Special Summer?

Gov. Perry and Speaker Straus play down the need for a speedy special session (note the speedy bit)

The announcement that Speaker Joe Straus would be holding a press conference at 10am on the Tuesday morning after sie die elicited mixed reactions from the press corps:

Number one: "Are you kidding? Does he know how many of us have hangovers? Does Angela Hale (his press secretary) hate us that much?"

Number two: "Will he say anything about a special session?"

The announcement that Gov. Rick Perry would be holding his own presser at 11.30am had two reactions as well.

Number one: "Well, better hold off writing anything until he's done."

Number two: "Will he say anything about a special session?"

Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, made it very clear that the failure of the House to pass $2 billion in transport bonds and the Senate's rejection of a Sunset Safety Net resolution meant a special was inevitable. But that's not his call: That's all up to the governor.

Speaker Straus greets the press and placates them with coffee (Photo by Richard Whittaker)

First the press had to endure the Straus presser (well, endure is the wrong term, considering he had the courtesy to lay on coffee and breakfast tacos.) Flanked by the great and the good of the House, incuding Reps. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, and Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, Straus admitted that it had been a complex session (further complicated by the fact that "after [Rep. Edmund Kuempel's] illness, never before have we had a House that was essentially split 74-74.") However, he still thought that because "we stuck by the rules, we elevated a new generation of leadership in the House, got a good, strong mix of mature leaders in positions of influence, and I think at the end of the 140 days, we had some success."

The invited guests took time to emphasize what they thought had been successful: Pitts talked about the balanced budget; Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, talked up the 4% extra for higher ed and the plans for new tier one universities; While Thompson put the session into perspective. "On January 5th of this year," she said, "I made a prediction, and that prediction was that we were going to have integrity restored back to the House of Representatives [… ] Today I am very proud to say that we were able to achieve that."

After the kumbaya chorus faded, the big question: Was Ogden right in saying a special was inevitable?

When Straus was asked about this, he simply noted that the House had done as much as they could with the Sunset problem and it was the Senate that failed to pass HCR 291. TXDoT would still be funded, he stressed, and "once the dust settles, we'll find a way through this." He added, "With respect to any special potential sessions that may or may not be necessary, I would refer you to the governor."

Which was handy, because that was exactly who the entire press cadre was heading to see next.

Gov. Perry: "Way too early to make a call on a special session" (Photo by Richard Whittaker)

Perry's presser, by comparison, was a display of bravura flag waving for the end of the session. In the far more formal setting of his press room, the media waited patiently for copies of his speech notes and his arrival (leading to one awkward moment for your writer: I was at the podium, setting my recorder down, when Perry came in. "Back, back!" he said, while playfully swatting the vicious hounds of the fourth estate back.)

He listed all of the legislature's (and, by extension, his) successes: Reducing general revenue spending by more than 1% and keeping the Rainy Day Fund whole (while not mentioning that this was only possible because of the federal stimulus cash), infrastructure investments (well, reservoir construction), and, interestingly, pushing back against tort reform and rolling back the franchise tax for small businesses.

Hmm, with those last two, it's almost like he has a Republican primary to run.

He also took some pride in his rejection of CHIP expansion to 300% of the federal poverty level, because he said that was not the best way to get medical provision to more kids (Kudos, then, to Peggy Fikac of the San Antonio Express-News for asking him what other options he had, leading to him humming and hawing for a few seconds before suggesting improving enrollment for poorer families – an area he has taken no lead on this session.)

As for special sessions, he was suitably coy. "It's way to early to be making any calls on special sessions," he said, noting that he still has "1,400 bills to analyze and make a decision on." Yup, that veto pen is still there to be wielded.

But everything Perry does now is being viewed through the lens of that primary. There are three lines on that. One, that primary challenger Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison is the real winner from any special, because Perry will seem powerless to create leadership for the lege, never mind the state. Two, that Perry throws voter ID in there, the special goes into meltdown, and then just see line one. Three, Perry throws voter ID in there, gets it passed, or, just makes himself look like the anti-Democrat candidate, and whips up enough of the right that he steamrolls Kay in the primary and lets the general take care of itself.

But that's presuming he calls a special before the primary. TXDoT et al don't have to go out of business until Sept. 1, 2010, so he has a comfortable buffer period before having to make that choice, and plenty of time to discuss other options to keep their doors open.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

MORE Rick Perry
No Nugent Is Good Nugent
No Nugent Is Good Nugent
GOP weeps over Nugent comments, but are these crocodile tears?

Richard Whittaker, Feb. 23, 2014

Texas Governor to Decriminalize Pot!
Texas Governor to Decriminalize Pot!
Perry claims progress … but the facts are not so plain

Jordan Smith, Jan. 24, 2014

More by Richard Whittaker
Lulu Wang Introduces Us to <i>The Farewell</i>
Lulu Wang Introduces Us to The Farewell
Director talks identity, family, and Awkwafina's superpower

July 19, 2019

Wen Ren’s End-of-the-World Drama <i>Last Sunrise</i> Found Its Spark in China
Wen Ren’s End-of-the-World Drama Last Sunrise Found Its Spark in China
Light in the dark

July 19, 2019


81st Legislature, Texas House of Representatives, Joe Straus, Rick Perry, Special Session

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle