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The First Time Was No Charm for One House Freshman

Maybe it’s because he was a mayor, a position with some executive authority and a low need for rhetorical flame throwing. But Lanham Lyne, a freshman member of the Texas House, is seriously reconsidering his decision to work in the Capitol.

State Rep. Lanham Lyne

Maybe it’s because he was a mayor, a nonpartisan position with some executive authority and a low need for rhetorical flame throwing.

Or because he’s from the world of business, where the idea most of the time is to solve problems and make money.

But Lanham Lyne, one of the newest members of the Texas House, is seriously reconsidering his decision to work in the Capitol.

He’s part of the big bunch of Republicans swept into office last November — the huge freshman class elected on (a) an anti-Obama midterm backlash, (b) a Tea Party wave or (c) all of the above.

Lyne’s a little different, though. He’s been in office before, for one thing. He’d have won without the wave, for another. The Republican from Wichita Falls replaced David Farabee, a Democrat, in one of the most conservative House districts in Texas. Farabee held onto it because he has a revered family name in that part of North Texas — so revered that voters spent years ignoring his party affiliation.

A number of freshmen in the House won elections even their own partisans thought they would lose. The best measure of that might be the redistricting maps drawn by the Legislature earlier this year. The House currently has 101 Republicans, but the mapmakers couldn’t find enough voters to guarantee that many Republican seats. They found enough for 92 or 93 wins, based on results of the last two election cycles. Getting more than that would require a strongly Republican mood like the one that prevailed in 2010.

Lyne had it locked, and if he runs again, he’ll most likely win. If he doesn’t, his replacement will almost certainly be Republican. But now he’s not sure he wants it. He hasn’t made a decision about whether to run for re-election.

What’s the problem?

“We don’t ever get around to the discussions we need to have,” he said. “It’s easy for both sides to draw a line in the sand and just say, ‘We need more,’ and ‘No, you don’t,’ without ever having a discussion about who needs what. Those are the things that frustrate me. There’s a reasonable chance I won’t because of the way things operate.”

The state’s spending, for example. “I voted for the budget because that’s what my district really sent me down there to do, was to cut spending, reduce regulation, do those kind of things,” he said. “But I’m not sure they understood what we spent, to be candid. The assumption that we spend like Washington spends is just a misnomer.”

Lawmakers who come to Austin after holding local office often have a different view of government and politics. Not better, necessarily, or less political or ideological. Just different.

The Senate has a quartet of former mayors who have been caught scratching their heads at the ways of Austin. The House is marbled with former local officials. City councils are often goofier than the Texas Legislature, but even veterans of the local circuses find the state version perplexing.

“I think the thing that bothered me the most was not the political debates, because I expect those and I expect some crazy rhetoric to go with that sometimes,” Lyne said. “The thing that bothers me is the little things, what I would call petty behavior, kindergarten behavior: ‘If you vote against my bill I’m going to kill everything you have.’ That’s an extreme way of putting it, but that’s implied on a lot of things.”

He cited what he called a “no new mandates” bill that couldn’t get to the full House for a debate in spite of the fact that more than two-thirds of the members had signed on as co-authors.

Debates on some things last longer than they need to, he said, referring to the voter ID bill.

“I don’t think 12 hours of debate on voter ID was necessary, knowing what the outcome was going to be,” he said. “The rhetoric just got harsher and harsher and harsher as the day went on. I don’t think that’s good for anybody.”

That might be true, but it’s the culture — let things play out, and then vote.

“I got tired of hearing that I don’t understand,” he said. “I’ve watched politics for over 30 years and been involved longer than that. It never plays out. They never get tired of the same rhetoric. They’re going to continue to do it. If you reward bad behavior, you’re going to have more bad behavior.”

The first month after the end of a session is probably the wrong time to ask someone if they’ve had a bellyful of it, and Lyne knows that. He might run for re-election, but it won’t be due to a warm and fuzzy first impression.

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