special session.  

“Maybe they raise the money nationally now that they’re national rock stars,” Garrett said, referencing the recent visit by a group of Texas Democrats to Capitol Hill. He expanded, saying “they will be vilified. They will be they will be attacked relentlessly. But they could get by, and really then it would be Republican staffers not being paid, and the Democrats are getting some national money to pay for their staff.”

On the other hand, Braddock thinks that Democrats won’t “go nuclear right out of the gate” and refuse to appear at the special session, instead he thinks they might wait to break quorum until “things get really ugly at the Capitol.”

Braddock also said he believes top minds in the Republican party do not want to completely cut Democrats out of the process when it comes to SB7.

“They can’t just be heavy handed with the Democrats, they need their votes, or they at least need their presence to be there to be able to work on some of these things. And so, it’s going to be interesting to see if they can find that balance in an environment where Abbott is trying to appear as tough as possible on those same Democrats,” explained Braddock.

Besides SB7, Garrett believes we could see legislation around Critical Race Theory, social media censorship, transgender athletes in high schools, taxpayer funded lobbying, and bail reform.

Braddock added that interim charges just came out calling for lawmakers to examine the situation at the border and discuss how to fund border security. Interim charges are simply assignments for each chamber, and certain committees in each chamber, to study an issue and submit a report recommending the best course of action to address the issue. With interim charges being issued for border security, it signals that the Governor wants to work on this topic.

There are also questions of whether legislation regarding the power grid will be brought to the floor. Both Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and Democrats have been pushing for more to be done to address concerns with ERCOT, but Abbott said that “everything that needed to be done was done when it comes to electricity in Texas.”

With a general election next year, Braddock pointed out that the dynamic between Abbott and Patrick on the topic of ERCOT is interesting.

“It’s interesting, for the first time that I can remember, you have Patrick more focused on an issue that’s probably more important in a general election than Governor Abbott. Abbott, who already has a declared challenger in his Republican primary, seems to be more focused on those red meat issues like the border, CRT, and things like that,” explained…

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