Tuesday, April 10, 2007

"Maybe the money guys who pay for the political campaigns are less fearsome than they were just a few years ago."

Legislative session turning into 'do-nothing' period


Harvey Kronberg
News 8 Austin
Copyright 2007

Maybe it's just because the past five years of political turmoil in the Texas Legislature have been so intense. Perhaps it is because of a weakened Governor, a damaged speaker and a Lt. Governor more interested in running for governor in three years than governing today. Perhaps it is because voters fired so many incumbents in the last primary and election.

Whatever the reason, this is beginning to feel like the most hollow legislative session I have ever seen.

Some are calling it the do-over session that is fixing or reversing the apparently misguided initiatives of the last four years. Whether it's electricity deregulation, privatizing social services, toll roads, college tuition deregulation or a dozen other issues, this Legislature wants to change direction.

Maybe part of it is that , particularly on the right, are less fearsome than they were just a few years ago.

Case in point: San Antonio physician and public school voucher advocate James Leininger provided millions of dollars to unseat a handful or Republicans in the primary last year. Because of his efforts two supposedly pro-voucher candidates won, but in a key vote two weeks ago, Leininger proteges rebelled. One Leininger sponsored legislator defied his patron and voted against vouchers. The other freshman simply walked off the floor rather than cast a vote supporting Dr. Leininger's most important issue.

Meanwhile the clock is running out.

Senators are fuming because Lt. Governor David Dewhurst quietly killed hundreds of senate bills by wasting critical weeks before referring them to committees for consideration. With only thirty days left before a key House deadline, points of order are pushing the day long debates on important bills further and further back. Each day of delay crowds dozens if not hundreds of lesser bills off the stage.

Almost by design, legislative rules and schedules make it easier to kill bills than pass them.

Nevertheless, it is the job of the Speaker and Lt. Governor to manage the flow of business on behalf of their members.

Lawmaker anger will ratchet up exponentially in the next few weeks as they increasingly realize that the clock is running out, their legislative agendas are dead out and problems at the top denied them a fair shot at the process.

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