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The 2021 Legislature

and Winning the Future

Let’s be frank...
This spring was a very hard legislative session. Texas
legislators have passed plenty of bad laws over the
years. But the all-out assault on fundamental values
like democracy, freedom and equality at the Capitol
over the last five months was the worst yet. Even more shocking was that it happened in the
middle of a pandemic and as Texans struggled to recover from a catastrophic power outage
that left millions of us freezing in the dark in February – both crises made worse by the
mismanagement of the state’s Republican leaders.

Despite all that, Texas Freedom Network and our partners could point to some important
victories as the session drew to a close on May 31. But the fight is not over. Gov. Greg Abbott has
already called a special session to try to pass right-wing priorities – like voter suppression – that
failed to pass before the regular session ended.

How We Got Here

It’s clear that a Republican Party controlled by the religious right for decades has now also embraced a toxic mix
of crackpot conspiracy theorists, QAnon sympathizers and white nationalists. And Donald Trump’s lies about his
decisive defeat last November have helped shatter support among Republicans for free and fair elections – the
lifeblood of our democracy. As more moderates abandon the GOP, extremists face little internal opposition to
their agenda.

But one of the biggest reasons behind this session’s lurch even further to the right is that Republicans are
worried. Elections in this state have been much more competitive in recent years as TFN’s Texas Rising program
and other progressive organizations pour resources into turning out the vote among communities that
have historically been underrepresented at the polls, particularly young people and Texans of color. So Texas
Republicans have settled on a strategy for holding on to power: enrage their shrinking base by amping up the
culture wars and minimize opposition by suppressing the votes of this rising and increasingly diverse electorate.
This strategy dictated an obsessive focus by Republican leaders – Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, House
Speaker Dade Phelan – on pushing anti-voter, anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ, and anti-worker legislation. And they
cynically sought to take advantage of Texans distracted by COVID and the power outage to ram as much of their
agenda through as they could.

TFN Fought Back

TFN from the start mobilized all of our resources to fight back. Our strategy evolved on the margins as events
warranted but remained focused on three key points:

➔ Coordinating with partners in broad coalitions to slow or block passage of as many of the bad bills as
➔ Ensuring that our Texas Rising program engaged young Texans at the Capitol and across the state
➔ Elevating the voices of progressive clergy, through our Just Texas program, on our core issues

While following health guidelines to keep staff and activists safe, we were active at the Capitol, in digital spaces
and in the traditional news media. We worked closely with coalition partners on lobbying and grassroots
strategies to get legislative allies information they needed and to increase pressure on potential swing votes
under the Dome. Texas Rising activists traveled to Austin from around the state to speak out at public hearings
and in rallies at the Capitol. They headlined multi-city events that drew national media attention especially to
voter suppression bills. And clergy with Just Texas spoke at hearings, in press conferences and on opinion pages
on issues like abortion access and LGBTQ equality.

TFN’s expert political and advocacy teams also provided expert information and commentary for national news
media like MSNBC, the Washington Post and Axios, as well as news outlets all over Texas. And we continued a
huge expansion of our digital footprint, employing innovative strategies on social media platforms to get our
messages out to a large audience of users who often are not consumers of traditional news media.

Good and Bad News

Our hard work earned some important wins. But some truly awful bills got through, and the fight isn’t over as
lawmakers return to Austin for the special session on July 8.

GOOD NEWS: The right’s efforts to pass one of the most extreme voter suppression bills in the country
collapsed during the last hours of the session. Senate Bill 7 included a long list of restrictions that would
make it harder for Texans – especially Texans of color – to cast a ballot. Intense grassroots opposition led by
TFN and our fantastic partner organizations helped Democrats run out the clock in the House. That strategy
also killed a Republican priority bill barring local governments from requiring that employers provide paid
sick leave to workers – an especially appalling bill in the middle of a pandemic. And we can celebrate that
cruel bills banning gender-affirming health care and participation in school sports for transgender youth
failed to pass.

BAD NEWS: All of these bills could come up again in the special session. Moreover, the Republicans’ war on
reproductive rights continued with a sweeping assault on abortion access. They rammed through passage
of a six-week ban on abortion and also enacted a “trigger” bill that would prohibit the procedure entirely if
the Trump-packed Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. They also renewed their opposition to teaching
the truth in our public schools, pushing through a censorship bill that restricts what school districts can
teach about the destructive reality of racism and inequality in our country’s history. And they passed a long
list of other reckless bills on issues like guns and police reform.
Winning the Future
The key lesson in such a difficult legislative session is clear: elections matter! Republican majorities in both
the House and Senate enabled this legislative onslaught, even if those majorities are smaller than before 2018.
Winning the future and preventing another session like this one requires building on our work to expand the
electorate and overcome voting obstacles Republicans continue to push.

Texas Rising, with chapters on 18 college and university campuses around the state and plans to increase that
number, is positioned to play a big role in carrying out this strategy. We have already seen in 2018 and 2020
that the Texas electorate is becoming younger and more ethnically and racially diverse than ever before. This is
particularly significant because public opinion research shows younger voters are more progressive than their
older counterparts on issues almost across the board.1

Our Texas Rising team is already putting together concrete strategies for not only growing the electorate
through voter registration efforts, but also boosting turnout among voters ages 18-29 even higher as we move
toward 2022. These plans include expanding the field team with even more paid staff and volunteers and
growing our investment in digital tools to engage young potential voters.

But that’s not all. TFN’s Just Texas program is expanding outreach to progressive faith leaders throughout
the state to bolster support for reproductive rights and LGBTQ equality. Gone are the days when the religious
right provided the sole perspective among people of faith on these and other issues. And TFN’s political, field
and communications teams will spend the next 18 months highlighting for voters just how harmful this year’s
legislative session has been for Texas families.

So as hard as this legislative session was (and as hard as the coming special session is likely to be), we have
reason to be optimistic about the future. Real change in Texas is within reach. And the next two elections –
2022 and 2024 – will be critical for realizing that change.


TEXAS FREEDOM NETWORK P. O . B O X 1 6 2 4 AUSTIN, TX 78767 512.322.0545 TFN.ORG