AUSTIN, Texas —
Three things you need to know in Texas politics
The first 60 days of the Texas Legislature's 86th session are behind us, which means lawmakers can start voting on the thousands of bills they've filed.
They already had the green light to vote on bills deemed "emergency items" by Governor Greg Abbott, and that happened for the first time the week of March.
1. The Texas Senate unanimously voted out its first bill of the session, Senate Bill 3. It would give all public and charter school teachers and librarians $5,000 raises.
2. Members of the Texas House unveiled their school finance reform bill. It injects a total of $9 billion into the school system. All teachers wouldn't get a raise under this plan, but if you pay property taxes you'd get a break on your bill because it lowers school taxes by 4 cents and it reduces recapture.
3. Every session there is a fight at the Capitol over abortion legislation and this session is no different. While there are bills filed to abolish the practice all together, insiders say a major bill to watch was filed this week. The Texas Born-Alive Infant Protection Act was filed in reaction to a similar bill that failed in the U.S. Senate, the authors said Thursday. If an infant survives an abortion attempt, the act creates a physician-patient relationship between the doctor performing it and the baby, so the doctor has to try to keep the baby alive. And if they don't, they could face a civil lawsuit. Abortion advocates argue these scenarios don't happen and the bill would spread a false narrative and vilify abortion providers.
Polling the opinions of Texans
The Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin teamed up with the Texas Tribune to poll the attitudes of Texans on a variety of national and state political issues. Jim Henson, Ph.D., director of the Texas Politics Project, joined Ashley Goudeau to talk about the results.
Ashley Goudeau: Dr. Henson, thank you so much for joining us this morning.
Jim Henson, Ph.D.: "Great to be here."
Goudeau: You conduct this poll or polling all the time. What made this one special?
Henson: "Well you know this is one that we always find interesting because we go in looking to see how much public opinion matches what's going on in the legislature. That's always fun, and also obviously the national climate with all the controversy in national politics particularly around President Trump. You know we're eager when we get the numbers back to see where things are."
Goudeau: Let's start by talking about President Donald Trump. What are his approval numbers looking like here in Texas?
Henson: "Well his job approval numbers have been pretty stable as time has gone on. He's up a little but right now. He's at 49 a positive approval, 45 disapprove. You know that's actually a little bit better, certainly better than he's doing nationally, but about where he's been in Texas for a while. So on one hand he's holding his own and he's certainly holding Republicans. His approval number among Republicans, very high. Democrats, not surprisingly, very low. But he can't quite break 50 right now and that's a little bit of a yellow flag for folks."
Goudeau: It's still very early but people are already gearing up for the 2020 Presidential election. So when you look at how the Democrats who have come out and announced are doing as well as, you know, the big question mark, Beto O'Rourke. Tell us about how those numbers look.
Henson: "Well, you know the Beto O'Rourke, Castro numbers are interesting. And that's really what we focused on for the most part. I think nationally, you have to take a lot of the polling right now with a grain of salt because most of the Democratic candidates are not very well known. But of course for Texas, we want to focus on O'Rourke. So Beto O'Rourke is about where he was last time we were doing polling, right on the eve of 2018 election. So he's at about 43 favorable, 45 unfavorable. That's almost exactly where he was right before the election. And you notice that gap, 43-45, is about what he lost by to Ted Cruz in the senatorial election. So while he's making up his mind and figuring out what he's going to not do and what he's going to do, his numbers have just kind of sat there. Julian Castro of course got in the race before Beto O'Rourke, has a different kind of issue in that he's still not very well known even though he was HUD secretary, mayor of San Antonio of course, the repository of a lot of attention and hope among Democrats in Texas. He's at 26 favorable, 32 unfavorable, and the thing to notice is how small those numbers are in that over 40 percent of people still have no opinion of Julian Castro. And for somebody who's making the argument that he can bring Texas along in a presidential race, not a very good spot to be in at this point. I mean that will change, but at a starting point particularly, with Beto O'Rourke hovering out there with relatively high name recognition numbers, it's a bit of a problem for Mayor Castro I think."
Goudeau: One of the things you guys asked people in the poll is the biggest problems facing the country. So going into 2020 and thinking about where we are right now, what do people think is the biggest problem in the U.S.?
Henson: "Well we have two things tied right around the top space. Fifteen percent of our sample said that it was political corruption and political leadership. You were asking about the impact of all investigations of the Trump administration. You see that there. And then second is the perennial, the perennial thing that's in these list all the time in our polling. And that's border security. Thirteen percent said that, 12 percent said immigration. And then the state numbers are very similar. Even though immigration and border security are federal policy problems, I'm sure you and I have talked about this before, for years in this poll when we ask people what is the biggest problem facing Texas, the top response is always immigration and border security. This time, no different."
Goudeau: But when we also look at some of the things that people say are bothering them, it's those property taxes. It also gets ranked in there.
Henson: "Right well what we did on that was we focused people, as I said when we started, one of the things that we're interested in is what's on people's minds going into the legislature. So when we ask people about the agenda facing the legislature, property taxes and pubic education are the top items, suggesting that the legislature's focus on that right now, you know, is rooted in pubic opinion once you clear out immigration and border security."
Goudeau: What about approval ratings for the top leaders in the Texas Legislature, the governor, lieutenant-governor and speaker of the House, how are people feeling about them? You know they're having a kumbaya moment, if you will. Everyone's getting along, everyone says they're on the same page, have the same priorities. How's the public feeling about them?
Henson: "Statewide, the statewide leaders are looking about like they have. Governor Abbott's numbers are holding steadily. That shouldn't be surprising given the margin of victory. He won the biggest win among statewide officials in the last statewide election last year. His job approval's 51 positive, 32 negative, which is all mostly partisan but he actually does a little better among Democrats than other statewides. Lieutenant-Governor Dan Patrick a little less so but still looking reasonably well at 43 positive, 31 negative. And then Speaker Bonnen looks like speakers of the House always do. You and I have been talking about Speaker Bonnen like everyone in the world knows who he is. Well about 59 percent of Texans have no opinion of him. And that's to be expected. And in fact, a lot of speakers depend on that and it's kind of part of the lure of the legislature that if you're the speaker of the House, the more people know who you are, probably the worse it is for you. It makes your job harder. Because remember, as your viewers will mostly know as I suspect, the speaker of the House is only elected by one of 150 House districts and then in turn is selected by the body. So it's a different position than the governor, the lieutenant-governor, the statewide officials."
Goudeau: You know you've been doing this polling for years now, was there anything in this poll that stood out to you, anything that caught you by surprise?
Henson: "We asked about mandatory vaccinations. So we had a question that said do you think the government should be able to require parents to get their children vaccinated against infectious diseases like measles, mumps, etcetera. Seventy-eight percent said that government should, that it's okay for government to require vaccinations. Fourteen percent said it's not. And on one hand you look at that number and think well that's a pretty big majority so maybe people are paying attention to the preponderance of science given that most of the concerns about vaccinations have been debunked. And in the state we're in the middle of a measles outbreak, if not the country. But then as I thought about it more, discussed it with some of my colleagues, maybe that 14 percent is actually pretty big given that there's this whole idea of herd-immunity and you know, the level of vaccination you have to get in the population for it to be effective and prevent these types of outbreaks. For measles it's above 90 percent, so we're short. So surprising I don't know but it was the most interesting result and frankly one of the most important ones from informing the public the discussion of pubic health and vaccination."