Day Two of the 82nd Texas Legislature
Well, we’re all still here. That is, except for all those activists who lined the Capitol hallways yesterday, and now have to watch on their computers from home. Of course they can also read our wise, up to-the-minute prose—today we’ll be watching for a fight in the Senate over the two-thirds rule, which currently allows the Democrats to block bills despite their minority status in the chamber. Yeah, not exactly popular with the Tea Party crowd.
Of course yesterday wasn’t exactly drama-free—a vote on the Speaker, after all, Gov. Perry studiously avoiding the California-sized budget deficit and varied costumed and plain-clothed masses coming to the Capitol. Whether you were crying or laughing, at least it’s still interesting.
1. Thank the Academy
Joe Straus is now House Speaker—thanks to 132 of his colleagues. This wasn’t really a surprise, since he already had 70 percent of the GOP caucus committed to him. But while his Tea Party foes must admit defeat, that doesn’t mean they have to walk away empty-handed. While Straus was the only candidate nominated on the floor Tuesday, his fellow Republican, state Rep. Leo Berman, could not let a potential moment of unity go unspoiled. He demanded roll-call vote, giving the Tea Party activists who lined the gallery a list of their enemies to target next election. But when your enemies make up 88 percent of the House, it might be tough knowing where to start. [Texas Observer]
2. Hatfields and McCoys
In case you were unaware, let me enlighten you: Democratic Congressman Lloyd Doggett really doesn’t like Republican Gov. Rick Perry. So much, in fact, that when there was an opportunity to reopen an old debate, Doggett pounced. In a letter in Wednesday’s New York Times, Doggett responded to a recent column by Paul Krugman. The column criticized Texas’ conservative fiscal approach and pointed to its looming budget shortfall. Turns out it missed one opportunity to flog the governor and his Republican allies: Doggett added an extra requirement to last year’s emergency funding for schools, specifically requiring Perry to promise the state would spend the funds only on education. Krugman’s omission gave Doggett the opportunity to criticize Perry once again for the move. Ah well: At least we know it’s neither forgiven nor forgotten. [New York Times]
3. Number Crunch
When Republican state Sen. Steve Ogden got up to accept his position as Speaker Pro Tempore, he already had earned the love of most spectators by asking that only a few senators speak in his honor (rather than most of the chamber.) As if this wasn’t enough of a shock, he then spent his time on mike talking numbers. Budget holes in the controversial “margins” tax on business, the school finance system and Medicaid were his three biggest concerns. But wait, there’s more! He then took a nuanced approach, explaining that while he didn’t want to raise taxes, “the margins tax is different” and must be reformed. Oh yes, and he believes they must find a way to save Medicaid. As exciting as those twist-endings in M. Night Shyamalan movies. Well, the early ones anyways. [Austin American-Statesman]
While one senator used his first-day speech to get down to brass tacks, Gov. Rick Perry kept his speech light—on major issues that is. In a time of critical shortfalls threatening most government services, the Texas governor instead spent his speeches to the House and Senate outlining two emergency priorities: eminent domain and sanctuary cities. Eminent domain is a major issue for some folks, particularly in rural parts of the state, but it’s hardly the issue at the forefront of this session. Sanctuary cities are even more amorphous, though generally defined as places that don’t actively enforce federal immigration law. In a comfortingly predictable exchange, Democrats then immediately fired back a volley of press releases, accusing the governor of distracting Texans from the budget deficit by focusing on a hot button issue. Guess Democrats are finally understanding how the game is played. [Texas Tribune]
5. Swine and Roses
While there were a whole lot of rallies yesterday, ranging Tea Partiers to LGBTQ activists, intrepid investigative reporter Melissa del Bosque took the road less traveled. She interviewed the most mysterious of them all—a giant pink pig-man who stands at the gates of the Capitol, exhorting cars to honk with his sign “Lawyers are Pigs.” He didn’t quite fit into any of the rallies and his message of legal reform might be vague, but as del Bosque writes, “a man in a pig suit is just irresistible.” [Texas Observer]