Page 25


POLITICAL INTELLIGENCE The House That Pete Built THE RISING R. Much has been made of the coming Republican majority in the Texas House of Representatives, which has become an Alamo of sorts for Texas Democrats, who in the last four years have lost the Senate and every elected statewide office. The newly redistricted House, where Dems currently hold a 78 to 72 advantage, is expected to have at least 80 R’s after next year’s elections, and possibly as many as 90. Much of the battle has already been lost without a shot being fired. In the two weeks following judicial approval of the Legislative partisan redistricting plan, several members of House Speaker Pete Laney’s leadership team have opted to retire, including Rob JuneII \(D-San D-chairs. The LRB’s three-member Republican wrecking crew of Land Commissioner David Dewhurst, Comptroller Carole Rylander, and Attorney General John Cornyn completely redrew Laney’s rural Panhandle district, forcing him to campaign largely in counties he has never represented. He will likely survive that attack, and may even hold onto the speakership if the Republicans don’t get a big enough majority to oust him. Laney has enough loyalty among rural Republicans that he may yet eke out another term as speaker. If he doesn’t, next session is likely to be a watershed year in Texas pol itics, not so much because the mix of D’s and R’s will be reversed, but because of the way a new Republican speaker is likely to do business. Under Laney, Democrats and Republicans have shared power in the House. “It’s absolutely false to suggest that the Democrats run the House under a Democratic majority system,” said one long-time Democratic lobbyist. There is no party whip enforcing the party line, for example, as there is in Washington, and last session, Laney appointed thirteen Republicans as committees chairs. In fact, the Democratic Caucus rarely meets as such. More typical of the way the House has traditionally done business is the rural caucus, which has a mixed membership of D’s and R’s. That’s one reason Laney may be able to hold on to the Speakership even with a Republican majorityhis past willingness to work across party lines. Laney has steered the House down the moderate-conservative path, where it has more or less been for decades. If the Republicans take over, most likely with announced speaker canditheir leader, the nature of politics in the House is likely to change. There have been murmurs that Craddick would appoint a significant number of Democratic chairmen, but not many insiders are buying it. More true to form would be the kind of treatment maverick House Republican Tommy Merritt of Longview has received from his own party for his failure to toe the line on redistricting \(he proposed a plan that protected incumbents at the sion. Republican party leaders have attended fundraisers for Merritt’s primary opponent, whom they reportedly recruited to run against him. “You’re about to see an example of what these people do to those who don’t agree with them. This is how they will run the House of Representatives,” the lobbyist said. “The fundamental difference with a Republican speaker,” he said, “is that you will in fact have one-party government, and the Democrats will have no choice but to become an opposition party,” serving mainly to prevent things from happening, rather than participating in decisionmaking. The result will be the Washington style of politics that then-governor Bush campaigned against. “As soon as [Bush] leaves, here comes Craddick and Cornyn and the rich guys to bring in what Bush went to Washington to fight.” The outlook is different in the Senate, where the Republicans’ slim 16-15 advantage is expected to widen slightly, but not enough for the party to gain the all important two-thirds majority needed under Senate rules to move legislation. The real question is how the membership will react to the outcome of the lieutenant governor’s race, which pits Republican David Dewhurst against Democrat John Sharp. If Sharp wins, next session could be the first session in modern history in which the lieutenant governor, who presides over the Senate, is not of the same party as the 18 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 12/21/01