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2021 was the second year of the pandemic. The Texas Legislature met in regular session, as usual, but then followed that session with three special sessions on issues that had to be done (redistricting) and on issues lawmakers didn’t address during that 140-day regular session. The issue of drawing new political maps came late, because the pandemic delayed the 2020 census. Others — new voting and election laws, and restrictions on what can be taught in public schools, for instance — were priority issues for Republicans at the legislative and at the statewide level, and could be the subject of debate in 2022’s election cycle.
Just weeks into 2021, a polar vortex swept across Texas, bringing freezing temperatures and snow, and — unexpectedly — triggering the failure of the state’s electric grid. Most Texas homes lost power and heat. Many lost water. Hundreds of people died. The blackouts lasted less than a week, but the repercussions still haven’t ended.
Lawmakers required electric plants to get ready for winter weather but gave natural gas companies — the biggest fuel suppliers to those generators — another year before they’re required to winterize. The state replaced many of the regulators after the blackouts and the governor, along with some of those regulators, promised no one will lose power in the winter ahead.
The state’s incumbent politicians are entering an election year after voters have watched how the government reacted to COVID-19, economic turbulence, winter weather and a steady stream of attacks on the election system that put them in office — and that many of them hope will return them to office in a year.
Here are a dozen of this year’s 114 columns — a set of highlights from the year on the storm, redistricting, the state’s finances and on issues that could figure into this next round of elections.
The winter storm
Working political angles instead of solving problems (Feb. 17) — As Texans struggle with terrible winter weather, electric utility failures affecting more than 4 million households, a pandemic and a botched vaccine rollout, a natural question arises: Do state leaders know what they’re doing?
One way or another, Texans will get the bill for fixing the electric grid (March 10) — It’s going to be expensive to make sure the state’s electricity stays on during winter storms like the one that blacked out most of Texas last month, and the money will come, one way or another, from average Texans.
The Texas electric grid and the improvements that didn’t come (June 7) — Texas lawmakers passed major bills in response to the winter storm power outages that killed dozens of Texans in February. But there’s still a lot to do.
Betting a Texas election on a weather forecast (Dec. 1) — Gov. Greg Abbott says he can “guarantee” there won’t be blackouts this winter in Texas after one that knocked out power for some people for four days last February. That’s the kind of pre-election prediction that can make a weather forecaster more useful than a political poll.
Texas government won’t represent the state’s population unless its political maps do (Sept. 30) — The Texas Legislature is drawing new political maps to reflect the growth of the state recorded in the 2020 census. But their initial proposals don’t look like the state demographically or politically.
In the drive to get new Texas political maps, racial representation takes a back seat (Oct. 4) — Republican lawmakers in Texas are trying to make the most of their majority, drawing new political maps to preserve their political dynasty. The maps they’ve proposed would do that, but don’t represent the state’s population.
A $5.5 billion shift in who pays for public education in Texas (April 9) — It’s an old and bittersweet story in Texas: Property values rise, local property tax revenue rises and the state government spends less on public education.
A swelling Texas treasury gives 2022 hopefuls room for big ideas (Nov. 22) — As the political season starts, the contestants got an unexpected bit of good news: The state comptroller says the next Legislature will start with almost $25 billion in the state treasury. Expensive campaign promises just got a lot easier to make.
Texas, the bellwether state (Aug. 19) — A number of the top issues facing the country — mask mandates, voting, immigration — have something in common: Texas.
New laws reflect Republican lawmakers’ focus on their right flank (Sept. 2) — From abortion restrictions to guns, the Texas Legislature’s regular session Republican victories were just the beginning.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott heads for the border (June 14) — The Texas Legislature has left Austin, and Abbott has turned his attentions to the state’s border with Mexico, where the policy issues are difficult and the politics are rewarding.
Man bites dog, tries to make amends (Sept. 8) — Abbott vetoed legislation designed to protect dogs earlier this year. Now he’s asking the Legislature to fix it — before next year’s elections.