Abbott Coercion Approach Fails to Pay
as 21 GOP Reps Spurn School Choice
November 17, 2023
Governor Greg Abbott's attempts to intimidate backfired on Friday when Texas House Republicans and Democrats teamed up to kill a school choice plan that he turned into his signature priority for 2023 despite opposition in the Capitol's west wing that's been insurmountable up to now.
The House rendered Abbott's threats and pressure tactics to be an ineffective waste when 21 Republicans joined the Democrats in a vote to extract an education savings account provision from a broader school funding package.
The House voted 84-63 to remove an entire chapter dealing with ESAs with an amendment to an amendment that GOP State Rep. John Raney of Bryan offered. The House then approved several motions designed to prevent another vote on the measure during the final two weeks of the current and fourth special session in Texas this year.
Abbott vowed to come after Republicans who defied him on ESAs in the GOP primary election in 2024. The governor deluged House Republicans with social media claims on polls showing widespread support for school choice across the state. Abbott appeared frequently this year in photo ops at appearances at private schools trying to create the picture of momentum on the issue.
The Republican clearly overestimated the clout that he has with members of his own party in the House. Abbott has promised to keep calling special sessions until he gets his way on vouchers. But the governor has little left for leverage beyond the threat of vetoing legislation in a regular session that's still 13 months away.
The vote tonight left little doubt that Abbott simply does not have the support to pass school choice in the current House. He must decide if he's going to cut his losses and toss in the towel on vouchers or continue to force Texas taxpayers to foot the bill for additional special sessions because he can't bring himself to admit defeat.
Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick chastised the House for the failure on ESAs. Patrick said the Senate approved school choice bills in 2015 and 2017 before voting four times for ESAs this year alone. "I'm stunned that 21 House Republicans would continue to fight against parents and deny them the right to choose a school they think is best for their child," Patrick said in a post on X.
GOP State Reps. Steve Allison of San Antonio, Ernest Bailes of Sheperd, Keith Bell of Forney, DeWayne Burns of Cleburne, Travis Clardy of Nacogdoches, Drew Darby of San Angelo, Jay Dean of Longview, Charlie Geren of Fort Worth, Justin Holland of Rockwall, Kyle Kacal of College Station, Ken King of Canadian, John Kuempel of Seguin, Stan Lambert of Abilene, Andrew Murr of Junction, Walter "Four" Price of Amarillo, Glenn Rogers of Graford, Hugh Shine of Temple, Reggie Smith of Van Alstyne, Ed Thompson of Pearland and Gary VanDeaver of New Boston voted for the Raney amendment.
Most of the Republicans who torpedoed school vouchers represent districts that are largely rural. Allison, Geren and Holland are notable exceptions. Geren wields enormous sway in the House as a longtime lawmaker who served on the committee that investigated Attorney General Ken Paxton and recommended his impeachment during the closing days of the regular session. Geren served in the group of House managers who Speaker Dade Phelan selected to represent the House in the Senate impeachment trial. Murr led the Paxton probe as the chairman of the General Investigating Committee.
Clardy, Price and Thompson were the only Republicans in the group who backed the Raney amendment to oppose the move to impeach Paxton. The AG endorsed Clardy earlier Friday for a GOP primary battle with challenger Joanne Shofner in House District 11. Paxton will be targeting a mix of House Republicans on both sides of the vouchers vote tonight. Raney, Price and Thompson aren't seeking new terms next year.
Raney proposed the change to the original amendment to HB 1 that the sponsor State Rep. Brad Buckley of Salado had on the table at the time. Price led the push to table motions to reconsider the votes on the Raney revision and the Buckley alteration with the Brazos County colleague's change.
more to come ...