Two members of Gov. Abbott’s staff were seen on the House floor Wednesday evening lobbying legislators to suspend House proceedings in order to enable the House Public Education Committee to meet. It was a late-night attempt to pass a hastily-improvised, 80-page voucher law out of committee without a hearing. The half-baked scheme would have completely short-circuited the usual legislative process. In spite of the governor’s pressure campaign, the House voted 76-65 to block the committee from meeting.
Representative Ana-Maria Ramos remarked on Twitter that “Abbott has his people here on the House floor pressing Representatives and it appears to be an attempt to send a message to Republicans to pass the voucher bill.”
One of the staffers was Gardner Pate, the governor’s Chief of Staff, who was appointed to the position soon after the November election.
Pate previously served as Deputy Chief of Staff within the Office before joining Governor Abbott’s 2022 re-election campaign as Campaign Chairman, according to a statement from the governor’s office announcing the appointment. Pate also served as the former Director of Policy and General Counsel for Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and former partner at Locke Lord LLP. Pate is a graduate of the University of Texas School of Law and the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin.
Shayne Woodard, the governor’s Director of Legislative Affairs, was also seen on the floor. Woodard is the founder of Waterloo Lobby & Advocacy, according to the governor’s office. Woodard was also the Chief of Staff for Railroad Commissioner Barry Williamson. He was also legislative analyst for the Texas Association of Builders and as a staffer in and around the State Capitol for Comptroller Bob Bullock, the Texas Senate, and the Texas House of Representatives. Woodard is a graduate of Texas Tech University with a B.S. in Agricultural Economics and a former Tech Student Body President.
The high-pressure tactics failed, and perhaps even backfired. This is not the first time Abbott pressured House Republicans to back a voucher bill or failed to secure passage. The governor’s staffers were on hand during the vote adopting the Herrero amendment prohibiting state tax dollars going to any voucher plan, and there have been recent pro-voucher push-polls, along with rallies in rural House Republican districts. It appears House Republicans have not forgotten Abbott’s political promises on his pet legislative priorities are empty, having failed to provide cover for House Republicans in 2018 primaries after they voted to expand pre-K in 2017.
Fellow Republican Rep. Ernest Bailes (R-Shepherd) spoke against the “backroom shady dealings” regarding the Machiavellian attempt to vote CSSB8 out of committee without a hearing.
After the attempt to ram the legislation through committee without a hearing failed, the legislation was scheduled for a Public Education Committee hearing on Monday with invited testimony only. Advocates decried having only invited testimony as akin to stacking the deck in favor of an unpopular proposal whose authors lack confidence of it withstanding public scrutiny.