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What We Learned at The Texas Tribune Festival

Image via Josh Guerra/Texas Standard
Texas Standard's David Brown speaks with Sens. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) and José Rodriguez (D-El Paso) at the Texas Tribune Festival 2015."

From Texas Standard:

This weekend, as thousands of politicians and political insiders gathered for the 2015 Texas Tribune Festival, more than a few GOP members were talking about what they plan to make a priority in the next Texas legislative session.

Here's what they told Texas Standard.  

Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) says the buzz phrase for next legislative session will be "religious liberty." Specifically, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick gave lawmakers the interim charge to look at ways to preserve freedom of religion, the Second Amendment and the freedom of political speech.

“I think that we need to make sure that if someone wants to talk about the Lord, that is not suppressed,” Campbell tells Texas Standard. “I believe businesses – if it's a private business – have the right to run their business as they wish, and have policies that support their business model and their values …  But when you start trying to ask me to believe the way you believe, and I'm wrong if I don't, I believe we've crossed the line.”

What was striking – and perhaps even telling – was that even some long-time Texas conservatives appear deeply concerned about the hardening of party lines, especially in a state where elections are often decided by the primaries.

Former Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Republican, says people on the fringes of both parties are controlling the primaries.

“They have this sort of ‘my way or the highway’ mentality, which means if you come together and agree on principles that can be gained with a compromise, somehow you're not pure,” she says. “Therefore, you have trouble in your primary. You know, I have to say most people are afraid to use the word compromise.”

The hardening of political arteries has already raised the pressure on Capitol Hill – to the point that the House leadership is in disarray over how tough of a line to take against the Democrats and the President.

The sudden resignation of Rep. John Boehner as House Speaker has created a leadership vacuum. Republicans in Congress have all but begged Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan (R) to run for the the position, but Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) says he could be up for the job as well.

“Right now I think it’s Paul Ryan’s decision,” McCaul says. “I think if Paul is not in the race, then I’m certainly interested.”

It has been only a few months since the Texas arrest and jailhouse death of Sandra Bland, but questions surrounding law enforcement race relations are still permeating national headlines. State Sens. José Rodriguez and Rodney Ellis say they may be from opposite sides of Texas – El Paso and Houston respectively – but they are trying to form a unified front to push the issue forward within the state.

"The problem with the law enforcement issues is that Black lives matter – that everybody's lives matter – but especially minority lives,” Rodriguez says. “Because we have borne the brunt of disproportionate incarcerations, disproportionate arrests, of racial profiling. And that's still a big concern in our communities."

"It's a problem that really occurs around the country,” Ellis says. “I think it relates to laws that we've put in place that have led to a tremendous over-incarceration of people in this country – particularly of people of color."

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