Political antics playing out in summertime often escape public scrutiny because so many of us are off pursuing vacations — and that’s likely truer now than ever after pandemic fears kept many of us close to home last year. But the Texas Legislature’s special session beginning today warrants voters’ attention. Indeed, some voters might soon find the ease with which they voted in past elections has been compromised in ways never imagined.
Which brings us to our recommendation at the very outset: In the interest of the transparency both Republicans and Democrats claim to prize, leaders of the Texas House and Senate should ensure committee hearings are given to all legislation considered, especially whatever final “election integrity” bill is in store. Thanks to skullduggery that even Republican authors of Senate Bill 7 now acknowledge and condemn, many Texans are more confused than ever about what Republicans specifically propose.
After House Democrats abandoned the hall on Memorial Day weekend and prematurely ended the regular session, measures added to the session’s final election bill came to light that left red-faced Republicans back-pedaling, vowing these were mistakenly inserted. One: a measure curtailing early voting hours on Sundays popular among churchgoers in African American communities who after services travel to the polls. Another: a measure allowing courts to more easily overturn election results.
If we’re to believe Republican legislators on the Senate-House conference committee didn’t mean to slip these toxic measures into a revised version of the bill, they should ensure that all legislators — and their constituents — see bills laid out in detail early on, preventing the last-minute meddling that backfired on Republicans during regular session when understandably angry Democrats slipped away in protest.
Gov. Greg Abbott, ordinarily the only one who can set the agenda for a special session, has also insisted more needs to be done to restrain the teaching of critical race theory in public schools. This strikes us as racist dog-whistling disguised as policy: The Republican-led Legislature just passed a bill in May that restricts or discourages (depending on how you read House Bill 3979) such teachings.
Again, transparency is required to ensure the governor isn’t pressing further action simply to appease white grievance, the better for him to fight off a formidable 2022 primary election rival. Confusion remains in the public mind about critical race theory, aggravated by The New York Times’ misleading “1619 Project” and highly charged statements by its lead writer, Nikole Hannah-Jones. Texas academia, parents and legislators need to debate further restrictions in hearings to better define what’s amiss.
There’s also the matter of what legislators and the Texas Supreme Court will do regarding Abbott’s tirade after the abbreviated regular session, expressed in textbook executive overreach by his vetoing that section of the budget paying for legislative staff and agencies. In considering a suit over the issue, the state’s highest court might well consider what Abbott could do to the state judiciary should it, God forbid, also risk his royal displeasure.