‘Contested, Heated Culture Wars’ Mark Ultraconservative Texas Session

They also used last-minute stalling tactics to successfully kill two other bills in the House that had been priorities for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the presiding officer in the Senate who later criticized his Republican colleagues in the House for not working hard enough.

When the speaker of the House, State Representative Dade Phelan, was stopped at an entrance to the Senate last month because he lacked a required wristband showing he had a negative coronavirus test, it started an intraparty debate over whether he was denied entry to the chamber. The incident only heightened the perception that the two Republican-led chambers that Democrats accused of advancing such a divisive conservative agenda were themselves divided.

“There’s always some level of factions just because we’re like any family,” said Mr. Murphy, the Republican caucus chairman. “There’s the ones that have cheese pizza and those who want pepperoni. But we’re all going to sit down for dinner.”

It has been decades since Molly Ivins, a sharp-witted liberal writer known for mocking the political status quo, famously called the Legislature “the finest free entertainment in Texas.”

In 1979, in a move not unlike what the Democrats pulled off this weekend, a dozen Democratic senators known as the Killer Bees hid offsite to prevent the Senate from reaching a quorum on election legislation. State troopers were dispatched to round them up. Officers thought they nabbed State Senator Gene Jones but discovered, after flying him to Austin in a helicopter, that they instead had his brother Clayton. When Clayton Jones was asked why he went along with the mix-up, he said he had never been in a helicopter before.

Decades ago, during one of his epic filibusters — in which lawmakers have to keep speaking except when allies ask questions and not leave the floor even for restroom breaks — State Senator A.R. Schwartz, known as Babe, was surrounded by his Democratic colleagues in a corner during a long question. He urinated into a wastebasket. His allies then cleared out, taking the wastebasket with them.

Molly Ivins-style moments of levity still occur, though not as frequently.

During a recent discussion over a measure that would restrict the breeding of unlicensed dogs and cats, pet banter and chuckles flowed. The bill’s sponsor, State Senator José Menéndez, a San Antonio Democrat, called the moment bittersweet, and fleeting.

“It was one of the few light moments we’ve had,” Mr. Menéndez said. “Everything else has been very contested, heated culture wars.”

Simon Romero and John Schwartz contributed reporting.



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