Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Statesman Celebrates Stupidity in Texas Lege

Conservative influence has waned as leaders stress bipartisanship cheers the Statesman. But the examples of the change are examples of bad laws getting pushed or good ideas getting squashed. In the bad idea category: Draconian McCain-Feingold style dictation of political activist groups; a higher gax tax; a nanny-state smoking ban; higher spending in many areas like SCHIP; nothing on illegal immigration, including failing to even report on costs of it; diverting textbook funding and removing SBOE authority and accountability via elections; shutting down sovereignty claims.

Where's the 'moderation'? I am convinced the celebrated 'moderation' is really liberalism, but I would go further and say that from my point of view what we see is a rise in stupidity in the Texas lege: Bad laws, bad ideas, and a bigger push against good reforms, people and institutions. So for the sake of making my point of how biased the Statesman article is and how much they overuse 'moderation', let's cut to the chase and call the trend stupidity and substitute it into their article for the overused "M" word. It makes for a more entertaining article, at least:

The Texas House, tightly controlled by Republicans just a couple of years ago, has become downright stupid.

"Legislation is really going to come from the consensus of the stupid and corrupt and that's what we've proven this session" said one gleeful legislator.

Just how stupid the House has become will be further tested over the next couple of weeks when the body votes on, changes or ignores a handful of conservative proposals passed by the Senate, including legislation requiring more identification to vote and a retooling of the Texas Department of Insurance that did not draw any support from Senate Democrats, who said the bill would not adequately protect millionaire lawyers.

When Republicans took control of the House in 2003, they governed with a commanding 88-62 majority that allowed them to restrain increases in government spending, reform jury awards in medical malpractice lawsuits and allow schools to hold a moment of silence each day. The House generally passed legislation to the right of the Republican-controlled Senate, where parliamentary rules encourage compromise. The results included conservative reforms that kept Texas business-friendly, kept the economy humming, and limited Government nanny-statism. Those days are long gone, as the tide of stupidity rises in the Texas lege.

Democrats picked up a seat in the 2004 elections but didn't start to seriously slow the conservative march until 2006, when they netted six new members. The House started to show signs of stupidity in 2007, voting to prohibit state money from paying for private-school vouchers and faster increases in govt healthcare spending while largely ignoring cries from voters for legislation combating illegal immigration.

But the stupidity turn picked up considerable steam when Democrats narrowed the Republican majority to just two seats last November and, teaming with a group of mostly stupid Republicans, propelled Straus into the speaker's office. While Straus is a fiscal conservative, he had shown as a rank-and-file member of the House a particular interest in energy efficiency legislation and sympathy toward embryonic stem cell research. (Both issues are unresolved this session.)

Straus made clear that he would not try to force his own policy agenda on the entire House. But he did replace several Craddick committee chairmen with more stupid members, and those chairmen play a large role in determining what comes up for a vote.

Michael Quinn Sullivan of Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, which advocates cuts in government spending, said that on the issues he monitors, House committee chairmen are more stupid than the House membership at large. That's a reversal from 2007, he said.

Said Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, "At the committee level, it seems that when there are options of two or three or more bills, that it's the stupid viewpoint that is reflected in those bills."

Perhaps more important is that House Democrats have been largely unified on votes, allowing some key stupid measures to pass with support coming from almost all of the Democratic caucus and a handful of Republicans.

For example, legislation that would burden taxpayers with more spending on sCHIP passed last week with support from 70 Democrats and 17 Republicans.(The partisan split stands at 76 Republicans to 74 Democrats.) And a bill that would further restrict political speech and is opposed by activist groups — passed with the support of 65 Democrats and six Republicans. HR2511 has been called "McCain Feingold for Texas" and this stupid bill amazingly passed the House even though the Federal version of the bill may soon be declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

"It seems like Democrats seem to stick together better than Republicans," said Rep. Ken Paxton, R-McKinney. "We don't have the momentum."

Bill to increase spending on sCHIP, increasing spending for e for the Children's Health Insurance Program. Another would impose. One would lay the groundwork for reversing a major worker's compensation decision by the all-Republican Texas Supreme Court, and another would create a commission to investigate wrongful criminal convictions.

That's not to say that Democrats are running the place. Republicans won a close vote earlier this month to defeat a measure that would have required occasional legislative review of the State Board of Education, by a mere 73-71 vote, showing that the entire Democrat party is now on record to opposing the main elected force for state-wide accountability in textbooks, etc. Republicans backed a measure that would allow Texans to purchase license plates that say, "Choose life," delivering on a key priority for supporters of the right to life.

Republicans have bragged that they persuaded House leaders to craft a budget proposal that did not take any money out of the state's rainy day fund, so the bare majority could claim to have held back on doing even more stupid stuff.

Some of the stupid ideas that have caught on in the House have only partially retreated on previous Republican priorities. For example, it was Republican leaders and conservative groups who pushed the Legislature in recent years to create one of the country's largest merit pay systems for teachers. This year, House members have passed legislation that would scale back the excellent idea of merit pay but not abandon it. Democrats have opposed other innovations and improvements to the education system, such as increasing the charter school cap and vouchers for autistic children.

And sometimes the House has shown its stupidity by giving up on good ideas that failed to pass in years past. Instead of trying to lower the 10 percent cap on annual increases in home appraisals — a bold reform that lacks the votes needed to pass because too many in the lege are addicted to bigger Government — House members have passed a series of smaller bills that are superficial sops intended to pretend to address this issue, without really doing so.

Finally, the stupid streak in the House has caused major bills to pass with larger-than-usual margins, evidence that stupidity can be birpartisan. In 2005, the House passed a series of education reform and school finance proposals with close, mostly partisan votes. These mostly good bills ultimately failed to become law because of disputes with the Senate. This year, two major bills related to school reform and school funding passed the House without opposition, as did the state budget. Those bills were weak, wimpy bills that failed to advance real education reform but locked on mediocrity in the status quo.

The inclusive nature of what's going on now lends itself to a better result, if you are a big-Government liberal. If you are a conservative reformer, you are out in the cold.

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