AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The first legislative session under Republican Gov. Greg Abbott ended Monday with conservatives claiming victory on tax cuts, a big boost in border security spending and looser gun laws in a state already known as among America’s most firearms friendly.
It also closed with Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the powerful Senate leader and a tea party favorite, dousing rumors that he was already plotting to challenge Abbott in 2018.
Patrick embodied the rightward shift in Texas politics over the past 140 days. He also took the unusual step of assembling an advisory board of big-money donors whose support would be crucial if he sought higher office.
“I love this job. I love working with Gov. Abbott,” Patrick said. “We are close friends. We formed a great partnership. I will never be running against Greg Abbott for governor.”
Tea party activists have complained that more wasn’t done to further restrict abortion, limit gay marriage ahead of U.S. Supreme Court decision, tighten immigration laws and expand school choice. It all fueled speculation that Patrick could hit Abbott from the right in the GOP gubernatorial primary in three years.
Abbot spent the final day, meanwhile, dousing the hopes of marijuana reform advocates by saying that Texas won’t legalize pot for medical or recreational use on his watch. His defiance came while signing a bill that legalizes cannabis oil for epilepsy patients.
“As governor, I will not allow it,” Abbott said.
Democrats grumbled that far bigger priorities are being stonewalled. Republicans gave only a small bump to school funding and virtually ignored health care. The criticism came not only from Texas but in Washington, where Democratic Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro took a shot at his former colleagues.
“Today marks the end of perhaps the worst legislative session in Texas history,” Castro tweeted.
Republicans completed a long list of conservative victories: the biggest Texas tax cuts in a decade, doubling spending on security at the border with Mexico and passing the two major gun rights bills. But proposed crackdowns on immigration went nowhere, and efforts to further crackdown on gay marriage, already illegal in Texas, fizzled.
Rep. Tan Parker, chairman of the House Republican Caucus, shrugged off calls that more could have been done. “Conservative Republicans can and should be proud of this record,” he said.
Their victories include legalizing concealed handguns in college classrooms. Approval came over the objection of University of Texas System Chancellor William McRaven, the former Navy SEAL who directed the commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
“While it is not what we had hoped for, I respect the Legislature’s decision,” McRaven said.
Allowing concealed handguns in college classrooms, known as “campus carry,” had repeatedly stalled under Republican majorities in Texas since a student killed 32 people at Virginia Tech in 2007. But last-minute concessions that give skittish university leaders leeway to carve out “gun-free zones” finally won the support to push the bill through.
Guns brought into college classrooms must remain out of sight. But most everywhere else in Texas, openly carrying a holstered gun in public will become legal in September, another measure approved this session.
Unlike the previous 14 years under Rick Perry, lawmakers aren’t being marched into a special summer session to duke out contentious issues such as immigration and abortion.
“You can’t really leave the session with disappointment,” said House Speaker Joe Straus, a San Antonio Republican. “Thousands of bills are filed, and I’m guessing about 20 percent of those have passed. I’m grateful for a system that isn’t too loose.”
Associated Press Writers Eva Ruth Moravec and Jim Vertuno contributed to this report.