- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 13, 2015

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Texas’ 2015 legislative session opened Tuesday with more pomp than policymaking. But a first day that was about as tame as expected could belie fierce partisan fights likely to come over issues like tax cuts, immigration and public education before the 140-day session is up. Here’s a closer look at what happened.


A tea party challenge pushed Republican House Speaker Joe Straus to Texas’ first floor vote for the lower chamber’s top post in 40 years. But picking the fight turned out to be far more dramatic than its results. Straus, of San Antonio, cruised to his fourth speaker term after his challenger, former NFL player and second-term Rep. Scott Turner, garnered just 19 votes of 150 votes. Many of the House’s most-conservative Republicans have long complained that Straus is too moderate, and a couple even announced challenges against him ahead of the 2011 and 2013 sessions - only to bow out when it became clear they wouldn’t win. Turner forced the issue and can declare victory on principle. But it’s a serious setback for the ultra-conservative group Empower Texas, which has long donated generously to forces antagonizing Straus.


First-year Republican Sen. Konni Burton sported dark boots Tuesday ornately stenciled with “Stand for Life.” Burton, of Fort Worth, won the seat vacated by former Sen. Wendy Davis, who became a national sensation when she laced up pink tennis shoes and filibustered for nearly 13 hours at the end of the 2013 legislative session - briefly delaying passage of tough new abortion restrictions. While Burton was winning her election in November, Davis’ gubernatorial bid was soundly defeated. “There was a lot of media attention on pink tennis shoes,” Burton said in an interview Tuesday. “It’s a new day.”


Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst was defeated in a nasty Republican primary last year by tea party-backed Sen. Dan Patrick. But Patrick won’t be sworn into his new post until Jan. 20. That gives Dewhurst, a former CIA agent and Houston energy tycoon, a few more days to preside over the Senate - and his colleagues honored him with a special resolution Tuesday. It praised Dewhurst for cutting state spending and expanding Texas’ cash reserves, or Rainy Day Fund. Several chamber veterans praised him and, in a subsequent speech, Dewhurst said he’d lost a contact lens - a reference to his wiping away tears. “Texas has given me, given you, given so many fellow Texans so much opportunity,” Dewhurst said. “That’s, at the end of the day, what we conservatives want to see: Get government out of the way and make sure there’s justice and let people do as much as they can.”


Both chambers adjourned after only a few hours Tuesday and have empty agendas until a farewell address by outgoing Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday afternoon. After that, there’s again little to do before Gov.-elect Greg Abbott and Dewhurst are inaugurated Jan. 20. Perry, with the end of his record 14-plus years in office looming, was in Austin on Tuesday but he kept an extremely low profile - avoiding the public spotlight at the capitol.

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