by Peggy Fikac, San Antonino Express News
Business interests must make an aggressive push for education and transportation at the Texas Capitol to ensure the crucial legislation isn’t eclipsed by “emotional and divisive issues,” House Speaker Joe Straus said Wednesday.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a tea party-backed Republican who has fast-tracked in the Senate at least one emotion-stirring issue, the open carry of handguns, said he doesn’t see a danger of fundamental issues being drowned out by what Straus called “outrageous protests” on other matters.
“Absolutely not. The people have a right to voice their opinion, and I think the members of the House and Senate are very good at multitasking,” Patrick said.
The differing views are emblematic of the differing approaches of the two leaders, even while both have voiced a determination to improve core areas including schools, universities and roads.
Straus, R-San Antonio, lauded the Texas Association of Business for its focus on fundamentals in a speech to the group’s annual conference.
But with other issues already taking the spotlight, Straus said a sharp focus is necessary.
“If the business community doesn’t speak up, I assure you that someone else will fill that void,” he said. “But they likely won’t share your interest in good schools, a reliable infrastructure and a business climate that invites opportunity.”
Straus, while not naming the issues he considers divisive, made reference to Capitol protests, which notably this session have involved people pushing for open carry of handguns and a contingent upset about Texas Muslim Capitol Day.
“In a political system that often promotes only the loudest and the most outrageous voices, keeping the focus on issues like education and roads is not always easy,” Straus said. “We’ve seen it already in this young session.
“The media can’t resist writing about the most outrageous protests, or the so-called wedge issues that divide Republicans from Democrats and even Republicans from Republicans, but our state is growing too fast and our economy is too big for us to be consumed by the most emotional and divisive issues.”
Bill Hammond, CEO of the association, said he believes that the core issues will be addressed.
“The big three are all saying the same thing about road funding, education reform, investment in education,” Hammond said. “I think the things that we’re looking at in terms of the future of Texas are definitely going to be dealt with.”
Straus spoke a day after Gov. Greg Abbott emphasized core services along with tax cuts in his State of the State speech, while also citing his support for open carry. Patrick also has put an emphasis on transportation and education improvements.
Patrick was criticized by open-carry activists early in the session when he said he didn’t think the legislation had the support to pass at that time. He quickly clarified his remarks, emphasizing his support for the idea, and referred the legislation to a Senate committee. The legislation got the committee’s stamp of approval last week, allowing it to proceed to the full Senate.
Asked if lawmakers can deal with issues such as open carry along with transportation and education, Patrick said, “Not only can we, but we are.”
Patrick said earlier that he wants to ensure that the Senate acts quickly on major legislation, including controversy-stirring gun measures, and send it to the House for consideration.
Straus said after his speech that he and Patrick communicate and that he doesn’t feel any pressure from Patrick’s intentions.