Texas Gov. Greg Abbott at a May 26 signing ceremony for Senate Bill 7 on inappropriate teacher-student relationships. Eric Gay AP
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott at a May 26 signing ceremony for Senate Bill 7 on inappropriate teacher-student relationships. Eric Gay AP

Bud Kennedy

Texas governor Abbott is retaking control — by giving lawmakers plenty of busy work

By Bud Kennedy

bud@star-telegram.com

June 10, 2017 02:08 PM

UPDATED June 10, 2017 08:39 PM

Gov. Greg Abbott is back.

Undermined by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and described by The New York Times as a governor who “struggles to lead,” Abbott reemerged last week as a forceful voice in the governor’s bully pulpit.

Abbott’s role in this Texas Legislature had been mocked. One lawmaker went so far as to tell a Lubbock radio host the governor’s office is run by “Governor [Daniel] Hodge,” referring to Abbott’s Fort Worth-reared chief of staff.

But that was before Abbott subtly rebuked Patrick, then delivered an ambitious special-session assignment of 20 bills to pass by Aug. 17.

Never miss a local story.

Sign up today for a free 30 day free trial of unlimited digital access.

Abbott had a twinkle in his eye on the last day of the regular session when he told an Austin gathering the time and topics of a special session “are solely up to the governor of the state of Texas.”

That came after Abbott engaged in what he has since called “shuttle diplomacy” to get Patrick to allow a must-pass bill that reauthorizes the Texas Medical Board.

(Texas agencies expire if they’re not renewed. It’s called a “sunset” bill.)

The original narrative was that a slow-poke House pushed the bill to the last day, and movement conservatives in the Freedom Caucus ran the clock out to retaliate over ignored bills and force another session.

Since then, Freedom Caucus lawmakers have acknowledged Patrick forced the special session by having them stall out the medical sunset bill.

“The lieutenant governor called us at 9 p.m. and asked us to make sure we didn’t get to the sunset bill,” state Rep. Kyle Biedermann, R-Fredericksburg, wrote in a text to a constituent, according to The Dallas Morning News.

Unfortunately, it was used as political fodder.

Gov. Greg Abbott on why a must-pass bill reauthorizing medical licensing didn’t pass

State Sen. Konni Burton, R-Fort Worth, emailed to constituents that Patrick wanted House votes “on a number of priorities … These priorities were left unsatisfied, and the Texas Medical Board reauthorization was not accomplished.”

So Abbott called the special session with only one assigned task at first: to reauthorize the Medical Board.

“Unfortunately, it was used as political fodder during the regular session,” he said in announcing the special session. This time, he won’t add his other 19 to-do-list items until the sunset bills “pass out of the Senate in full.”

In a WBAP/820 AM interview, Abbott blamed “horrible management of the docket in both the House and the Senate.” Asked if House Speaker Joe Straus held legislation back, he again blamed both.

Patrick, an evangelical author, political radio host and the state chairman of President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, has said repeatedly he will not run against “my good friend Greg Abbott” for governor next year. But Patrick qualifies that by saying he and Abbott are “in sync” on issues, without saying what he will do if Abbott, a career lawyer and judge, strays out of “sync.”

The Texas Legislature will reconvene July 18 for 30 days.

Abbott is setting a high bar for Patrick. Abbott said in a radio interview that if the Legislature can’t pass 20 bills in 30 days, “It’s because they’re lazy.”

The governor has repeatedly said he wants a rollback limit on property tax increases and a school choice or voucher plan for special education students. (A “bathroom bill” is on his list, but only for public schools, where it’s one of several reforms.)

But by laying out a long assignment list, Abbott has gained political coverage for 2018. He can campaign on what the Legislature gets done, and blame lawmakers for everything undone.

“I set this special session up in a format that gives lawmakers every opportunity to get this done,” he said.

“All we need is for them to vote out one bill a day.”

If they don’t — they just didn’t listen to Abbott.

Bud Kennedy: 817-390-7538, @BudKennedy. His column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.