Special Session 4 ends with no school choice plan: This Week in Texas Politics

The holiday season is here, and This Week in Texas Politics was a week that was a little Grinchy. FOX 7 Austin's Rudy Koski was joined by our panel of political analysts to discuss this week's political happenings around the Lone Star State.


RUDY KOSKI: Well, let's get our headlines from our panel, and we'll start with Mark Jones from Rice University. Mark, what's your headline for the week?  

MARK JONES: The longest year, the Texas legislature was in session for 246 days. That's a record.  

RUDY KOSKI: Brad Johnson from the Texas News, what's your headline for the week?  

BRAD JOHNSON: It's over, finally.  

RUDY KOSKI: And Robert Downen with the Texas Tribune. What's your headline for the week?  

ROBERT DOWNEN: I'm going to go with, Boy, that was ugly.

RUDY KOSKI: Now we're referring to Special Session 4, I think, on that one. And Special Session 4 came to an end pretty much the way that the other ones did: failing to pass a school choice plan. Brad, the lieutenant governor threw all the blame on the House Speaker Dade Phelan; you were at the news conference when he threw those grenades.  

BRAD JOHNSON: The biggest takeaway I had was really the mixed messaging. You know, he came out and said, I'm not going to get involved in House races, and then proceeded to provide a litmus test for voters for their individual House members. Ask them specifically, will they support Speaker Phelan in the next legislative session as speaker? And if they don't vote against them? Sure.  

ROBERT DOWNEN: And I think, you know, it's the same story that has really been at the core of this broader dispute over school choice, you know, for years now, which is rural opposition. And yet again, we're seeing that that opposition just is not going to be overcome. It doesn't seem like, you know, at least during this session, I won't forecast for the next.


RUDY KOSKI: Well for Gov. Greg Abbott, V doesn't stand for victory. It now stands for Vendetta. He reacted this week by ramping up his party primary campaign against the House Republicans who didn't vote for a school choice plan. Mark, are you seeing any signs that this strategy will flip any kind of votes at the ballot box to help him?  

MARK JONES: Oh, it has the potential to. I think the governor's now going with Plan B, He realizes with these 20, 21 or so rural Republicans, he's not going to be able to bring them over to the school choice side. So now he's going to plan B, which is replacing them. And if he can get that number down to, say, 10 or 12, then it becomes very feasible to pass school choice in 2025.

RUDY KOSKI: Now, a player in this GOP family feud for the primaries could be a controversial political group known as Pale Horse Strategies. We learned that that group has now changed its name to West Fort Worth Management, LLC. That's a mouthful. Now, you may remember a Nazi sympathizer earlier this year had a meeting at the Pale Horse office with key leaders. Robert, you broke this original story. You reported this name change on Thursday. How is this group explaining its rebranding?  

ROBERT DOWNEN: Well, you know, they're really not explaining anything. I think their strategy since we broke that story on Oct. 8 has been to just put their heads down and, you know, have some of their allies go to bat for them, try to poke holes in our reporting on not only their ties to Nick Fuentes, but their ties to other anti-Semitic and extreme figures.  

RUDY KOSKI: Mark, historically, do these work, rebranding like this?  

MARK JONES: You think we can go back to Jeremiah. Does the leopard change its spots? And the answer is usually no.  

BRAD JOHNSON: We're really going to see a test of how short-term memory is for voters.

RUDY KOSKI: The Pale Horse Nazi scandal did come up during the Texas Republican Executive Committee meeting over the weekend with the group denouncing anti-Semitism, but failed to approve a ban on associating with Nazi sympathizers. Denouncing that failed vote was the one thing this week that the House Speaker and the Lieutenant Governor seemed to be able to agree on. Brad, have you heard anything about this costing the GOP chair, Matt Rinaldi, his job?  

BRAD JOHNSON: Well, there are some within the Republican Party of Texas, especially the EXRC, trying to rally support for a challenge to Rinaldi. But frankly, I think it'd be very difficult to do that.  

ROBERT DOWNEN: Behind Rinaldi is a very powerful handful of players. The same players that are driving much of the far right of Texas politics, West Texas billionaires. And I do think that really, you know, just is an advantage that really is hard to put, you know, to put metrics to, that I think is going to make it very hard for him to just be removed for.  

MARK JONES: The power players in terms of elected Abbott, Patrick and Cruz. At some point they need to make a decision of how active they want to be in choosing the chair of the Texas GOP. And so I think as Brad and Robert mentioned, absent Abbott and Patrick and Cruz openly getting involved to try to shift to somebody who doesn't cause as much negative PR as Renaldi he has for the Texas GOP, he's likely on course to be reelected. 

RUDY KOSKI: All right. And with that, let's wrap up our week with the final word. And Mark, we'll start with you. What's your work for the week?  

MARK JONES: Whitmire (a nod to the Houston Mayoral Race).  

RUDY KOSKI: Brad, sum it up with a word for us.  

BRAD JOHNSON: Diminuendo, opposite of crescendo. Things are calming down. It's Christmastime.  

RUDY KOSKI: And Robert, close it out with a word.  


RUDY KOSKI: Little hyphen. Yeah, that's good. And with over-ish. That's it for This Week in Texas Politics.

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