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A tangle of national and state politics in Texas 

Hi All

The intertwined skeins of national and state politics made for a knotty week in Texas. While both American federalism and the recent trajectory of politics in the US should lead us to expect national political forces to influence state politics in ways both subtle and egregious, on several fronts this week – ranging from a very unhappy judicial review of a Texas abortion law to a state senate race in the far-flung reaches of the panhandle – national politics added still more tangles to already snarled politics in Texas.

Late Friday, a three-judge Federal Appeals Court panel “temporarily held in abeyance pending further appeal” federal district judge Robert Pittman’s injunction blocking implementation of Texas’ abortion ban. Pittman made national news Wednesday with a108-page order that was accurately characterized by Gabriel Banks in the Houston Chronicle as  “a scathing rebuke of SB 8, the Texas law that imposed the harshest restriction on abortion since Roe v. Wade.” The ongoing judicial action on United States v. Texas et al. unfolds amidst complex public attitudes toward abortion in Texas, which Josh Blank delved into in a recent post at the Texas Politics Project website. As the restrictive content of SB 8 gained more prominence during the regular legislative session, support for a “six-week ban” dropped from 49% support / 41% oppose in the April 2021 UT/Texas Tribune Poll to 44%/46% in June 2021, after the legislation was passed and signed into law. Given the semi-covert restrictiveness of the law (or, alternately, its strategy of [barely] plausible deniability when it comes to state enforcement), another thought-provoking data point from the polling Josh rounds up: in 10 statewide polls we conducted between February of 2011 and February of 2021, “no more than 17% of voters indicated in any of the surveys that abortion should never be permitted. So at least 83% of all Texas voters think that abortion should be permitted in at least some circumstances.” 

And it wouldn’t be a week in Texas without an attempt by Republican elected officials to call out the Biden administration's management of the border. In an appearance in Mission with nine other Republican governors, Abbott charged that “President Joe Biden has caused a humanitarian crisis and chaos on the border," per John Moritz's coverage. Moritz painted a vivid portrait of the staging of the event, which he wrote, "carried a decidedly militaristic ambiance with 11 Humvees, two five-ton Army trucks and Army UH 60 Black Hawk helicopters stationed behind the speakers' lectern. When Abbott, dressed in a khaki shirt with epaulettes, exited his vehicle within sight of a wide bank of news cameras, troops from the National Guard deployed to South Texas snapped to attention and greeted him with salutes upon the command of "present arms."”

As we've had occasion to point out many times, our polling repeatedly illustrates how immigration and border security unite GOP voters and overwhelms other Republican priorities, including fiscal conservatism. But there’s also a funny federalism twist to the attendance of the nine other GOP governors, and the contribution of law enforcement personnel by some of them to support Abbott’s efforts on the border in the face of the failures of the federal government. In at least one case, Nebraska, Texas made sure that the donor state was aware up front that there would be no compensation, at least from Texas, for the costs of their efforts. Reporter Aaron Sanderford has been watching this issue in Nebraska for KMTV News in Omaha - Republican governor Peter Ricketts of Nebraska has contributed personnel and was in Mission Wednesday – and a story he filed this week provides an interesting perspective on border security politics and coverage in a midwestern Republican state. (Disclosure: Sanderford and I talked for his story.)

Abbott’s event on the border channeled a tone of Trumpish urgency when it comes to “securing” the border that one might think borders on homage, but the undertones of the Abbott-Trump public association (Trump has endorsed Abbott for 2022) remain subject to Trump's mercurial nature and his other relationships in Texas. The former president suddenly injected himself more deeply in state politics last week when he endorsed Kevin Sparks, a Midland-based oil operator and former board member of the Texas Public Policy Foundation who is challenging incumbent state senator Kel Seliger (SD 31) in the GOP primary. Seliger was the lone Republican vote against the new Senate map that adds more rural counties closer to Midland to SD 31 in what is widely understood to be the latest attempt to displace Seliger, as Patrick Svitek unpacked in a Texas Tribune piece. There are all kinds of interesting relationships to parse here: Trump and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Patrick and Seliger, Abbott and Patrick, and, of course, Abbott and Trump, who have had a rough time of late – and that’s just the duos. Leave it to Sen. Seliger to make it even more interesting with a Tweet Friday morning that showed he and Gov. Abbott all smiles, posing for a pic at an event with “the Borger Republican women.” 

On a less contentious front, the Senate passed the bill allocating about $16 billion in federal coronavirus relief money, sending it to the House, where it was referred to the appropriations committee Friday night. I’ll close with one final data point on the tangled web that is the financial relationship between Texas and the national government within the federal system. According to the excellent accounting by the Comptroller’s office, state revenue from the federal government in the just concluded fiscal year 2021was $81.94 billion – more than $20 billion more than the state's total tax collections of about $61.47 billion.

Enjoy what’s left of the weekend, and keep in touch.


James Henson
Executive Director, The Texas Politics Project
College of Liberal Arts / Department of Government
The University of Texas at Austin
The Texas Politics Project
Copyright © 2021 The Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin, All rights reserved.

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