Let there be no doubt — we have just begun a special legislative session not because of any state emergency, but because of politics. I know, it’s shocking to read that politics has made its way into the legislative process but honestly, I’ve never seen it be so boldly intrusive into the work we do.
Because Democrats used a procedural tool to deny a quorum, a horrible elections bill was killed during the regular legislative session. Because that particular bill was killed, Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed the part of the budget that includes my pay and the pay of over 2,100 state employees who staff our offices: the State Library, House Administration and the Legislative Council (the legal researchers who support our work). That’s 2,100 employees who are now wondering if they will get paid with the new fiscal year starting Sept. 1. In my mind, this is cruel and petty on the part of the governor. It simply means uncertainty of pay and health care for nonpartisan staff. They are librarians, researchers and staffers helping constituents with vital concerns.
Elections bills like the one at the heart of this conflict have been making the rounds in states around the country and are meant to placate an extreme subsection of the electorate who refuses to accept the validity of the last presidential election. I’ve served on the House Elections Committee for two previous sessions and I watch the topic closely. The bill we killed by rule — breaking quorum — would have made it easier to overturn an election, turned election workers into criminals for making minor mistakes, and tied the hands of county officials who would like to do creative scheduling to allow more Texans to take advantage of early voting. It wasn’t just a bad bill, it would have set a horrible precedent for the rest of the country.
So now we find ourselves in yet another special session in which there are no real emergencies on the agenda. You could make the case we are living through and have lived through several emergencies all at once. We are ranked last in percentage of Texans with health insurance, we have a new strain of COVID harming more Texans while too few of us are getting the vaccine to prevent spread, and we just lived through a polar vortex revealing the weaknesses in our electric grid. Yet none of these items showed up on the governor’s call.
Historically, the governor uses the special session power in emergencies like public school finance, for example. This year, Abbott has chosen to put politics over people and call a special session on largely social issues already addressed in the regular session.
I’ve written before about my late mother who instilled in me a respect for public service. She felt very special because she was a clerk typist at the White Sands Missile Range with top-secret clearance. She would gesture with her hands, putting thumb and forefinger together, to utter the words and smile through the words “top-secret.” She wasn’t smug, she just found it extraordinary that she was serving her country in this way and she was immensely proud of that status. Somehow over the years, I developed that same respect for public service. Whether you are elected or whether you have a role in the public sector, it’s an honor to serve the public.
These days, our politics seem to make light of the specialness of public service. Because that specialness is diminished, I’m especially irritated that Gov. Abbott’s actions are resulting in threats to good state employees who are getting caught in the crosshairs of politics.
So as we journey down the path of a particularly partisan and political special session, pray for us, pray for Texas, and let’s hope we can keep the focus on the really important issues so our state employees can move forward with their jobs and taking care of their families.
Rep. Celia Israel represents House District 50, which includes Pflugerville. Follow her on Twitter @celiaisrael, or like her on Facebook at fb.com/CeliaIsraelTX.