Dewhurst’s call for a special session isn’t really about the public good

Posted Saturday, May. 25, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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For proof positive that Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is running scared, look no further than his call for a special legislative session to pass bills on guns, abortion restrictions, school vouchers and other topics that would shore up his conservative credentials.

Dewhurst told the Star-Telegram’s Dave Montgomery last week that he had asked Gov. Rick Perry to call lawmakers back for another round before they could skip town once the 83rd regular session ends Monday night.

According to Montgomery’s report, Dewhurst wants a full plate of conservative red meat: drug testing for welfare recipients, concealed handguns inside campus buildings, a package of abortion restrictions, political redistricting, school choice and a more restrictive constitutional cap on state spending.

Yet even without any of those items having been successful, Dewhurst called this year’s 140 days of sausage-making “the most conservative session in decades.”

Go figure.

Special sessions should be reserved for legislation that is critically important to the conduct of state affairs but proved too complicated or politically prickly for lawmakers to deal with during their regularly allotted time in the Capitol.

Dewhurst might consider it critically important to his political future that students be able to pack heat while in class or that Texas treat abortion even more harshly than it already does. But it’s also easy to argue that the state could get largely along just fine if lawmakers don’t again make a run at those issues until 2015.

It’s Perry’s call as to whether legislators have done enough in the areas he considers most critical. This year, he has focused on water, transportation and tax relief, not so much on explosive social issues.

As they’ve wrangled with the budget, the House and Senate have spent many hours on Perry’s key issues but also on education funding and Medicaid. Overhauling standardized testing produced perhaps this session’s most divisive high-profile wrestling.

Legislators have accomplished some good, such as bills to assist veterans’ employment, improve oversight of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas and require donor disclosure by tax-exempt “social welfare” groups.

They failed to enact some improvements that they should have, such as more limits on payday loans. And some bills deserved the lack of attention they received, such as a proposal to block Austin’s plastic bag restrictions.

Perry’s staff said the governor wouldn’t talk about special session possibilities until after Monday’s work gets done.

Dewhurst, who’s held his current office for a decade, is expected to announce re-election plans shortly after the regular session ends. But he’s almost certain to face challenges from Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, both Republicans with solid conservative credentials.

Dewhurst lost last year’s Republican primary runoff to now-Sen. Ted Cruz in part because of Cruz’s unabashed Tea Party rhetoric and nose-thumbing to the mainstream GOP, an attitude he’s ridden to plenty of national attention in Washington.

A push for a second chance at pushing through measures that seem to have died seems undemocratic: some of those bills failed simply because they didn’t have enough support even in a Republican-dominated Legislature, and others because that’s just how the legislative process works.

Besides that, a special session plays by a different set of rules: it takes approval from at least 21 senators to get a bill to the floor during the regular session (19 senators are Republicans), but that two-thirds rule doesn’t operate during special sessions.

The Austin American-Statesman’s Jonathan Tilove wrote on the “First Reading” blog that “the operative question” is whether Perry sees the special session Dewhurst wants as helping the governor should he run again or try another bid for president, and “how much he wants to do Dewhurst a [favor] by calling a session that would help burnish his conservative credentials.”

So much for the greater public good.

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