ustxtxb_obs_2004_10_22_50_00005-00000_000.pdf

Page 30

by

vincing enough Republicans and independents that party labels are less important than who can best represent them in Congress. \(In 2002, Edwards won re-election with 52 percent of the vote in a district in which more than 60 percent of voters generally favored What’s different this time around is not only the caliber of Edwards’ challenger but the unfriendly new district that DeLay’s people designed for him. Edwards currently represents the Texas 1 1 th District, which encompasses Waco and Fort Hood, home to two U.S. Army divisions and one of the largest military bases in the world. Like any good incumbent, Edwardswho sits on the House Appropriations Committee and is ranking member on the Military Construction Appropriations subcommitteebrought home the federal pork for Fort Hood, which in return bestowed on Edwards the military bona fides that helped win over conservative voters. Edwards was one of the main targets of the DeLay-inspired congressional redistricting that took aim at nine Anglo Democrats. DeLay’s new map snatched Fort Hood from Edwards, and tossed his home in Waco into the unfriendly 17th District. Yet polls have shown Edwards slightly ahead. Edwards has raised more money than Wohlgemuth, thanks in part to hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from two of the Democratic Party’s standbys, unions and trial attorneys. He’s utilized his sharp campaigning skills to highlight the effects of Wohlgemuth’s signature health and human services reform bill, painting her as too right wing. Edwards, meanwhile, pitches himself in his usual pragmatic centrist role. Perhaps, most importantly, he’s running strong in the College Station area. The Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call recently took the measure of the race and pronounced Edwards the one Democrat likely to win among the so-called Texas Five \(the five remaining Democratic incumbents, out of nine originally Both sides believe more is at stake than just a central Texas House seat. Either a powerful Democrat will, for the moment, hold off the surge from the religious right or a rising Republican lawmaker will push the Congress further toward DeLay’s worldview. Democrat Chet Edwards courts voters in Waco. Wohlgemuth demonstrated her tenacity in her very first state House race in 1994. She won by just 22 votes, and wasn’t assured victory until she overcame three months of recounts and procedural photo: Steve Satterwhite wrangling. Republicans were still the minority party then in the Texas House, and she made a name for herself as a grenade-thrower at the chamber’s back microphone. At the end of the 1997 session, she became irate when her cherished bill tequiririt parental notification for teenage abortions perished on a procedural motion. In retaliation, Wohlgemuth pulled a parliamentary maneuver that scuttled the House’s entire schedule of bills, an unprecedented move in the Texas House. It became known as the Memorial Day Massacre. Gradually, Wohlgemuth refined her political skills with a measure of policy expertise. In particular, she made herself into a policy wonk on the state’s complex health and human services delivery system. “As complicated as these issues are, she really did go out and learn them and learn them enough to advance her position,” says state Rep. Garnet Coleman \(Dyears Wohlgemuth’s foil on HHS issues. “I respect people who are good at what they do, and she’s good at what she does. I just disagree with her. But you don’t underestimate Arlene Wohlgemuth.” In 2003, with the GOP finally in power in the Texas House, Wohlgemuth wrote and passed the 300-page House Bill 2292. On the campaign trail, she describes the legislation as “the largest government reform bill that has ever been passed in our state.” It condenses 12 state health and human services agencies into five mega-agencies. Wohlgemuth touts the law as an example of her conservative philosophies. HB 2292, she says, streamlines bureaucratic overhead and eliminates waste. It will save the state roughly $1 billion. But as progressive legislators like Coleman have pointed out, about $600 million of the savings in HB 2292 arise from deep service cuts to numerous government programs, including Medicaid and CHIP. The CHIP cuts in particular have become a politically 10/22/04 THE TEXAS OBSERVER S