A day before the Texas Legislature ended its special session this week, a session that included a high-profile fight over a “bathroom bill” that appeared almost certainly dead, David Welch had a message for Gov. Greg Abbott: call lawmakers back to Austin. Again.
For years, Welch, executive director of the Texas Pastor Council, has worked to pass a bill that would ban local policies that ensured transgender individuals’ right to use restrooms in public schools and government buildings that match their gender identity. The summer special session, which was quickly coming to a close, had been Welch and other social conservatives’ second chance, an overtime round after the bill — denounced by critics as discriminatory and unnecessary — failed during the regular session that ended in May.
But with the Texas House unlikely to vote on a bathroom bill, Welch gathered with some of the most conservative Republicans in that chamber to make a final plea. The bill, they argued without any evidence, would prevent men from entering bathrooms to sexually assault or harass women.
“If this does not pass during this special session, we are asking for, urgently on behalf of all these pastors across the state of Texas, that we do hold a second special session until the job is done,” Welch said at the press event, hosted by Texas Values, a socially conservative group.
Though the group of lawmakers, religious leaders and activists were still coming to terms with their failure to get a bill to Abbott’s desk, for Welch’s Pastor Council, the years-long fight over bathroom restrictions has nonetheless been a galvanizing campaign.
The group, which Welch founded in 2003, has grown from a local organization to a burgeoning statewide apparatus with eyes on someday becoming a nationwide force, one able to mobilize conservative Christians around the country into future political battles. If Abbott doesn’t call lawmakers back for another special session to pass a bathroom bill, the group is likely to shift its attention to the 2018 elections.
“Our role in this process shouldn’t be restricted just because people attend church,” Welch told The Texas Tribune. “Active voting, informed voting, is a legitimate ministry of the church.”
With primary season approaching, members of the Pastor Council are preparing to take their campaign to the ballot box and unseat Republicans who did not do enough to challenge Straus’ opposition to a “bathroom bill.” Steve Riggle, a pastor to a congregation of more than 20,000 at Grace Community Church in Houston and a member of the Pastor Council, said he and others are talking about “how in the world do we have 90-some Republicans [in the 150-member Texas House] who won’t stand behind what they say they believe.”
“They’re more afraid of Straus than they are of us,” he said. “It’s about time they’re more afraid of us.”
First, let me commend the Trib for noting that the push for the bathroom bill was based on a lie, and for reporting that Welch and his squadron of ideologues are far from a representative voice in the Christian community. Both of these points are often overlooked in reporting about so-called “Christian” conservatives, so kudos to the Trib for getting it right. I would just add that what people like Dave Welch and Steve Riggle believe, and want the Lege and the Congress to legalize, is that they have a right to discriminate against anyone they want, as long as they can claim “religious” reasons for it.
As such, I really hope that Chris Wallace and the rest of the business community absorbs what these bad hombres are saying. I want them to understand that the power dynamic in the Republican Party has greatly shifted, in a way that threatens to leave them on the sidelines. It used to be that the Republican legislative caucus was owned and operated by business interests, with the religious zealots providing votes and logistical support. The zealots are now in charge, or at least they are trying to be. Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton and increasingly Greg Abbott are on their side, and now they want to take out Joe Straus and enforce complete control. Either the business lobby fights back by supporting a mix of non-wacko Republicans in primaries and Democrats in winnable November races, or this is what the agenda for 2019 will look like. I hope you’re paying attention, because there may not be a second chance to get this right. The DMN has more.