The political theater of 2019 certainly didn’t disappoint. As 2020 begins, here’s a list of some of the top stories to keep an eye on as we enter this new year.
Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn
2019 saw Waskom become the first city to pass a “sanctuary for the unborn” ordinance, which effectively outlawed abortion within its city limits.
Several other towns followed suit, for a total of six by the end of the year.
A few more city councils are already scheduled to vote on similar ordinances for their towns in the coming weeks.
The ordinances have drawn the ire of pro-choice activist groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood, which will likely look for ways to hamper the movement as more towns vote on the ordinances.
As the sanctuary for the unborn movement continues to gain traction, the Supreme Court will also be hearing arguments on March 4 for a case that could have significant implications on the issue of abortion and on states’ abilities to regulate abortion facilities.
The Supreme Court’s decision in June Medical Services LLC v. Gee is expected to come sometime in June.
Second Amendment Sanctuary Counties
Last year, over thirty counties in Texas passed resolutions declaring themselves “Second Amendment sanctuaries.”
The resolutions are essentially statements from the county commissioners’ courts that they will not enforce any unconstitutional gun restrictions that are passed by state or federal lawmakers.
While there have not been as many Texas counties to pass the resolution as there have been in Virginia, which saw over ninety municipalities pass similar resolutions in light of potential strict gun laws in the state, the number in Texas is still poised for plenty of growth.
The Race for a New Texas Speaker of the House
After a controversy surfaced involving a quid pro quo offered to a grassroots leader that led to an investigation into the ethics of the leader of the Texas House, Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) announced he would not seek reelection.
Though the next legislative session isn’t set to begin until January of 2021, rumblings about who the potential candidates for speaker might be are already reverberating through the halls of the capitol.
In 2018, following the retirement of then-Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio), speaker candidates began positioning themselves during primary season. After the results of the November elections, House members began throwing their support behind Bonnen, whose relative late start didn’t prevent his candidacy from quickly gathering steam in the aftermath of a 12-seat pick up for Democrats.
Bonnen later announced an endorsement list of 109 House members and was elected to the speakership unanimously.
It is yet to be seen what the race for the speakership will shape up to be in 2020, but look for candidates to begin lining up their candidacies and launching campaigns to become one of the state’s top three leaders.
Obamacare and Hospital Price Transparency Court Cases
A pair of healthcare-related cases are in the adjudication process this year. The week before Christmas, the Fifth Circuit Court declared Obamacare’s individual mandate unconstitutional. However, the decision on its severability from the entire law was sent down to a district court. Don’t be surprised if this case makes it to the Supreme Court at some point.
The second one centers on a November executive order by President Trump requiring hospitals to establish actual prices, instead of the estimate-centered method in place. Shortly after, various hospitals filed suit challenging the propriety of the order, also claiming the “disclosure of negotiated rates will lead to widespread confusion.”
Both cases will have serious implications for the healthcare industry, whichever way they fall.
Local Government Responses to Property Tax Reforms
The 86th Legislature passed its marquee legislation this year, instituting an election-triggering property tax increase threshold of 3.5 percent for local governments and 2.5 percent for school districts. The law goes into effect in 2020 and already, before it goes into effect, numerous local taxing entities have scrambled to get one final property tax increase between the new thresholds and the previous one of 8 percent.
Watch for how much your property tax bill increases this coming year to see if your local government enacted this last-ditch effort. Also, how will taxing entities act after being shackled by the new limits? Will budgets become tighter or will other methods of taxation be utilized?
Potential State Takeover of Houston Independent School District
In 2019 the Texas Education Agency notified the Houston Independent School District that due to chronically underperforming schools and reports that trustees had violated open meeting and contract procurement laws, the state would replace the elected board with an appointed Board of Managers.
Although a federal judge dismissed the district’s request for preliminary injunction, lawsuits from the district and the Houston teacher’s union are still pending.
Meanwhile, the TEA continued to accept applications from within the community for the new board through the January 2 deadline. All applicants must participate in a 2-day training that places emphasis on improving student outcomes.
Harris County Plans to Place Polling Locations Inside Jails
Last August, in a 3-2 party-line vote, the Harris County Commissioner’s Court approved a preliminary plan to place polling locations inside the county’s jail system, which is the largest in the state.
Although Commissioner Adrian Garcia (D-Precinct 2) had urged the County Clerk Diane Trautman to have in-jail polling stations operating in 2019, the county was unable to address a multitude of logistical and security challenges in time for the November 2019 elections.
County officials hope to have the proposed polling stations in place in time for the 2020 primary elections or possibly the 2020 general election.
Furthering of Border Security and Immigration Initiatives
Though December border statistics have yet to be released, November marked the sixth month in a row where apprehensions and inadmissible entries along the southwestern border declined, representing a 70 percent decline since the height of apprehensions in May.
Officials at U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have attributed the significant decline in apprehension levels to President Trump’s immigration initiatives, including the Migration Protection Protocols (MPPs) and asylum cooperation agreements forged with Mexico and a number of Northern Triangle countries, including Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.
Notably, drug seizure rates, especially with regard to methamphetamine and fentanyl increased in Fiscal Year 2019.
Moving into 2020, apprehension levels along the U.S.-Mexico border are likely to continue to decline while drug seizure rates continue to increase as the Trump administration furthers its enforcement and potentially implements additional immigration and border security initiatives.
The new year could also see stricter enforcement and crackdowns on cartel activities after public awareness was brought to the many dangers posed by these organized crime units following an attack that left nine Americans dead and prompted President Trump to consider designating cartels as foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs).
While President Trump will likely tout the success of his border security initiatives heading into the 2020 election, 2019 was marked by turbulence at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with three Secretaries, including Kirstjen Nielsen, Kevin McAleenan, and Chad Wolf, chosen to oversee the 22-agency department over the course of the year.
President Trump faces a decision in 2020 when choosing someone to lead the agency who is willing to both implement and enforce his hardline immigration initiatives.
The Battle for Control of the Texas Legislature
After Democrats flipped 12 House seats in 2018 in the wake of Beto O’Rourke’s run for U.S. Senate, the 2020 election cycle promises to be a battle over control of the lower chamber and one competitive state senate seat.
According to a memo leaked to the Dallas Morning News, the Texas GOP plans on launching aggressive campaigns to take back the 12 seats they lost, while defending additional seats from targeting.
Meanwhile, Democrats will be seeking to hold their ground in their 12 new seats while simultaneously trying to close the 9-seat gap that would give their party the majority in the statehouse for the first time in nearly two decades.
Sen. Pete Flores (R-Pleasanton) won Senate District 19 in a historic upset in a special election following the resignation of embattled then-Sen. Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio) that ensured the Republican supermajority in the Texas Senate would remain intact.
SD 19 promises to be a battleground district in 2020, as Flores seeks to beat the odds once again and serve a second term in a district that Uresti won with 56% of the vote in 2016.
Democratic Senate Primary
Like a real-life Rat Race, a slew of Democratic candidates is vying for the opportunity to challenge incumbent Senator John Cornyn in the general election.
Tentative front runner MJ Hegar narrowly lost a 2018 congressional race against Rep. John Carter (R-TX-31).
Edwards is a Houston City Councilwoman.
West is a sitting State Senator and attorney from Dallas.
Ramirez is a co-founder of the Workers Defense Project (WDP), a worker center that recently had a Department of Labor complaint filed against it — accusing WDP of acting as a union while filing a non-profit tax status.
Bell is a former Congressman from Houston.
Whoever emerges from the primary will have an uphill climb against Sen. Cornyn’s $10 million war chest.
Congressional Campaigns In Texas
With six Republican members of the Texas delegation retiring, 2020 will be a busy year for congressional campaigns. Here’s an overview of the races to keep an eye on.
Safely Republican Open Seats:
- TX-11, located in West Texas. The retiring incumbent is Rep. Mike Conaway (R).
- TX-13, located in the Texas panhandle. The retiring incumbent is Rep. Mac Thornberry (R).
- TX-17, located in the Waco-College Station area. The retiring incumbent is Rep. Bill Flores (R).
Competitive Open Seats:
- TX-22, located in the area southwest of Houston. The retiring incumbent is Reps. Pete Olson (R), and the district leans Republican.
- TX-23, located along the border, stretching from near El Paso to the suburbs of San Antonio. The retiring incumbent is Rep. Will Hurd (R), and the district is a tossup.
- TX-24, located in the northern-central part of the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area. The retiring incumbent is Kenny Marchant (R), and the district leans Republican.
Democratic Members Targeted by Republicans:
- TX-07, located in the western part of Houston. The incumbent is a first-time congresswoman, Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, and the district leans Republican.
- TX-32, located in the northeast of Dallas. The incumbent is a first-time congressman, Rep. Colin Allred, and the district leans Republican.
Republican Members Targeted by Democrats:
- TX-02, located in the northern part of Houston. The incumbent is freshman Rep. Dan Crenshaw, and the district leans Republican.
- TX-10, stretching between the suburbs of Austin and Houston. The incumbent is Rep. Michael McCaul (R), and the district leans Republican.
- TX-21, stretching between the suburbs of Austin and San Antonio and stretching into West Texas to include the area around Fredericksburg. The incumbent is a freshman congressman, Rep. Chip Roy, and the district leans Republican.
- TX-31, located north of Austin in Round Rock and Temple. The incumbent is Rep. John Carter, and the district leans Republican.
Members with Notable Primary Challenges:
- TX-12, located in the western part of the Fort Worth area. The incumbent is Rep. Kay Granger (R), and she is being challenged by Chris Putnam, who raised $500,000 in the first week of his campaign.
TX-28, located in southern San Antonio and stretching to the Mexico border. The incumbent is Rep. Henry Cuellar (D), and he is being challenged by Jessica Cisneros, who received the endorsement of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).
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- Beto O'Rourke
- Bill Flores
- Chad Wolf
- Chip Roy
- Chris Bell
- Chris Putnam
- Colin Allred
- Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez
- Dan Crenshaw
- Dennis Bonnen
- Department of Homeland Security
- Harris County
- Henry Cuellar
- Houston ISD
- Jessica Cisneros
- Joe Straus
- John Carter
- John Cornyn
- Kay Granger
- Kenny Marchant
- Kevin McAleenan
- Kirstjen Nielsen
- Lizzie Fletcher
- Mac Thornberry
- Michael McCaul
- Mike Conaway
- MJ Hegar
- Pete Flores
- Pete Olson
- Property Taxes
- Royce West
- Sanctuary City for the Unborn
- Second Amendment
- Texas Education Agency
- WIll Hurd
- Workers Defense Project
Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad watching and quoting Monty Python productions.