"Stop chanting the word 'conservative' like a village idiot. The word has lost its meaning."
Kronberg's Quorum Report
The 81st legislative session was the strangest one I’ve ever seen. The lesson I’ve learned from this session is that our Texas legislature is almost superfluous. As long as the Executive branch keeps on functioning Texas can keep buggering on without a legislature. (Of course at some point people who buy our bonds need to know Texas will pay them back.)
The big truth here is that the legal structure and form of our Texas government is almost meaningless. What does count is leadership. While we make much of our government being a constitutional parliamentary system derived from the British, we often forget, or never really knew, that Great Britain does not have a written constitution. Their government was shaped by hundreds of years of traditions put in play by families who routinely murdered each other for power. Even the great Magna Charter was just an attempt by English Realtors to limit the eminent domain rights of King John.
Power in Texas government belongs to those who exercise it. We are constantly being told that the Governor of Texas is an inherently weak governor. The story line is that after the Republicans were booted out of the Capitol in 1873, our constitution was rewritten to make sure no future Republican Governor would have the power to rule over us. All this is historically true but the Texas Governor can and should exercise great power when needed. History is filled with leaders who rose without having a great title with great authority. The most powerful person in the Soviet Communist party was called its “Secretary“. Julius Caesar’s started his rise to power as head of Rome’s Park’s and Wildlife Department. (before football players there were gladiators)
THE LOST SESSION
The key to understanding the 81st session is that there was no leadership. Texas Republicans have great candidates who are world class at being elected to office. But no one who really wants to govern.
Once my then-three year old daughter Isabel knocked over a large vase. It made a horrible noise breaking. Isabel, having her father’s political instincts, acted as if the vase fell by itself. “What happened?“ She reminded me of how Rick Perry governs. Problems emerged with the Texas Youth Commission, The State School at Corpus, the Texas Child Protective Services which seized several hundred children and their mothers without due process, and the complete collapse of the 81st legislative session in its final days. Perry didn’t run and hide. But he didn’t take charge either. He initially acted like these imbroglios were someone else’s responsibility. “What happened?”
In fairness to Rick none of our other state leaders covered themselves in glory. Joe Straus was learning the ropes. His goal was to be a bipartisan referee. He was so bipartisan it made many of us long for the good old days of partisan bickering. At least issues were joined and you’d know what the different arguments were. Craddick was a control freak but under him legislation got passed. How the House could have adjourned sine die without telling the Senate is beyond comprehension. Lt. Gov Dewhurst is a great entrepreneur but is not a political leader like Bullock.
The one person who could make life in the Lege exciting again is Comptroller Susan Combs. So far she has been a team player and her rulings on budget estimates and revenue have been straight. Watch her closely. She is our smartest officeholder in state government. She is fully capable of pulling a Bob Bullock and forcing a special session by decertifying our budget like Bullock did in 1986, which essentially cost Governor Mark White the election.
THE FUTURE OF REPUBLICAN LEADERSHIP.
Several trends are bad news for the future of Republican leadership.
1) The Hispanic population in Texas is rapidly increasing and will soon be a majority. At the same time Hispanic support for the Republican Party is in rapid decline, thanks to self inflicted wounds like the unnecessary voter ID bill. Republicans might be able to hold onto enough power to control redistricting in 2011. But it will be a near thing and we will lose control of Texas during this decade unless Republicans make great inroads with Hispanic voters.
2) People actually expect government to do something. The big divide in the future will not be conservative/liberal. The political fault lines are between urban and rural voters, with suburban voters trending toward the concerns of urban voters. Suburban voters used to be the backbone of the Republican party. They now expect us to govern and help them with things like education, health care and employment. The ideal of limited government is dead. Just one example. In the last few years I have cared full time for and buried my sister and both parents. My whole generation is finding itself caring for aging parents. The time and expense of this was much greater than I had anticipated. While most of us will gladly bear any burden for our families, the reality is that my generation has to care for our parents and our children at the same time. Many cannot do it without help from government.
3) Talk about substantive ideas of governing. Stop chanting the word “conservative” like a village idiot. The word has lost its meaning. Many of our primary debates have been little more shouting matches to see who is the most conservative. This may be great for winning the March Republican primary. But it may not win in November.
I’m not even sure what “conservative” means anymore. One of “conservative’s” meanings used to be more local control. But in the “lost Session” the so called conservative position was against local option for things like red light cameras and taxes for local transportation systems.
4) For the first time since the early 1990’s, the Democrats will field Class A candidates. John Sharp, Kirk Watson and Bill White are among the best candidates ever fielded for statewide office. They all have proven track records in governing. They are not second string “miracle team” media freaks. So far we Republicans are lucky they have focused on the US Senate special election and have designated a weak candidate, Tom Shieffer, to run for Governor. While I love Rick Perry dearly, he would serve Texas Republicans best by not running for reelection. Conservatives used to favor term limits.
© 2009 Harvey Kronberg: www.quorumreport.com
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