Monday, March 19, 2007

"A Tinderbox"

Session's halfway point marked by flared tempers


By: Harvey Kronberg
News 8 Austin
Copyright 2007

Well, this session of the Texas Legislature is now officially half over.

So far, the theme of the session is anger; much of it directed to Gov. Rick Perry.

The House has rebuked Perry over his effort to mandate HPV vaccines.

The Senate unanimously rebuked Perry, calling for him to fire the board at the scandal-plagued Texas Youth Commission and appoint a truly independent conservator.

The House would join with the Senate, but House Speaker Tom Craddick has choked off that effort and refused to recognize supporters for a motion.

Overwhelming majorities of both chambers have called for a two-year moratorium on toll roads. Some think they were sold a bill of goods in the original 2003 legislation. Others complain that the rush to sell state toll road construction transfers too many new revenues from government treasuries to private pockets.

A much weaker Perry has wasted his political capital on executive orders that no one takes seriously anymore. Both the courts and Attorney General Greg Abbott have declared his executive orders have no force of law.

Angry House members staged a rebellion against Craddick. But for seven votes, the House would have a new speaker. Although Craddick seems more engaged and gregarious, he is sitting on a tinder box. Tempers always fray in the last two months. A misstep on his part could blow up the thin veneer of collegiality that hovers over the House.

While the Senate suffered no such leadership challenge, senators are seething. For example, the author of electric deregulation a few years ago has now passed legislation responding to what many senators believe is TXU's betrayal of promises once made.

Legislators have big, weighty issues facing them in the next couple of months. It may give the governor an opportunity to regain his lost footing as well as focus the attention of lawmakers

But the anger is mostly at themselves. The Republican majority has lost steam as their boldest initiatives of the last four years have mostly just angered voters. Issues like toll roads, electric deregulation, college tuition deregulation, mismanagement of outsourced social services contracts, new business taxes that are due whether or not the company makes money.

But the most important 10 weeks are yet to come and anything can still happen.

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