Perry edges Clements for special session career record


by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist MICHAEL MOORE

Bio | Email | Follow: @MarkW_KVUE

Posted on July 31, 2013 at 6:15 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jul 31 at 6:21 PM

AUSTIN -- The beginning of the third special session of 83rd Texas Legislature means the beginning of a long summer for lawmakers. For veterans, it's familiar--if not exactly pleasant--territory.
"When I first came in in a special election in 2006 immediately after getting elected, my first introduction was into a third special session that we were having on school finance," state Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) told KVUE Tuesday. "So we've done this before."
"I share the tremendous disappointment of millions of taxpayers and teachers," Rick Perry chastised the 79th Texas Legislature at the time. Perhaps not surprisingly, Texas' longest-serving governor also holds the distinction of having called the most special sessions over the course of his administration. Tuesday's declaration marked the 12th time Perry has ordered the Texas Legislature back to the Capitol since taking office in 2000.
According to the Legislative Reference Library of Texas, Perry's record edges the former mark set by Gov. Bill Clements (R-Texas), who called lawmakers back to work a total of eleven times over the course of two separate administrations. Clements also holds the record of the most consecutive special sessions during a single two-year legislative season, calling the 71st Texas Legislature back to a sixth special session in June of 1990 with 37 topics on the call.
"A special session is one of the best tool's in the governor's kit," said Texas Politics Project Director and University of Texas Professor James R. Henson. "When it comes to special sessions, the governor in a way always has something legislators want, and that's freedom at the end of the session. And it also gives the governor a degree of agenda control."
Henson explains It also gives the governor the opportunity to take credit for singular issues or lay the blame for inaction at the feet of political opponents. At the same time, he says the constitutional provision dating back to the post-Reconstruction government acts as a "fail-safe" for a part-time legislature that meets only once every two years to address issues facing some 26 million Texans.
"What we've seen is as the state has gotten much larger and infinitely more complex, special sessions become much less special, or less 'extraordinary' as the language of the constitution says," said Henson. "Because it's just yet another way in which the state has simply outrun the world in which that constitution was written."
Whether the current session on transportation has an extraordinary end could depend what issues, if any, the governor adds to the mix. Many in both parties have asked for issues such as tuition revenue bonds for campus construction to be placed on the call, a move Howard says could reinvigorate lawmakers' flagging sense of bipartisanship.
"There are other things that can be added that are more divisive, and if those get put on the call then that could change the flavor of how we work together," said Howard, referring in part to suggestions from some lawmakers that issues such as "campus carry" be included. "It really kind of depends on what the governor chooses to do."