THE 80″ LEGISLATURE: BLOOD ON THE FLOOR problems. Four months after the Craddick Ds re-elected a controversial speaker, the wisdom of their bargain remains an open question. The signature issue for the Craddick Ds was restoring cuts to the Children’s Health Insurance Program. No one had more riding on CHIP than Turner. For four years, the loquacious, high-profile Houston attor ney has found himself in an awkward positionagitating for a Democratic agenda, mostly unsuccessfully, while trying to remain supportive of a conservative Republican speaker. Turner had obtained a promise from Craddick to pass House Bill 109Turner’s legislation to expand CHIP. With Craddick’s backing, the bill sailed through the House with strong bipartisan support \(64 Democrats and 62 Republicans In the Senate, however, the CHIP legislation nearly foundered. With three days left in the session, Senate leaders refused to compromise on a final version. Turner grew desperate. If the CHIP bill didn’t pass, by any standard the Craddick Democrats’ session would have been a failure. Turner ventured into the Senate chamber for one final attempt to win over Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who was holding up the bill. They huddled on the dais. “I’m begging you,” Turner told Dewhurst. “I’m begging you on behalf of the kids.” Dewhurst relented. With help from Waco Republican Sen. Kip Averitt and Craddick, Turner brokered a deal thatif the governor signs the billwould add about 100,000 kids to CHIP, according to the Legislative would restore about half the children cut from the program in 2003, during Craddick’s first term as speaker. Though Turner said he would have preferred the addition of more kids, he said passage of HB 109 is a huge success that’s directly attributable to Democratic support for Craddick. “That would not have happened without being a part of the leadership team:’ he said. “I haven’t compromised my principles.” Other House Democrats weren’t so sure. They noted that in 2003, Turner was part of the very House leadership team that cut benefit programs like CHIP in the first place; though Turner fought many of those cuts, he ultimately voted for the budget in 2003. Rep. Garnet Coleman, a fellow Houston Democrat, said it’s not clear that Turner’s bill will expand CHIP. While Coleman supported the legislation, he believes administrative policies implemented by the Health and Human Services Commission caused many kids to lose CHIP coverage. He said those bureaucratic barriers, if they remain in place, will blunt the impact of Turner’s bill. Even if the bill does add 100,000 kids, he noted, that doesn’t undo the damage from the 2003 cuts. “Sometimes it’s an illusion that things are getting better;’ Coleman said. “If you were in a 20-foot hole and now you’re in a 10-foot hole, and the real world is at ground level, you really haven’t gotten back to where you started?’ While the budget has shrunk, he said, the state’s needs have grown. “The population of the state of Texas has grown;’ he said. “Clearly, the needs of the state of Texas have grown with that population. … The dollars necessary to deal with those needs have not gotten back to ground level:’ Responds Rep. Aaron Pena, whose support for Craddick helped land the Edinburg Democrat the chairmanship of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee in just his third session: “We’re not supermen:’ Pella said the Craddick Ds accomplished a great deal in a GOP-dominated Legislature. “Some people may want a full loaf,” he said, “but when you deliver three-fourths of a loaf, that’s pretty good considering you weren’t getting anything?’ Turner said that even though CHIP wasn’t made whole, his bill still helps kids. “I’ve taken my share [of criticism],” he said. “I’ll certainly take my share if the other side of the equation is 120,000 kids get insurance.” Turner can rightly claim credit for several other successes. He secured about $200 million for the System Benefit Fund, which helps poor families pay electricity bills. The fund which the Legislature raided for other spending projects in 2003has become a pet obsession for Turner over the past four years. Though the fund is still hundreds of millions short of its level before 2003, Turner said the $200 million is a major success since the program “didn’t receive a dime” the last two sessions. Serving in the leadership team allowed the Craddick Ds to shape another signature issuefoster care. Craddick handed the chairmanship of the Human Services Committee to Patrick Rose, a third-term Craddick Democrat from Dripping Springs. The previous two sessions, conservative Republicans had chaired the committee, which handles most health and human services legislation in the House. Rose said his perch on Human Services allowed him to rewrite a major overhaul of the foster care system. The Senate’s version of the bill would have privatized a large chunk of the state’s care for foster kids. Rose not only removed the outsourcing from the House version, he negotiated a final compromise package that contains little privatization. \(Tellingly, though, Rose was one of the Craddick Ds to JUNE 15, 2007 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9
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