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FEATURE Austin Hot Sausage To Go BY MICHAEL KING Coulda been worse That may be the only consensus to emerge from the last days of the 75th Session of the Legislature which concluded Monday, June 2 Most progressives, on the floor or in the gallery, are accustomed to legislative post-mortems in which they lick their wounds, count their losseg and hope for better luck next time But in the immediate aftermath of this session, among representatives of labor , public inter est and consumer groups, environmental advocates, defenders of social services and of state employee sion that many had worried could be disastrous. 1 t was partly a matter of low expectationswith the prospect of a Republican Senate and an increasingly conservative House, an air of apprehension had preceded the call to order. That the worst fears had not been fulfilled brought some inevitable sighs of relief. But there was also a significant conviction that surprisingly much had been accomplished, and that the rightward thrust of the Lege had at least been stalemated for another biennium. The feeling was not unanimous, by any means. Some progressive reps, particularly those from heavily minority districts, are increasingly frustrated by the Lege’ s neglect of education and social services, and dismayed that radical cutbacks and “devolution” in Washington appear to have raised few alarms in Austin. They argue that this session only served to exacerbate the inevitable crisis, and that their colleagues seem largely oblivious to its implications. But on the other side of Eleventh Street, over at the Governor’s Mansion, there were likely also a few sighs of reliefmaybe even gratitude. With a huge, late-inning hand-up from his nominally Democratic opposition, the Governor had been able to snatch a “tax-relief’ political victory from the jaws of defeat. By all accounts, the tax relief is piddlingone legislator described it as a “Christmas present for homeowners, with a pretty package and bow on topbut there isn’t much inside the box.” It remains to be seen if the political relief is more than that, and if it will bless only the Governor and the Governor’s party. Governor Bush, as he gathers ammunition for his upcoming gubernatorial \(or “Coulda been worse.” was a flurry of anti-climaxes, cluttered with incidental legislative cleanup followed by interminable ceremonial proclamations honoring everybody from the gods on Olympus to the kitchen help. Yet the session also concluded with episodes that defined the persistent difference between the two chambers. Much of the Senate’s morning, in a ritualized atmosphere characteristic of the Mausoleum Senatum, was devoted first to choral praises of the liquid glories of Senate Bill 1, the water conservation bill \(“the most contentuous issue,” advised a bubbling Buster Brown, “was interbasin trans of incoming President Pro Tern Bill Ratliff. But on the House side, the traditionally informal, celebratory, even raucous mood was abruptly punctured at close of business; the needle was a sober personal privilege speech by Republican Kent Grusendorf and an angry response by Democrat Mark Stiles. Their tense exchange suddenly reinvigorated the strong undercurrents of “partisanship” that had been surging in the chamber throughout the session. The House rules, charged Grusendorfparticularly those of Stiles’ Calendars Committeehad been manipulated during the ses sion “to undermine the BY ALL ACCOUNTS, THE TAX RELIEF public interest” \(that is, to IS PIDDLINGONE LEGISLATOR obstruct inflammatory DESCRIBED IT AS A “CHRISTMAS legislation favored by PRESENT FOR HOMEOWNERS, WITH Grusendorf and his hardA PRETTY PACKAGE AND BOW ON TOPBUT THERE ISN’T MUCH and angrily defended the INSIDE THE BOX.” House rules, noting that six of his own bills never made it out of Calendars, which he chairs. “I’m not willing to say it’s wrong,” barked Stiles, “just because I didn’t get my way.” The closing argument, ostensibly about “rules,” bristled as well with taboo subjectssex, gender, power, and raceuneasily compatible with parliamentary procedure. A few moments later, Speaker Pete Laney politely congratulated his colleagues for “legislating for the future instead of an immediate crisis” and brought his gavel down, sine die. But the sparks struck by Grusendorf and Stiles still glow in the Capitol air. PLOP, PLOP. FIZZ, FIZZ. Just the day before, on Sunday morning, the Legislature had concluded its major legislation in an apparent orgy of bipartisanship, as it overwhelmingly approved the appropriations bill, pausing only to The homestead change is projected to lower the tax bill of the “average homeowner” by roughly $140 a year. That was all that was left of the governor’s ambitious intention to 4 THE TEXAS OBSERVER MAY 9, 1997