The prevailing theory among Republicans, at least publicly, is that their House herd of 101 will always move together as one, and there will be peace and harmony in the land and all that.
That number means more than two-thirds of the body is from the same party — enough to completely control the rules, the flow of legislation, and the content of that legislation. The Republicans have even less ability to blame the doings of state government on someone else than they have had for the last ten years. It all belongs to them.
Things look glum for the Texas Democrats as 2010 ends, what with nobody in statewide office, 9 of 32 members in the congressional delegation, 12 of 31 in the state Senate and a mind-boggling 49 of 150 in the Texas House.
By the numbers, the Republicans have it made. Waiting for the "however"? Here: The Democrats held the last supermajority — 111 members — in the 1983 session. There are no records showing a mass performance of "Kumbaya."
Season's Greetings! This is the last issue of Texas Weekly for 2010. The newsletter closes for two weeks for the holidays (daily News Clips will continue) and will return in the first week of January. Thanks for your support this year — we appreciate your business and wish you a wonderful holiday season.
But that's small consolation to the Democrats. They were surprised (as were the Republicans) when 22 seats flipped on Election Night. The only surprise in the race to replace the late Edmund Kuempel, R-Seguin, is that the ten-candidate contest ended without a runoff. And the capper came this week, when Reps. Allan Ritter and Aaron Peña traded in their blue jerseys for red ones.
Both men say they have no intention to resign and seek re-election, as then-Congressman Phil Gramm did in the 1980s, to ask voters to ratify the switch. Both say they'll return money to donors who ask. Peña, asked if his donors included the Democratic Party, answered, "I think I can say no, and that's part of the problem."
It's 101 to 49. Theoretically, that gives Republicans the power to suspend any rule that's not in the Constitution, to form a quorum without the Democrats, to pass constitutional amendments, to spend the money in the Rainy Day Fund. Heck, they can probably cure bunions.
Their caucus leader, Larry Taylor of Friendswood, says the advantage won't be in the two-thirds, but in the ability to let people wander from the pack. The Republicans can round up 76 votes — a simple majority — without torturing anyone who won't toe the line. Maybe that group of wanderers will include the two new members. Their migrations are very different political stories, but both, in their ways, were staunch Democrats.
A moment of perspective on that: During the period two years ago when it wasn't clear that the Republicans would have a majority in the House, when they were counting votes in Irving to see if Rep. Linda Harper-Brown had squeezed past her challenger, Ritter was asking members to support him for speaker. As a Democrat. And Peña is a past candidate for chairman of the Texas Democratic Party.
Ritter's shift isn't unheard of, even with the speaker stuff. Former Speaker Billy Clayton, a conservative Democrat, switched to the GOP after he left office without any apparent change in his politics. And Ritter's challenge in winning that race two years ago would have been from the left as much as from the right. But still.
Peña's situation is different. His district hasn't changed like Ritter's has. Hidalgo County voted for Bill White, Linda Chavez-Thompson, Barbara Ann Radnofsky and all the other statewide Democrats. Peña has been among the apostates in the House Democratic Caucus, supporting Republican Speaker Tom Craddick, for instance. But he's also been in the thick of party fights, supporting Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton in the last presidential race and, like Ritter, catching the bus to Ardmore when House Democrats left the state to deny Republicans a quorum and slow consideration of redistricting maps they thought unfairly favored Republicans.
The two decided they'd rather switch than fight. "Somebody once told me that if you don't have a seat at the table, you may be on the menu," Peña told a jovial crowd of Republicans gathered to welcome the two new guys. "I'm not on the menu... I'm at the table."
For the Benefit of Mr. K
The special election to replace Edmund Kuempel, R-Seguin, turned into one of those Bambi vs. Godzilla affairs, with the winner in a field of ten candidates getting 7,245 votes while the next best performer got only 1,123.
The winner is John Kuempel, son of the late state representative and the newest member of the biggest Republican contingent to ever occupy the state's lower legislative chamber. Seven of the ten candidates were Republicans. Kuempel's final percentage was 65.7. The Democrats in the race combined to get 7.3 percent, proving to anyone who wasn't paying attention that it's a Republican district in a Republican year. Libertarian Tony Gergely went home with just 62 votes out of 11,029 cast.
Though he was elected after everyone else in the huge freshman class this year, he could have seniority on the folks elected November 2; his was a special election for an open seat and he'll be sworn in, probably, before their terms start on January 11.
Inside Intelligence: Changing Sides
Our last survey of the year (we'll start it back up after New Years') seemed like a good time to ask about party switching. We went to the insiders for their views on how politicians ought to handle the changeover and whether they think anyone else will follow Peña and Ritter. And we threw in a question about the new Republican majority, too.
Almost half think the switching is over and only one in five think more lawmakers will change parties. After the elections took out most of the Democrats in swing seats, those who are left would risk — as Peña is risking — going home as Republicans to districts that have always supported Democrats.
Phil Gramm made quite an impression when he changed parties in 1983. He switched, quit, and won the special election to replace himself, walking away with voter approval of the change and getting enough attention in the process to win a U.S. Senate seat a year later. Asked how flippers should manage their flips, 45 percent of the insiders recommended the resign and run strategy. Forty percent said flippers should offer to refund money to donors who, after all, might've been giving for partisan reasons. And 37.5 percent (more than one answer was allowed) said the flippers should serve out their terms.
Finally, we asked the insiders which Republicans are likely to break from the pack and vote with the Democrats in the next session. We'll leave it to them to do the talking; here are some samples, and the full set is available in our Files section.
"Look first among the 12 Rs that voted with the Democrats for Straus in 2009."
"At this point not even all the Democrats will be voting with the Democrats."
"What would the incentive be for that? Instead, we'll see how hard it is to manage a supermajority, especially when 40% of them are paranoid as a matter of political philosophy. Voting w/Ds won't the issue, it will be voting against each other."
"That depends on the issue. I do not expect there to be any Republicans voting with Democrats on redistricting."
"I believe that there are around 35 who are capable of doing it depending on the issue. When the tent gets that big, ideological purity is the first casualty."
"None - no reason to unless they have decided to retire"
"Those capable of independent, rational thought."
"In this politically polarized climate, why should any vote against the herd?"
"Almost all Republicans will break from either or both the party majority or the party leadership from time to time as the interests of their districts and other constituents demand. Having a large Republican majority actually makes this easier since there will be fewer votes requiring party discipline to pass a measure."
"There will not be 100 Republican votes on the budget or redistricting."
"On the budget, different Republicans will hit their own personal 'choke point' at different levels of cuts, and so votes on budget amendments will be all over the map. And on redistricting, for any given plan, from 20 to 30 will vote no. Basically 100 is just a number and it is a mistake to assume that they will all cast a single, consistent block vote on every issue."
"Any who had a propensity to break away before, if any remain. I don't see a lot of discipline opportunities on that side of the aisle; too many sides over there."
"Shame on anybody that names someone. Why put a target on somebody's back who hasn't done anything (yet)?"
The Texas Department of Public Safety is hoping Texans with Mexico on their lists of possible vacation spots think twice this holiday season. It's like a State Department advisory, except that it's from the state police, who don't actually have offices or intelligence operations in Mexico.
"Mexican drug cartel-related violence continues in the northern Mexican border cities, and other locations such as Monterrey and Acapulco. Drug-related or other criminal activity has been documented in popular tourist destinations such as Cancun and Mazatlan," said Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety. "The safety and security of holiday travelers cannot be guaranteed if they venture into Mexico."
McCraw went on to list recent alerts issued by the U.S. State Department that warn U.S. citizens and residents what they may face if they head south, including kidnappings of non-Mexicans and criminal assaults on highways throughout Mexico. "Rape and sexual assault continue to be serious problems in Cancun and other resort areas," McCraw added.
The warning came the same week the border city of Laredo announced its 13th annual "Paisano Rest Stop," which seeks to aid Mexicans residing in the U.S. and traveling into Mexico for the holidays. The stop, just off Interstate 35 about 12 miles from the Tamaulipas border, offers hotel and restaurant listings, U.S. customs regulations for return trip, nationalization processing business listing, advice from the Mexican consulate and forms and a volunteer mechanic on call to do initial inspection and minor car repair.
"We want their experience in Laredo to be positive, restful, and beneficial before they continue into Mexico. We host the Paisano Rest Stop to help facilitate their crossing experience here because Laredo, Texas does appreciate the work these Mexican citizens are doing in the United States," said Laredo Mayor Raul Salinas.
Virginia's Not for Health Care Lovers
A Virginia federal district court judge's decision last week deeming the individual-mandate provision of the Obama health care law unconstitutional bodes well for Texas' own lawsuit against the law, according to Attorney General Greg Abbott.
Texas, joining with 20 other states, filed a similar action in a Florida federal district court after the act passed in March. The state's suit is one of 24 across the country taking aim at the law. So far, two other district court judges have reached decisions in the suits, each upholding it. But Abbott says the Virginia ruling is different, because it was the first to take up the challenge of a state to the health care law.
"This is a huge victory for Americans who feel that Congress overstepped its authority by passing Obamacare, a huge victory for Americans who believe in limited government and limitations on Congress, and a huge victory for the future of the Texas legal challenge to Obamacare," Abbott said in a phone interview.
"We believe the legal analysis applied by the judge in the Virginia case will be similar to the legal analysis applied by the judge in the Texas case," Abbott says.
The Virginia judge, while holding the law unconstitutional, did not block its application pending appeal. That means it will continue to go into effect while the parties litigate the case up to the U.S. Supreme Court, a process that could take another two years. Abbott said his office expects a decision in the Texas suit in January or February of next year.
The Week in the Rearview Mirror
Voters in Houston thought they were getting rid of red-light cameras, but a legal dispute now has the referendum tied up in court. The company providing the cameras sued the city, claiming that officials didn't use a legal process to challenge the cameras. The city has already disabled the cameras and announced that it will cancel the contract with the provider, American Traffic Solutions, regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit. The court case now is seen as a verdict on if and how much the city will have to pay ATS to cancel the contract.
The DREAM Act's passage in the U.S. House of Representatives was just a teaser for its supporters, as the Senate is poised to adjourn for the holidays without bringing it up for a vote. Protesters and clergy people from Texas traveled to Washington to try to persuade senators to pass the measure, which provides a path to citizenship for children of illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. by their parents. Both of Texas' U.S. senators have said they oppose the bill.
Employers in Texas will again see their unemployment tax rate increase next year, though not as dramatically as it did this year, when heavy demand from jobless claims took a toll on the state's trust fund, tripling the tax. In comparison, next year's average tax is projected to rise about 11 percent. While the unemployment rate has not dropped, measures taken by the Texas Workforce Commission — including this year's dramatic tax hike — appear to have helped stave off any further increases.
Under fire first from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality now finds itself up for review by the Sunset Advisory Commission, which assesses waste and inefficiencies in government agencies. The commission has taken heat for lax regulation of polluters, and an earlier Sunset report has already recommended that the commission levy higher fines on polluters, which currently enjoy rates well below those of other states. The Sunset Commission also had its eye on the Railroad Commission, which commissioners have recommended renaming as the Texas Oil and Gas Commission and replacing its three elected members with five part-time appointees.
The Texas Supreme Court's ruling in November on a so-called dry beaches case has forced the cancellation of a state project to restore six miles of damaged beaches in Galveston. The ruling changes the status of the land in question from public to private, and the state constitution forbids the expenditure of public money to benefit private property. Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson was joined by Attorney General Greg Abbott and officials from Galveston County in petitioning the high court to reconsider its ruling in light of long-standing precedents and the state's historical commitment to public beach access.
Political People and Their Moves
One of the Texas House's newest employees is 80-year-old Gene Seaman, a former state representative and former Nueces County Republican Party chairman who served in the House from 1997 to 2007. Seaman, who lost to state Rep. Juan Garcia, D-Corpus Christi, is coming in as the top aide to freshman Rep. Raul Torres, a Republican who beat Democrat Solomon Ortiz Jr. last month.
The state has a new solicitor general: Jonathan Mitchell will replace James Ho, who held the job for three years. That's the title for the state's top appellate lawyer. Mitchell graduated from the University of Chicago's law school and clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and most recently was teaching law at George Mason University. Drop the other foot: Ho, who left the job of Texas solicitor general in last week's episode, is returning to the law firm he left three years ago: Gibson Dunn. He'll be a partner in the firm's Dallas office.
That's not the only change at the state attorney general's office. AG Greg Abbott named David Mattax his director of defense litigation; assistant AG Jeff Graham will fill Mattax's old job as acting chief of the financial litigation division.
Still more: Ruth Hughes, who held the job Mattax is taking, is on her way back to the private sector after six years with the state. And Don Clemmer will take the title of acting deputy AG for criminal justice. That had been the purview of Eric Nichols.
And last: David Maxwell, who's been a Texas Ranger (the gun-toting kind — not the bat-toting kind) for the last 20 years, joins the AG as deputy director of law enforcement.
Chris Lippincott will join the Weber Shandwick PR firm after almost five years at the Texas Department of Transportation. He'll work in the firm's Austin office.
Alexis Delee, a political and communications op best known as the spokeswoman for former Speaker Tom Craddick and for the Republican Party of Texas, joins Crosswind Communications; she'll be a veep in that PR firm's Austin office.
Dan Wattles is the now the governmental relations director for the Texas Municipal Retirement System, succeeding Eddie Solis, who left that job for a new one at Hillco Partners. Wattles was the legislative coordinator at the State Auditor's Office before this.
Gov. Rick Perry named Evan E. Fitzmaurice, most recently of the Governor's General Counsel Office, the interim director of the Texas Film Commission. And he named
The Tea Party Caucus formed by Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston announced its advisory committee made up of Tea Party leaders from around the state: Konni Burton of Colleyville, Tony Corsaut of Wichita Falls, Felicia Cravens of Katy, JoAnn Fleming of Tyler, Robert Gonzalez of Clear Lake City, Glen Hagenbaks of McAllen, Leslie Haight of Fredericksburg, Sharon Hall of San Antonio, Greg Holloway of Austin, Robin Lennon of Kingwood, Chuck Molyneaux of Allen, Genna Pendergras of El Paso, Katrina Pierson of Garland and Julie Turner of The Woodlands. In a statement, Holloway said, "While we intend to bring the views of grassroots conservatives across Texas to the attention of the Tea Party Caucus, we do not claim that we speak for any Tea Party, 9-12 or other groups." Patrick's group starts with 48 legislators on board.
Quotes of the Week
Houston Democratic consultant Marc Campos, on his blog: "If the Democratic Caucus of the Texas House of Representatives has any more defections, they are going to have to call themselves the House Democratic Focus Group."
MSNBC commentator Keith Olbermann on Republicans' new supermajority in the Texas House: "The Democrats in Texas are now as relevant as the mythical chupacabra."
Rep. Allan Ritter, R-Nederland, after switching parties, on how he'll feel about people pushing him to stick to the party line: "I was a Democrat that voted for tort reform from Jefferson County. I'm used to pressure."
Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, on party switchers: "The general rule has been, people are going to invite you into the church, but they are not going to make you a deacon. So the idea that you can be part of the leadership by changing? I don't think that's how it usually works."
Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, to the San Antonio Express-News on the Republican rout: "Texans ought to get a dose of what they voted for — anti-immigration, this foolishness about opting out of Medicaid. I hope they do. My heart goes out for the people who will suffer, but if they are crazy enough to do that, go ahead."
Texas First Lady Anita Perry to the Austin American-Statesman on throwing a scaled-down inauguration in light of state economic woes: "We feel like it will be more authentic Texas, not really scaled back, because it will be fun — just as festive."
Roma Independent School District spokesman Ricky Perez on the current relationship between his city and its Mexican neighbors, Ciudad Miguel Alemán and Ciudad Mier, despite the increase in violence south of the Rio Grande, in an interview with The Texas Tribune: "When it comes to [Miguel] Alemán and Roma, you are talking about two communities that have a river as a border. But it might as well not even be there."
Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, on fellow Sen. Jeff Wentworth's reputation for independence, quoted in The Texas Tribune: "I gave him a statue of Don Quixote with a plaque that said, Jeff Wentworth, R-La Mancha."
U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Surfside, musing about his decision to let his son, Kentucky Sen.-elect, Rand Paul, room with him at a Virginia condominium, in The New York Times: "I told him as long as he didn't expect me to cook. I'm not going to take care of him the way his mother did."
Contributors: Julian Aguilar, Reeve Hamilton, Ceryta Lockett, David Muto and Morgan Smith
Texas Weekly: Volume 27, Issue 48, 20 December 2010. Ross Ramsey, Editor. Copyright 2010 by The Texas Tribune. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission from the publisher is prohibited. One-year online subscription: $250. For information about your subscription, call (512) 716-8600 or email email@example.com. For news, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (512) 716-8611.