The Texas Legislature gaveled in this week, kicking off 140 days of press conferences, hearings, debates and votes on new legislation. But while that action begins to ramp up, another major political pastime is on hold.
Lawmakers are not allowed to raise campaign cash during a legislative session. But that didn't stop the state's top officials from letting potential opponents know how much money they have in the bank.
In a small, packed room in downtown Austin on Monday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick held a press conference -- not to talk about legislation or the impending session, but to talk about the 2018 elections. Most of his remarks focused on his absolute denial that he'd run against Gov. Greg Abbott, but he also saved some time to brag.
"We have over $13.6 million on hand," Patrick told the crowd of reporters. "We raised close to $5 million just since the last report. We have more money on hand in the bank, and we have raised more money to my knowledge than any lieutenant governor in the history of Texas."
Later in the week, Gov. Abbott released his own campaign haul -- more than $34 million cash on hand -- after raising $9 million during the last six months.
"That's such a large amount of money," Rice University Political Scientist Mark Jones said, enough to scare off anybody who might even remotely consider running.
Jones said the first race Abbott and Patrick want to affect is the GOP primary. Their war chests certainly make the statement that challengers shouldn't even try.
Race #2 is the general election. Sure, in Texas that's usually not much of a race. But it's still important for Democrats downballot to have some kind of candidate at the top since they already start with a disadvantage at the ballot box. Starting behind that big a bank just makes it worse, Jones said.
"It's going to be one more impediment to Democrats as they try to go out and recruit a quality candidate to compete against Abbott, at least to keep the race competitive to help downballot races," he said.
Making sure potential opponents know just how hard it will be is especially important over the next 140 days -- since Abbott, Patrick and all legislative officials can't raise money during the legislative session.