To my count, my trip to the Texas Capitol in Austin on Thursday was my sixth. Thursday’s, however, was not like any of the others.
On Thursday, I visited the Capitol in an official capacity — as a member of the media.
My purpose at the Capitol was to cover the first day of the first special session of the 87th Legislature.
My fifth trip to the Capitol — on July 2 — was a trip I am glad I made. After obtaining my credentials that would grant me access to the House floor and to the Senate floor, I walked around and inquired about procedures with the sergeant at arms.
After conversing with him, he gave me a reminder: Wear a coat and a tie when you come for the session.
A tie and a nice shirt I expected. A coat? I don’t own a coat. So I quickly called a friend of mine who had one for me to try on. Luckily, it fit, and I was set.
Being that I had never been to the Capitol while the Legislature was in session, I had no idea what to expect, but I can say with 100% certainty, it was not how things played out.
Speaking with Rep. Hugh Shine, R-Temple, in his office before heading to the House floor, I asked him what the first day of a session is like.
He remarked that it would probably be quick.
Perhaps I should have taken the Temple Republican’s brief statement as a premonition, but I decided to still keep an open mind.
Shine was spot on.
Within about 20 minutes of convening into the session Thursday morning, Speaker of the House, Rep. Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, adjourned the House until the following day.
Wait... What just happened?
Prior to the session beginning, I walked into the room where some press conferences are held and where media gather before going onto the outskirts of the House floor and I asked other members of the media what the process is for getting to the media area.
Once I said it was my first time covering the session from the Capitol, one of them told me, without missing a beat, “Welcome to the circus.”
Similarly, when making contact with Rep. Brad Buckley, R-Salado, prior to the House convening, he said, “Welcome to the jungle.”
I laughed it off as I couldn’t help but mentally hum the tune of the hit song from Guns N’ Roses.
Once again, perhaps I should have heeded their statements. I again kept an open mind.
Things were quiet until about five minutes before the start of the session when most of the members came seemingly out of nowhere and congregated on the floor, conversing amongst themselves, quickly increasing the decibel level inside the chamber.
The House heard — or didn’t — the governor’s proclamation and the list of bills filed for the session so far.
I say “or didn’t” because while the person was going through them at a pace that reminded me of an auctioneer, most — if not all — members of the House were still talking amongst themselves, drowning out the voice of the one listing the bills.
After the House adjourned, Buckley said in the hallway outside the House chamber that all the representatives knew what the proclamation read since they had received it a couple of days prior.
The scenario was similar in the Senate, albeit with more listening to the filed resolutions and bills.
As I look back on Thursday’s trip to the Capitol and how shocked I was when things happened so quickly, I ask myself, “What did I expect?”
My answer: “I don’t know, but it sure wasn’t that.”
This special session can last up to 30 days, and Gov. Greg Abbott can call for additional special sessions. The regular session wrapped up at the end of May.
If I go back to the Capitol again — especially on the first day of a session — at least I will have a better idea of what to expect.
Thaddeus Imerman covers Copperas Cove, Texas Legislature and other news for the Killeen Daily Herald. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 254-501-7559.