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have to be very thoughtful and, I think, creative to address that problem:’ But, he says, that creativity doesn’t include privatizing prisons, an issue likely to resurface this session. “If we’re looking to keep costs down, can we afford the costs of [privatizing]?” he says. While Seliger favors the creation of a school voucher pilot program, he says the use of vouchers should be a decision left to local officials. That fits with Seliger’s political philosophy: In most cases, local government control is better. “That’s what you get when you’re a mayor,” he says. “I think it’s wrong to sit in some far-off capital and determine what’s best for people in Orange and Alpine.” Seliger’s mantra of local control could place him in conflict with the wishes of the state’s Republican leadership on a range of issues. If he embraces his independent side, his vote will be an interesting one to watch this session. A New Rose Blooms When Governor Ann Richards walked through the door of north Austin’s Cool River Cafe on election night, Mark assured. Still, when the Texas Democratic icon congratulated the soon-to-be newly minted state representative the moment had a camera-ready feel to it. Strama is a star. He must be the only candidate for the Texas House in its history who had fundraisers outside his districtin New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston. At the New York affair, Moby played acoustic guitar for the entertainment. In addition to his legendary Rolodex, Strama also likely has the most legislative experience of the 2005 freshman class, having worked for Houston Sen. Rodney Ellis from 1991 to 1993. Even with all these assets, the 37-yearold progressive Democrat knows how difficult the session promises to be. Despite his victory, election night did not turn out the way Strama thought it would. In order for him to win in a swing district, he assumed it would have to be a big year for Democrats. “I thought I’d be coming in with a wind behind me,” he says. In his ideal scenario, Democrats would pick up five to six seats, forcing a restoration of the Lege’s bipartisanship and shifting power to the Senate. Instead, Democrats only eked out one additional seat. Now, Strama ranks 146th out of a body of 150, is part of a beleaguered minority, and represents a district where he is vulnerable to challenge. That doesn’t mean he is conceding the field. In an interview the week before the session began, on an afternoon spent filing court papers in an election challenge by Stick that fizzled shortly before the opening gavel, Strama notes that he has always worked well with Republicans. When the successful Internet entrepreneur started his company, his first client was the Republican National Committee. “I have no delusions that I will be playing a central role as a player in a conference committee,” he says, “but I want to be an advocate and a resource.” As a resource, he offers well-prepared staffers, his own ability to communicate with the Senate, and his experience working with Ellis on school finance, the thorniest issue facing the Lege. Strama is already girding for the tough votes he knows lie ahead. In particular, he worries about the choice legislators will likely face over whether to raise the sales tax to help fund education and lower property taxes. “It will be a dilemma,” he says. Most of his constituents would accept a sales tax increase for a decrease in property taxes, he believes. Important factors in his decision will be whether the process was fair and inclusive and whether a real effort had been made first to distribute the burden fairly in the tax code. As an advocate, Strama says his personal priorities are to reform campaign laws, an issue he made central to his own election campaign. He also hopes to take on the topic of corporate welfare. “Any time we give out incentives we skew the market,” he says. “We are undermining [business] efficiency with corporate welfare.” One factor that has helped assuage Strama’s apprehension about what lies ahead is his fellow freshmen. “They are smart, savvy, young, professional; they look like the state of Texas in a broader sense than just ethnicity,” he says. “There is a foundation there to build the party.” As to Strama’s future ambitions, he demurs. Still fresh from a bruising campaign, he wonders about the personal sacrifice and the concessions required to advance in state politics. “You can’t get elected to higher office raising money from friends,” he says. Compassionate Pragmatism Veronica Gonzales didn’t have to wait long to make her first tough decision as an elected official. Just days after the McAllen attorney captured the House District 41 seat on November 2, the House leadership came calling to ask her pledge of support in the House speaker’s race for incumbent Republican Tom Craddick. After mulling it over, Gonzales joined 118 1/21/05 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5