With only one week left in the first special legislative session called by Greg Abbott and exactly zero bills passed, Greg Abbott is about to have a tough decision to make when it comes to calling more.
The governor has the constitutional ability to call as many special sessions as he wants within a few parameters. The sessions can only last thirty days, and they can only tackle specific items in an agenda set by the governor in advance. There is no set limit on the number of agenda items, and sessions can be stacked one right after the other.
However, right now the Texas House is unable to reach a quorum because Texas Democrats have fled the state. The move has denied Abbott his most coveted bill, an expansive rollback of voter protections and access that is seen as crucial to maintaining the Republican hold on power in the state. Democrats staged a walkout in the final hours of the regular session, leaving the bill unfinished when the clock ran out. Now, they are days away from pulling the same trick off twice.
Abbott has already vowed to call more sessions, but it’s not clear if that will help unless he agrees to negotiate on the bill. Despite warrants being issued for the arrest of the Democrats, state law enforcement has no jurisdiction in Washington D.C. where the errant lawmakers are currently petitioning the federal government for voter rights protection.
One particular sticking point seems to be Abbott’s veto of the funding for the legislative branch. The governor vowed to do so after the initial walkout, but the move appears to have backfired in his face. Widely seen as extortion, the Democrats are unlikely to return to work until Abbott stops holding the paychecks of staffers hostage.
The special session so far has been an abject failure. Not only was the agenda set entirely around far-right conservative priorities such as voting restrictions and the prohibition of trans athletes in high schools, but there were also several large items missing. Texas House Democrats Chair Chris Turner has called on the governor to bring Democrats back to the table by agreeing to tackle electrical grid reform and some form of vaccination promotion. Democrats would also like to see the session re-opened to address possibly expanding Medicaid. Bills designed to cover 1.2 million Texans stalled in the Republican-controlled chambers.
Abbott appears to be unwilling to negotiate, but so far, his threats have not brought the Democrats back. The governor can’t afford to look too weak or conciliatory. He’s facing a primary challenge next year from Texas GOP Chair Allen West as well as his eventual Democratic opponent should he win.
In all likelihood, Abbott loses political capital whether he negotiates or not. His ability to hold onto power might well hinge on whether he can keep restrictions on things like mail-in voting in place, but any attempt to pass such laws will depend on him giving at least something away to the Democrats. That will cost him dearly when West attacks him from the right.