The legislature will convene on September 20 for the third special session of 2021. Abbott placed the following five items on the call:
- Disbursement of $16 billion in federal coronavirus aid
- Requirements that youth athletes compete within their biological sex
- Curtailment of vaccine mandates by state and local government entities
- Establishment of a criminal penalty for the unlawful restraint of a dog
Since his opponents first jumped into the race, Abbott has faced a barrage of criticism for everything from the porous southern border and initial death of the election bill to the House Democrats’ expatriation and lack of advancement on certain conservative priority legislation.
Some of these things, like the quorum bust, Abbott has only a cursory impact on — despite his strong rhetoric after the initial flight to D.C. promising harsh repercussions.
But others, like the lack of inclusion on any special session agenda of a ban on gender modification procedures on children, is entirely at Abbott’s whim. His opponents — former state Sen. Don Huffines, former Texas GOP Chair Allen West, and BlazeTV host Chad Prather — have each bashed him mightily over the issue.
Instead of acquiesce those calls, Abbott implemented a regulatory half-measure by asking the Department of Family Protective Services (DFPS) to determine whether gender modification surgeries constitute child abuse. In response, the DFPS concurred that they would be treated as genital mutilation and abuse.
But after further inquiry by Rep. Bryan Slaton (R-Royse City), DFPS punted on whether puberty blockers and gender transition counseling also constitute child abuse.
Another critical topic during the primary has been the southern border and the record numbers of illegal immigrants flowing across it.
In June, Abbott announced his plan to finish construction of the wall across Texas’ southern border, started by the Trump administration. To help finance the $33.6 billion required to construct at least 730 miles, Abbott signed off on a redirection of $250 million in state money and began a public fundraising campaign to buttress that total. As of September 7, that total has eclipsed $53 million.
His opponents, however, say Abbott’s plan isn’t enough.
“[I]t’s clear Greg Abbott is incapable and unwilling to take the steps necessary to keep Texans safe,” Huffines said in July, further stating that he would “use the powers granted under Article I, Section 10 of the U.S. Constitution to defend Texas from invasion.”
Without naming Abbott, West said in a Monday post, “I do not believe [securing the border] will happen under the current gubernatorial official who is too fearful of taking such an action, unless his poll numbers are tanking.”
And back in April, Prather quipped on Twitter, “If the Governor can shut down the entire state for a virus with a 99% survival rate then he damn sure can shut down the border.”
Under Abbott’s direction, the legislature appropriated $1.8 billion in extra funding for border security measures during the truncated second special session that concluded earlier this month.
While Abbott’s primary opponents each try to run to the right of him, should a high-profile Democrat jump in the race, there is already more than enough interest on the political left that should result in a serious general election contest.
The Lincoln Project — a PAC made up of self-acclaimed disaffected GOP operatives whose goal it is to help Democrats defeat Republicans across the country — has already spent gobs of money attacking Abbott on his mask mandate in schools prohibition and the governor’s recent comments on “eliminat[ing] all rapists on the streets of Texas.”
From either the right or the left, this special session is likely among the last opportunities for Abbott to solidify the legislative record on which he will run next year. The governor has already begun touting legislation such as the Heartbeat Act, Constitutional Carry, a restriction on Critical Race Theory in schools, and others as accomplishments worthy of re-election.
But he is sure to face continued criticism from his opponents on what was or wasn’t done this year. Last week, Huffines called on Abbott to include a 20-item list of issues on the third special session agenda.
If the governor considers any items important enough to squeeze into the agenda, then he’ll take the opportunity to try and buttress his record — or he’ll run with that which he already has.
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Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and 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 quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.