Monday, December 29, 2008

"Lock up your wallets and barricade your doors."

Texas Legislature is talk of the town again


By: Harvey Kronberg
News 8 Austin
Copyright 208

COMMENTARY -- Lock up your wallets and barricade your doors. In just two weeks, the Texas Legislature will convene bringing its own unique brand of merriment back to Austin. Other than political writers like me, only restaurants and hotels are looking forward to the next five months.

Every session has its own unique challenges and this one is no different. Among those challenges are a declining economy, college tuition deregulation six years ago, a safety net system in tatters just a few years after granting the governor more power in those matters and, of course, a toll road system that may not be paying for itself. These are just a few of the issues facing lawmakers when they come back.

But before anything else happens, the Texas House of Representatives must decide the fate of incumbent speaker Tom Craddick. With only a one vote majority, enough Republicans have publicly abandoned Mr. Craddick so that his re-election depends entirely on his ability to entice enough Democrats to cross over and support him.

House Democratic Caucus Chair Jim Dunnam says that only 10 of the 74 Democrats have refused to sign a pledge to vote against Craddick. Yet the speaker tells his allies he has pledges from fifteen Democrats.

Ten crossover Democrats and Mr. Craddick is history. Fifteen crossover Democrats and he may hang on yet another term.

But even if he does win, it seems doubtful that the nearly evenly divided House will grant him the discretion to simply silence his opponents next session.

Meanwhile, the Senate has two new freshmen. Both are women; one is a Democrat and one is a Republican.

Each session, some try to change the Senate rule that allows one third of the members to prevent consideration of the bill. The so-called two-thirds rule protects minorities like Democrats and rural Republicans who would be otherwise at the mercy of suburban Republican senators.

The two-thirds rule is also a daily check on the power of the Lt. Governor who presides over the Senate only with the permission of the senators.

Two years ago, Speaker Craddick faced a public revolt when he refused to recognize a motion to remove him. Less well known is that Dewhurst faced a similar, but more private revolt when senators thought he abused his discretionary powers.

You may love them, you may hate them. But there is no denying that the Texas Legislature always has been and always will be the best show in town.

That's what's on the agenda. I'm Harvey Kronberg and you can find me at

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