'Bathroom bill' fizzles as Republican primary issue
By Patrick Svitek
Feb. 7, 2018 at 12:01 a.m.
The "bathroom bill," once touted as a surefire issue for the 2018 Republican primaries, is barely registering in them with less than a month until Election Day.
Last year, state lawmakers waded into an intense, emotional debate over whether the state should restrict which bathrooms transgender Texans could use, a priority of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick that ultimately factored into a special session called by Gov. Greg Abbott. Amid months of all-night hearings and boisterous protests — culminating in the bill's failure —Republicans on both sides of the issue were bracing for every candidate's position on the "bathroom bill" to be a sort of litmus test in the 2018 primaries.
Yet as of now, it is hard to find a GOP nominating contest for the Legislature where a candidate's position on the issue has emerged as a major point of contention, a far cry from the tone set the last time lawmakers met under the pink dome.
"Let them go home and face the voters for the next 90 days," Patrick said on the last day of the special session, referring to lawmakers who had not been thoroughly supportive of the bathroom bill's various forms.
Patrick also recalled a recent conversation he'd had with House Speaker Joe Straus — the bathroom bill's biggest obstacle — toward the end of the special session. "I said to the speaker, 'Pass this bill. Put this issue in the rear-view mirror. It's not going away. It's going to be a campaign issue in primaries and the general election.'"
There could be a few reasons for the issue's low profile in the primaries so far.
For starters, itsbiggest champion, Patrick, is no longer promoting it with remotely the same level of enthusiasm he did before and during the 2017 sessions. In October, he declared bathroom bill supporters had "already won"by sending a message to any school or business thinking about providing the kinds of accommodations that led to the push for the proposal in the first place.
Furthermore, the two Republicans most closely associated with the legislation's death — Straus and state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, the chairman of the House State Affairs Committee — are not seeking re-election, avoiding primary challenges that could have been shaped by their opposition to the proposal.