Conservative Activists Plot to Save Texas GOP With One Weird Trick

Gage Skidmore
A special session? Who do you think I am?
Fresh from having pushed House Speaker Dennis Bonnen halfway out the door, Texas conservative activists are looking to rerun the 2019 legislative session in which the speaker played such a big part.

Wednesday afternoon in Dallas, representatives from Empower Texans, Texas Right to Life and the Texas Eagle Forum, among others, called on Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special legislative session as soon as possible to pass a total ban on abortion, ban transgender kids from receiving medical treatment that affirms their gender identity and make it tougher for Texans to vote in the 2020 election.

Michael Quinn Sullivan, the head of Empower Texans and the mind behind the surreptitious meeting recording that took down the speaker, accused Texas' Republicans of selling out their constituents during the 2019 session.

"Texas voters were left with a purple legislative session. A session that didn't accomplish what most Texans expect legislative sessions to accomplish," Sullivan said.

If Republicans want to be successful in the 2020 elections, he said, they must move right from the more moderate path Bonnen led them down in 2019.

"Too much was left undone during this legislative session or was attempted poorly," Sullivan said. "Governor Greg Abbott has the opportunity to give citizens something to be excited about. Real unity in politics arises, not from citizens cheerleading their elected officials, but from elected officials doing the will of the citizenry. That's how Republicans can have unity in 2020 — by accomplishing the things that they've been campaigning on."

According to Sullivan and his assembled fellow travelers, there is a widespread scourge of parents allowing their gender non-conforming kids to undergo medical procedures that the kids later regret. The problem is so severe, Cindi Castilla of the Dallas Eagle Forum said, that it needs to be addressed immediately by Texas' state government. 

"There are males that are permanently burdened with child-sized organs and lack of sensation," she said.

Kids should be forced to wait to seek gender-affirming medical procedures until they are adults, Castilla said.

"Maybe go get the healing that they needed instead of a transgendering," she said.

"There are males that are permanently burdened with child-sized organs and lack of sensation." — Cindi Castilla

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Frustrated by the legislature only passing two major anti-abortion bills this session, the activists also want Abbott to push the legislature to set Texas on a path to totally abolishing abortion. Rebecca Lintz, the North Texas regional director for the Texas Right to Life, pushed her group's "Texas Abolition Strategy," which would, first, ban all abortions more than 20 weeks after conception, with no medical exceptions, then ban all abortions after a fetus' heartbeat can be detected and then, third, completely ban abortion in Texas.

Spending a month arguing about the policies pushed Wednesday, the activists said, will make sure Republican voters do more in 2020 than enter the voting booth, vote for President Donald Trump, and leave the rest of their ballot blank.

"Here's a very possible situation," said JoAnn Fleming, the executive director of Grassroots America. "With no straight-ticket voting and heavy voter turnout, particularly in the metro areas. They're coming out to vote and they vote for Donald J. Trump for president and they send him back to the White House and they forget everybody else. Here's an opportunity for the Republican leadership in Texas to make itself relevant."

If Republicans lose Texas in 2020, Fleming said, they will lose the United States.

All the bluster on offer at the press conference might have sounded like an empty threat — there was a clear, "do this or you'll have trouble in the primary" vibe to the whole thing — if not for a series of directives issued by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick after the press conference.

Several of Patrick's interim charges — priorities assigned to the Texas Senate to work on between sessions — line up directly with the activists' demands. Patrick calls for both research into a fetal heartbeat bill and looking into the integrity of the state's voter rolls — another of the conservative group's demands — in addition to making sure Texas is even more friendly to Second Amendment rights and less friendly to vaping.