- Associated Press - Sunday, May 21, 2017

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - When Gov. Greg Abbott used a private, dinnertime ceremony on a Sunday that was broadcast only on Facebook to sign Texas’ sanctuary cities law, it allowed him to avoid protesters’ demonstrations and reporters’ questions while taking his message directly to his supporters.

The event has drawn nearly 1 million views, solidly holding its own with the latest viral cat video. But the governor is now learning you can only spin a story so far.

Appearing at a public event this past week, Abbott submitted to questions from the media and argued that letting police officers inquire about someone’s legal status during routine interactions like traffic stops didn’t constitute a “show your papers law” targeting Hispanics. He evoked his wife Cecilia, Texas’ first Hispanic first lady, saying he wanted “to make sure that neither she nor her family is going to be stopped and detained inappropriately.”

A short time later, The Associated Press asked Cecilia Abbott her thoughts on that - or at least tried to - after she was honored in the Texas Senate. She at first cheerfully agreed to answer questions, but then an aide intervened and said she wouldn’t make comments. The governor’s office then called to say the first lady wasn’t afraid of getting pulled over, but only after complaining about how “unprofessional” the question was.

Asking the governor’s wife about a topic her husband raised, especially one directly involving her, doesn’t seem unprofessional - though a governor’s staffer calling to object about doing so might be.

Abbott may not take many reporters’ questions again for a while. And maybe next time the Legislature wants to honor Texas’ first lady, the governor’s office will insist lawmakers do so via a ceremony on Facebook.

Here are two top issues to watch as the legislative session winds down:

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SPECIAL SESSION THREATS

Some conservatives have for months predicted a 2018 gubernatorial primary battle between Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a fellow Republican. But Patrick may not need to run - he may already think he’s governor.

Patrick, who heads the Texas Senate, summoned the media last week - it wasn’t a press conference because he took no questions - to howl about being on the “precipitous” of a special session after the current one ends on Memorial Day, May 29.

Only Abbott actually has the power to order lawmakers back to work. But Patrick’s ire wasn’t really aimed at the governor but Joe Straus, the Republican speaker of the Texas House.

Patrick threatened to kill a key transportation department oversight bill if Straus’ chamber didn’t pass limits on how much local governments can raise property taxes and a North Carolina-style bill imposing limits on transgender people’s use of public restrooms.

His bluster meant little. Property tax limits cleared the House in watered-down form Saturday as an amendment to another bill, and the chamber also approved a workaround to decrease the importance of the transportation agency measure Patrick was claiming he could hold hostage.

The House also won’t pass a full, Senate-approved bill requiring transgender Texans to use public bathrooms corresponding to the gender on their birth certificate, but supporters are at least attempting to impose such rules on public schools.

Texas so prides itself on small government that the Legislature only convenes every two years. Tea party-backed Patrick is advocating for growing the size of government and keeping the Legislature working because it plays to his strengths, allowing him to dominate Texas’ political stage for a few more weeks.

But the same principal might make Abbott wary of convening a special session, especially since he’s long said lawmakers should finish their work on time.

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BATHROOM BILL REVIVED

One of the session’s most-contentious issues now appears to be on track to pass - though in scaled-back form.

Language barring public schools across Texas from making restrooms rules to accommodate transgender students was being attached Sunday night to an otherwise unrelated bill on campus emergency operations planning and school safety, which was already moving separately through the Legislature.

Supporters may not get the sweeping transgender public restroom rules they hoped for originally, but with the stakes rising and time running short, the amendment included Sunday is likely to clear the Legislature and at least affect the state’s around 5.3 million public school students.

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