Texas Legislature Reconvenes for a Strange, but Peaceful, Day One

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Tuesday was opening day for the 83rd Legislature, and by noon the House and Senate floors were full again with lawmakers, lawmakers’ families and their fancily dressed children.

And Rick Santorum.

The former presidential candidate honored the Senate chamber with his presence, where Republican members made him rise repeatedly as they reveled in his conservative glory.

Gov. Rick Perry dropped in and answered concerns about Santorum’s lack of a sweater vest. “My son presented him with a sweater vest—an A&M sweater vest,” Perry said.

Perry’s speech was interrupted when a Senate staffer passed out on the floor, though—as she was being helped out of the room, Perry recovered with a joke. “I have not had that kind of impact on anyone in a long time,” he said.

With no showdown over the Senate’s two-thirds rule, the afternoon was given over to the unanimous selection of San Antonio Democratic Sen. Leticia Van de Putte as President pro tem. Sen. John Carona (R-Dallas) noted that while he’s an Italian often mistaken for being Hispanic, Van de Putte has the opposite issue. Carona said Van de Putte is “like an Italian” because she is passionate and wears fedoras.

The Texas House of Representatives welcomed opening day with an invocation by Bishop Michael Mulvey of the Diocese of Corpus Christi, who prayed that the Legislature remember  representatives to respect human life “from the moment of conception in the mother’s womb” and that “those in need of human services be shown compassion and understanding.”

Representative David Simpson (R-Longview) had mounted a challenge for Speaker of the House in the weeks leading up to today, but took himself out of the running in a speech before the nominating began. Instead, San Antonio Republican Joe Straus was unanimously reelected for his third session. In his acceptance speech, Straus reaffirmed his list goals for this session: education, water, infrastructure, and jobs. “The goal of education is not to teach kids to pass a test, but to prepare them for life,” he said. He also lightheartedly reassured the floor that Texas secession is not on the agenda this year—a sure disappointment to the long-suffering Texas Nationalists pleading their case around the Capitol today.

Perry took to the podium in the House for yet more motivational oratory about drug testing would-be welfare recipients, a “fetal pain” bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks, staying the course of fiscal conservatism and generally repeating the faint-inducing speech he gave in the Senate. No medical scares interrupted Perry’s speech in the House chamber—just resounding applause for the fetal pain bill.