After a failed session of the Texas Legislature in which most pro-taxpayer reforms were left to die, conservatives were frustrated with the state’s top political leader—a man who had promised to fight for them on the campaign trail—for appearing to stay on the sidelines rather than enter the fray .
Those feelings were shelved when Gov. Greg Abbott announced he would be calling legislators back to Austin for a special session and loaded their plates full of issues that have topped conservatives’ wish lists for years.
Property tax reform, privacy protection, school choice, annexation reform and more—the people’s priorities—were thrust to the forefront and to ensure they passed, Abbott promised that he would be standing with citizens to hold lawmakers accountable in the primaries if they stood in the way.
“I’m going to be establishing a list,” said Abbott in a speech at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. “We all need to establish lists that we publish on a daily basis to call people out – who is for this, who is against this, who has not taken a position yet. No one gets to hide.”
The maneuvering was certainly something for grassroots activists to be excited about. And all across the state, conservatives took the governor at his word and rallied around him—demanding that their legislators pass all twenty items on his reform agenda.
“#20For20,” they tweeted. “#PassThemAll”
And despite media reports Abbott was wavering in his commitment to seeing his agenda through not even a week after the special session began, conservatives continued to give the governor the benefit of the doubt that he would play an active role. That he would demand lawmakers deliver in Austin or face the consequences back home in their districts.
But while citizens placed their trust in Abbott holding strong to his promises, members of the Texas Legislature bet on his weakness.
During the special session, a number of Republican legislators revealed their open contempt for the governor and moved to kill or dilute the vast majority of his reform items.
Property tax reform? Killed. Privacy protections? Killed. Spending limits? Killed. Union dues reform? Killed. And all at the hands of Republicans, not Democrats. House Speaker Joe Straus even adjourned a day early in open defiance of the governor’s call.
Such a blatant display pushed Abbott into action. While he did not call lawmakers back for another special session, he did go on a statewide media and public relations campaign in which he savaged those members of the Texas House who had spurned the people’s agenda.
“Rather than work on issues important to Texans they chose to engage in political theater and showboat on items far outside the Governor’s agenda,” he wrote in a blistering fundraising email. “We cannot have lawmakers that avoid decisive votes and obstruct conservative policies that could improve our state. Contribute now to join the fight to hold your lawmakers accountable this election cycle!”
But ever since that flurry of activity, Abbott has been largely living up to the nickname attributed to him by Capitol staffers – Governor Absent.
Despite his claims and promises earlier this year, Abbott has done very little so far to live up to them. Indeed, his first endorsement of the cycle was for the re-election campaign of State Rep. Paul Workman (R–Austin), a lawmaker whose attempt to cozy up to House Speaker Joe Straus has resulted in a career “F” rating on the Fiscal Responsibility Index. This year he scored a 52.
However, Workman’s low marks weren’t limited to fiscal issues. He also drew the ire of pro-life Texans by voting to preserve a loophole in state law that strips unborn children who may have a fetal abnormality from being aborted. It’s for largely that vote that Texas Right to Life has endorsed Workman’s opponent, small businessman Jay Wiley, and criticized Abbott for his decision on Twitter.
— Texas Right to Life (@TXRightToLife) November 9, 2017
Perhaps in recompense, Abbott’s next endorsement was Susanna Dokupil, an opponent to State Rep. Sarah Davis (R–West University Place), Texas’ only openly pro-abortion Republican member of the Texas Legislature. That decision was commended, but conservatives are left wondering if the endorsement against Davis is because of her horrendously liberal record or because she decided to attack Abbott on ethics reform.
Since then he’s been all over the map, endorsing Republican State Reps. Greg Bonnen (Friendswood), Leighton Schubert (Brenham), Matt Krause (Fort Worth), Jeff Leach (Plano), Rodney Anderson (Grand Prairie), and Ron Simmons (Carrollton). Some of those makes at least some bit of sense, but on Tuesday Abbott befuddled conservatives by announcing his support for State Rep. Drew Darby of San Angelo.
Unlike the other lawmakers Abbott has endorsed, who have either been supporters or at least not problems for the governor, Darby has been an active opponent of the governor within the Texas Legislature. Darby’s a prominent part of the Straus regime and flatly refused to support serious property tax reform, spending limits, or even studying the elimination of union dues reform during the special session.
Yet, Abbott says exactly the opposite in his endorsement press release.
“The next legislative session presents an opportunity to lower Texans’ property taxes, reform our broken school finance system and further protect life,” said Abbott. “As an experienced legislator, Representative Darby has a deep understanding of these issues and will play a key role in helping accomplish these goals. I am proud to endorse Representative Darby for re-election and urge the voters of House District 72 to join me in supporting him in the upcoming election.”
To say that conservatives are confused by the governor’s choice would be an understatement.
“With Abbott’s previous endorsements, even if we didn’t agree, there was a case to be made from his perspective,” wrote Adam Cahn, a Capitol blogger. “That case doesn’t exist for Drew Darby. Drew Darby was a key player in killing Greg Abbott’s agenda and any legislature where Drew Darby returns will do the same.”
What does Abbott’s endorsement of Drew Darby say to homeowners in San Angelo who believe that Texas must pass property tax reform that allows citizens to have a greater voice?
Despite the obvious blemish of the Darby endorsement, grassroots Texans will likely forgive Abbott if he honors his commitment to support the conservative Republicans that supported him and – perhaps more importantly – oppose the establishment Republicans who lined up against him.
The good news? There is still time for Abbott to recover and confirm he is committed to following through on the promises he made before and after the special session.