Analysis: In Texas, a seasonal shift away from election politics

 

 

 Bills were stacked up on the Texas Senate dais near the end of the 2017 legislative session.

 

The seasonal change in Texas politics and government always seems fast, and it's upon us again. Lawmakers, elected last Tuesday, start filing legislation Monday, even as they fill campaign accounts in advance of the legislative session that starts in January.

 

Bills stack up on the Senate dais on May 24, 2017.  The Senate is facing a midnight deadline to consider House bills less th…

Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune

The Texas Legislature won’t convene until January, but Monday marks the beginning of that session. It’s the day lawmakers can officially file legislation for the coming session — an opening look at the issues legislators want to address or at least talk about.

Even as the presidential race, vote-counting and other election issues dominate the news and public attention, the Texas calendar is moving toward the state government the legislative candidates were elected to run.

 

The week after a general election in Texas is also the start of what’s called the “late train” — a fundraising period tucked between the election and the beginning of a campaign finance blackout period that starts Dec. 13 — one month before the beginning of the legislative session.

Elected state officials won’t be allowed to raise campaign money (with exceptions for special elections) until late June. Some want to replenish their campaign accounts. Some are waiting to see if contributors to their vanquished opponents come around, checkbooks at the ready, to kiss and make up with the victors. Some want to build the kind of cash balances that persuade potential challengers to shop for opportunities elsewhere.

The fundraising blackout is there to prevent the appearance of bribery, and also the most obvious opportunities for it. It’s unseemly — as the state Senate discovered 30 years ago — to hold a vote and then accept campaign checks on the floor of the Senate from one of the supporters of the very legislation that was under consideration at the time.

That was 1989, when the Legislature was in a special session on workers’ compensation laws. Lonnie “Bo” Pilgrim, proprietor of an East Texas poultry empire, gave nine senators checks for $10,000 during a break in their proceedings. Most of the recipients were embarrassed when the public found out and returned the checks. The memory stuck, making it into Pilgrim’s obituaries when he died in 2017.

 

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