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Texas This Week: Politics reporter Patrick Svitek discusses Texas GOP strategy

This week, the Republican Party of Texas held its convention in Houston. Patrick Svitek, politics reporter for The Texas Tribune, weighs in on the party's goals.

AUSTIN, Texas — In this week's edition of Texas This Week, Patrick Svitek, politics reporter for The Texas Tribune, weighs in on the party's goals.

Three things to know in Texas politics

New poll shows O'Rourke closing gap in gubernatorial race

Researchers at Quinnipiac University conducted their first Texas poll since the mass shooting at Robb Elementary to gauge voters' opinions on the governor's race. Registered voters were asked who they would vote for if the gubernatorial election were today. Of the respondents, 48% said Republican Gov. Greg Abbott while 43% said former Democratic Congressman Beto O'Rourke. While Abbott is still in the lead, O'Rourke's support is growing among women and young voters. A December Quinnipiac poll found O'Rourke had just 37% support compared to Abbott's 52%.

RELATED: Texas gubernatorial race between Abbott and O'Rourke tightens, according to first poll since Uvalde shooting

Final victim of Uvalde shooting laid to rest

The final victim of the Robb Elementary School shooting was laid to rest last week. The funeral of Layla Salazar was Thursday. Family and friends say the 11-year-old loved to run, sing, dance and swim. Her father called her a firecracker. 

   

Texas House committee holds hearing in Uvalde

The Texas House of Representatives Investigative Committee on the Robb Elementary School shooting held two hearings in Uvalde this week. The committee members heard from law enforcement and school district leaders behind closed doors. They also visited the school and went inside the building where a gunman murdered 19 students and two teachers.

   

Patrick Svitek, The Texas Tribune politics reporter, discusses future of Texas GOP

This week, the Republican Party of Texas hosted its state convention in Houston. Members of the party discussed their platform and legislative agenda. And the party is coming off a significant win – flipping a congressional seat in the Rio Grande Valley during a special election. Svitek talked with Ashley Goudeau about the future of the party. 

Talk to us a little bit about what happens at these conventions.

"Yeah, every two years, this is an opportunity for members of the party to get together and craft their legislative priorities, update their platform and elect party leadership, like the role of chair and vice-chair. So this tends to happen every year. This didn't happen in person two years ago for the Texas GOP because of the coronavirus pandemic, which was in its early stages then."

And so when we think about this past legislative session, the Republican Party was very successful in getting things that they have really wanted in terms of things that have been party platforms for a long time, in terms of what they like to call constitutional carry, as well as the heartbeat law, which bans abortions after about six weeks. So a lot of the policies that Republicans wanted to see are now in place. What's left for them to really want to do in terms of Texas politics?

"Yeah, as you point out, they accomplished a lot last year that has long been sought by the party. And the question is, what more do they want? There's always more abortion restrictions, I think that the base of the party wants. And so you could see discussion of that. There's also a lot of discussion of banning gender-affirming treatments for transgender children. I expect to hear a lot more about that and also about some of these curriculum issues. You hear a lot about critical race theory, even though there was legislation passed last year to crack down on that. I'm sure they're still able there's still more they believe they can do."

You know, when we think about the Republican Party, traditionally it's been a very pro-business party. And so and as of late, I think we're talking more and more about these social issues. But are there issues that are more traditional for the party that you think they want to move forward?

"You know, when it comes to taxes, which I think traditionally are viewed as a traditional issue, there's certainly discussion around property taxes and what more the state can do in its limited role to rein in property taxes. To the extent that border security is a traditional issue, there's still a lot of discussion about that and what more the legislature can do and the state can do to further secure the border."

RELATED: Texas GOP approves resolution rejecting the results of the 2020 presidential election

Another thing that the Republican Party of Texas has really been trying to do is have a larger footprint, expand their footprint in South Texas. And we saw that they were successful in doing that here recently with the special election for a congressional seat. Tell us about the election. 

"Yeah, the outcome was a big deal. The Republican who won, Mayra Flores, will be the first Mexican-born woman to serve in Congress and one of the few Republicans to ever represent that part of the state in Congress. Now, she'll only serve until January, but Republicans say that this is nonetheless a big boost of momentum as they try to make more inroads in South Texas in the November election."

Tell us a little bit more about her campaign. How was she able to flip that seat?

"Yeah. I think if you look at her messaging, it was very heavy on family and economic issues and she ran TV ads that showed her family eating, having a cookout in their front yard. She had a TV ad that was just about her relationship with her dad. Obviously in South Texas, which is not the best way to describe the most ideal way to describe it, but it tends to be a little more socially conservative, even among Democrats. And so being able to show that you have a tight-knit family, a strong relationship with people in your family, I think is an important message for Republicans to project there. And then also, the economic issues she ran on, you know, ran against the inflation that we're seeing. You know, try to really relate to people who are, you know, having a hard time making ends meet under this inflation. And so those are just a few things that worked for her."

You know, I think what's particularly interesting about this seat is this district, this particular election, was drawn under the current district line. So district lines have changed when we go into this next election cycle and so when it's time for her to run again in November, she's facing off against a current member of Congress because of how the district has been redrawn. And so there is some thought about perhaps, whether or not he will be able to successfully unseat her. How key do you think that'll really be to the Republican Party in Texas and what they're able to do in their long-term goals?

"Yeah. As you pointed out, this district gets much harder for her in November. It goes from a district that President Biden carried by 4 to one that he would have carried by a wider margin of about 15 or 16 points. And so it's going to be an uphill battle for her in November. But it does get a little less hard now that she's an incumbent. There are just some inherent advantages of being an incumbent. And obviously, all these national Republican groups are all in on her, and she's going to be very well-funded in November. And I should also point out, it's different in that she faces a different Democratic opponent, a current sitting congressman. Vicente Gonzalez is running as the Democratic nominee in that seat in November. And so she's going to face a Democratic opponent who is just more well-established."

Patrick, overall, what are you watching in terms of the Republican Party and what they're doing as we inch closer to November?  

"One thing that I'm definitely watching is how they navigate the issue of gun violence, especially after the Uvalde shooting. I mean, we see that it's not just after that shooting, but after previous shootings. We see poll after poll that shows that voters believe we need stricter gun laws in Texas and they support things like universal background checks by wide margins. And so my, you know, one of the things that I'm watching is, you know, are the elected officials going to try to address that public opinion in any way right now. Because right now in this state, we have, you know, large majorities of voters who will vote in November who believe there needs to be action on guns. And so far, leadership in the state has, Republican leadership in the state, has largely resisted that. And so that's one of the big things that I'm watching these coming weeks."

Learn more about Patrick Svitek and read his recent articles here.

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