Governor Abbott’s Emergency Priorities A Confusing Mixed Bag For Many

John Lewis and Carl Sherman
Texas State Representative Carl O. Sherman and former Congressman John Lewis, referenced in this article mentioning the John Lewis Act. Photo courtesy of State Representative Carl O. Sherman

Special Session Priorities Leave Out Power Grid Concerns

AUSTIN – Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s mixed bag of 87th legislature special session priorities has left many wondering how the word “priority” is being defined.

The special session began Thursday, July 8 and can run up to 30 days. Plus, Abbott can also continue to call additional special sessions as he deems necessary.

There were 11 priorities the governor thought needed to be addressed – one at a time according to a statement he made in May.

Glaringly missing from what Abbott believes is an emergency includes both ERCOT – as in what about that power grid problem this past February and Medicaid expansion.

Representative Chris Turner (D-Grand Prairie), chair of the Texas House Democratic Caucus, released a statement earlier this week about the special session agenda.

“The governor’s agenda for the special session shows he is more concerned with pandering to die-hard Trump supporters and right-wing extremists than he is with serving everyday Texans. Abbott’s agenda proves one thing: he is clearly panicked about his upcoming primary election.”

Turner went on to say “We have real crises in this state — hundreds of Texans died because the governor couldn’t keep the heat on last February, millions of Texans are still unable to access basic medical care and our COVID-19 vaccination rates have plateaued. That’s what a real leader would focus on.”

Items on The Agenda

Instead of items like the power grid, Abbott has instead outlined that his agenda will include election integrity, which some call the voter suppression bill; critical race theory; border security; bail reform; social media censorship; article X funding; family violence prevention; youth sports; abortion-inducing drugs; thirteenth check and appropriations matters involving property-tax relief, enhanced protection for the safety of children in Texas’ foster-care system by attracting and retaining private providers for the system and a better safeguard the state from potential cybersecurity threats.

“The 87th Legislative Session was a monumental success for the people of Texas, but we have unfinished business to ensure that Texas remains the most exceptional state in America,”  Abbott said.

Representative Carl O. Sherman (D-Dallas) said he believes there is much to be done, but first said of the upcoming session, “We must pray without ceasing for Washington to pass the John Lewis Act now, if not they are leaving Texans under a governance of confederacy.”

One of the items Sherman is looking at in regard to the special session is the bill involving election integrity. “Someone has said, no good deed goes unpunished,” Sherman explained. “The 2020 Election set a record for voter turnout in Texas, but some see this as open season for altering voting requirements in their favor. This is a power grab by one party to deliberately lower voter turnout.”

After all, why is Sunday voting being targeted by limiting times for Souls to Polls and causing undue hardship for voters to vote on Sunday, but allowing for Texans to buy alcohol on Sunday morning.

“Exhibit A of evidence is targeting the Souls to Polls practice favored by many Black Evangelical Christians reducing the time to vote on Sunday. Even more insulting was the intentional act to pass legislation to expand times on Sunday permitting Texans to buy alcohol on Sunday morning while eroding the time to vote on Sunday.”

Representative Sherman further explained, “As elected officials we should fight to protect voting rights, not steal voting rights from the hardworking people of Texas. If we are sincere about honoring our democracy we should stop meddling with the most basic right of all Texans, which is free access to participate in our elections without intimation or threat,” Sherman explained. “If we are serious about representing liberty and access for all we must stop with anti-democracy efforts that infringe on the very foundation of a free and fair elections process. Let the people vote – it’s their right and it shouldn’t require a 226 page conference report on legal size paper.”

Passionate About Getting Voters To The Polls

Mansfield Mayor Michael Evans said of the election integrity conundrum after the regular 87th session ended, “As a Pastor, I believe that our church will be more adamant about voting. The members of the Bethlehem Church have recognized the importance of voting for literally decades. While I dare not speak on behalf of other pastors and churches, I do believe that many of my colleagues will double their efforts to assure that all of their congregants vote. As a Mayor, I believe that every effort should be taken to make voting easier and more accessible to all of us. The voices of the people are heard at the ballot box.”

Souls to Polls

Glenn Heights Mayor Harry Garrett who is also a pastor in the Dallas area added, “History tells us that voter suppression in the minority community is real and still prevalent today. Even after the passage of the 15th Amendment and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, people of color have faced uphill battles in pursuit of their legal right to vote. Because of voter suppression, black communities and churches have taken it upon themselves to develop innovative and creative solutions to make sure our voices are heard – including Souls to the Polls, a tradition in Black communities that encourages people to vote after morning church services.”

Garrett said he was “pleased that Texas Republicans were stating the hours listed in SB7 for Sunday voting of 1 to 9 p.m. was a typographical error, and that the start time for Sunday voting should have been listed as 11 a.m.

“The 1:00 P.M. start time would have effectively diminished the purpose of Souls to the Polls, an initiative that has had a positive impact in voter turnout in minority communities,” Garrett said.

“Advocates of SB7 claim it focuses on election integrity and security by preventing fraud and increasing criminal penalties. I believe appropriate safeguards are already in place to ensure elections are conducted properly, securely, and in a fair manner. Bipartisan reviews across various States have consistently indicated that recent elections have been some of the most secure in history, so I do not understand or agree with aspects of SB7 that will negatively impact a person’s access to vote, while claiming to secure the elections process.”

Can we consider too that while a global pandemic did not sway Abbott to the point of the need for a special session, his party’s inability to pass law he felt was legitimate did cause a bit of feather ruffling.

Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa issued the following statement:

“Republicans want a second chance to pass racist, anti-voter SB 7 — and stop Black and Brown Texans and voters with disabilities from being able to vote. Our right to vote is our chance to determine our own future and the future of our communities, and Texas Democrats have shown powerful leadership fighting to protect Texans’ right to vote.”

Remember, at the end of the 87th session democrats took part in a late-night walkout, which forced the failure of SB 7, thus stopping at that time what many believed was a strict voting bill that was set to overhaul election laws in the state of Texas.

Texans should also remember the threat Abbott made to defund the legislature after the 87th session ended.

Impact of SB 7

Grace Chimene, President, League of Women Voters of Texas said at that time “Governor Abbott’s threat to defund the legislature is unethical and anti-democratic. By threatening to defund Texas’s legislative branch, Governor Abbott undermines the constitutional set of checks and balances upon which our government is built. Furthermore, his threats distract from the real issue: SB7 is a deeply undemocratic bill rammed through without due process.

“SB7 impacts how Texans will vote for years to come, and this bill was set to be passed without sufficient input from the public or elected officials before House legislators blocked it. Some elected officials took advantage of the pandemic, employing undemocratic shenanigans to undermine our legislative processes that would normally allow for public and legislative input on important bills such as SB7. Sunday, House legislators exercised their constitutional authority to block the backdoor passage of this anti-voter bill.”

When Will TX Address Issues With ERCOT?

As for Abbott, his statement released earlier this week “Two of my emergency items, along with other important legislation, did not make it to my desk during the regular session, and we have a responsibility to finish the job on behalf of all Texans. These Special Session priority items put the people of Texas first and will keep the Lone Star State on a path to prosperity. I look forward to working with my partners in the Legislature to pass this legislation as we build a brighter future for all who call Texas home.”

The question still remains however, what about those Texans who were affected so seriously during the winter storm due to ERCOT’s inability to keep Texans warm. And what about the question of asking Texans to turn up their air conditioning recently because of more failures during the summer months, even after representatives from ERCOT implied the reason the unseasonably cold weather was a fail was because of their strength during the summer months.

Abbott has reportedly told the Public Utility Commission to call for solar and wind powered generators to compensate customers after this past winter’s calamity as well as create maintenance schedules and to development connections for new and existing power plants, the results of his actions Texans won’t see during this special session.

With 11 items on Abbott’s list and a month to get it all done unless a second special session is called, Sherman concluded, “The Governor’s vetoing of article X in appropriations, which funds operations of a separate branch of government should serve as a clarion call for the federal government to take action now. Today, we stand in the shadow of our ungodly confederate past with the power to end the hypocrisy and truly open our democracy for fair and open elections. Elections where people are invited to participate and not politically redlined out of their democracy.

The growth of our state should not be a threat to any party unless the party’s agenda is not inclusive of those citizens. Any legislative priorities that aim to take us back to a time by suppressing the vote should be rebuked by all voters Republicans or Democrats. Let the people vote. This is not your great great grandfather’s ballot.”