This Week in Texas Politics: COVID-19 mandates, election surprises

Court fights, ballot box surprises and political musical chairs dominated this week in Texas politics. The bulk of the action in Texas politics did not happen this week under the State Capitol dome, but a lot of it originally started there. 

Several of the issues involve big court battles between the state and the federal government.

FOX7's panel of political journalists discussed how the state reacted to the Biden administration's new vaccination mandate for businesses. The federal government is requiring U.S. companies with at least 100 employees to have COVID-19 vaccinations, or to clear weekly testing, starting Jan. 4. 

Another big legal fight that was discussed involved began Monday’s Supreme Court hearing on the controversial Texas heartbeat law. SB 8 bans abortions when cardio activity can be detected. Some on the high court voiced concerns about the possible broader impact the law may have.

The Biden administration, yesterday, also filed a lawsuit challenging the new Texas election integrity law. It was pushed by the republican majority of the state legislature and prevents 24-hour voting that Democrats wanted and clarified how mail-in ballots can be done. In response to the federal lawsuit, Gov. Greg Abbott made a defiant social media post, that stated "Bring it."

The shake up under the Texas Dome continues. State Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) announced he's not coming back. The Texas GOP flipped a State House seat that was held by a Democrat. Also a controversial council member wants to go back to Washington, as a member of Congress.

RUDY: Here we are back in the LBJ penthouse talking about another week in Texas politics, and this week started off in the Supreme Court, and it's wrapping up with another court battle on the federal side. So let's kick it off with our headlines for the week with our group. Mark Wiggins, political consultant. What's your headline for the week?

MARK: Virginia election shows that Democrats have to deliver.

RUDY: Steven Dial, FOX 4 Dallas What's your headline for the week?

STEVEN: I'm going to pull one from a couple of weeks ago, Texas versus the United States.

RUDY: Cassi Pollock, Texas Tribune, what's your headline for the week?

CASSI: Republicans flipped San Antonio-area Texas House seat.

RUDY: Scott Braddock with the , what’s your headline for the week?

SCOTT: Even conservative Supreme Court justices are skeptical about the Texas abortion ban.

RUDY: So this week we did start with a lot of court action. Scott, were you surprised to see the two conservative Supreme Court justices raise concerns with the Texas abortion law?

SCOTT: Not really, because I've heard from a lot of conservatives in Texas who have some questions about that, particularly conservative Republican women who roll their eyes at this new law in the way that it's constructed. And I think the way it's constructed is what makes it not so much about abortion and about whether you want to open the courthouse doors to everybody who wants to sue doctors over something. It was fascinating to listen to Justice Kavanaugh, who's no liberal, asked the Solicitor General of Texas, who's our lawyer on this whole thing, about whether this would endanger other constitutional rights.

CASSI: Just like what Scott's saying here, you know what Kavanaugh was getting at, in hiss questioning was, you know, this loophole being applied or being extended to other rights. So I think, you know, the gun rights groups that we saw kind of come out, you know, in others who, you know, maybe have concerns about the applicability of the law and maybe how it could set a precedent. It all makes sense.

RUDY: Steven, as the week started winding down, a new federal challenge against Texas has started, but this one's attention is the Texas election law. Governor Abbott says bring it, big fight?

STEVEN: Governor Abbott said "Bring it." And then Ken Paxton, the attorney general, just sued the federal government in response to the Department of Labor and OSHA's policy announcement,( the business vaccination mandate) making a deadline (starting January 4, 2022).The fight is on, of course, like everything that Texas has done this year, has been in the national spotlight.

RUDY: Mark the shake up under the Texas Dome continues. State Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr. announcing he's not coming back.

MARK: So Senator Lucio gave the Lieutenant Governor the ability to cast a lot of his priority bills as bipartisan that were really otherwise party line vote. So when you lose him and you lose an independent Republican like Kel Seliger, I think what you're going to see is, the naked partisanship of the Senate, finally, it's just going to be on full display.

RUDY: Cassi, you mentioned earlier the flip flop in San Antonio, a Republican taking, winning in a special election, a Democrat House seat. Is this more to come or is this still too early to say how this is all shaking out?

CASSI: I would say too early to say, and my main reason for that is, you know, special elections when they happen should always be treated as specific events and not necessarily harbingers for what's to come. So at least one Republican group who was involved in that race is sounding pretty confident that this is just the beginning of the Republicans track record for this upcoming cycle.

RUDY: There are a lot of propositions on the ballot that we had on Tuesday. Some won, some lost, Scott, any surprises for you?

SCOTT: I thought it was interesting that Don Huffines was campaigning on the proposition that had to do with whether local governments could shut down places of worship during a pandemic. He was leaving robocalls for folks that sounded like just a voicemail from your friend, and then said that this is really on the ballot because Greg Abbott was shutting down churches last year during the pandemic. And that's not why Republican legislators and Democrats, by the way, put it on the ballot.

RUDY: Mark, are you surprised that Austin City Council member Greg Casar is running for the seat that Lloyd Doggett was in? [U.S. Rep. Doggett (D-Texas) earlier announced he will run in a new Austin-specific Congressional district.] This isn't a sure thing because this district goes all the way to San Antonio.

MARK: Councilman Casar is a lightning rod even among Democrats, and some of his potential opponents include some really well-established folks like Democratic leaders like Representative Eddie Rodriguez, Trey Martinez-Fischer. We're proven fundraisers with broad networks of support. But on the other hand, Casar is able to motivate a lot of voters who fall outside the political mainstream, and that's going to be an advantage that he can take into this race.

RUDY: And with that, let's wrap up our week with one word, Steven Dial, your word for the week?

STEVEN: I might get in trouble. I brought a visual aid, Braves.

SCOTT: Oh, we'll see you next year, man.

RUDY: That is painful. Cassi, your one word for the week.

CASSI: Well, mine was going to be baseball, but if Steven has a prop, I don't know. Special Elections.

RUDY: Go, Astros, Mark Wiggins, your one word for the week.

MARK: Reality check.

RUDY: And Scott Braddock, your one word?

SCOTT: Abortion.

RUDY: And with that, we wrap up another week in Texas politics.

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