Gov. Greg Abbott’s pick for top Texas election post worked with Trump to fight 2020 results

Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday appointed John Scott — a Fort Worth attorney who briefly represented former President Donald Trump in a lawsuit challenging the 2020 election results in Pennsylvania — as Texas' new secretary of state.

As secretary of state, Scott would oversee election administration in Texas — a task complicated in recent years by baseless claims of election fraud from Republicans in the highest levels of government, fueled by Trump. The former president has filed a flurry of lawsuits nationwide and called for audits in Texas and elsewhere to review the results of the 2020 presidential elections. Trump's own attorney general, Bill Barr, said there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud nationwide, and in Texas, an official with the secretary of state's office said the 2020 election was "smooth and secure."

On Nov. 13, Scott signed on as counsel to a lawsuit filed by Trump attempting to block the certification of Pennsylvania's election. A few days later, Scott filed a motion to withdraw as an attorney for the plaintiffs. Scott's motion also asked to withdraw Bryan Hughes, a Texas state senator from Mineola who works for Scott's law firm, as an attorney for the case.

Scott will eventually have to be confirmed by the Legislature, which is not scheduled to meet again until 2023. Until then, he'll serve as interim secretary of state.

Abbott's announcement of Scott's appointment did not mention Scott's work for Trump — even as Abbott has endured mounting pressure from Trump supporters to call for audit elections.

"John Scott is a proven leader with a passion for public service, and his decades of experience in election law and litigation make him the ideal choice for the Texas Secretary of State," Abbott said in a statement. "John understands the importance of protecting the integrity of our elections and building the Texas brand on an international stage. I am confident that John's experience and expertise will enhance his oversight and leadership over the biggest and most thorough election audit in the country."

Scott will also be the state's liaison to Mexico, the state's biggest trading partner, and will advise Abbott on border and trade affairs.

Abbott's last two appointments for the top elections position, Ruth R. Hughs and David Whitley, were not confirmed by the Senate. Hughs resigned in May.

Scott has 33 years of legal experience, arguing more than 100 legal cases in state and federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court. Working at the attorney general's office under Abbott, Scott was deputy attorney general for civil litigation, overseeing more than 22,000 lawsuits for the state. He later was appointed chief operating officer of the state's Health and Human Services Commission, where he was in charge of 56,000 employees and a biennial budget of $50 billion.

Scott also has served as board chair for the Department of Information Resources. He has law offices in Fort Worth and Austin.

Disclosure: The Texas secretary of state has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Texas bill to block COVID-19 vaccine mandates for employers failed in Legislature after business groups rallied against it

Bills intended to block any Texas entity, including hospitals and private businesses, from mandating COVID-19 vaccines for employees failed to pass the Texas Legislature before lawmakers adjourned the third special legislative session early Tuesday morning.

Signs that the legislation was in trouble came early as business groups spoke out against the proposals. Even though the issue had been added to the session agenda as a late priority by Gov. Greg Abbott, the House's version of the bill was unable to muster enough support to be voted out of committee. The Senate's proposal pushed by Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, was quickly pushed out of committee but did not have the votes for approval by the whole chamber.

On Monday, hours before lawmakers ended the session, state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, said he opposed the bill, which makes entities requiring the vaccines vulnerable to discrimination lawsuits. Seliger was the first lawmaker to acknowledge publicly that the bill did not have the votes to pass in the upper chamber.

"At the moment it's not too well developed," Seliger said of Senate Bill 51, which he called "anti-business."

"I've got some real reservations because I think it's another example of big government," Seliger said. "And we don't do that."

SB 51 had been on the Senate's calendar since Thursday, but the chamber had not taken action, even as it passed other priority legislation.

The offices of Hughes and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, did not respond to requests for comment.

Patrick, a Republican, is also the GOP majority's de facto leader in the upper chamber. During his two-term tenure, he's exerted power by rewarding senators who support his priorities and punishing those who don't by stripping them of powerful positions. This session, he was able to push all five of his priorities through the chamber.

More than two dozen medical and business advocacy groups quickly criticized SB 51, pushing back against the legislation in the days after it was introduced last week. Hughes filed the bill after Abbott asked lawmakers last week to take up this issue to ensure Texans aren't required to get vaccinated, saying that vaccines are "safe, effective, and our best defense against the virus, but should remain voluntary and never forced."

Abbott called for the legislation as he took executive action to ban private companies from requiring employees or customers to be vaccinated against COVID-19, which will be in effect statewide even if lawmakers don't act. His order came four weeks after President Joe Biden, a Democrat, announced that federal contractors must have all employees vaccinated against COVID-19 and that businesses with more than 100 employees must mandate vaccination against the virus or require regular testing.

The organizations opposing the bill, including several chambers of commerce, the Texas Association of Business, the Texas Hospital Association, the Texas Association of Manufacturers, the Texas Hotel & Lodging Association and the Texas Trucking Association, have warned lawmakers of the legislation's risks to small businesses, workplaces that rely on federal funding and immunocompromised Texans.

The warnings were notable in a state where business interests work closely with pro-business Republicans to influence legislation.

"We're getting tremendous amount of communications from the business community saying this is their job," Seliger said. "They set the rules and working conditions in their places of business."

Abbott is in several legal fights with cities, counties and school districts over local mask orders that defy his ban on such orders. Texas' ban on mask mandates in schools has drawn a federal investigation for possibly violating the rights of students with disabilities.

Advocates from medical facilities like hospitals and nursing homes say they are worried about losing Medicare and Medicaid funds if the state law goes into effect, preventing them from following pending federal rules that will mandate vaccines.

"The state shouldn't be mandating a one-size-fits-all approach to hospitals," Steve Wohleb, senior vice president and general counsel for the Texas Hospital Association, told a Senate panel Thursday. "It should leave those decisions to the hospitals, who are in the best position to know what's best for their patients."

While a prohibition on vaccine requirements has been a top issue for Abbott, the subject never rose to the top of Patrick's list.

At the beginning of this 30-day special session, Patrick announced that his top priority was to use federal COVID-19 relief funds to help Texas homeowners reduce their property tax burden for the year.

Patrick's other priorities included restoring money paid out of the state's unemployment insurance fund during the pandemic, preventing transgender student athletes from playing on sports teams based on the gender they identify with rather than the gender on their original birth certificate, drawing new political maps and legislation to protect dogs from being tethered during extreme weather.

Patrick also succeeded in getting Abbott to add tuition revenue bonds, which were approved by the Legislature, to the special session.

House Bill 155, a prohibition on vaccine mandates by state Rep. Tom Oliverson, R-Cypress, also stalled in the House.

Disclosure: The Texas Association of Business and the Texas Hospital Association have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Texas Senate approves congressional map that draws no new Black or Hispanic districts even as people of color fueled population growth

The Texas Senate on Friday approved a map that would largely protect incumbents in Congress, while reducing the number of districts in which Black and Hispanic residents make up the majority of eligible voters — stymying the growth of the state's Democratic Party representation in Washington D.C.

The congressional map is focused more on protecting incumbents than on growing the power of the dominant Republican Party in the state by flipping districts from red to blue. But the map, proposed by GOP State Sen. Joan Huffman of Houston, helps Republicans by increasing the number of districts that would have voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election and decreasing those that would have gone for Joe Biden.

The map also hinders the potential for Democrats to close the gap between the two parties in Texas' congressional delegation by drawing fewer districts in which voters of color make up the majority of eligible voters, who tend to lean Democratic in the state. The state's current delegation consists of 23 Republicans and 13 Democrats.

Currently, based on eligible voter population, the state has 22 districts with white majorities, eight with Hispanic majorities, one with a Black majority and five that have no majority.

But although the state's population growth resulted in the state receiving two additional congressional seats for the next decade, state lawmakers did not draw any new seats where voters of color make up the majority of eligible voters.

That's even as people of color drove 95% of the state's population over the last decade, with Hispanics making up nearly 2 million of the state's 4 million additional residents.

In response to criticism that lawmakers had not reflected that growth, Huffman said that while she drew the map "race-blind, it is wrong to say race was wholly ignored."

She said she ran her drafts of the map by the attorney general's office, which did further analysis to ensure the state complied with the Voting Rights Act, which protects voters of color from discrimination, and the U.S. Constitution. But she declined requests from Democrats to explain the analyses state lawyers performed on the map.

Democrats contend that their analysis of the U.S. Census data supports the creation of more districts where voters of color made up the majority, particularly Hispanics.

"We were assured that all the existing minority opportunity districts, whether they be Black or Latino, were going to perform as such," Huffman said. "And we saw no strong basis in evidence that a new minority opportunity district should be drawn in the new maps."

Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, proposed a map that would create three additional districts where Hispanics made up the majority, bringing the number of those districts to 10.

But Republicans rejected the proposal with Huffman saying the amendment had been drafted less than 24 hours before the Senate's vote on the maps and would result in a "detailed and painstaking racial gerrymander" in North Texas to draw a new Hispanic majority district in the same area as the current Congressional District 33, represented by U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth.

Gutierrez accused Republicans of racially discriminating against voters of color.

"How else do we describe a situation where Texas gains new political power because of the physical presence of millions of Black, Brown, and Asian bodies, and yet the political establishment does not give those very Texans the ability to elect more candidates to represent them?" he said in a statement. "It is an insult to the foundations of our democracy."

Under the proposed maps, voters of color may end up with less representation in their congressional delegation. The new map drops the number of districts in which Hispanics make up a majority of eligible voters from eight to seven, and the districts in which Black Texans make up a majority of eligible voters from one to zero.

The number of districts where whites make up a majority of eligible voters goes up to 23 even though the state's white population — which increased by just 187,252 — was swamped by the growth of people of color.

Democrats urged the Senate to alter the proposed maps because they'd otherwise draw incumbents like Houston Democrats Sheila Jackson Lee and Al Green into the same district. Lee, who represents the 18th Congressional District which covers chunks of downtown Houston and some of the city's historically Black neighborhoods, is drawn out of her district and looped into Green's 9th Congressional Cistrict.

Both lawmakers testified before the Senate's redistricting committee to oppose the redrawing of their districts. Lee said her district had been "surgically, erroneously, and unconstitutionally" redrawn.

Green noted that the congressional delegation only had five Black members and two of them were being drawn into the same district.

But lawmakers could not come to an agreement on how to redraw the maps to minimize the impact on Lee and Green's district.

This is the first round of political mapmaking in Texas since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down provisions to protect voters of color from discrimination. Previously, states with long histories of voting discrimination, like Texas, had to receive approval from the federal government before making changes to election laws or political maps.

But the Supreme Court essentially did away with that requirement in 2013, leaving no buffer for voters of color if lawmakers pass discriminatory maps.

Since the enactment of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, Texas has not made it through a single decade without a federal court admonishing it for violating federal protections for voters of color.

Civil rights groups like the NAACP and the League of United Latin American Citizens have told lawmakers the Senate's proposal dilutes the voting strength of Black and Hispanic voters in the state.

LULAC's president, Dallas-based Domingo Garcia, told a Senate committee hearing that if the maps did not change to reflect the growth of Hispanics in the state his organization would likely sue the state.

The congressional map now moves to the Texas House for approval before it can be signed by Gov. Greg Abbott. The map could potentially see changes there and must be approved before the end of the special legislative session which ends on Oct. 19.

Carla Astudillo contributed to this report.

This historically red Texas county diversified in the last decade. Now, Republicans are trying to divide up its voters of color.

Over the last 10 years, the voters of color in a steadily diversifying Tarrant County have seen their political clout grow.

In 2014, Ramon Romero was elected the county's first Latino state representative. Last December, Mansfield voters elected Michael Evans as the first Black mayor in the city's 130-year history. And in November, Tarrant voters went for Joe Biden over Donald Trump, cementing a major political shift that started when the district chose Beto O'Rourke over Ted Cruz two years earlier.

In Texas Senate District 10, which is nestled entirely inside of Tarrant and makes up about half of the county population, the district's growing Asian, Black and Hispanic populations regularly band together to pick Democratic candidates, including former state Sen. Wendy Davis in 2012 and the current incumbent, Sen. Beverly Powell, in 2018.

But as lawmakers charge ahead with redrawing district lines, those voters of color could see their voting strength diluted in the Texas Capitol. The proposed Senate map, drafted by Republicans, took aim at the district — splitting it up and pairing its voters with those in counties to the south and west that made the district much whiter, more rural and more likely to vote for the GOP.

Powell said Republicans in charge are clearly trying to deny voters of color their voice in elections in an effort to bolster conservative representation.

"The proposed map intentionally, unnecessarily and illegally destroys the voting strength of District 10's minority citizens," she said.

Since the enactment of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, Texas has not made it through a single decade without a federal court admonishing it for violating federal protections for voters of color. Ten years ago, a federal court ruled that a similar attempt to redraw District 10 was intentionally discriminatory.

The chamber's chief map-drawer this time around, Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, has said the maps were drawn "race-blind."

In hearings following the release of the Senate's proposed map, Tarrant County elected officials and residents implored lawmakers to leave the district unchanged. But an amended proposal headed for a vote in the full Senate now has the remaining Tarrant County sections of the district tied in with eight rural counties in the new Senate District 10 — six more than the original proposal.

Powell said urban voters of color who remain in the district would be drowned out by white, rural voters in Cleburne and Mineral Wells with different needs. She has pleaded with her colleagues not to break apart the existing district.

"This is personal to the people of Tarrant County," she said. "They want to preserve their ability to have their voices heard in their elections."

But on Monday, longtime state Rep. Phil King, a Republican who lives in Parker County, one of the new counties in the proposed district, announced he would run for the seat if lawmakers approved it. Twenty minutes later, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, endorsed King for the seat.

On Tuesday, the Senate Redistricting Committee approved the map by a vote of 12-2.

Huffman has said she consulted with the attorney general's office to ensure the maps she drafted comply with the Voting Rights Act, which protects racial minorities from discrimination. But she has refused to say what specific parameters she considered in her work.

Huffman's office did not respond to a request for comment.

The proposed changes to Senate District 10's racial makeup are stark.

Under its current configuration, District 10 has an eligible voter population that is 54% white, 20% Hispanic, 21% Black and 3% Asian. Under the proposed changes, the district's voting age population would be 62% white, 17% Hispanic, 17% Black and 2% Asian.

Each of the eight counties newly drawn into the district has a population that is 70% white or higher, and none has a Hispanic population larger than 25% or a Black population larger than 5%.

But more precisely, Powell said the proposed map draws a "jagged gash" from east to west Tarrant County that splits up traditionally Hispanic neighborhoods in north and south Fort Worth. Those in the south remain in the district, while those in the north are placed in a newly drawn Senate District 9 represented by Republican Sen. Kelly Hancock.

In total, Powell said, 133,000 people — more than 70% of them people of color — are moved out of Senate District 10 and into Senate District 9, whose eligible voting age population under its new boundaries would be majority white.

Tristeza Ordex, a Latina political activist who helped campaign for Powell in 2018, said moving Hispanics into a majority-white district would harm their ability to elect candidates who push for issues important to them.

"The Republican Party is doing everything they can to try to break some of the voters in that district," Ordex said. "That's going to affect us."

Tristeza Ordex is an activist in Tarrant County, voicing her concern over the proposed redistricting of Senate District 10, …Tristeza Ordex is an activist in Tarrant County, voicing her concern over the proposed redistricting of Senate District 10, with the new version reaching into more conservative Parker and Johnson counties. Credit: Shelby Tauber for The Texas Tribune

She noted that before Powell, Senate District 10 was represented by Konni Burton, a staunchly conservative GOP senator and strong proponent of the "sanctuary cities" ban passed in 2017.

"That hurt so many people," Ordex said, noting that Burton's views were at odds with many of the district's residents. Burton lost her reelection to Powell.

In recent years, Tarrant's Latino community has organized around issues like putting an end to a county program that allows the sheriff's office to hold immigrants living in the country illegally for federal immigration authorities, Ordex said. Community activists have sent dozens of people to commissioners court meetings to pressure officials to end the contract, showing the growing influence of voters of color in the county.

If those voters are shifted into safely Republican Senate districts, Ordex fears their concerns would be brushed aside. Ordex, who has worked as a staffer for state lawmakers, said the district could get a senator who supports ending the Texas Dream Act, which guarantees in-state tuition to immigrants in the country without legal permission.

"They dilute our vote, and what are they going to do?" she said. "They're going to make decisions for us."

Sergio De Leon, a Tarrant County justice of the peace, said the issues of a major urban area like Tarrant are not aligned with the largely rural counties that the Senate's proposal would add to the district.

"Inner-city Fort Worth Hispanics do not tend to cattle, they don't cut hay or gather at the feed store," he told lawmakers. "We work two or three jobs, meet up at the Fiesta supermarket and taquerias."

In the eastern section of the district, Powell said, the map "shoves a crooked billy club" north from Senate District 22, represented by Republican Brian Birdwell, that splits the city of Mansfield, a rapidly growing district with a growing and diverse population, into two Senate districts.

Evans, the city's mayor, told lawmakers that more than 41,000 of the city's 72,000 residents were placed in Senate District 22, which runs as far south as Waco.

"The remaining 30,056 Mansfield residents are packed into new SD-10 but submerged in a district dominated by Anglo voters in Johnson, Parker and now other rural counties of record, of which our city shares no interest," he said.

Evans said his city deals with urban issues like mass-transportation infrastructure, housing and equity in local public schools and would have "no influence in agrarian and rural communities."

Sixty-five percent of the city's Black population is drawn into District 22 while the remaining 35% goes into District 10, even though the city has been entirely contained in District 10 for the last two decades.

"It is discriminatory, it is illegal," he said.

Asked by state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, how he would change the map, Evans responded:

"I would leave it just as it is, and watch it continue to grow, so that the community can come together and vote for and elect the candidate of their choice."


Former George W. Bush strategist Matthew Dowd to run as Democrat for Texas lieutenant governor

Matthew Dowd, the chief strategist for George W. Bush's presidential reelection campaign who later split with the former president publicly, is running for lieutenant governor as a Democrat.

Dowd also has worked for Bob Bullock, who in 1994 was the last Democrat elected as Texas lieutenant governor, and faces an uphill battle to unseat Republican Dan Patrick, the state's second-highest-ranking official who has steered Texas politics into the far-right fringes of the GOP.

In a two-and-a-half minute campaign announcement video, Dowd said GOP politicians have failed the state, zeroing in on Patrick, who he called "cruel and craven" and denounced as a divisive figure who puts his political ambitions over the needs of everyday Texans.

"Enough is enough. We need more officials who tell the truth, who believe in public services, in common sense with common decency for the common good. ... We need to expect more from our politicians," Dowd says in the ad. "Dan Patrick believes in none of those and that is why I am running for the powerful office of lieutenant governor of this great state."

In an interview with The Texas Tribune, Dowd said he started seriously considering running for office after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump who were trying to stop the certification of last year's presidential election. But it wasn't until after the state's legislative session that Dowd really focused on Patrick as his target.

"Watching the legislative session and how horrendous it was — not only what the lieutenant governor didn't do, but also what he did do," Dowd said. "This summer, I started thinking maybe I should run and remove this guy so I don't have to be embarrassed about our own state."

Dowd said Patrick failed to lead on fixing the electric grid after millions of Texans lost power for days during winter storms in February and has refused to take action to address the cost of health care in the state, even as he made it more difficult for local officials to address COVID-19 by going against the recommendations of doctors and scientists.

Instead, Dowd said, Patrick pushed "culture war" issues such as an elections bill that opponents say will disenfranchise voters of color and a near-total abortion ban in the state. And following mass shootings in El Paso and Odessa in 2019, Patrick responded by pushing for a law that allows Texans to carry a handgun without training or a license.

Dowd would roll back all three of those laws, which he said were pushed by Patrick and the "5 percent" of people on the far right of the GOP who swing primary elections.

"Right now, Dan Patrick is a tyranny of the minority," he said.

Dowd said he's running as a "Bob Bullock, Ann Richards Democrat," a throwback to the last two Democrats elected as lieutenant governor and governor of the state in the 1990s. If elected, he'd focus on fixing problems with the state's electric grid and returning decision-making to local officials so they can tackle challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic. Under Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order, local officials are banned from mask and vaccine mandates, among other measures intended to stop the spread of the virus.

Patrick pressured officials at the Public Utilities Commission to reverse $16 billion in electricity charges racked up during the winter storms. He pushed through legislation in the Senate toward that end, but the proposal died in the House.

Dowd also said he'd allow educators to teach history in schools without fear of repercussions, a dig at another law, the so-called "critical race theory" bills that Patrick supported during this year's legislative sessions.

But several of the issues Dowd highlights in his campaign ad, like the elections bill and restricting the actions local officials can take, were pushed by Abbott. So why not run against him?

"Whoever's running for governor can make that argument to what Abbott's done," Dowd said, adding that Patrick has pushed Abbott's actions to the right, making him "unreasonable."

"If he disagreed with those things he could have done something about it," he said. "Dan Patrick has enabled this, facilitated it and made it worse."

Dowd said he hopes a Democrat wins the governor's seat and that he would "love to work with Beto" O'Rourke, the former El Paso congressman who has not declared his candidacy.

"But if it's Greg Abbott, I'm gonna do everything I can to stop his continuous attack on Texans," he said.

Dowd worked for former U.S. Rep. J.J. "Jake" Pickle and U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentson, both Democrats, before joining Bullock's staff. In 1999, he switched parties and helped run Bush's reelection campaign for president in 2004, drawn by Bush's bipartisan approach to politics during his tenure as Texas governor when he worked with a Democratic lieutenant governor and House speaker.

In 2007, Dowd broke with Bush, who he criticized for his handling of the Iraq War. He identified as an independent for several years and worked as a political analyst for ABC News until earlier this year when he again declared himself a Democrat to run for office.

During his campaign, he said, he wants to stay away from labels and focus on winning values. He believes the Republican Party in the state has been pulled so far to the right that voters face an existential battle between "team democracy" and "team autocracy" and Democrats can win the election but only with the right candidate.

To win, they'll need high Democratic turnout, bigger margins of victory among independent voters and some crossover from "disenchanted" Republicans, Dowd said. He says his past experience in politics, as well as his personal choices in that realm, makes him the candidate who can deliver.

"Regardless of the consequences I try to say it [like it is]. I broke with President Bush in a very public way. I criticized Donald Trump in a very public way," he said. "What I'm gonna propose is we as Democrats have to win because there's too much at stake. I serve your values."

Dowd said he doesn't think he'll match Patrick in the fundraising race, but he expects to have enough to run a competitive race.

Before he can get to Patrick in November, he'll have to face other Democratic candidates in a March primary. So far, Mike Collier, the Democrat who came within 400,000 votes of unseating Patrick in 2018, has formed an exploratory committee and has been barnstorming across the state. One of his main issues is "fixing the damn grid."

Dowd said he knew Collier was exploring a run but it did not factor in to his decision to jump into the race.

He said he would not attack Collier or any other Democrat that gets in the race. Instead, he'll focus on showing Texans why Patrick is out of touch with their values.

"From Day One, I'm gonna take this to Dan Patrick and that's gonna continue for 405 days," he said, referring to the number of days until next year's general elections. "I'm gonna be unrelenting in telling the truth in showing how Dan Patrick has hurt Texans and hurt this state."

Texas reduces Black and Hispanic majority congressional districts in proposed map -- despite people of color fueling population growth

Texas lawmakers on Monday released their first draft of a new congressional map that would largely protect incumbents while reducing the number of districts in which Black and Hispanic residents make up the majority of eligible voters. The map reduces the number of districts dominated by people of color even though Texas gained two additional congressional seats and the population of Asian, Black and Hispanic Texans outpaced white Texans over the last decade.

Republicans constructed the map with incumbent protection in mind — a strategy that focused on bolstering vulnerable GOP seats rather than aggressively adding new seats that could flip from blue to red. However, the map does in fact strengthen Republican positioning overall in Texas, going from 22 to 25 districts that voted for Donald Trump in 2020. The number of congressional districts that voted for Joe Biden would shrink by one, from 14 to 13.

While many incumbents appear safe in these maps, others were drawn into districts that overlap with one another — for example, the proposed map pits Houston Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw against Democrat Rep. Sylvia Garcia. It also pits two Houston Democrats — Reps. Al Green and Sheila Jackson Lee — against each other.

Democrats, who have been out of power for decades, have attempted to make state elections more competitive but the redrawing of congressional maps gives the GOP an opportunity to lock in their advantage for another decade.

Texas' current 36-seat congressional delegation is made up of 23 Republicans and 13 Democrats. Under the new map, Texas will have 38 congressional seats and 40 electoral votes in future presidential contests. The two new seats were drawn in Austin and Houston.

The redrawing of district maps is intended to reflect population growth captured by the latest census. People of color accounted for 95% of the state's growth over the last decade, but in the new map there's one less Hispanic majority district and zero districts with a Black majority. The latest census results show Hispanic Texans nearly match the number of white Texans.

Based on eligible voters, the current congressional district map includes 22 districts with white majorities, eight with Hispanic majorities, one with a Black majority and five that have no majority. The newly proposed map includes 23 districts with white majorities, seven with Hispanic majorities, none with a Black majority and eight that have no majority.

The first draft of the redistricted map adds two new congressional districts.

The first draft of the redistricted map adds two new congressional districts. Credit: Texas Legislative Council

Domingo Garcia, national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens was dismayed that Hispanics, who drove much of the state's population increase over the decade, growing by nearly 2 million people, would have less opportunity to elect the candidates of their choice under the proposed map.

"This map is clearly gerrymandered by politicians to protect incumbents and totally discriminate against Hispanic voters," he said. "LULAC has filed suit against the state of Texas every 10 years since 1970 and we've prevailed every 10 years. Unless there's new maps drawn, we expect we will wind up in federal court again."

Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas NAACP, called the proposal shocking, hurtful and outrageous.

"The proposed map vastly diminishes the voting strength of minorities all around the state by either packing them into districts already electing minority candidates of choice or cracking them by pushing them into districts dominated by conservative white voters," he said. "As the state has garnered two new congressional seats on the backs of its minority population, it has sought to put forth a proposed congressional map that is clearly retrogressive."

The maps were proposed by state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, who leads the chamber's redistricting committee. This is only the first draft of the map, which is likely to change before it's passed by the Texas Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott.

Less competitive districts

If approved, the proposed map would narrow the battlefield of competitive races for both Democrats and Republicans.

Based on 2020 presidential election results, there will be only one district in the state — the 15th Congressional District in South Texas — that has a margin between Biden and Trump voters that was less than five points.

As a result, nearly all endangered incumbents on both sides of the aisle likely will have easier paths to reelection.

Texas members of the House GOP delegation were closely involved in the drawing process and approved the map last week, according to two sources close to the Texas delegation.

The most obvious exception to that is U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, who had a surprisingly close finish in 2020. His district, once a safe Democratic seat, now tilts in Republicans' favor. But instead of a full-blown South Texas GOP offensive targeting two other neighboring Democratic districts, mapmakers bolstered Democratic voters in seats held by U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar of Laredo and U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela of Brownsville — especially the seat of Vela, who is retiring — at the expense of Gonzalez. His 15th Congressional District flipped from a seat Biden carried to one where Trump narrowly won.

But the map was a relief to most other incumbents.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Colin Allred of Dallas surprised Republicans in 2018 when he was able to dislodge the once-safe Republican 32nd Congressional District. Instead of targeting him this time around, Republicans sought to bolster nearby Republicans by packing his district with Democrats and all but assuring a Democrat will hold his seat for years to come.

To his west, Republican U.S. Rep. Beth Van Duyne's seat flipped from a district Biden carried by nearly 6 points in 2020 to a solid 12-point Trump district. In 2020, Democrats heavily targeted Van Duyne and several other Republican seats.

Garcia, of LULAC, said those safe districts come at the expense of Hispanic voters in Dallas and Tarrant counties. Hispanics, who make up the largest portion of Dallas' population and are the largest minority group in Tarrant, did not get a majority-Hispanic district in the region. Instead, their population was split between the 32nd Congressional District represented by Allred, the 30th Congressional District represented by U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson and the 33rd Congressional District represented by Marc Veasey — solidly Democratic districts.

"That protects the Anglo incumbents like Van Duyne and Kay Granger whose districts were trending Democrat and have been fighting off Latino and Latina challengers," he said.

The new map also packed more Trump voters into the 23rd Congressional District, currently held by Republican U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, who served in many cycles over the last 18 years as the only competitive U.S. House seat. The new version of that district saw Trump win by a seven-point margin, a sharp shift from a seat Hillary Clinton carried in 2016.

U.S. Rep. Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, a Houston Democrat, is likely to run in a revamped version of her 7th Congressional District. Like Allred, her 2018 victory was a surprise to Republicans. But instead of targeting her, they spread some of the Republican vote in her region to Republican incumbents.

Elsewhere in Houston, U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady's retirement allowed Republicans to split up his Montgomery County-based 8th Congressional District in order to strengthen nearby Republican districts held by U.S. Reps. Michael McCaul of Austin, Crenshaw of Houston and the newly created 38th Congressional District.

The state picked up two seats in reapportionment and on the surface they appear to split between the two parties.

The new 37th Congressional District will consolidate central and west Austin, somewhat resembling a district longtime Democratic U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett held until Republicans dismantled it in 2003. It was not immediately clear whether he would run in that district or continue to serve in the 35th Congressional District, which stretches down to Bexar County. Back then, Republicans aimed to dilute the liberal Austin vote, split up into several congressional districts, several of which had otherwise rural populations. But as this decade wore on, the Austin liberal vote was so potent that otherwise safe Republicans had to fight hard for reelection.

Doggett condemned the proposal in a statement, adding that it's too soon to make a personal decision about running over a draft of the map that is likely to change.

“Fearing voters, Republicans once again engage in extreme gerrymandering to carve up neighborhoods and communities of interest in Travis, Hays and Bexar Counties—aiming to dilute strong voices. With lines shaped like snakes, tentacles, and dragons, parts of both Travis and Bexar are included in five different districts. San Antonio and Austin are connected by a sliver only slightly wider than I-35," he said.

The other new seat — the 38th Congressional District in west and northern Harris County — will likely be safe Republican territory.

This will be the first round of political mapmaking in Texas since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down provisions to protect voters of color from discrimination. Previously, states with long histories of voting discrimination, like Texas, had to receive approval from the federal government before making any changes to election laws or political maps.

But the Supreme Court essentially did away with that requirement in 2013, leaving no buffer for voters of color if lawmakers pass discriminatory maps.

Since the enactment of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, Texas has not made it through a single decade without a federal court admonishing it for violating federal protections for voters of color.

Patrick Svitek contributed to this report.

The 2021 Texas Tribune Festival, the weeklong celebration of politics and policy featuring big names and bold ideas, wrapped on Sept. 25, but there's still time to tune in. Explore dozens of free, on-demand events before midnight Thursday, Sept. 30, at tribfest.org.

Correction, Sept. 27, 2021: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of a Texas congresswoman. It's U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, not Eddie Berenice Johnson.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/09/24/texas-congressional-redistricting/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Despite his victory in Texas and no credible evidence of widespread fraud, Donald Trump calls for election audit legislation

Former President Donald Trump has asked Gov. Greg Abbott to add an election audit bill to this year's third special session, continuing his push to cast doubts on the election results of the 2020 presidential election despite winning in Texas.

In a letter published Thursday, Trump said, "Texans have big questions about the November 2020 Elections," and time is running out to conduct an audit of the "2020 Presidential Election Scam" because paper ballots are kept for only 22 months after an election.

"Governor Abbott, we need a 'Forensic Audit of the 2020 Election' added to the call," Trump wrote. "We're quickly running out of time and it must be done this week."

There has been no evidence of widespread voter fraud, and the Texas secretary of state who oversaw the 2020 election and was appointed by the Republican governor declared the election "smooth and secure."

During a special session, the governor sets the topics the Legislature is to pass laws on. Abbott did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Don Huffines, one of his challengers in the GOP primary for governor next year, has called for election audits to be added to the call.

Trump's request comes nearly 11 months after he lost his presidential reelection bid to Democrat Joe Biden. Trump has pushed baseless claims of massive voter fraud for much of the year — as he did after winning in 2016 — and mounted numerous legal challenges to the certification of the 2020 election's results.

On Thursday, Trump said that Texans "know voting fraud occurred in some of their counties."

This summer, Texas Republicans passed a voting law that they said would make it "easier to vote and harder to cheat," even while opponents said it would make it harder for communities of color to vote. Texas officials said they had confidence in the 2020 elections but wanted to address concerns from some voters about election security.

Trump continued to stoke those flames by writing to Abbott that Texans "don't trust your election system, and they want your leadership on this issue, which is the number one thing they care about."

Trump threw support behind House Bill 16 filed by state Rep. Steve Toth, a staunch social conservative Republican from The Woodlands, which would allow for forensic audits of future elections as well as the 2020 presidential election.

Texas appellate justices appear skeptical of Ken Paxton's defense

A panel of Texas 3rd Court of Appeals justices expressed skepticism of an argument from Attorney General Ken Paxton's lawyers on Wednesday that he is exempt from the state's whistleblower act because he's not a public employee and a case against him should be thrown out.

Former Paxton deputies in the Office of the Attorney General claim in a whistleblower lawsuit that they were fired for reporting alleged crimes by Paxton to law enforcement. Paxton's lawyers are trying to get the case dismissed and asked the appeals court to throw out the case on the grounds that Paxton is not subject to the whistleblower law. A lower court denied Paxton's motion to dismiss the case in March.

Barely a minute into oral arguments, Justice Chari L. Kelly began questioning Solicitor General Judd E. Stone II, who is representing Paxton in the suit.

"Isn't the action of every lawyer at the OAG's office an action by the employing governmental agency?" Kelly said.

Justice Gisela D. Triana questioned Stone's argument that all elected officials are exempt from the whistleblower law and Chief Justice Darlene Byrne asked whether his interpretation would give Texas Supreme Court justices immunity from sexual harassment claims from their employees.

Stone said employees filing sexual harassment claims would have other avenues for relief outside the whistleblower law, but argued that the attorney general as an elected official cannot be sued under the law, which covers public employees, appointed officials and governmental entities.

All three justices on the panel hearing Wednesday's arguments are Democrats. Paxton is a second-term Republican who is seeking reelection next year.

In October, eight senior aides in the attorney general's office accused Paxton of abuse of office, bribery, tampering with government records and obstruction of justice for his involvement in legal matters relating to Nate Paul, an Austin real estate investor and a Paxton political donor.

Within seven weeks, all eight officials had either resigned or been driven out of the office. Four of the officials who were fired — David Maxwell, Ryan M. Vassar, James Blake Brickman and J. Mark Penley — filed a whistleblower suit against Paxton in November.

They are seeking reinstatement to their positions, as well as compensation for lost wages, future loss of earnings and damages for emotional pain and suffering.

Stone argued that barring the attorney general from firing employees when they disagree with legal positions or have lost his trust would be an infringement on the elected official's power.

But Kelly questioned that argument and nodded to claims by the whistleblowers' lawyers that Paxton is a public employee because he receives checks from the state and participates in its retirement system, and that he acts as the entity because he is its titular head.

"If he can go in and change any decision internally … If he truly has the power to have the last say on anything that comes out of the agency. How is he not the agency?" she asked.

Stone said the justices should interpret the law as it was written, which did not include elected officials in the text of those who can be sued on whistleblower claims.

But Joe Knight, who argued for the whistleblowers' lawyers, blasted the idea that the Legislature wrote a statute meant to ensure public employees complied with the law and then exempted elected officials without explicitly saying so. He said the drafting of the law in such a way would be "strange and unlikely," and said the "Legislature does not hide elephants in mouseholes."

In briefings to the court, the whistleblowers' lawyers said when lawmakers intend to exempt elected officials from being labeled as public employees, they do so in the text of the law. The Texas Whistleblower Act does not.

The whistleblowers' lawyers said exempting the attorney general would rob the law of its purpose to protect public employees reporting wrongdoing by government entities.

Stone also argued in briefs that the former officials did not make the reports to law enforcement authorities required to invoke whistleblower protection, and that even if they had, they reported only potential crimes, not crimes that had actually happened.

The whistleblowers' lawyers attacked that argument, saying their clients reported their concerns to the Travis County District Attorney's Office, the FBI, the Texas Rangers and the attorney general's human resources office.

The lawyers also said their clients believed Paxton had already abused his office, tampered with government records, taken bribes and obstructed justice through his interactions with Paul when they brought their concerns to law enforcement.

The whistleblowers believed Paxton was using his office to benefit Paul, who had donated $25,000 to Paxton's reelection campaign in 2018. Paul had remodeled Paxton's home and hired a woman with whom Paxton was allegedly having an affair, lawyers said in their brief.

In return, the whistleblowers believed, Paxton intervened in public records requests on behalf of Paul and forced them to issue a legal opinion that would bar foreclosure sales during the COVID-19 pandemic days before one of Paul's properties was scheduled to be sold at a foreclosure sale.

Paxton also intervened to help Paul pursue legal claims accusing the FBI, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Texas, the Department of Public Safety and a federal magistrate judge of wrongdoing in an FBI raid of his home and business, the whistleblowers claim. Such a case usually would be referred to the Travis County District Attorney, but Paxton had the case referred to his office, the whistleblowers said.

The appellate justices recessed Wednesday without issuing a decision. It was the court's first in-person hearing since the beginning of the pandemic.

The whistleblower suit is one of multiple legal problems troubling Paxton. He is also reportedly being investigated by the FBI for his interactions with Paul.

Separately, Paxton has been fighting allegations of securities fraud for six years. He is accused of persuading investors to buy stock in a technology firm without disclosing he would be compensated for it. He was a member of the Texas House at the time. Paxton denies any wrongdoing in that case and says those accusations are politically motivated.

After Wednesday's hearing, T.J. Turner, an attorney for Brickman, described Paxton's appeal as a stalling tactic.

"This appeal is nothing more than a delay tactic so that Ken Paxton can avoid the scrutiny in the courtroom just as he has in his criminal case, except this time he's using taxpayer dollars," Turner said. "We look forward to a prompt decision from the court."

'Silent revolution': Texas' Dan Patrick mirrors language of far-right extremists


Denouncing the thousands of Haitian asylum-seekers who are camped out under a South Texas bridge as an "invasion," Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick accused Democrats of allowing their entry into the country for political gain.

"[Democrats] are allowing this year probably 2 million [immigrants], that's who we apprehended, maybe another million, into this country," Patrick said on Laura Ingraham's Fox News show. "At least in 18 years even if they all don't become citizens before then and can vote, in 18 years if every one of them has two or three children, you're talking about millions and millions and millions of new voters and they will thank the Democrats and Biden for bringing them here. Who do you think they're going to vote for?"

He said President Joe Biden and Democrats had begun a "silent revolution" to take over the country by winning over the votes of migrants.

"This is trying to take over our country without firing a shot," he added.

Patrick's rhetoric mirrors a far-right theory started in France known as the Great Replacement, which says that elites are replacing white populations with nonwhite populations through mass migration and demographic growth. These writings influenced the worst mass shooting of Hispanics in recent U.S. history in El Paso in 2019. The shooter, who killed 23 people and injured 23 others, ranted about a Hispanic invasion and told police he came to the city to kill Mexicans.

Patrick has repeatedly called the increase of migrants at the border an "invasion" throughout the year.

State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, who leads the House Democratic Caucus said blasted Patrick for his comments.

"These comments are not only vile, they are incendiary and dangerous," Turner said on Twitter. "Leaders have a responsibility to not incite with their words & actions - Patrick fails that test, again."

Patrick, a two-term Republican, was responding on Thursday to the thousands of asylum-seeking migrants — most of them from Haiti — who are waiting under an international bridge in Del Rio. The Caribbean country experienced a 7.2 magnitude earthquake last month that destroyed thousands of homes.

State and federal government butted heads on how to handle the migrants' arrival, with Gov. Greg Abbott backpedaling on an order to close the ports of entry after U.S. Customs and Border Protection said the agency had not asked the state to do so. Abbott has blamed the Biden administration for the increase of migrants on the border this year.

Patrick told Ingraham the state received a "call for help" from U.S. Border Patrol, which led Abbott to order the closure of the ports of entry. A Customs and Border Protection spokesperson said the agency had no information on Abbott's decision to close the ports.

"Then we found out that Border Patrol did not have permission from Homeland Security or the president, and so they came out and said 'No, we didn't say we needed any help. We didn't say that,'" Patrick said. "Someone in the administration flip-flopped on the issue, Texas did not take a back step."

Patrick urged Republican-led states to tell the White House they were being "invaded," adding that Democrat-led states did not care.

"This is not authorized by the state of Texas," he said. "It's not welcome by the state of Texas or any other Republican state that I know and they're not invited."

Patrick invoked Article IV of the Constitution, which guarantees states protection from invasion.

"What's a republican form of government? It's defined as a government that focuses on citizens running their government," he said. "We now will have illegals in this country denying citizens the right to run our government. Because our government, our representatives that we elect, can't even stop them from coming."

"This is denying us our government that's run by our citizens with illegals who are here who are going to take our education, our health care, all [of it]," he said. "This is selling out our country."

Join us Sept. 20-25 at the 2021 Texas Tribune Festival. Tickets are on sale now for this multi-day celebration of big, bold ideas about politics, public policy and the day's news, curated by The Texas Tribune's award-winning journalists. Learn more.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/09/17/texas-dan-patrick-immigrants-democrats-haitians/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick warns Democrats are allowing in immigrants for 'silent revolution,' mirroring language of far-right extremists

Denouncing the thousands of Haitian asylum-seekers who are camped out under a South Texas bridge as an "invasion," Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick accused Democrats of allowing their entry into the country for political gain.

"[Democrats] are allowing this year probably 2 million [immigrants], that's who we apprehended, maybe another million, into this country," Patrick said on Laura Ingraham's Fox News show. "At least in 18 years even if they all don't become citizens before then and can vote, in 18 years if every one of them has two or three children, you're talking about millions and millions and millions of new voters and they will thank the Democrats and Biden for bringing them here. Who do you think they're going to vote for?"

He said President Joe Biden and Democrats had begun a "silent revolution" to take over the country by winning over the votes of migrants.

"This is trying to take over our country without firing a shot," he added.

Patrick's rhetoric mirrors a far-right theory started in France known as the Great Replacement, which says that elites are replacing white populations with nonwhite populations through mass migration and demographic growth. These writings influenced the worst mass shooting of Hispanics in recent U.S. history in El Paso in 2019. The shooter, who killed 23 people and injured 23 others, ranted about a Hispanic invasion and told police he came to the city to kill Mexicans.

Patrick has repeatedly called the increase of migrants at the border an "invasion" throughout the year.

The two-term Republican was responding on Thursday to the thousands of asylum-seeking migrants — most of them from Haiti — who are waiting under an international bridge in Del Rio. The Caribbean country experienced a 7.2 magnitude earthquake last month that destroyed thousands of homes.

State and federal government butted heads on how to handle the migrants' arrival, with Gov. Greg Abbott backpedaling on an order to close the ports of entry after U.S. Customs and Border Protection said the agency had not asked the state to do so. Abbott has blamed the Biden administration for the increase of migrants on the border this year.

Patrick told Ingraham the state received a "call for help" from U.S. Border Patrol, which led Abbott to order the closure of the ports of entry. A Customs and Border Protection spokesperson said the agency had no information on Abbott's decision to close the ports.

"Then we found out that Border Patrol did not have permission from Homeland Security or the president, and so they came out and said 'No, we didn't say we needed any help. We didn't say that,'" Patrick said. "Someone in the administration flip-flopped on the issue, Texas did not take a back step."

Patrick urged Republican-led states to tell the White House they were being "invaded," adding that Democrat-led states did not care.

"This is not authorized by the state of Texas," he said. "It's not welcome by the state of Texas or any other Republican state that I know and they're not invited."

Patrick invoked Article IV of the Constitution, which guarantees states protection from invasion.

"What's a republican form of government? It's defined as a government that focuses on citizens running their government," he said. "We now will have illegals in this country denying citizens the right to run our government. Because our government, our representatives that we elect, can't even stop them from coming."

"This is denying us our government that's run by our citizens with illegals who are here who are going to take our education, our health care, all [of it]," he said. "This is selling out our country."


Second Texas legislative special session is over — here are five things you need to know

The Texas Legislature on Thursday adjourned its second specially called legislative session, calling it quits four days early after pushing through a controversial elections bill that Democrats said would infringe the voting rights of people of color and reinstating funding for the legislative branch.

After nearly 60 days of special sessions, three quorum breaks by House Democrats and a slew of conservative legislation passed, Texas lawmakers are still on deck for a third overtime round later this year to redraw its political maps for the next 10 years.

Here are five takeaways from the most recent special legislative session.

There will be another special session, it's just a matter of when

The decennial redrawing of Texas political maps was delayed this year because of the coronavirus and the Trump administration's handling of the census data that underlies the redistricting process.

Gov. Greg Abbott has said he plans to call lawmakers back in the fall to deal with redistricting and the allocation of $16 billion in federal funds for COVID-19 relief. The two-term Republican already called two special sessions this summer to pass priority legislation that had failed to pass during the regular session.

It is unclear when he will call the additional special session for redistricting or if he will call other special sessions before that to address other items on his special session agenda that failed to pass.

Abbott's office did not respond to a request for comment.

But Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University said Abbott has little reason to call an additional special session before redistricting because he's already succeeded on a majority of his agenda, which included further restrictions on abortion and the so-called "critical race theory" bill which cracks down on how teachers can talk about race in the classroom.

"The governor is very pleased to have the election integrity bill now in the books and I think that they passed what they took to be the most important and most visible, iconic conservative pieces of legislation on the agenda," he said. "That will settle them down until redistricting comes."

Lawmakers served up a "buffet of red meat"

Abbott's special session agenda included top conservative priorities like restricting how teachers can talk about race in the classroom, further restricting abortion access, clamping down on social media companies that try to moderate speech on their platforms, adding nearly $2 billion in state funds to border security and tightening the state's voting laws.

All five of those bills were approved by the Legislature.

"When we look at the agenda it was almost like a buffet of red meat," said Drew Landry, a professor of government at South Plains College. "You didn't see that in 2019. It was bringing it right back to the culture wars."

Some of those "red meat" items, like a bill restricting how transgender students can participate in school sports and a push to allow audits of the 2020 presidential election, did not make it past the finish line but may still return in a future special session.

"It seems like this was a big victory for Gov. Abbott," Landry said. "He got nearly everything that he wanted."

Democrats are divided

Around halfway through August, enough House Democrats returned to the Capitol to end the party's carefully orchestrated quorum break, which had denied Republicans the chance to pass their priority elections bill.

The return of those Democrats immediately caused a divide within the minority party, with some of the holdouts sniping at their Democratic colleagues in interviews and on social media.

Many of the holdouts continued to stay away from the Capitol for the entirety of the special session and called their Democratic colleagues complicit in the GOP's advancement of the elections bill.

Landry said those wounds aren't likely to heal soon.

"There's gonna be some very hurt feelings," Landry said. "What you saw there could possibly be the tip of the iceberg. There's some very progressive groups wanting to possibly primary some of these Democrats who came back."

The fight isn't over

From the moment in July when more than 50 House Democrats left to Washington, D.C., to stop debate on the GOP elections bill, the tension in the Legislature increased.

Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick berated the Democrats to return home and do their jobs. When House Speaker Dade Phelan ordered the chamber's sergeant-at-arms to track down and return the missing Democrats, some Republicans labeled the quorum busters "fugitives" and jokingly put their faces on missing milk cartons.

Meanwhile, Democrats criticized Republicans for pushing legislation they deemed racist and dubbed the elections bill "Jim Crow 2.0." Lawmakers could be seen arguing openly on social media.

Things did not improve when enough Democrats returned to resume business. And with the politically fraught issue of redistricting still on the table, Landry said he does not expect legislative relations to get any better later this year. Republicans, who control both chambers, may look to punish some of the quorum busters by redrawing their districts.

But Landry said the blood-letting may not be exclusively reserved for Democrats. Much of the population growth, which drives redistricting, happened in the large urban areas while rural Republicans had drops in population.

"As far as the nastiness, you'll even see some nastiness on the Republican side because when you look at the growth, all the growth happened in the metroplexes," he said. "[Republicans are] going to have to fight their own fight."

A break may be good for lawmakers

Brandon Rottinghaus, a political scientist at the University of Houston, said holding off on an immediate special session may give lawmakers time to sort out how far they can push on controversial subjects like the election audit, new rules for transgender student athletes and what to do about mask mandates in schools.

"My guess is there are a lot of Republicans who would like to see the process take a breath and see how some of these policies play out back home," Rottinghaus said. "This was an extremely conservative session. It may have outpaced the desires of the constituents back in the district. So I think many members want to take the pulse of the legislation before proceeding."

Rottinghaus said decisions on mask mandates are especially fraught.

"At worst they step into it and pick the side that is the wrong thing to do, at best you put it in the governor's lap and say hey we didn't have any say in it," Rottinghaus said. "The mask issue hits voters right where they live and I think that's a thing many members don't want to get in the middle of for fear of backlash."

Not just abortion: This was the week that solidified Texas' hard right turn after the 2020 election

Two years ago, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick was on the radio explaining why he was not championing the so-called “heartbeat bill" to block abortions as early as six weeks, as he pushed for a series of other anti-abortion measures that legislative session.“
On the 'heartbeat bill,' to be candid with you, there was a lot of discussion in the pro-life arena … and it was not something that was the highest priority," Patrick said in the May 2019 interview.

On Wednesday, that exact proposal became the law of the land in Texas.

“I pray that every other state will follow our lead in defense of life," Patrick said in a statement Thursday morning.

Texas' new near-total abortion ban, one of the most restrictive in the nation, punctuated a week that brought into stunning relief just how far the state's political pendulum has swung to the right since the 2020 election. Another law long sought by hardline conservatives, allowing Texans to carry handguns without a license or training, also went into effect Tuesday. A day later, lawmakers sent to Gov. Greg Abbott the elections bill that caused House Democrats to shut down the Legislature in protest for nearly six weeks, putting the state on the precipice of having the toughest voting laws in the country. All the while, a slew of other conservative proposals championed by state Republican leaders continued to advance in the Legislature, including a bill that nearly triples previous state spending on border security that will contribute to the building of a state-funded border wall.

A year ago, the state was in a much different place politically. Democrats were optimistic they were on the verge of a historic breakthrough in a Republican bastion, hopeful that President Joe Biden would flip the state, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn would lose reelection and that they would pick up multiple congressional seats and capture the state House majority. They came up woefully short on each front.

“It was a pretty rough election in 2020, but we won and we won pretty big, frankly, with the level of opposition that we faced, and now was the time to do what we said we were gonna do," said state Rep. Mayes Middleton, R-Wallisville, chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.

There have been at least a few factors driving the hard right turn since November 2020. A new House speaker who let through bills that his predecessors resisted. A governor more eager than ever to appease his right flank. And Republicans in office everywhere who have been less encumbered with fears about the coming election than they were ahead of the 2020 election, when they used the session to prioritize bread-and-butter issues like public education and property taxes.

For Democrats, the barrage of conservative policy this year has been especially devastating considering what could have been.

“It is so deeply disappointing that, had we made gains [as Democrats], we might not see the worst of what is happening right now," said Joanna Cattanach, the Democrat who ran and lost in what was supposed to be one of the most flippable state House districts in Dallas last year. “This isn't the state that I recognize."

In another gut-punch to Democrats who spent a dramatic summer fighting the bill, Republicans ultimately prevailed in their effort to further tighten the voting rules in a state where they are already notorious for their strictness. The final bill, which Abbott is expected to sign in the coming days, would prohibit local efforts to expand access to the ballot, like drive-thru voting and the universal distribution of mail-in ballot applications.

The conservative crusade at the Capitol has played out while Texans grapple with issues that transcend politics, including the aftermath of the winter storm disaster that left millions without power and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Abbott has largely sought to put the state response to those two crises in the rearview mirror, declaring that the Legislature did all it needed to respond to the power outages during the regular session and insisting that Texas is “past the time of government mandates" when it comes to COVID-19.

Texans have been left “dour and divided," University of Texas pollsters said Thursday as they unveiled their latest survey. The University of Texas/Texas Politics Project Poll found 52% of Texans believe the state is headed in the wrong direction, the worst measure of that since the poll started in 2008. Abbott's approval rating was also at a record low in the poll, with 41% of voters approving of his job performance and 50% disapproving.

There was some good news for Republicans, though. On the top legislative issue of the summer — the elections bill — voters said they supported it by a margin of 14 percentage points and disapproved of Democratic quorum break over the legislation by an 11-point margin.

Rodney Ellis, a former Democratic state senator from Houston who is now a Harris County commissioner, said he has seen the erosion of a bipartisan tradition in the Legislature that stemmed from a “respect for the institution" which he thinks is lacking today.

“[Lt. Gov.] Bill Hobby, [Lt. Gov.] Bob Bullock, Gov. [George W.] Bush had a healthy respect for the institutions and I think what's happening now is people are being driven by blind ambition," he said. “People let their personal ambition get ahead of the institution."

Abortion and guns

If there are two issues that epitomize Texas Republicans' rightward tack this year, they are abortion and guns. For multiple legislative sessions, GOP lawmakers had been chipping away at abortion access in Texas, but one of the most extreme proposals had not gained traction: a bill that would ban abortion as early as six weeks into pregnancy.

That changed this spring, when the Legislature easily passed the ban on the procedure that made no exception for rape or incest.

Republicans had on their side something they did not the last time they met: a newly solidified conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court with last year's addition of Justice Amy Coney Barrett. The new 6-3 makeup meant that Texas' anti-abortion laws, which often are the subject of extensive legal battles, would have a decisively more receptive audience with the highest court in the land.

John Seago, legislative director of the anti-abortion Texas Right to Life, said the new Supreme Court composition removed the last justification that many reluctant lawmakers had for not supporting the abortion restriction — that it would face a certain fate in the courts. Their faith in the newly expanded conservative majority was affirmed this week when the court declined to block the abortion law for now.

“They ran out of excuses," Seago said, “and so they knew they had to do something big and bold."

The change in the House speaker, however, was “really the most important shift politically," Seago said, referring to Beaumont Republican Dade Phelan's ascension to the job in January. Phelan, a Catholic, had supported restrictions on abortion in the past, including efforts to defund groups like Planned Parenthood for providing abortions and bills penalizing doctors who fail to care for infants born after abortions — an extremely rare circumstance.

Phelan also has been cited as a decisive factor behind the success of a law allowing permitless carry of handguns which, like the abortion legislation, stalled for multiple sessions before a breakthrough this year. Phelan supported permitless carry as a member, appointed another supporter of it to chair the committee it would go through and allowed it to come up for a vote on the floor. It passed with even several Democrats voting for it and put pressure to act on the Senate, where Patrick overcame his longtime antipathy toward the proposal and was able to fashion a version that satisfied some concerns from law enforcement groups.

Jerry Patterson, a Republican who served in the Senate from 1993 to 1999 and authored the state's law allowing concealed carry of firearms, said a law allowing the permitless carry of a handgun would have been “virtually impossible" before today.

“There would have been absolutely no way that we would have passed constitutional carry in the '90s or the 2000s," said Patterson, who also served as land commissioner from 2003 to 2015. “Today's a different day."

More to come

Not content with the staunchly conservative regular session that ran from January to May, GOP lawmakers have continued to push right in the two special sessions that followed. The governor alone gets to set the agenda for the special sessions — and Abbott has seized the opportunity to tackle unfinished business from the regular session and add on conservative issues of the day that have cropped up since then.

More than at any point in his governorship, Abbott appears most responsive to criticism on his right, whether it be from Patrick — long an animating conservative force — or the fellow Republicans challenging him for reelection. He has attracted at least three primary challengers, including former state Sen. Don Huffines of Dallas and Allen West, the former chairman of the Republican Party of Texas — both of whom have cast Abbott as lacking conservative bonafides.

Weeks after Huffines began campaigning on Texas building its own border wall, Abbott announced the state would do so. After some conservatives complained the ban on teaching “critical race theory" that passed during the regular session was watered down, Abbott told lawmakers to make it tougher in the special sessions. And amid persistent criticism from primary challengers that he was not cracking down on gender-affirming care for transgender Texas children, Abbott took it on, getting the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to deem the treatment child abuse.

One of the more recent pressure points on Abbott has been a proposed audit of the 2020 election in Texas, even though Trump comfortably won the state and Abbott's own secretary of state at the time said it was a smooth affair. The Senate jumped to life on the idea this week, hastily passing legislation Thursday that would open the door to county audits of the 2020 election.

To Democrats, it is just the latest example of Republicans going all out to address baseless concerns that the election was stolen.

“I'm just somewhat amazed at the length that somebody will go to continue to clog up the system and create doubt on our elections because someone has concerns, someone believes this, someone believes that," said state Sen. Juan “Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, during the Senate debate. “We cannot be changing the law every time someone or some person thinks, 'Well, I don't feel confident in our elections.'"

Abbott has not said where he is on the audit bill, but at least one primary challenger has been agitating for it.

“I have always been in favor of election audits," Huffines tweeted Thursday afternoon.

In another sign of the kind of pressures that Abbott is up against on his right, his three best-known primary challengers have all RSVP'd for a November town hall hosted by a Texas secessionist group, the Texas Nationalist Movement. The group says Abbott has declined.

2022 election

Republicans are brimming with confidence as they approach the 2022 election. They control the redistricting process, giving them the power to draw more favorable state and federal legislative districts. It will be the first midterm election under a new president, which historically favors the party out of power. And they are newly playing offense in South Texas, where Biden underperformed last year.

“I am extremely confident that we're gonna gain seats in the … Texas House," the new Texas GOP Chairman, Matt Rinaldi, said in a recent interview. “I'm extremely confident we're gonna gain seats in the U.S. Congress. I'm extremely confident it's gonna be a great election for Republicans all around."

Democrats are still missing a serious candidate for governor, an absence that became more glaring this week with all eyes on Texas Republicans. Many are waiting to see whether former El Paso congressman Beto O'Rourke runs, though he has suggested he will not make that decision until he sees through the current voting rights battle in Washington, D.C., an ambiguous timeline. In the meantime, he has stayed politically active, raising money for the state Democrats who were fighting the elections bill and registering voters across the state.

“I don't know what Beto is doing but that sure as heck looks like a campaign to me," Cattanach said.

Beyond O'Rourke, the bench of potential Abbott challengers is thin.

One Democrat who has already stepped up to run statewide is Mike Collier, who is challenging Patrick for lieutenant governor after coming within 5 percentage points of him four years ago. Once O'Rourke makes up his mind, Collier said, he is “highly confident we'll have a very strong governor candidate in a timely manner," whether it is O'Rourke or somebody else.

Collier said the odds of a Democrat winning statewide next year have “gone up dramatically in just the last two weeks."

“They don't feel like they have any competition, so they just keep lurching rightward, rightward, rightward," Collier said of Texas Republicans. “I've always known the day would come that they would go so far to the right that they couldn't come back and win a general election."

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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/09/03/texas-abortion-bill-guns-elections-republicans/.

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Private donations for a Texas border wall have soared to $54 million -- b​ut it’s still unclear who’s giving

Gov. Greg Abbott's efforts to raise private funds to build a wall along the Texas-Mexico border surged in August, from around $1 million at the beginning of the month to more than $54 million by its end.

In June, Abbott announced a fundraising website where people could donate to help pay for the barrier. Two months into the effort, donations had leveled off at around $1.25 million — a drop in the bucket compared to the soaring costs associated with the massive project. But the effort saw a major jump in the second half of August, with donations jumping to nearly $19 million by Aug. 27 and then topping $54 million by Aug. 31.

Renae Eze, an Abbott spokesperson, said the governor is grateful for the support from across Texas and the entire country as the state "fills the gap created by President [Joe] Biden and steps up to secure our southern border."

"In less than eight months, President Biden's dangerous and reckless open border policies have led to a disaster along our southern border, with 21-year record-high numbers of illegal immigrants surging into our country," Eze said in a statement. "While the Biden Administration may not prioritize the sovereignty of our nation or the safety of our people, Americans clearly do."

It is not yet clear what caused the jump in donations or who is behind the nearly $53 million that poured into the effort in the second half of the month. Abbott's office has a website that provides occasional updates on the total funds raised but does not voluntarily provide information about individual donors. The Texas Tribune has filed an open records request for the names of the donors. A review by the Tribune of the first week of donors showed more than 3,300 individual donations from June 10-17 with the highest gift being $5,000.

Meanwhile, experts have expressed concern with the lack of transparency for the border wall crowdfunding effort.

It remains to be seen how much border wall the donations would pay for. An existing contract awarded by the Texas Department of Transportation in June is set to pay $25 million for a nearly 2-mile stretch of "concrete barrier" along State Loop 480 in Eagle Pass. But costs for the wall's construction may vary depending on the area where the state is building.

Portions of the federal border wall started by the Trump administration, and put on hold by the Biden administration, ranged from $6 million per mile to $34 million per mile for construction. Abbott's office said it has identified 733 miles of border that may need some type of barrier.

But private donors won't be the only ones footing the bill. On Wednesday, the Legislature sent a bill allocating $1.88 billion in additional funds toward border security to Abbott's desk to be signed into law. About $750 million of those dollars will go directly toward building the border wall, as well as concrete barriers and temporary fences.

Still, the $54 million the effort has raised have surpassed expectations for many. A similar effort by the Arizona Legislature to raise funds for the construction of a border fence raised only $270,000 in three years.

Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, a professor at the Scharr School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, said the amount raised by Abbott's crowdfunding efforts was noteworthy because of failures in other recent efforts to use private funds for a border wall.

"It is surprising in some regard that people are using their money to fund a project like this understanding the fact that in the recent past efforts like this had resulted in fraud and in construction that has been destroyed to some extent because of the lack of capacity of those who built it," she said, referring to the conservative nonprofit We Build The Wall, which raised private funds for a border wall and included former Trump political adviser Steve Bannon as a board member.

Bannon and Brian Kolfage, the group's leader, were accused by the federal government of looting the charity for personal gain in August 2020. Bannon was later pardoned by Trump.

One of the privately funded border walls the group helped fund in South Texas showed signs of erosion last year and was in danger of falling into the Rio Grande, according to engineers and hydrologists.

But Correa-Cabrera said that the multimillion-dollar investment for a border wall reflected some Americans' perception that immigrants are a threat to the country and the government is not addressing the issue. She said those sentiments are often fueled by politicians to drum up support for their cause.

"Building a wall is not going to protect the nation from drug trafficking, from the entrance of drugs from south of the continent and it doesn't stop immigrants arriving to the south of the United States," she said. "What's happening is symbolic and it's a symbol of how divided the nation is along the lines of immigration."

Jill Fleuriet, an anthropology professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, said the border is frequently cast as a "political bogeyman" that's full of danger, which is the only way many Americans ever hear of regions like South Texas.

"It shows the enduring strength of this border as a threat and lawlessness," Fleuriet said. "When the reality is, it's not."

But Kevin Roberts, chief executive officer of the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, said the border wall donations reflect a feeling by many Americans that the Biden administration's immigration enforcement has been lacking.

Roberts said a wall could be an effective deterrent to migrants if it was combined with other actions, including the deployment of personnel to the border to enforce immigration law and strong messaging from state and national leaders that migrants should not attempt the journey to the United States. He said barriers help free up immigration enforcement staff to other areas where they could be more helpful in preventing illegal entries.

"If the federal government isn't doing its job to protect the citizens of the state, then that state has the obligation to do so," Roberts said.

Disclosure: Texas Public Policy Foundation and University of Texas at San Antonio have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

'I want to see if he has his big boy pants on': Texas Democrat challenges Dan Patrick

Another partisan stalemate has broken out in the final days of the second special session called by Gov. Greg Abbott, again imperiling the jobs of 2,100 legislative staffers along with two key conservative priority bills.

On Monday night, Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, abruptly adjourned the House Public Education Committee, which he chairs, without voting on two bills prioritized by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the leader of the Senate: a bill that would limit how educators can teach social studies and talk about race at Texas public schools, referred to as the "critical race theory bill," and another that would require transgender students to participate in sports based on the gender listed on their birth certificate instead of their gender identity.

"We have gotten to the point now where the Senate has adopted certain principles and practices that I don't think bode well for this Legislature. I think that what's happened is we have allowed them to do certain things and they disrespect the House in certain fashions," Dutton said. "It has gotten worse to the point where today, what I am told, is that if we don't pass these two bills — the [critical race theory] bill and the transgender bill — the Senate is not going to consider trying to fix the funding in Article X. So, I want to see if he has his big boy pants on. This meeting is adjourned."

Article X refers to the section of the state budget that covers funding for the state Legislature and other independent agencies that support its work. Abbott vetoed legislative funding in June in retaliation for the defeat of his priority election and bail reform bills when Democrats first walked out of the House in May during the final days of the regular legislative session.

The Legislature was set to lose its funding this month, as the new fiscal calendar starts Sept. 1, but Abbott and legislative leaders extended its funding through the end of September. Still, the Legislature has not passed a long-term solution for the rest of the next two-year budget cycle, putting in peril the livelihoods of the staffers funded through the Legislature. Lawmakers salaries are constitutionally protected, and therefore not affected by Abbott's veto.

House Bill 5, a wide-ranging bill which includes funding for a 13th check for retired school teachers and the restoration of legislative funding, was set to be heard on the chamber floor on Monday but its author Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, suddenly postponed its consideration until Wednesday.

Dutton did not say who had told him that the Senate would not pass the legislative funding bill until the House passed the two bills in his committee. His office has not returned a request for comment from The Texas Tribune. Patrick's office did not immediately return a request for comment.

The so called critical race theory bill and the transgender athletes legislation are priority items for socially conservative lawmakers and have garnered support from Abbott. Critical race theory is an academic term that studies how race and racism has impacted social and local structures. The bill became a rallying cry for conservatives across the nation last year and several legislatures, including Texas, have already passed bills limiting its teaching in public schools.

The bill on transgender athletes received approval from the Senate during the regular legislative session earlier this year but died in the final days of the session in the House.

Texas Democrats return after six-week exodus — the state House now has a quorum to pass bills

For the first time in nearly six weeks, state officials said there were enough lawmakers present in the Texas House on Thursday for the chamber to conduct business — opening the door for the passage of the GOP priority elections bill that Democrats have been attempting to kill for the past several weeks by staying far away from the Capitol.

The margin was razor thin on Thursday and it was unclear for hours before gaveling in whether Republicans had gotten enough members in the chamber to begin their work. Ultimately, 99 members voted that they were present with 49 stated absences. (The regular 100-member threshold for a quorum dropped to 99 on Thursday after San Antonio Democrat Leo Pacheco's resignation went into effect.) The House then adjourned until 4 p.m. on Monday after referring a slew of bills to committee.

Even Republican State Rep. Steve Allison of San Antonio, who confirmed he was positive for COVID-19 a day earlier, showed up to the House to help swing the numbers — though he stayed isolated in a room on the side of the chamber.

"It's time to get back to the business of the people of Texas," said House Speaker Dade Phelan. "I appreciate every one of you. I'm looking forward to working with you over the coming week or two."

The quorum was reached on Thursday with the help of three Democrats who broke ranks with other members still refusing to return — Houston Democrats Garnet Coleman, Armando Walle and Ana Hernandez. The three members arrived together with Walle pushing a wheelchair for Coleman, who'd recently undergone surgery on his leg.

In a joint statement, the three Democrats said they were "proud of the heroic work and commitment" their caucus had shown in breaking quorum.

"We took the fight for voting rights to Washington, D.C. and brought national attention to the partisan push in our state to weaken ballot access. Our efforts were successful and served as the primary catalyst to push Congress to take action on federal voter protection legislation," the statement read. "Now, we continue the fight on the House Floor."

Walle and Hernandez were among the more than 50 House Democrats who initially left the statehouse in July to travel to the nation's capital to block the passage of the GOP elections bill. Coleman, who was recovering from serious illness, did not go to D.C. but participated in the quorum break from his home.

Those three Democrats join a smattering of other Democrats who have already trickled back to the chamber after initially participating in the quorum bust — like Rep. James Talarico of Round Rock; Joe Moody, Art Fierro and Mary Gonzáles of El Paso; and Eddie Lucio III of Brownsville.

But Democrats are not united in their return to the House. Many members are attempting to keep up the fight and have criticized their colleagues for defecting.

"This is how Texas Democrats lose elections," Rep. Michelle Beckley, D-Carrollton, tweeted in response to the announcement that Walle, Hernandez and Coleman were returning.

Several of the lawmakers who were marked as present were not actually in the building Thursday, but had previously been in the chamber earlier this session.

One of the remaining Democrat holdouts, Rep. Diego Bernal of San Antonio, criticized House leaders for declaring a quorum when lawmakers claiming to be present were notably absent.

"The party arguing for 'election integrity' just established quorum by voting members present who weren't on the floor," he said on Twitter.

The House quorum on Thursday signals what could be the beginning of the end for Democrats who have staved off the passage of the GOP priority elections bill through multiple legislative sessions so far, despite being in the minority party in both chambers. The GOP elections bill would, among other things, outlaw local voting options intended to expand voting access and bolster access for partisan poll watchers. Democrats and voting rights advocates say it restricts voting rights in the state. Republicans, who control both chambers of the Legislature, say the proposal is intended to secure "election integrity."

Democrats first orchestrated a plan in May to kill the voting legislation when they walked out of the House chamber in the final hours of the regular legislative session, preventing final passage before the clock ran out.

Abbott responded by calling a 30-day special session that began in July. That led to more than 50 Democrats leaving Texas to camp out in Washington, D.C. — away from the reach of Texas law enforcement officials — for several weeks.

The Democrats successfully blocked the bill's passage during that session, which ended Aug. 6. But Abbott, who made the elections bill and a bail reform bill priorities this year, immediately called another 30-day session to push the bills forward. Abbott has said he won't stop calling lawmakers back into session until the elections bill is passed.

The second special session began Aug. 7 without a quorum in the House, with most Democrats initially committing to staying away from the state Capitol — even as House leadership deployed law enforcement to conduct civil arrests and return them to the chamber. Those warrants to secure the presence of the lawmakers "by arrest, if necessary" were dissolved Thursday with the meeting of a quorum and the chamber's adjournment.

Although the House reached the minimum number of lawmakers to conduct official business Thursday, it's unclear whether the chamber will be able to maintain those numbers for the duration of the second special session, which ends Sept. 5.

The three returning Democratic lawmakers pointed to the surge in COVID-19 cases in the state, an overwhelmed hospital system and the return of children to school as efforts that the Legislature needed to work on.

"It is time to move past these partisan legislative calls, and to come together to help our state mitigate the effects of the current COVID-19 surge by allowing public health officials to do their jobs, provide critical resources for school districts to conduct virtual learning when necessary, while also ensuring schools are a safe place for in-person instruction, and will not become a series of daily super-spreader events," they said in their statement.

Lawmakers will also have to repair relationships that were fractured during the quorum break. Republicans frowned upon Democrats who called the elections legislation "Jim Crow 2.0," saying the implication was that they were racists. Democrats said Republicans have rolled over the minority party the entire year and have not negotiated in good faith to bring a resolution to the quorum break or to their concerns with the voting legislation.

In an invocation, Coleman alluded to that friction between the two sides.

"I pray that all of us look inside, about where we want this world to go, this state, this house and look at it from the perspective of trying to find as much common ground as could be had," he said.

In the Senate, which has already tackled many of the items on Abbott's special session agenda, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick celebrated the House's return.

"The Texas Senate welcomes the House to the 87th Second Called Special Session," Patrick said on Twitter.

Alexa Ura contributed to this report.

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