This column could be titled “Coming Soon to Texas,” but exactly how soon may be subject to debate. My conservative friends probably would classify it as wishful thinking.
What I’m referring to is a recent Associated Press story in the News-Journal about the new era in Virginia politics starting last month. Democrats, who already held the governor’s mansion in Virginia, took full control of the state Legislature for the first time in a generation.
The 2020 legislative session began Jan. 8 with several historical firsts. Women and people of color assumed leadership roles previously held only by white men for the last 400 years.
Gov. Ralph Northam received a warm welcome at the ceremony, a sharp turn of events from last year when he was urged to resign after a release of photos showing him in blackface as a college student.
“It’s a proud moment to look out and see a General Assembly that reflects more than ever, the Virginia we see everyday,” Northam said.
One of the House’s first acts was to elect Del. Eileen Filler-Corn as the new speaker, the first woman to serve in that role. She also is the first Jewish speaker. Her top deputy, House Majority Leader Charniele is the first black woman to hold that role.
Ghazala Hashmi, who unseated a Republican incumbent to help Democrats flip the Senate, became that chamber’s first Muslim female member.
With new majorities in place, Northam and top lawmakers have laid out an ambitious agenda that includes high-profile issues that Republicans have thwarted for years, such as gun control measures and criminal justice reforms.
In Texas, Democrats are gunning to capture nine House seats in this year’s election to gain control of that chamber. Before writing this off as delusional, remember that Texas Democrats gained 12 seats in the House and two seats in the Senate in 2018.
Ominous for the GOP are the huge population gains in the state’s urban areas that are becoming Democrat strongholds. For example, in 2018 every Republican judge in Harris County was voted out of office.
Even if Republicans keep control of the Legislature after this year’s election, new census figures for 2020 will make it more difficult to hide GOP incumbents in safe districts. Texas also is expected to gain three new seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and Democrats will demand that two of those seats belong to their party.
Given these prospects, is it any wonder Republicans are trying desperately to curtail minority voting in Texas? With restrictive early voting measures and tightened voter ID laws, the GOP strategy is perfectly clear — keep blacks and Hispanics away from the polls.
Hispanics will soon outnumber whites in the state population and if they ever get a taste of political power, Republicans will need a new playbook or fold their tent as a viable party in the Lone Star State.
We already saw a toned down version of the GOP in the last legislative session. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who for years has made his reputation on divisive issues like the bathroom bill in 2017, never mentioned that bill or other controversial issues he pandered to in recent years.
It also doesn’t help Republicans to see the House leadership imploding after the 2019 session, which received generally favorable reviews. House Speaker Dennis Bonner has announced he will resign and not seek reelection after a secret recording showed he was targeting 10 GOP incumbents in this year’s election.
In another vein, I’d like to add my 2 cents on the recent measures to make East Texas town and counties so-called sanctuary cities for gun and pro-life advocates. My home county, Panola, became the latest to adopt a measure that supported the sheriff “to not enforce any unconstitutional firearms restrictions against any citizen.”
The same edition of the News-Journal that covered the county’s action on the Second Amendment also had a pertinent column on the Opinion page by Mary McCord, a former acting assistant U.S. attorney general. Here’s her opinion on these resolutions:
Such resolutions “demonstrate how their proponents operate on a fundamental misunderstanding of the rights afforded Americans … ” she wrote. Even if such resolutions were codified in state law, federal law has supremacy over both state and local ordinances.
In other words, local governments are free to consider these resolutions, but in the end they have no legal effect and are only useful to make their supporters “feel good” about their activism.