Texas governor fills legislative agenda with culture war issues as power grid fails

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From 'election integrity' to 'critical race theory' to targeting transgender students, Gov. Greg Abbott's special session agenda is red meat for the GOP base.

Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday announced the agenda he wants the Republican-controlled legislature to pursue in an upcoming special session that begins Thursday morning — and it's filled with culture war issues pushed by right-wing media outlets like Fox News.

Among the issues Abbott wants Republicans to tackle are "election integrity," "border security," "social media censorship," "critical race theory," abortion, and targeting transgender students.

Missing from Abbott's agenda is a push to fix the state's energy grid — which left Texans without power and freezing in their homes amid a historic cold snap earlier this year. A heat wave in June also caused outages in the vulnerable grid.

Abbott said in a news release that the issues on his proposed agenda "will keep the Lone Star State on a path to prosperity."

Democrats quickly criticized Abbott over his list of priorities.

"It's been nearly 6 months since the winter storm blackout," the Texas Democratic Party tweeted on Wednesday morning. "Millions of Texans lost power & water in sub freezing conditions for DAYS — an [sic] the largest mass carbon monoxide poisoning in the country took place. No surprise that Abbott chooses not to make #FixTheGrid a priority."

Abbott's agenda reflects that of conservative media outlets like Fox News, which Media Matters noted in June had mentioned "critical race theory" at least 1,300 times in a span of three and a half months.

As many experts and educators have pointed out repeatedly, "critical race theory" is not taught at the K-12 level but is typically taught as a graduate or collegiate level course option. Attempts by Republicans to push rhetoric critical of the curriculum appear to be little more than an effort to gin up anger in their base ahead of the 2022 midterms.

Media Matters also reported, for example, that the right-wing Fox News has frequently pushed conservative criticism of transgender youth, specifically trans athletes attempting to compete with others of the same gender, suggesting Democratic efforts to prioritize trans rights are proof of their "extreme" agenda.

According to the research outlet, Fox News aired at least 72 discussions of trans athletes in the first three months of 2021 alone. That rhetoric has mostly relied on a limited number of examples of trans athletes supposedly dominating their sports, ignoring the fact that one of those athletes was banned from participating at all, and none of the others could be categorized as "dominating" the rest of the field.

"Election integrity" has also been a topic of discussion among conservative quarters, particularly in far-right media spheres where the notion that President Joe Biden's 2020 election win was not legitimate and that former President Donald Trump's victory was stolen somehow are regular topics of discussion.

Officials, including those on the Republican side, have stated repeatedly that there is no proof of widespread election or voter fraud in that race.

Texas Republicans, meanwhile, have already tried to pass some of Abbott's other special session priorities, but failed.

For example, Democrats were able to block a voter suppression bill at the last minute back in May, which denied Republicans a quorum in the state Senate and rendered them unable to pass the legislation. The bill, S.B. 7, would have slashed early voting hours, banned the drive-thru voting method that more than 100,000 Texans used in 2020, made it harder to vote by mail, and would have made it easier to overturn the results of an election.

It's unclear whether Democrats could block the bill from passing again in the special session.

Texas Republicans were also unable to pass a bill that same month that would have blocked social media companies from banning users for their political views. A similar law passed in Florida was blocked in June by a federal judge who said that it violated the First Amendment right to free speech and forced tech companies "to host speech that violates their standards," such as incitement of violence or hate speech.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.