Friday, March 23, 2007

"Suddenly quite a few members of the Texas Senate and Texas House have gotten a spine transplant."

Perry suddenly comes under political fire


Dave McNeely
Midland Reporter-Telegram
Copyright 2007

What's this? Texas legislators showing some muscle? Looks like it.

Although a few independent legislators always said what they thought, suddenly quite a few members of the Texas Senate and Texas House have gotten a spine transplant.

Many have been tired of being run over by the governor and legislative leaders. But for the last four years, with iron-fisted House Speaker Tom Craddick in tandem with Gov. Rick Perry, Perry basically has had his way. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who presides over the Texas Senate, has been at odds with Craddick off and on. But he and the solid Republican majority in the Senate, in the post-9/11 years, with a Texan in the White House, have kept a closed season on the governor.

But now, it seems the Perry-hunting season is perpetually open. The 39 percent governor, as the Democrats love to call him -- his re-election plurality last year -- finds things backing up on him.

Even many Republican legislators think Perry overreached on some things, and been wrong or asleep at the switch on others. Those include Perry's toll roads; his proposal to sell the Texas lottery to set up funds for cancer research, education, and insurance for the working poor; fast-tracking old-technology coal plants; and sexual abuse of teenage prisoners by Texas Youth Commission staff.

During last year's elections, legislators heard plenty from voters angry about Perry's Trans-Texas Corridor toll roads. Some lawmakers who voted in 2003 to allow it are having second thoughts now, afraid they've given away the ranch to foreigners.

At least two-thirds in both the Senate and House -- enough to override a veto -- favor a two-year moratorium to re-evaluate public-private toll road deals. That would be enough to override a Perry veto.

Add tuition deregulation and spiraling college costs for middle-class families, and it's a potent stew.

What helped it boil over, however, was Perry's surprise executive order Feb. 2 that 11-year-old and 12-year-old girls be inoculated against the human pappilomavirus (HPV). Perry said parents could opt out for their daughters.

Some Democrats endorsed Perry's initiative, because the vaccine prevents a condition that can cause cervical cancer. But Perry's own Republicans were in lockstep in their disagreement. First, ordering shots for pre-teen girls for a disease spread solely by sexual contact would put a political bulls-eye on Republican legislators who let it happen.

Second, they and many Democrats were livid that Perry presumes he can unilaterally order a state agency to spend tens of millions on the injections. That tells legislators they're out of the loop. "We might as well go home," groused one disgusted Republican.

Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville, and Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, asked Atty. Gen. Greg Abbott for an informal opinion about the executive order. It amounts to an unenforceable suggestion, they said Abbott told them.

Austin District Court Judge Stephen Yelenofsky, a Democrat, sided with environmental groups challenging Perry's executive order fast-tracking the power plants. The order has no legal force, the judge ruled.

Then the TYC scandal broke. Perry demoted the board's chairman initially said the rest of the board would stay, and appointed a "special master." The Texas Senate, however, overwhelmingly called for the board to be fired and an independent conservator appointed.

Perry named former aide Jay Kimbrough as a special master. Then the board resigned en masse.

Midway through the 140 days the Legislature meets in regular session every two years, Perry is in Dubai for eight days, helping dedicate a new Texas A&M University campus. Back in Austin, the Texas House voted by well over two-thirds -- more than enough to override a veto -- to rescind Perry's HPV order. Twenty-five of 31 senators signed a letter calling for Perry to rescind his action.

© 2007

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