Governor Abbott's twenty item special call is peppered with controversial issues. It still isn't as expansive as “Ma” Ferguson’s 153 item bonanza in the first (of four) called special sessions in 1933. (the first special session included legislation modifying rules banning boxing on Sunday for the Olympics).
Governor Abbott has taken a more hands-on role in the special than he did in the bulk of the regular 85th Session but this isn’t a guarantee of success, especially with Speaker Straus’s cagey remark in Lawrence Wright’s New Yorker article that the House is under “no obligation to pass anything.”
Do the number of items on a governor’s call have an effect on the volume of legislation passed? A little. The graph below estimates the ratio of bills introduced to those passed graphed against the number of items on a special session call from 1991 to 2013.* The effects are modest but show an interesting pattern: more items on a call reduce the predicted pass rate of legislation in the special session.
The passage of a bill doesn’t guarantee the bill is the “right” bill by a governor’s definition, but this gives us a flavor for how more items on a call reduces legislative productivity in a special. Governor Abbott’s rather large menu of items may please the Republican base but could also hurt his chances of getting more legislation “signature ready.”
* Data nerd stuff: Estimates are derived from a generalized linear model with the ratio of introduced to passed bills as the dependent variable (a ratio between 0-1), controlling for the difference in party control (total Democrats minus total Republicans), and the absolute value of the ideal points between the House and Senate chambers (the mean ideal point of those who voted in the majority, using Shor and McCarty ideological scores, provided generously by Boris Shor). Standard errors clustered by session.
Counting Up the Wins, Remembering the Losses
Heading into the special session, it helps to provide some context in terms of agenda control and legislative wins for the Governor in the regular 85th session. Governor Abbott proclaimed the state of Texas was “exceptional” in his 2017 State of the State address – his legislative win rate, though, was less than exceptional.
The graph below charts the total number of proposals in Texas governors’ state of the state addresses from 2003 to 2017. The circles display the percent passed (out of the total number of requests). The size of Texas’ governors agendas (based on the number of requests) has decreased since 2007 but their average success has increased. Two possible reasons for this: Republican control of the legislature has increased and governors have more closely tailored their agendas to the politics of the moment.
Governor Abbott’s batting average is lower in the 85th regular session than in the last one, with several of his SOTS-requested policy requests failing – his average of requests to signed bills went from 80% to 72%. In some ways, he needed the special session to follow through on a few major policy items in addition to those that excite the Republican base.
The drama between Lieutenant Governor Patrick, Speaker Straus, and Governor Abbott in the last few weeks of the session was partially a sideshow to Governor Abbott not getting all of his requested policies passed, necessitating a call to special session so he could demonstrate executive efficiency.
The Governor remarked in his 2017 State of the State that “Texas is more than just numbers.” Certainly all numerical legislate success isn’t the same: a quality win is better than an easy win. But these numbers give us some context on the special session.
For more, check out Samantha Guthrie’s interesting work on the subject of gubernatorial success: http://www.american.edu/profiles/students/samantha.cfm
Governor, 85th, special