AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday he revived a "bathroom bill" targeting transgender people even though he was told it would never get a vote in the GOP-controlled state House, while signaling that the twice-failed effort is dead for the foreseeable future.
A proposal requiring transgender Texans to use public restrooms according to the gender on their birth certificates fizzled Tuesday night, when lawmakers abruptly ended a month-long special legislative session Abbott convened. It was the second time the bill has sank in Texas since May, leaving North Carolina as the only state to approve one.
Abbott blamed moderate Republican House Speaker Joe Straus, who has for months sided with powerful businesses interests in saying the bill could harm the state's economy. But the governor also admitted that Straus told him even before the special session that he would not bring the bill to the floor.
"The speaker made very clear that he opposed this bill and he would never allow a vote to be taken on it," Abbott said in an interview with Houston radio station KTRH. "He told me during the regular session that if this came up during the special session, he would not allow a vote on it. And there's no evidence whatsoever that he's going to change his mind on it."
Pushing the issue even though he knew it likely wouldn't pass still helped Abbott — who is running for his first re-election next year — energize social conservatives. But Straus could still be in the way when Texas lawmakers return in 2019. He has remained House speaker for a decade and has said he intends to run for a record sixth term.
Straus didn't respond to the criticism In a statement Wednesday. Instead, he thanked Abbott for working with the House on other aspects of his legislative agenda, adding the chamber "considered every idea carefully" and listened to constituents.
The first collapse of the bathroom bill in May laid bare an escalating feud in Texas between ascendant social conservatives and moderate Republicans, and the mutual distrust only seemed to deepen over summer.
Corporate heavyweights from Amazon to ExxonMobil lined up against the bathroom bill, as did police chiefs from the state's largest cities, women's groups and religious organizations. The opposition was still relentless, with opponents organizing nearly daily demonstrations at the state Capitol and threatening costly boycotts.
For Abbott, it was an unceremonious and deflating finish to a special legislative session that only he had the power to order. Other measures he championed collapsed, including taxpayer-funded vouchers that let students attend private schools.
The governor has the money to likely outspend anyone as he seeks re-election, but in dragging lawmakers back to work in July, he sought to punch back at criticism that he had grown disengaged and politically vulnerable — especially to a possible challenge from the right during March's GOP primary.
The only surefire way the bathroom bill will again fail next time is if beleaguered Texas Democrats make sweeping gains in 2018 or topple Abbott. But the party still has not identified a credible candidate to run for governor, and Democratic U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro reiterated Wednesday that it won't be him.
"I'm convinced we're going to have a strong slate of people who will step forward," said Castro, whose party has not won statewide office in Texas since 1994, the nation's longest losing streak.
Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a firebrand who was Donald Trump's top Texas surrogate during the presidential race, was even angrier about the bathroom bill's demise. He even suggested Straus would have abandoned Texas hero William B. Travis at the battle of the Alamo in 1836.
"Thank goodness Travis didn't have the speaker at the Alamo," Patrick said. "He might have been the first one over the wall."
Patrick said big businesses that predicted bathroom bill backlash were misled.
"I respect businesses have their opinion and point of view. They were wrong," Patrick said. "All the data they had were wrong."