Another Special Session
This is the third Special Session since the end of the regular legislative session on May 29. The Governor has promised more if necessary. His desire is to have enacted some type of private school voucher, or as the bills are currently drafted, an Education Savings Account. A version of this idea has been considered during the most recent regular legislative session and in sessions past. The main legislative opposition has come from House Democrats and rural House Republicans. Also included within the Governor’s call was additional border security, illegal immigration measures, and addressing COVID vaccine mandates.
Much has happened since the regular legislative session concluded. We have had two special sessions, and the legislature passed sizable potential property tax reductions (if the voters agree). We also had an impeachment trial for Attorney General Ken Paxton and increasing animosity between the state leadership, especially between Lt. Governor Patrick and Speaker of the House Phelan. This feud cooled somewhat during the most recent Special Session (at least long enough to pass a property tax reduction bill), but it has gotten white hot in the past few days, with calls for resignation and the return of morally compromised campaign contributions between the House and Senate leaders.
This makes passing legislation (not easy in the best of circumstances) even more problematic. Although the Governor can continue to call the members back as many times as he wants, the legislators are the ones that file and actually pass the bills. Teacher pay raises and more money for schools in general is not included in the “call,” but there was an assumption that, if some sort of “voucher” or ESA is passed, then some additional funding for public schools might be addressed. The Governor recently confirmed that he would add “school funding and teacher pay raises” to the call when and only if the Education Savings Account or an equivalent were passed.
The Senate side of the Impeachment of Attorney General Ken Paxton provided a unique and significant spectacle. An impeachment has only occurred twice previously in Texas history, with the last impeachment being the impeachment of district judge O.P. Carrillo in 1976. The House side of the Impeachment was completed within the later portion of the regular legislative session. The House overwhelming agreed with the facts as put forth by the House impeachment managers and voted in favor of 20 articles of impeachment. The vote to Impeach was 121 to 23, including 60 Republicans voting for Impeachment along with 63 House Democrats. As a reminder, this process began earlier during the session when the Attorney General asked the legislature for $3.5 million to pay the whistleblower settlement. The whistleblowers had been the AG’s hand-picked senior staff. Apparently that case will continue to move forward without a settlement being reached. In addition, there is an ongoing FBI investigation of the Attorney General concerning many of the same facts as discussed during the impeachment trial.
Stay tuned—there may be more shoes to drop.
While the Lt. Governor’s (and others’) call for Speaker Phelan to resign is, at times, loud, it seems to be having little impact on the Speaker’s ability to run the House or raise money for his allies. Promises to find primary opponents for those (including the Speaker) who backed the impeachment are certainly threats that cannot be taken lightly. In a practical sense, finding legitimate qualified opponents for 60 House Republicans and two popular Republican Senators is a tall order. Often, these last-minute candidates are ill-suited for the race, and although it is possible that some will, no doubt, be well-funded, adequately funding 60-plus races is a tall order, even for the Wilkes brothers and Mr. Dunn.
TWGGA is filing the necessary paperwork for the creation of a General Purpose PAC. This will better allow our industry to assist those running for office who support our industry. Our official PAC rollout will be at Grape Camp next month in Lubbock. This effort is very important to the ongoing success of our industry. Be ready to participate at Grape Camp and beyond. In addition, regional meetings being held during Grape Camp will give us an opportunity to discuss issues of interest and what the association’s agenda might be for the upcoming 2025 legislative session.
I want to make note of the recent passing of Ed Auler of Fall Creek. 1991 was my first legislative session working with the Wholesale Beer Distributors, and I remember watching Ed and Susan walk the halls of the Capitol on behalf of the Texas wine industry (what little there was at the time). There were several bills filed to expand the privileges of winery owners, and Ed would testify on behalf of the industry and Fall Creek. Just Ed. I don’t recall any others (although there may have been) testifying. He would be there by himself, one against many. The rest of the alcohol industry would testify against any expansion of winery privileges, and the bills would die a quiet death. This did not seem to diminish the Aulers’ enthusiasm or determination. Then again in 1993, there they were again, fighting the good fight against overwhelming odds, while everyone else in the alcohol industry knew their fight was futile. This perceived futility did not seem to matter to Ed and Susan. As time went by, others joined the fight, but Ed and Susan are the ones I remember in the beginning. For those who have joined the industry since, you owe a significant debt of gratitude to Ed and Susan Auler. Without their efforts, the Texas wine industry would not be where it is today.
—TWGGA Legislative Advocate Kyle Frazier