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Texas Home Democrats wish to capitalize on good points in 2019

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By the tip of the Texas Legislature’s 2017 common session, Democrats within the Home had been beleaguered.

Democrats had held few positions of energy. That they had watched GOP members move conservative laws they might do little about. And, within the waning days of the session, that they had mustered what little political sway they needed to fend off a controversial invoice that might ban “sanctuary cities” — to no avail.

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This session, issues appear totally different. Democrats gained a dozen seats within the Home, narrowing Republicans’ majority within the decrease chamber. They had been tapped to chair extra committees that deal with high-profile laws. And, maybe most notably, the newly elected Republican Home speaker tapped a Democrat to function second-in-command — a gesture of bipartisanship.

That progress, essentially the most Texas Democrats have made in years, has left some members grappling with a query: How can they capitalize on it?

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“I feel for Democrats to achieve success in bringing some actual wins this session, we have to stand agency collectively,” mentioned freshman state Rep. Erin Zwiener, a Driftwood Democrat who flipped her Home seat in November. “We have to make the case to a few of our Republican colleagues that what we stand for is what their voters need as effectively.”

Zwiener, together with a lot of different Democratic freshmen who flipped longtime GOP-held seats, are nonetheless enthusiastic about their long-shot victories on the marketing campaign path and wish to translate that momentum into formidable legislative wins on the Capitol. However extra seasoned Democrats, acquainted with how issues work on the Capitol, and emphasizing that their occasion continues to be within the minority, counsel a extra measured strategy might land them the help wanted to move coverage they are saying they’ve championed through the years.

“I feel the early indications are encouraging,” mentioned state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, in a latest interview with The Texas Tribune. “However now we have an extended solution to go.”

Turner was unanimously re-elected to chair the Home Democratic Caucus final month. Regardless of his occasion’s good points and Democrats’ heightened optimism, members are conscious of some sobering realities: Republicans can nonetheless move laws with no single Democratic vote; Republicans chair the 5 strongest committees within the decrease chamber; and Republican Home Speaker Dennis Bonnen, although he’s moved to solid himself as a pacesetter who will give each member a good shake, ranks extra ideologically conservative than his predecessor.

“We will’t let our guard down,” mentioned Turner. “We all know there could possibly be proposals which are offensive or detrimental to our constituents. And we’ll be ready to battle these if and once they come up.”

Home Republicans, to be clear, additionally acknowledge they nonetheless have the higher hand within the chamber — although GOP leaders have thus far centered the 86th legislative session on reforming nuts-and-bolts coverage points that each events agree want legislative fixes: College finance and property tax reform.

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“The State of Texas stays a deeply purple state; the Home’s Republican majority and slate of Republican statewide leaders are a mirrored image of our state’s want for a conservative strategy to governance,” mentioned state Rep. Dustin Burrows, a Lubbock Republican who chairs the Home GOP Caucus, in a press release to the Tribune. “What makes this session distinctive just isn’t the variety of Democrats or Republicans, however the reality we’re all united behind the identical priorities to reform Texas’ faculty finance system and supply significant property tax reform for Texans.”

The Democrats’ agenda

Final week, Gov. Greg Abbott formally declared faculty finance and property tax reform “emergency objects,” together with faculty security, catastrophe response, rising instructor pay and psychological well being applications. And the week earlier than that, Abbott, Bonnen, Burrows and Senate leaders unveiled a unified imaginative and prescient for slowing property tax invoice will increase. Democrats usually agree that these points ought to take middle stage this 12 months, although they’re fast to emphasise that their No. 1 precedence — addressing public training — has been on the high of their checklist for years.

In each the varsity finance reform and property tax debates, Democrats have already laid down a number of markers. With the previous, occasion leaders need reforms to incorporate addressing rising well being care prices for academics and increasing pre-Okay for Texas youngsters. With the latter, they’ve already written off the GOP’s proposal to require voter approval for native property tax will increase over 2.5 p.c as “a nonstarter.” Home Democrats have but to place ahead their very own proposals, although they’re anticipated to take action within the coming weeks.

“I can’t communicate for each Democrat, however 2.5 p.c simply appears too low,” mentioned state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, an Austin Democrat who serves on the committee that may deal with property tax laws this 12 months. “If nothing passes — for a lot of Democrats, that wouldn’t be a nasty factor.”

Past that, Democrats are pushing for a slate of extra partisan measures that aren’t anticipated to get a lot air time on the nonetheless GOP-dominated Legislature. Democrats wish to curb “voter disenfranchisement,” a difficulty that’s surfaced in latest weeks after the Texas secretary of state’s workplace spearheaded a flawed voter citizenship examine. In addition they wish to develop Medicaid beneath the Reasonably priced Care Act.

“I feel we should be speaking about Medicaid growth each single day we’re right here,” mentioned Zwiener, the freshman from Driftwood. Zwiener, a brand new mother, additionally talked about Democrats are aiming to increase Medicaid’s postpartum protection from two to 12 months.

“I had a child seven months in the past,” she mentioned, “and I can inform you there are lingering well being considerations that come up previous that 60-day window.”

“We’re not going to agree on the whole lot”

The boldness embodied by Democrats partially comes from the truth that Bonnen, the Home speaker, appointed occasion members in January to chair a number of high-profile committees that had been beforehand headed by Republicans. For instance, Turner was tapped to chair the Increased Schooling Committee. Related appointments occurred on committees that oversee homeland safety, public well being and transportation, amongst others.

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However the good points made by Democrats have additionally prompted some rising pains. Plenty of these dozen Democratic freshmen have privately raised questions over the whole lot from caucus management as to if their 67-member voting bloc will truly maintain when the decrease chamber is confronted with a key vote. As one freshman member put it, the caucus “has no plan,” suggesting it was maybe “only a perform of being out of energy for thus lengthy.”

The “freshmen pleasure” — or angst, as others might name it — is commonplace on the Capitol each two years because the biennial legislative session will get underway. For state Rep. Victoria Neave, a Democrat who flipped her Dallas-area seat in 2016, the sensation is all too acquainted.

“We’re not going to agree on the whole lot — I feel of us will study that,” she mentioned. “I realized that as a freshman coming from a former swing district. I feel we have to work collectively, however there are some issues for which we’re going to take our earrings off.”

A number of the extra senior Democrats have urged that the freshmen class continues to be transitioning from marketing campaign mode and can settle in round March or April when issues warmth up on the Legislature. They’re additionally fast to notice that Turner, who simply started his second time period in that caucus function, deserves credit score for taking over the arduous activity of rebuilding his occasion’s ranks within the Home.

Since Turner took the reins, he’s introduced on full-time management workers, who spearhead a variety of the coverage and communications between caucus members, amongst different issues. Turner additionally doled out over roughly $240,000 of his personal marketing campaign money throughout the 2018 cycle for get out the vote efforts and to assist Home incumbents and candidates locked in tight races, in accordance with his workplace.

“I feel there’s an intentional technique by Turner to carry extra folks into the decision-making course of,” mentioned state Rep. Mary González, a Democrat from Clint who holds management positions within the Mexican American Legislative Caucus and the brand new LGBTQ Caucus. “I’m trying ahead to seeing how we navigate as a caucus this session as a result of he has already set us up for achievement.”

For now, most everyone seems to be publicly optimistic about what lays forward over the subsequent roughly 100 days on the Capitol. And for Democrats, they’re acknowledging the extra palatable tone that’s been set by state leaders.

“It actually was a special speech than we heard two years in the past,” Turner mentioned final week in response to Abbott’s state of the state handle. He added with a chuckle, “It appears as if election outcomes have penalties.”


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