Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick won reelection. What does that mean for the next legislative session?
Republicans swept statewide elections Tuesday night, leaving the office of governor, attorney general and lieutenant governor in conservative hands.
The lieutenant governor’s race was a contentious one — pitting GOP incumbent Dan Patrick against moderate-Democrat Mike Collier. Collier conceded the race on Twitter Tuesday night, thanking his family, team and voters who supported him.
With his victory, Patrick retains his hold on one of the most powerful positions in Texas: The lieutenant governor not only presides over the Texas Senate, but also helps shape the state’s legislative agenda, and oversees the budget and redistricting.
In an interview with WFAA after the race was called Tuesday night, Patrick said his legislative priorities next year include criminal justice reform and continued improvements to the Texas power grid.
“We need more natural gas plants — deliverable, dispatchable power that we know we can count on,” Patrick said. “Renewables are great, but we have to have enough dispatchable power that we can always count on, so we don’t have to worry about if the winds not always blowing or the sun’s not out.”
Other Patrick priorities have been teacher pay and property tax cuts — the latter of which the incumbent played up in his bid for reelection, and which caused at least one Republican to break ranks with the party to endorse Collier.
Former Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley has been critical of the lieutenant governor for what he said was Patrick’s infringement on local sovereignty when it comes to collecting property taxes. Patrick helped pass Senate Bill 2 in 2019, which limits how much local governments can raise property taxes without first holding an election.
In an interview prior to the election, Whitley said that power should be in the hands of local officials.
“I believe that when our forefathers set up Texas, they realized how big of a state we were,” Whitely said. “They realized that they could not … govern the state from one central location, such as Austin, Texas, and that it was critically important that they let the elected officials in their own little areas handle local issues.”
But beyond "bread and butter" issues like taxes and infrastructure, Patrick's reelection could produce another socially conservative legislative session when lawmakers return to Austin in 2023, according to University of Houston political science professor Brandon Rottinghaus.
“There's been a lot of turnover in the Republican Party,” Rottinghaus says. “Moderates have either left the legislature or they've lost. That means that you're seeing a new crop of legislators who are more inclined to push social issues over the kind of committed policy issues Republicans traditionally have favored.”
One of those issues Rottinghaus expects to come up is gender-affirming health care for transgender youth. During the last session, Republican legislators tried and failed to pass laws that would ban such care.
Despite broad agreement in the medical community of its efficacy, Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a nonbinding opinion earlier this year defining gender-affirming care as "child abuse." Soon after, Gov. Greg Abbott directed the Texas Department of Family Protective Services to open investigations into some families with transgender children.
Rachel Hill, government affairs director with Equality Texas, says that’s already had an impact on trans youth and their families in Texas.
“We did have a lot of folks come out of that session with honest PTSD symptoms, knowing that … your life, your world can completely change,” she said. “Whether you had to leave the state or whether you had to worry about your kid not being around.”
Leading national and state health care organizations say gender-affirming health care is the best way to provide care to transgender children, who are at a much higher risk of suicide if they can’t access it. Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Texas Pediatric Society condemned Abbott's directive two days after it was issued.
Advocates are worried about the possible consequences of a law banning gender-affirming care, which Hill said is often "life-saving."
“It's decided upon with teams, with medical professionals," Hill said. "So, I mean, really what the government would be saying if this law were to be passed, is that politicians know better than doctors.”
Regardless of what issues come up during next year’s legislative session, Rottinghaus said Patrick could garner the support to pass whatever he wants.
“Dan Patrick is the most powerful lieutenant governor the state’s ever seen and he runs the Senate with effectively an iron fist,” he said. “Whatever he wants to get politically, he can get done.”
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